Virtual Field Trips

Traditional Field trips are great, but they do have their drawbacks.  Maybe you don’t like the long bus ride. Maybe you have difficulty getting enough chaperones to volunteer or maybe traditional field trips are just too costly.  Virtual field trips are a great way to bring the world to your students without the hassle of a real field trip.

One of the best resources for virtual field trips that I know of is PORTS: Parks Online Resources for Teachers and Students.  PORTS is run by the California State Parks and their rangers.  The park rangers will do a video conference with your class that provides real time, two-way communication.  The ranger can answer students’ questions and present a multimedia, live lesson to the students on a topic related to one of the state parks.  The students can interact with the park ranger as if they were right there, even though they are miles away.

Some of the PORTS topic include:

To prepare your class for the video conference, PORTS provides lesson plans, digital videos, digital images, and other media materials on the PORTS website.  All you need is a computer or tablet with a camera, a projector, and a high speed internet connection. PORTS is completely free, high quality, and are constantly adding new topics.  

To get started, go to the PORTS website  and check out the descriptions of the different topic (called Units of Study).  Then fill out the registration form to request a particular topic and date you would like to schedule the video conference.  The ranger or coordinator will get back to you by phone or email. Make your request early in the year, because spots fill up quickly.

Another resource for virtual field trips is the Microsoft Community Skype in the Classroom Virtual Field Trips.  It is also free, is set up similar to PORTS, and uses Skype to do the video conferences.  You do need to set up a username and password to sign in to the site. It has virtual field trips from all over the world.

Lastly California State Parks has partnered with Google to create an experience similar to street view on Google Maps for many state park trails and beaches called Google Trekker.  They did this by mounting a 3D camera to a backpack and walking the trails. This provides a self-guided way to see nature at our state parks without leaving your classroom. Check out all the locations available at this website.  This is also free, but is not interactive with a ranger and is not in real time.

I hope this gives you some ideas of ways you can use technology to bring the world into your classroom and provide an engaging, memorable learning experience for your students.

Improving Literacy with Fluency Tutor

Fluency Tutor logo.Hi everybody! So, I’ve recently been using a fantastic reading app called Fluency Tutor. The app is meant to take the place of traditional timed fluency tests and running records, both of which are extremely time consuming. The app has several tools/functions that make it a breeze to use. First, it is completely Google compatible. You can import classes from Google Classroom and create Google Classroom assignments from within the Fluency Tutor app. You can also assign to individual students or the whole class, all from with the app. It is also very easy to update your class if you’ve had new students join your Google Classroom.

Fluency Tutor also comes with Fluency Passages that are leveled. You can search passages by lexile level or AR level. This is just my personal opinion, but I’ve found the passages to be of high quality. Many are non-fiction and contain interesting topics like the process in which diamonds are created or how your tongue works. I also really like that some of the early-reader passages don’t look like early-reader passages. But the thing that I really like about this app is the digital tools it contains for students and teachers. Students can record and listen to themselves or even save their recording directly to their Google Drive. They can also have the text read to them and there’s even the option to have it read back in a different language! I’m not sure if every language works for every passage but I’ve seen a HUGE list of languages to select. Students can also click any word in the text and get a definition or a picture definition.

The teacher can create a vocabulary list for all of the words a students has clicked. The list features definitions and is created in a Google Doc. Once passages have been graded, students can see their scores  on a graph- there is a words correct per minute score and a ‘fluency score’ which grades them on phrasing, expression, etc.

For teachers the tools make grading a breeze! Once a student has finished their recording you can listen to it (or any past recordings) while looking at a copy of the text. If you click on any word in the text you can mark it as an error. You can also select the type of error, omission, insertion, substitution, etc. Also, when you click a word to select an error, the recording pauses. After you select the error-type the recording resumes. Awesome! You then mark the last word read in the text and fluency tutor calculates the words correct per minute for you. Once you’ve graded all the recordings for a particular passage you can download a spreadsheet (Google Sheets) with all the scores.

My very favorite tool allows the creation of fluency passages. This can be accomplished by the teacher or the student! Once the Chrome extension is installed a page can be turned into a fluency passage with the click of a button. Now, this doesn’t work with every page and will not work with pdf’s but when it works it is amazing. The resulting page typically looks very clean and pictures that were on the page are often embedded within the passage without errors. For older students, this is really fun and puts them in control of what they are reading. I really love this app because of how easy and useful it is. If you’ve ever hated trying to find time to do 20+ fluency tests then I would highly suggest this app. It does cost 99$ a year, but for me it was totally worth and this will be a tool that stays in my toolbox.

Technology is only as good as _______________________.

Finish this sentence:

Technology is only as good as _______________________.

Maybe you said:

Technology is only as good as its user.

*You may have been thinking of a teacher that calls for help because her computer stopped working and when you get there you plug it back in, and Ta-Da it works again. It’s amazing how electricity works these days.

*Or maybe it’s the teacher who calls for help because a student rotated the screen on the Chromebook. The best part is they sent the student out of the room before telling the student to fix it. If he did it once he can do it again.

Technology is only as good as its server/internet.

*This sentence may apply when you’re at work and you absolutely know you saved that document on the server but still can’t find it.

*When the server is down no one knows what to do. You may find your colleagues suddenly feeling ill or needing to lay down. Some may want to Google “Things to do without internet”, only to find they are still without connection. Which in turn may cause even more panic.

Technology is only as good as its App creator.

*Apps are great. They can help you keep track of your diet and how many steps have you taken that day. There’s even an App that you pay $1.00 to just to see how many people have paid $1.00! What would we do without the Apps?

*Some Apps are for entertainment. Where would we be if we didn’t have that “game” on our phones. Maybe it goes back to the no internet/server…panic would set in if you didn’t have something to keep you entertained.

I joke half heartedly about not having the internet but I see it in our students. If a student can’t access Google because they didn’t turn in their permission slip or the privilege was taken away they act as if life will end.

During state testing all electronic devices must be turned off and not accessible to students. As I collected phones many of them would say I don’t have a phone just to try and keep it with them. Of course I would then say “So what’s that in your pocket”? To which they would reply “Oh, you mean I can’t have it with me even if it’s off”? (Just so all is clear, no phones were out or accessible to any student during any test session). Our students live in the age of technology from the time they wake up to the time they….well it’s on all the time. They go into withdraw when they can’t have it. It’s crazy to me that my own children text each other when they are in the same house! Just get up and walk over to where they are at. It won’t hurt. It’s less than 30 ft.

So now I have another question:

Conversation is only as good as ____________________.

You decide:

Conversation is only as good as its user.

Conversation is only as good a its connection.

Conversation is only as good as its creator.

 

Step Away: Getting Away from Technology through Trees

Sometimes, you just need to step away from technology.

Hi, I’m Tory and I’m a tech-o-holic.

Addiction is defined by Psychology today as “a condition in which a person engages in the use of a substance or in a behavior for which the rewarding effects provide a compelling incentive to repeatedly pursue the behavior despite detrimental consequences.”  And most of us have found that type of behavior with our technology. For instance, you pick up your phone to just check one message that just showed up, a notification that popped up on your screen, a Tweet or a Facebook message that peaks our interest.  We think “Oh, that’s OK, I’ll just check this one thing really quickly and then get back to whatever I was doing before.”

And that’s when it happens.  First, you check what you came for, and then maybe look at a little red notification dot and wonder what that is about, and then you find yourself clicking around on several different apps, or deep diving into another one.  What those apps are designed to do – especially social media apps – is give us a little reward of dopamine that makes us feel happy or spikes a little brain boost.

The problem is you can often find that when you are flipping around on your phone that, despite the little clock up in the corner of your phone, time will just simply fly by and you don’t realize that you have spent hours on your phone.

We have all seen the addiction in our classrooms, at the coffee shops, and sometimes even at our own dinner tables. The world is full of cell phones and technology.  But sometimes, we just need a break.

If you own an iPhone, Apple has recently tried to combat some of this addiction with their ScreenTime setting, where you can see how much time you spend on your phone and what you spend time doing.  You can also use this setting to limit the time you spend on certain apps, or even entire categories of apps such as Social Media. Once you meet your limit, the phone will block your access to those apps and websites that you are trying to avoid. Of course, if you know the passcode to get by that, it is often easy to bypass.  (I admit, giving myself more “time” when I don’t deserve it).

Forest app iconOne app that I have found particularly helpful, which brings joy to my little tree-hugger heart is called Forest, and it’s available in the AppStore or on Google Play.

Forest is an app where you plant a tree anywhere from ten to 120 minutes – and then you put down your phone.  If you move away from that app during any time that you have set that timer for, your tree will die! It forces you to step away from your phone and enjoy the life away from technology.  Through the app, you earn coins that help you buy other, cuter trees or, if you collect 2500 coins, you have earned a real tree that the app developers will donate through their partnership with Trees for the Future.

It might be a bit counter intuitive to use technology to avoid technology.  It is, after all, another app that we put on our phone and another thing that we click and swipe and press on.  However, I’ve used this app for a few months now. I set it in the morning for 30 minutes and I use that time to write. Knowing that I can’t pick up my phone to “quickly look up something” keeps me in the flow of writing, and has increased my productivity in writing, grading, lesson planning (and maybe catching up on Lucifer).  It is amazing to put down my phone and really just live life.

So, plant a tree and get things done… away from technology.