Monday, November 11, 2013

Three Free Web Tools

In every teacher’s digital toolbox is a collection of online resources.  Some sites become part of the everyday tool collection. Consider the ubiquitous Wikipedia. Previously shunned by educators as the villain of reliable information, now many publicly acknowledge their use of this popular site. However, many of the seemingly promising tools to be found online are bookmarked only to join the ranks of that gluten-free recipe you’ve been meaning to try.

Here are three high-quality sites to add to that everyday collection that may already include sites like Evernote, TEDEd, or Khan Academy.  Applicable to multiple disciplines, I challenge you to follow the links and spend 60 seconds exploring each site.  

Wolfram Alpha
This “computational knowledge engine” helps teachers and students solve any data based question.  Need to solve ax^2 + bx + c = 0 for x?  Or how much interest will be paid on a $150,000 mortgage over 30 years at 7.5% interest?  Or what percentage of the US population is named Fred?  It won’t tell you what to fix for dinner, but it will let you know that “dinner” is worth 7 points in Scrabble.  And yes, now your math students have the answer key to every problem in existence.     

This site doesn't just apply to English teachers--but mostly.  NoRedInk is a “fun” online interface that targets students’ individual writing needs.  Students create accounts to complete various grammar exercises catered to their interests. Teachers can view student progress, track the needs of the entire class, and assign tasks based on need. Great for individuals, classes, or entire school populations.  Immediate feedback for kids, no grading for teachers.

This site allows students to build virtual poster boards. It’s the 21st century version of a tri-fold project.  A great alternative to a Prezi or Power Point,  students build a single page presentation using this site.  Applicable to any subject, students can insert links, videos, pictures, text, and drawings.  Don’t be fooled by the many examples of elementary school projects.  This tool has serious idea sharing potential.

They are all free.  You have nothing to lose but another username and password.  Try one and see what you can learn.    

Monday, November 4, 2013

Eliminate Guess-work with Intentional Routines and Procedures

In the midst of the confusion, drama, and social pressures of the teenage world, students crave routine and procedure.  One great piece of advice from Harry and Rosemary Wong’s The First Days of School is that shaping class culture by stating and practicing procedures is worth the time.  

Do your students know what the first five minutes of class will look like as soon as they walk in the room?  Do your students know where to find their assignment and how it relates to their success?  Do your students know exactly what their options are when they finish a quiz or a test?  Do they know how to ask or answer a question in your class?  This week, take a look at your classroom routine and find three (or more) ways you can eliminate the guess-work for your students.

Here are some areas  for scrutiny suggested by Harry Wong:

-Entering the classroom
-Getting to work immediately
-End-of-period class dismissal
-Listening to and responding to questions
-Checking out classroom materials
-When a student needs pencil or paper
-Indicating whether a student understands
-Coming to attention
-Getting caught up after a tardy or absence
-Passing in papers
-Returning student work
-Asking a question

Isn’t it too late to be introducing a new procedure now that we are more than half-way through the semester?  Instituting a routine during the first week of school is ideal, but I have been amazed at how quickly students adopt a new procedure when I introduce and practice it with them- even in the middle of the year.

Take a few minutes to do some of the dreaming you always do at the beginning of the year.  What part of the period can be more efficient?  In what small ways can you add structure to your students’ lives?  It’s worth the time and it’s never too late.  Try something new this week and see what you can learn.