Living in a Technological World
Kids these days are technology natives.
From the time they were born, they’ve held some kind of electronic device in their baby hands: a cell phone, a remote, a game console controller… Their classrooms, likewise, are full of technology that the rest of us never even dreamed of, including interactive white boards, document cameras, digital recorders and web cams, and 1:1 Chrome books and iPads.
Many of us charged with teaching said students with said devices are, unfortunately, technology immigrants. We may have assimilated well (or not) into the world of technology, but it doesn’t come second nature to us. Consequently, there are many of us who use our Promethean board as simply a tool to project videos while the kids eat snack.
And, of course, there is a growing anti-technology movement, based on the very clear evidence of some very real, and detrimental, effects of excessive screen time to the minds, bodies and spirits of kids and adults.
It is safe to say that the digital world is here to stay. There is no doubt that electronics, today, bring many benefits to our lives: the digital mammogram I just had is instantly readable by all of my doctors; my cell phone and a Roku app replace the TV remote that died because it sat in water on the coffee table; the music from my Pandora account streams live to two Onyx speakers in my house, so I can clean and listen to Bonnie Raitt at the same time; I can look on my laptop to see who came to my door at home, while sitting at my desk at work.
In what ways will I use technology to enhance my students’ lives and learning this year, while making sure that they live balanced lives, in the process?
Technology Tools in Today’s Classrooms
There is an amazing graphic that’s been around for a number of years, which shows about a zillion (okay, that’s an exaggeration) apps that correspond to Bloom’s Taxonomy. Perhaps you’ve seen it?
My students prefer to have real textbooks, but they are much more engaged when I incorporate interactive technological tools into my daily lessons. The “menu” above is a good start, but there are now so many more!
What’s on My Technology Menu for 2019-20?
Here are the apps and websites I’m using with my students this year:
Old Standby: ReadWorks: I have used this free website to download leveled articles for all subjects for a number of years. Last year, I began using some of the other features as part of my explicit instruction in language arts.
- articles have an option be projected onto my Promethean board for whole-group lessons
- the Article-a-Day feature can be used to build background knowledge on a new topic with my students
- I can rotate through a number of articles on the same topic, on different Lexile levels, through the course of the week, so students can apply learned skills to increasingly difficult texts
- the comprehension questions can be sorted by question type, for monitoring IEP goals and objectives
- there are question sets for specific skill areas (e.g., Author’s Purpose questions, vocabulary questions)
This summer, I used ReadWorks articles to assess Oral Reading Fluency as well as Silent Reading Fluency, once a week for all students on my caseload. One downside to ReadWorks is that there are fewer articles at the higher Lexile levels. Enter my new favorite literacy site…
My New Favorite: Newsela: Like ReadWorks, Newsela offers leveled passages for students to read, and comprehension questions to answer. This summer, I set up a free version of the account, and invited my summer school students to participate. While we considered and declined to purchase a PRO account (it was pricey), the free version was well-liked by my students, and will become part of our regular instruction this coming year.
- students can control the readability of the text in real-time, and see the changes when they adjust the Lexile level
- they can monitor their own progress, and have learned how to choose a “just-right” level, or a challenge level, by viewing their “binder”
- there are more selections at the higher reading levels than in ReadWorks
- there are fewer questions at the end than with ReadWorks
- by logging into the students’ accounts, I can see their overall progress, as well as sort their data by question type (NOTE: with the PRO version, there is a teacher dashboard, but not with the free version – so I make it part of my conference with the student to log into their account with them)
- Newsela is a useful learning task for independent work during the literacy block
Have to Try: Last year, I struggled to teach literary themes to my students, until, out of desperation, I began playing popular music for them from YouTube videos. Students were quickly able to identify the theme when it was embedded in music.
A colleague introduced me to Teach Rock, which has over 150 lesson plans and 16 units of study for teaching literary ideas through the study of popular music through the ages. We dabbled with it this summer, and I’m working it into my Language Arts work for the school year. Stay tuned!
Tools to Use: I have a handful of students who struggle with writing, either because they have difficulty spelling the words they want to use, or their physical writing process is slow and laborious. I introduced them to Windows Speech Recognition, which comes free with your Windows OS. You simply go into your settings, under Accessibility features, and activate it, so it runs in the background. With a command, it turns on, enabling students to speak their written responses. Early results show that the students are interested. NOTE: as with the voice commands on your phone, it does take time to learn how to talk so that the computer understands you, and to train the computer to understand your voice. I advise assigning particular computers to particular students, to help with that.
Old Standby: I have been using Khan Academy with students (including my own homeschoolers) for years now. Many of you probably have, too. Khan Academy is free, and is especially strong in the area of mathematics, although this summer I started using the computer courses for students who needed a technology class for graduation.
- students can be assigned individualized work to meet IEP goals and objectives
- students can be assigned re-teaching work, based on their grade-level assignments
- Khan Academy can be used as an anchor activity, while you work with a small group on other skills
- I have had students use Khan Academy outside of school, toward credit recovery
- users can log in anywhere – helpful when kids are homebound, hospitalized or absent for any reason
- there are initial quizzes that help determine a starting place, then a course is charted for the student
- I have also used Khan Academy as part of an enrichment group in an elementary setting
Some students find that there is too much reading involved – this can be a barrier for students with reading difficulties.
Tools to Use: One of my teens has difficulty subtracting with regrouping, and I didn’t have base 10 blocks in my summer school tools. I discovered virtual base 10 blocks that I can use on the Promethean board at CoolMath4Kids. The kids love using the virtual manipulatives on the board – check out their site for more manipulatives.
Science & Social Studies
Old Standby: I have a free account to Kids Discover, which has thousands of online articles, units of study and infographics, on high-interest topics of current interest, with built-in interactive parts. You can use the articles on your interactive white board. Every week, you’ll get access to a selection of free topics – more than enough to use for your entire curriculum, if you’re a homeschooler. My teens in my CDT class like it for a change up. There is a paid version, but I have not used that one.
- useful for current topics (to supplement your regular curriculum with timely articles)
- could be used for independent reading assignments
- texts are high-readability for most high school students
- colorful, interesting layout
Have to Try: My assistant shared the website Recyclebank with me. All of the articles are geared toward green living, health, ecology and the environment. The articles include links to high-quality, non-fiction articles from good sources, such as the Department of Environmental Protection or the USDA. There are fun elements, such as the Question of the Day. Reading articles and taking quizzes earns points, which can be redeemed for magazines and other items.
I like to have online current events sites that we can explore without a set assignment. I plan to use this site to teach kids how to efficiently explore and evaluate online sources, and to teach them how to build a reading log using online sources.
One “old standby” which I’ve used as a homeschooler, but which I will start using this year, is Journey North, a nature-based, citizen-science website. In a survey of possible topics of study, my students selected “nature walks” and “nature study” as preferred topics. One of my students recalled using a bald eagle “nest cam” in his middle school class. Again, stay tuned!
Tools to Use: Over the summer, I’ve been experimenting with a number of digital tools and looking for ways to incorporate them into my instruction, in an authentic way.
I am fiddling around with creating infographics in Canva, using the free service. It is a powerful app, but with that power comes a lot of information. I created a circle map about the influence of the Norwich Millionaires, and I’m thinking that we might practice this one type of graphic, using Canva in our US History class to continue to emphasize similar relationships in history.
One app that I’m planning to use to organize my classroom presentations is Sutori, another powerful digital tool, even when using the free version. I used the free version to create a timeline presentation of the early history of the city of Norwich, Connecticut. I feel it could be a great way to organize lesson materials, and will experiment with this in the coming year (see the linked blog post for a discussion on the use of Sutori to organize unit materials).
Old Standby: For the past several years, I have used a paid subscription to PlanBook Plus . It takes a little bit of time to enter plans if you use all the fields (I personally like to include the grade-level standards, and related standards from the students’ IEPs, in the plans), but I don’t mind that. One thing that is handy about this digital planbook is that I can pull it up from any device (including my phone), and that I can move lessons forward if something happens and I don’t get to something on a given day.
In the past, I included the instructional sequence for lessons in PlanBook Plus, but, this year, I think I’ll just put the “big” items (lesson title, textbook reference, standards), and leave the details for my written, daily planbook, since these might change.
Have to Try: As a special ed teacher in a self-contained classroom, in an alternative setting, I collect a lot of data, for a lot of classes, in addition to progress monitoring data. I have asked my principal to purchase a subscription to the Daily Cafe with CC Pensieve, which is a web-based data collection tool that can be used for conference notes, reading assessment data, science quizzes, and just about any information that I might collect. Because all the data is in one place, it is easy to print out a report in real-time for a PPT or a conference. It also helps me plan a workshop, or “cafe,” model for literacy and numeracy instruction, something which I experimented with at the end of last year and which the students liked, as they felt they were busier and got more individualized attention.
Technology Tools in Your Classroom
What are your go-to tech tools, apps and websites? Share the “best of the best” below, in the comments section!