Top 5 FREE educational websites every teacher should be using in their classroom

It amazes me how time has flown so quickly in my career as an educator, but what I find most fascinating is the leap technology has taken in the past 8 years. Eight years ago, I thought the most innovative tech in the classroom was Accelerated Math published by Renaissance Place. Back then, you needed a lot of hardware and scantrons to use the software. Reams of paper were used to print out practice problems (poor trees!).

But as we enter 2019, the amount of technology students have access to both at home and school is quite remarkable. From Chromebooks, Ipads, Ipods, Iphones, tablets with Android software to Android devices, students and families do have access to a lot of technology. The graduating senior class of 2019 was born in 2000. The kindergarten class that just entered the 2018 school year was born in 2013. We as educators have to shift our mindset to teach and train our kids around technology in becoming positive, proactive “digital citizens.”

The purpose of this blog is to encourage teachers to use technology not only as a reward for good behavior during free time to play games. We as educators have to start seeing Chromebooks and tablets in our classrooms as equitable tools to help advance our students educational abilities and see computer applications as a means of “customizing” our students’ education so they can maximize their full potential.

The top 5 FREE educational websites that I am recommending are engaging and will promote a love of learning in your classroom through the use of technology.


5: Nitro Type

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Nitro Type is a typing practice website that allows students to strengthen their typing skills by competing with one another. As students press the correct keys typing, students cars increase in speed. Student feedback from previous classes and my current class love to compete against each other and it is quite engaging. This is valuable for teachers to promote a love for typing, but practicing typing in the correct way. It forces students to practice correctly to increase their speed.  With Nitro Type, students practice typing about passages that are educational and can learn interesting facts. Students have an option to purchase a membership to customize cars, buy options for their cars, and alter the appearance of their car. This could create a great classroom activity for all students to better themselves and to practice true 21st century skills.


4: Prodigy

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This is a great way for students to practice math problems and to target content specific skills that are also engaging at the same time. Prodigy also keeps track of student success and tracks areas where students struggle, which is relevant data for you to pull small groups to do mini math lessons for students who all struggle with the same concepts. Great website for student engagement and data collection to drive your math lessons!


3: Khan Academy

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Khan Academy is not only a great resource for teachers but a great spiral/on grade level support for students as well. With a little time, teachers can sync their google classroom accounts to Khan Academy and assign assignments to students based off of academic needs and MAP scores. If teachers are using Eureka Math/Engage New York, Khan Academy has a section devoted to on grade level support that pairs well with the lessons along with practice problems that students can earn badges and points to advance and change their avatar. Great website to foster a love of math and much-needed math support.

2: Epic

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Epic is probably one of the more engaging websites I have come across that students really love. Students have access to an online library at school with countless books, read-to-me books, audiobooks and educational videos that students will gravitate and spend hours on. I have used this in 3 different classrooms and all kids love the ability to read books and choose different types of books. The only drawback to this program is they can only access it for free at school, but parents can pay $8 a month for their students to enjoy access at home. This is a huge selling point at conferences to encourage reading. On the educator side, you can assign books and make quizzes on books online for your students to take and track the data of how well they are doing.

1: Google Classroom

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By far the most game-changing application personally for me in my classrooms I have taught in the last 3 years. Google Classroom is essential for the 21st-century teacher and for students to be exposed to technology that will be seen in high school and in the college classroom. Classroom allows teachers numerous ways to optimize lesson planning and create class work for students without always running to the copier and duplicating worksheets throughout the year. It also allows teachers to build in the perfect scaffolds to optimize instruction for the most advanced students to students who need the most support. Classroom, in my opinion, is the ultimate game changer in a 21st-century classroom, especially because it is able to be downloaded as an app on all devices and makes it easier even for parents to track student work and build a strong school to home relationship.

I hope this encourages teachers to incorporate more technology into the classroom. It is crucial in the times we live in that we optimize technology to prepare students for the 21st-century world that is around us and that is truly evolving every day.

GSS–> Getting Savvy with Sheets

By Mychau Sou

An image of a spreadsheet utilizing check boxesIn Gsuite (formerly known as Google Apps for Education), Sheets are spreadsheets that many feel intimidated by, but once you learn the benefits of Sheets, you may not want to go back. I create spreadsheets to help me keep a digital record of what my students turn in. For instances, I would copy and paste my students’ name list from illuminate and insert a checkbox column to check off which students turned in what. At the bottom of Sheet, I add tabs to the same Google Sheet to use it as my track log. The first-day packets, GAFE permission slips, and signed report card envelopes are all examples of what you can quickly check off. I use it to create my small groups and highlight which groups I’ve touched bases with for the week.

A Google Sheet can be converted into tools that help the flow of your classroom. Flippity.net is a site that will provide 10+ templates of ways in which you can convert your spreadsheet into something spectacular. One I frequently use is Flippity Random Name Picker where you insert your class list, publish the Google Sheet and instantly get access to digital equity sticks with your phone or laptop. What I love about this tool is that the Random name picker helps me form groups, pairs, and teams with a push of a button.  I know with the constant movement of students it’s hard to keep up with real popsicle sticks. What if I told you can add and delete students on the spreadsheet as you please and still use the same link?

Convert a spreadsheet into …

sheet1

 

 

A flippity random name pickerAn image of a flippity game wheel

My students love the quiz shows that I make with Flippity Game Show. I insert the categories of my math units as the topics such as Ratios, Unit Rate, Unit Conversion, etc. and type in my questions and answers using the template provided. The Flippity template allows me to publish and get a link to the game show for a math review. The kids are split into teams where you can have them name their group. Points can be added or deducted to keep track which team is doing well. Once we’re finished playing, I provide the link to my students so they can always study these questions at home the day before the test. This is both easy and effective for teacher and student alike.

An image of a spreadsheet/study guide.Take the spreadsheet and convert it into…An image of a Jeopardy style game boardA Jeopardy style quiz show board!

Whether or not you will be using Sheets as a system to track your students’ paper permission slips and work, or use free flippity templates, you can learn how to create a sheet with the click of a button! Trust me, it’s fairly simple. Come to my PD next week on Wednesday, February 6, 2019. John Adams Elementary Rm. 28 to learn more about Google Sheets. If you can’t make it, please sign up for the other PDs I’m offering in February.

(This is part 2 in a series. Part one was  Getting Savvy with Slides.)


About the Author:

Mychau Sou is an Intermediate Teacher at Adams Elementary in Stockton, Ca. She is also a Certified Google Trainer.

 

Going Digital with AVID

Part II

Whether you are an AVID elective teacher or not, using AVID teaching strategies in the classroom can have many benefits.  Incorporating digital elements in combination with AVID is a recipe for success and can easily be implemented using one’s curriculum!     

I have been teaching the AVID elective at the middle school level for over five years now and have come to learn that the AVID curriculum contains a plethora of good teaching practices.  Traditionally speaking, some of the more popular strategies found in lessons that focus on the Critical Reading Process, such as using Cornell Notes, Marking the Text and Writing in the Margins were developed with the intention of using paper and pencil.  Now, with digital technology being so abundantly available in schools, it’s time to start integrating the two.      

In my last blog, Going Digital w/AVID Part I, I went over some various ways to annotate online text using Google Docs and Kami’s online PDF editing software.  This particular blog will focus on digitizing an AVID One-Pager.      

AVID One-Pager

w/Google Drawing

A One-Pager seems self-explanatory.  For the most part, it is. Students will use one page of paper to reflect on a given piece of literary work or text.  A One-Pager is a great way to have students complete in lieu of a boring formal assessment or a long, drawn-out writing task.  A One-Pager should include the following:

  • Title
  • Author
  • Images
  • Include a meaningful quote
  • Related Vocabulary
  • Personal statement (i.e. I believe…, or I feel…)  
  • Costa’s leveled questions
  • Border, which reflects the main idea or theme

Looking at the rubric below may be helpful:  

Like with almost anything in education, things can be adapted.  You know your own students best so feel free to add and/or change anything within the One-Pager that you see fit.  I know that some teachers request that their students use specific colors which represent a deeper meaning behind the text…obviously, students should know about color symbolism in order for this to relate.  Or, you might swap out Costa’s questions for Bloom’s.

The following video showcases a teacher using the paper version but also presents one way of communicating guidelines and instructions to students.  This teacher finishes the lesson by having his students present their work using a Gallery Walk (which can also be achieved using laptops set up on a table).     

One-Pager AVID Strategy  

When thinking of digitizing this assignment I turned to none other than Google Drawing.  It seemed like the best fit as it’s not only free software in which all SUSD students have access to, but it also has the necessary elements needed to accomplish the task at hand.  Students can use word art, add text boxes, insert images and GIFs and use the paint bucket to make a border color POP!

Here is the template that I use with my students.  Make a copy and add it to your Google Drive for future purposes.  AVID One-Pager Link

Once students are able to make a copy of their own (an easy way to accomplish this is to use Google Classroom to distribute copies to each student) then the magic happens.  Students will see that they can do more online than using a piece of paper. No more messy markers or crumbling crayons. Those students who are afraid of being judged by their artwork can now feel comforted that they can insert any image they want using an internet search.  I’ve seen many students use GIFs to enhance their borders or even Bitmoji images to create a personalized statement. Using a digital version of the One-Pager offers more opportunity and creativity for students to achieve opposed to limiting them to a paper version.

Here are some students samples:

Students were given the option to complete a section review for Social Studies or create a digital One-Pager.

This One-Pager was completed by a 7th-grade ELD student following the completion of our class reading an informational article about the effects of lying.  

A Wrinkle in Time was a book that my after-school tutoring group read.  Students had the option of creating a One-Pager instead of writing a chapter review or summary.
The options are endless with AVID One-Pagers in regards to how they can be used.  I hope that my examples and background using them with my own students have convinced you to try them out yourself.   

Cloud Computing & Collaboration Services

collaboration

By Austin Cushman

There are many cloud computing and real-time collaboration services to choose from. Here at Stockton Unified, we primarily use G Suite or Office 365. These two are probably the more well known, however, there are a few other options to choose from. Most of my adult students have never used any real-time collaboration services which have become more and more popular in the education and business world. These platforms are a requirement for any competitive company or agency. Companies have seen a 15% – 20% increase in their revenue using one of these services. Companies that use them see an advantage over their competition simply because they can get more done. So, in no particular order, here are some well known and lesser known cloud computing and collaboration services.

431075-zoho-logoZoho offers a suite of apps to create online documents, spreadsheets, presentations and databases, with great sharing features. You can invite others to view or edit documents and also create groups. Similar to Google Docs, you can publish any doc to your blog or website and make any document public. Zoho creates a URL and RSS feed for every public document that is updated when a change is made. You can also chat live with others making it easy to communicate while editing a document together in real time. Also, you can check older versions of the document.

g-suiteG Suite has apps for creating documents, spreadsheets and presentations. They also share features allowing you to effectively collaborate in real-time. You can also post the document to a blog or website and have any changes updated. G Suite is also being used more and more in the private sector. Verizon Communications Inc, Nielsen Holdings Plc and Colgate-Palmolive Co. have brought about 250,000 workers to G Suite during the last year and a half, along with many school districts.

etherpad-logo                                                                                          Etherpad is an open source online editing program that allows collaboration in real-time of plain text documents. It includes a chat room and shows color coded edits. Users are also able to save older versions of the same document. Etherpad is good for group brainstorming sessions in real-time. It also lets you import and export Word, PDF, Plain Text and web documents. Students at Stanford Law School use it  and programmers like to customize Etherpad to suit their needs.

office_365_logoOffice 365 is a subscription based Microsoft Office suite available online. It has cloud-based software for businesses, such as hosted Exchange Server, Skype for Business Server, and SharePoint. Subscribers can collaborate with other users by using their Microsoft Office Online account. “70% of Fortune 500 companies have purchased Office 365 within the last year.” Companies such as Shell Oil, Air France, and Lilly Pharmaceuticals use Office 365. Stockton Unified has Office 365 available to district employees via the “staff” section of the homepage.

ce75b1a100012e9db79597098cf6785bThinkFree is a suite of online apps like Zoho and Google Docs. You can use the web version or install it to work offline. Thinkfree allows you to do everything just like the Microsoft Office suite with great sharing tools. Each document works with Microsoft Office and if the person you’re working with doesn’t have it, they can view documents with the ThinkFree viewer. Also, you get 1 GB of storage online for your documents.

Other Services:

So, there are a few. Here at Stockton Unified, we have been trained in and primarily use the G Suite apps and work in the Google Drive environment. Being aware of other services is valuable for our students and staff. We should be knowledgeable in the uses of real-time collaboration suites to prepare our students for careers in the 21st century.

Google Slides

Google Slides may be great for presentations, but it is also a great teaching tool when parent-teacher conference time comes around. I took it upon myself to conduct student-led conferences with the help of….. Drum roll, please… Google Slides.

I created this template with possible measures in the speaker notes for students to follow along. I also provided a student led conference sample for students to refer to, in case they need some ideas.

I provide my students 10-15 minutes to fill in each slide according to the criteria on the  template. By doing so, students are taking the responsibility to input their scores, strengths, weakness, and setting goals. Aren’t we all working on reflecting and goal setting?  Students were able to be creative by adding a personal photo and style when designing their Google Slide. Students took responsibility for their conference, and I saw a large turnout of parents who showed up. Don’t get me wrong, there were those few parents that didn’t come, but no problem. The slide presentation format made it easy for those students to conduct phone conferences or the presentation can be easily printed out to be sent home, it is up to your discretion.

Image of a student and parent at a conference

Using Google Slides, students are able to lead parent-teacher conferences.

As with anything, when you invest your time during the beginning stages it goes smoothly when it’s ready to be executed. Here were some of my observation from the first parent-teacher conference:

  1. Parents were attentive
  2. Students were excited to share
  3. Students encouraged parents to come to see their Slides presentation
  4. I was a facilitator of learning rather than being the guardian of knowledge
  5. Parent, teachers, and students walked away feeling positive

Note: I did not go over any behavior during the conference, all conferences were data-driven.  

We are moving toward 1-to-1 devices district-wide. Let’s move forward with making the technology and home connection.

If you feel you need some more clarification and help with Google Slides, no problem. Come to my December 19th PD at Adams, and I can support you.  Email me at mtsou@stocktonusd.net, and I would be happy to provide a screencast video instructions based on your needs.






TPACK: Finding the solution to the “wicked” problem of teaching with technology

The concept of TPACK (Technological Pedagogical and Content Knowledge) has definitely left a strong  impression on me as a teacher. It sums up the entire Education process in one acronym: TPACK or Total PACKage. This one acronym gives us a comprehensive view of the entire educative process. We live in a world full of choices today. This is true for the field of Education as well. Be it “what we teach,” “how we teach,” “what technology we use for teaching,” what context we are teaching in,” or “how our students learn”: all this is ever changing and dynamic in today’s world.

We talk about technology today, but the technology was always present in our classrooms. The blackboard that we used in our classes for so long, was a technology. But slowly technology evolved and took a shape that we are used to in the present time. How we use this for effective teaching of the concepts that we want our students to learn is the “wicked question” that we as teachers answer almost every day in our classrooms.

Untitled drawing (3)Teachers must know and understand the subjects they teach, including knowledge of central facts, concepts, theories and procedures within a given field, along with a knowledge of pedagogical strategies that involve various elements of student learning, classroom management, lesson plan development, and implementation, and student evaluation.

I agree with Dr. Mishra when he says that technology changes:

 

  • How we teach. (Pedagogy)
  • What we Teach. (Content)
  • The context in which teaching/learning happens.

 

We as teachers unconsciously make these decisions every day: what to teach, how to teach and what to use to make learning easier for our students. The concept of TPACK is new to me but I feel that I have been applying this every day during my classes. But now it does get me to think consciously about these decisions and has given me a deeper insight into the process of using technology for better teaching and effective learning.

Image of students working on Chromebooks.

Today classrooms have more technology than ever before. Using it effectively is the challenge teachers face.

Today we have technology at our disposal which is a big advantage. I have been using technology such as Chromebooks, projector, internet access for students, and students’ own devices in my own classroom along with different pedagogical strategies such as group discussions, brainstorming, Socratic seminars, think pair share, and peer review, to name a few. We can now teach using methods which were not even conceivable earlier. For example, while students work on an independent reading activity for my class, I create a google doc and share it with my students. Students are required to respond to the prompt presented to them in the doc and others can join in and comment or ask questions or give answers. This engages students in online discussion and even students who hesitate to speak in front of others join in the online discussion.

My high school classes are composed of adolescent students from multicultural backgrounds. Engaging adolescents in classwork and maintaining their focus and attention is a challenge. Most of them don’t have English as their mother tongue. Some of the students are proficient with all four English language skills; others are still developing all or some of those skills. Most students struggle with writing skills. But I also have students who are good at writing but struggle with speaking skills. So different backgrounds, different previous experiences, and different skill levels, all these lead to different student needs. This makes teaching challenging and when you meet these needs it is really satisfying.

TPACK has given me a fresh insight into how we are unconsciously making decisions and using technology for effective teaching and learning in today’s classrooms. TPACK definitely has an impact on these decisions when I make them for my classes. One thing that I always have in mind is that technology is a means to an end, not an end in itself. Whenever I use technology, I think of its utility for that particular content, and its compatibility with the pedagogical strategies that I am using, keeping in mind the context and environment of my classroom.

Dr. Mishra has also brought focus on the idea of using creativity in making everyday teaching effective. Most technological tools we use (Office software, Blogs, etc.) are not designed for teachers, and we have to find creative ways of using them for educational purposes. I also try to find more creative and more useful ways in which I can use technology in my classroom. For this, I make use of our collaboration time and the PLC meetings that we have at school and also search for new avenues online.

I totally agree with the following three things:

  • Teaching with technology is a wicked problem.
  • Wicked problems require creative solutions that are novel, effective and whole.
  • Teachers are the designers of the total package.

Quality teaching is the transformation of the content. It is the act of learning to think in a disciplined manner. Technology gives us new opportunities to connect with the content and use new pedagogical strategies to pass the content to our students. The Technological Pedagogical and Content Knowledge (TPACK) has given me the knowledge that is needed to effectively integrate technology in my classroom. It has also given me an understanding of the complex interactions between the various knowledge components. These interactions happen differently across diverse contexts, and thus there is no one perfect way of teaching and integrating technology in our classrooms.

We as teachers need to apply technology creatively and productively by recognizing when technology can assist or impede the achievement of a goal, and to continually adapt to changes in technology. When technology is effectively applied in the educational field, we reach a stage that Dr. Mishra called “dynamic equilibrium”. This means that “a change in any one of the factors has to be compensated by changes in the others,” to make teaching and learning, engaging and effective.