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

Sunday, March 25, 2012

We Give Books: Visit, Read, Donate!

Teachers are busy people, without a doubt.  Still, given the opportunity, most teachers I know will go out of their way, no matter how busy they are, to find the time to do a favor for a student or a friend or a colleague, or even a stranger.  It's what we do--we're "good-doers" by nature.  That's one of the reasons we're always so busy, I think.  We somehow find a way to do things for others in addition to the million things already on our own plates.  Wouldn't it be great if the things that we ordinarily do on a daily basis could benefit someone else without taking any additional time or energy?  Get ready to be a very excited good-doer, because now they can!

Check out http://wegivebooks.org.  Simply by reading the books available online at the site, you can not only teach and entertain your students, you provide books for needy children at the same time.  Doing good couldn't be simpler.  Sign up for a free account, select a literacy campaign who will receive your donation, read one of the many books online, and when complete, press a button to donate a book.  That's it!

The collection of books changes occasionally, and yes, most of the collection is currently for students aged 10 and under, but that means that they're short and easy to read in just a couple of minutes.  Now I know what you're thinking, you junior high teachers.  Why bother if there isn't anything for students of a higher reading level?  With a little creative thought, these books could be the basis for a bigger, more sophisticated project appropriate for your upper grade students.  As an example, in my computer classes, students have the opportunity to use the Smart Recorder on their computers to record themselves reading a story from the site.  The finished stories, now in movie form, are then uploaded to our UStream channel (more about this website another day) where they can become part of our weekly school news broadcast, and are available for viewing by primary classes.  Be sure to check the Resources for Educators link at the We Give Books site for more project ideas and, of course, resources.  There's something here for students of all grade levels.

There's something very satisfying about taking a two minute break from your work, enjoying a silly little story, and knowing that someone, somewhere is benefitting from your moment of literary escape.  So, when you have some time, visit, read and donate.  In the meantime, enjoy my effort at storytelling.  Something about this little book really spoke to me.  (I know the words are completely unreadable in this view of the video.  Visit We Give Books to read the text for yourself.)

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Triptico: Interactives for Any Board

On a beautiful day like today (80ยบ and sunny in Chicago, mid-March) I'm reminded of the expression, "the best things in life are free."  Although usually the things to which this statement refers are in the realm of the philosophical, on the rare occasion, some of life's freebies can be quite tangible.  Such is the case with the gems from Triptico.
If you are lucky enough to have an interactive whiteboard in your classroom, be sure to seek out the treasure available free for the taking at http://triptico.co.uk.  With a single multi-platform download, you will get a collection of more than 20 interactive resources that are versatile, customizable, inspirational . . . invaluable!  (What?!  No IWB in your room?  All you really need to take advantage of many of the Triptico resources is your computer and a projector.  Honest.)

Upload a class list and make use of the Student Selector, Student Order and Student Group applications.  Use the same class list to create Class Magnets for taking attendance or organizing teams for games or projects.  Ready to play a review game with your class?  Be sure to start the Flip Timer or the Hourglass, and one of the Team Scoreboard apps.  Have a little extra time to prepare?  Create some custom activities for your class using the Text and Image Spinners, a Random Task Generator, quiz generators, matching games and so much more.
Like any real treasure, this resource may require a little more digging than your average search, but once uncovered will have definitely been worth the extra effort.  And, best of all, this is one chest that will still be full no matter how many treasure-seekers claim it as their own.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

PowerPoints with Personality

Whether you love 'em, hate 'em, or fall somewhere in between, PowerPoint presentations have become something of a staple in every teacher's bag of technology tricks.  Some of us create our own PowerPoints to present curriculum content, some of us have our students create them to show they've learned the curriculum content, and some of us do a little of each.

Now, conventional Powerpoint wisdom tells us that as a general rule, less is more.  PowerPoint slides are, essentially, visual aids, and should not contain every word you intend to convey to your audience.  Most of your presentation should come from the presenter--as spoken word.   (If you've never seen it, take a minute to watch the "Life after Death by PowerPoint" video below.  It's definitely good for a giggle or two.)

Well, for seasoned professionals like us, that shouldn't be too much of a challenge.  Teachers are, after all, paid to speak extemporaneously in front of an audience on a daily basis.  But for our students, on the other hand, not reading directly from the presentation can be quite a challenge.  Fortunately for all of us, there are web resources available to improve the presentations of the shy, shyer, and shyest of students.

Present.me is a web tool that allows you to add a video narration to your PowerPoints, creating a presentation that is the next best thing to (sometimes even better than) a live address.  Your slides and narration appear side by side and are easy to synch perfectly for a flawless presentation.  Not only is this a good solution for eliminating the nervousness many students experience at the prospect of speaking in front of their classmates, it's also perfect for the teacher who wants to be sure every point of context is delivered, even in his or her absence.  (Wouldn't every teacher want him or herself as their own substitute?!) Recorded presentations can also be posted online so that even the students who missed class can hear every word that was delivered while they were gone.

Students too shy to appear on video?  MyBrainshark.com is the perfect solution for the shyer set. Audio narration can be added through this website, as well as some nice background music for effect.  (Read lots more about MyBrainshark, and see a sample presentation in the January 29th post of this blog.)

Now what about those students who tremble at the mere thought of speaking into a microphone?  Yes, there's even a solution for the shyest of your students:  HelloSlide.com. Using the Hello Slide website allows students to add narration to their presentations by simply typing what they want to say.  Sure, you can tell it's computer-speak, but it is far more natural than many computer-voices I've heard.  This website will even allow you to choose the language the narrator will speak, and the accent, to my untrained ear, actually sounds pretty realistic.

So there you have it--something for everyone.  Never again will you have to stare at the back of a student reading word-for-word from the text-laden PowerPoint presentation proudly projected on the wall of your classroom.  Now, if we could just as easily address the rest of these egregious talk taboos.