"If we teach today's students as we taught yesterday's, we rob them of tomorrow." --John Dewey

Monday, December 26, 2011

Socrates Would Be Pleased

Twas the day after Christmas and teachers worldwide
enjoyed some hot cocoa, and relaxed fireside.
Still, as joyous and fun as Christmas had been
the thought of their classrooms caused some chagrin,
for as the last Christmas ember fades and flickers,
they remember their wish for student response clickers.

Their request to Santa had been quite emphatic.
"My lessons need 'oomph', from questions Socratic."
But, alas, no clickers neath the tree appeared.
"It's back to the same old stuff," they feared.
Only the most eager of students will react
when asked to express opinion or state simple fact.

All hope is not lost, though, my good fellow teachers,
for we, as a group, are resourceful creatures.
To gauge students' learning with just a few questions
I have what I think are some worthwhile suggestions.
However, from here I'll proceed without rhyme,
for this is taking WAY too much time.

If you're lucky enough to have a computer lab at your disposal or a set of laptops to share, creating an account at Socrative.com will turn your present technology into a student response system that can be used with prepared questions, or "on the fly."  Here's how it works:
Go to http://www.socrative.com to request access to the site.  Once you receive an invitation to use the private beta site you'll go to http://t.socrative.com to sign in, and be assigned a room number.  Instruct your students to go to http://m.socrative.com and enter the same room number to become an active user.  Once everyone is logged in, you will have a number of options for using the site.  The immediate feedback you get from just a few questions will surely prove helpful in determining the pacing and direction of the remainder of the lesson, and the reports generated from a short quiz provide the all-important documentation you need before moving forward.  Can you think of a more impactful way to integrate technology?

BTW:  Any internet-connected hardware can be used with the Socrative website.  If your students have phones, or iPods or tablets at their disposal, they can all be viewed as a means for student interaction.

Of course, Socrative.com is far from the only option for electronically getting feedback from your students.  Polleverywhere.com, for example, is another option that's worth investigating, and free to use, assuming your class has fewer than 40 students.  Check out a concise "how-to" for using Polleverywhere here.

As valuable as they are, these websites do, unfortunately have their short-comings.  They will, however, give voice to those students whose hands rarely are raised, and whose vocal cords are normally dormant in class.

So there you have it--my advice for the week:
a website inspired by a wise ancient Greek.
Now I'm left with just one thing to do,
express my very best wishes to you.
Happy holidays, blog readers--each and every one.
You'll be happy to know, my poetry is done.  :)

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Writing on the Wall

Not long ago I was asked by one of our school administrators to send out an email to the parents of our junior high students to let them know volunteers were needed for the junior high holiday dance.  After receiving several quick responses, I was again asked to send a message to these same parents to let them know our updated needs.  "Hmm . . . " thought I, "there must be a better way."  And, of course, there is.

Sharing information in real-time is easy, and a lot less cumbersome if you use the right tool.  A collaborative site like Wallwisher.com will allow users to post virtual sticky notes, complete with a link to  an image, audio or video file.  When building the wall, you can specify whether or not you want to approve each post before it goes live, so it's perfect to use for student projects.  You could, for example, ask your students to predict what's going to happen next in the novel you're reading, or brainstorm ideas for a class bulletin board, or . . . collect information from parents about who will be volunteering at the dance.  This might also be a good way to have your fellow attendees indicate what they'll be bringing to the neighborhood potluck dinner, so you don't end up with five variations of sloppy joe's for dinner.

Now, being the creature of habit that I am, and having used Wallwisher for some time now, that's become my default "sticky note site".  There are, of course, many other options.  Stixy.com, for instance, is certainly worth checking out.  While similar to Wallwisher in many ways, it offers the additional options of being able to upload entire documents, add To Do list items, and invite specific contributors.

You may also want to check out AnswerGarden.ch for a simple way of sharing information.  Scroll to the bottom of this blog to find an example of an embedded Answer Garden, and share a favorite web resource, and don't forget to add a little something to the wall below.  Happy collaborating, everyone!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Educational Power Tools

A tool that can make your students look forward to doing their homework must be pretty powerful, wouldn't you agree?  Well, ClassTools.net is just such a power tool.  Here you can turn an ordinary vocabulary list into arcade games that will keep your students practicing for hours.  (Try one of the sample games below and see if you can stop after just one level.)  You can share the game by posting a URL to your class web page, or use the HTML to embed the games directly into a wiki or blog, as I did here.

A quick look at the list of templates available should convince you that this site is worth investigating. The Random Name Picker and Countdown Timer are tools that virtually any classroom teacher will find useful.  Fakebook and Twister will definitely capture the interest of your social media enamored students, and the graphic organizers are . . . well, indispensable.  And, many of the ClassTools activities will work nicely on your interactive whiteboard.

Although you can use Classtools.net free of charge, they do offer a premium membership for those who are interested.  For a membership fee of £19.99 (about $31 US) per year, you can enjoy the tools ad-free, and get a personal storage area so you can save and access your resources.

I can't very well talk about educational power tools without mentioning NoodleTools.  While this site requires a subscription to make full use of its capabilities, if you have ever tried to organize a research project with your students you will most definitely find this worth the $60 subscription fee.

NoodleTools allows you to create individual accounts for your students, where they can easily create bibliographies, well-organized and documented note cards, and outlines of their research papers.  Students can collaborate on projects, and can share their work, while in progress, with a teacher or teachers who can provide feedback without a single page being printed.

Now don't get the wrong idea.  I can certainly appreciate the fact that most teachers can't justify spending money on Internet resources.  I hardly ever spend my hard earned money on website subscriptions.  But, when 7th graders voluntarily tell me that they love using this website to help them with their research papers, and ask if they can use it for their other classes, I know my money has been well spent.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Give Yourself a Nudge

I may not be the most forgetful person on the planet, but I wouldn't have to go far out on a limb to guess that I'm definitely in the running for the title.  This, however, seems to be something of a common perception among teachers at this time of year.  Besides your regular lesson planning, teaching, grading, and updating of your web page, you have decorations to put up, a holiday concert to prepare for, and of course, lots of shopping to get done.  And, if you somehow got involved in coaching a sport at your school, or helping with the 8th grade play, your head should be spinning pretty quickly about now.  What you need right now is a personal secretary to keep it all straight, right?  Or, maybe just a nudge or two will do the trick.

Nudgemail.com is one of those handy, little tools that can be invaluable in helping keep you on track when your busy schedule starts spinning out of control.  Here's how it works.  Let's say that you promised to cover a fellow teacher's lunch recess duty on Friday, and although you're normally responsible about honoring your commitments, there is a good chance that this is the kind of thing that you could, quite possibly, forget by Friday.  Open your email application and send a message to:  friday@nudgemail.com.  Write yourself a reminder in the body of the email and hit send.  Friday morning you'll be getting a reminder from yourself so you don't forget you have to cover lunch recess.  Seriously, it's that easy.  No sign-up necessary, no password to remember. Your reminders can be sent to “monday@nudgemail.com” or “tomorrow@nudgemail.com” or “dec12@nudgemail.com” or “2hours@nudgemail.com” or . . . well, you get the idea. Give it a try. Send yourself a nudgemail reminder to visit Tech Talk for Teachers again
next week!

Here's a special little gift that will give you a chance to use Nudgemail, and get free music downloads. Amazon is giving away 25 days of free holiday music. Click here to visit the site and download a free holiday song each day. Or, send yourself a nudgemail reminder to visit the site on December 25th and download all 25.  Can't wait, hmm?  Go to Amazon.com and search for free Christmas mp3 downloads to see some more choices, or sit back and relax now, and remind yourself to do it tomorrow.