Friday, November 30, 2012

Make Your Students Content "Goorus"

Here's something new....

Ya know what? Lesson planning is hard. Planning with technology is in many ways more daunting because we are expected to use fabulous resources, videos, interactives and whatever else to claim we are "21st century teachers." But finding those incredibly awesome resources is SOOOoooo time consuming and frustrating.

One site that is making resource gathering easier is Gooru.

Gooru is an online education-based search engine. Say you're looking for a good video or interactive to help kids understand the slope of a line. You type "slope" into Google and begin the slow and arduous process of looking at one resource at a time to assess whether it fits your needs. You also have to wade through sites that have NOTHING to do with your search as well as annoying ads for dating sites and getting rid of belly fat.

By contrast, when you search "slope" in Gooru, you get tons of resources, categorized by type (video, interactive, textbook, quizzes, etc.) and you know it's been reviewed by teachers and approved for use. Gooru also is run by a non-profit, so there's no danger of running into a cost wall when looking for resources, and there's no pop-up ads to get in your way.

I mean seriously, isn't this search result:

better than this search result?

The Google search yielded one, maybe two usable sources...the Gooru search returned 16 in the screen shot - there were more on the page!

But it gets better....

When you search a topic, you can look at individual resources, or you can view collections. Now these are fabulous. The collections have been put together by teachers - they include selected resources and are arranged in a learning path for the kids. YOU HAVE FULL ACCESS TO THESE!

And here's the best part.....

Gooru is absolutely free. No cost, no ads. You and your students have full access to any and all resources on this site, and you don't even have to create an account. and since kids don't have to create accounts to get to this information.....wait for it......IT'S APPROPRIATE FOR KIDS UNDER THIRTEEN!


But there's just one thing...

Right now Gooru only provides resources for science, math, and social studies. As an English teacher, this makes me sad. But this site is in beta, and as more teachers begin to use it and add content, it will certainly expand. Having a product of such high quality is worth the wait in my opinion.

So go, explore, and let the Gooru guide you!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Writing Writing Writing!

November is fast approaching, and therefore so is.......


What, you haven't heard of it? It's a web-based program in which teen and adult writers all over the world write novels in the month of November. "NAtional NOvel WRIting MOnth."  NANOWRIMO.

NANOWRIMO is housed in two distinct websites. The first is the adult site, where anyone 13 and over can participate. This site offers adult writers the opportunity to connect with other writers in their area and find publishers for their work. If you join this site, your goal is to produce 50,000 words.

The second is connected to the Young Writers Program, and is kid safe. Part of the sign-up process asks the  student to identify his grade level as elementary, middle, or high, and a teacher can create an account students can link to. The youth site is for students 17 and under specifically, and students can set word goals.  So an elementary student can write a 3,000 word short story, while a high school student can write a 10 - 20 thousand word novella.

This site is great for helping writers write, but don't think it's just for English teachers. A middle school class could write a collection of Math Adventure stories in which the main characters have to use their stellar math skills to solve difficulties, or a history class can write novellas from the perspective of an historical figure.

NANOWRIMO is sponsored by Create Space, an independent publishing firm, and NEO2, a program with Renaissance Learning. Other companies that partner with NANOWRIMO include the National Writing Project, Edutopia, and The Learning Network.

Happy writing!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Gearing Up for the New Year

It's happening again...

We're about to begin a new year with new students, and we're dusting off our file cabinets and setting up our rooms. In the midst of the meetings, the professional development, and the general chaos of these first days, you'll have to ask yourself the following questions:

1. What do I want my students to accomplish this year?
2. How will I go about making this happen?
3. What tools are available to me to make my lessons the best they can be?
4. How can I successfully measure my students' growth?

These are the normal, universal questions teachers ask. In the last several years, though, we've been asking a fifth question: Where can I fit technology into my curriculum?

And that's the problem...

Too often, teachers view technology, and I mean the hardware, the software, and web 2.0 tools, as an addition to their curriculum instead of an integral part of their curriculum. Admittedly, as an English teacher I was often stumped as to how to integrate tech into my lessons about literature, but I came to understand that I didn't have to use technology for its own sake, but I needed instead to use it to enhance my lessons.

If you are currently teaching in a traditional, "20th century" way, or if you think using technology means showing power points on your SMART board, then let's think about expanding our outlook just a bit. Here's  three ideas that you can use today to start integrating technology into your teaching practices.

1. Add some interest to your warm-ups by creating an interactive activity on your SMART board. Students can match terms and definitions, categorize items on the board, or click parts of the board to reveal answers to review questions or problems.

2. Consult experts in your subject by finding relevant videos on YouTube. Some great learning-based channels include TEDeducation, SciShow, CrashCourse, and 60second recap. Adding a short video to your lesson or to your website can spark interest and be a great way to reinforce that learning can take place outside the school walls as well.

3. Use Google Documents for student writing. Have students share their papers with you in Google Docs, then work with them through the writing process. Students have more frequent feedback from you, and you can watch them working with their papers in real time. You can even hold online office hours with students to discuss papers.

Remember that using technology effectively doesn't mean we are using it every minute of the day. Remember that the technology you use should be appropriate to your goal for the students. Remember that technology used for its own sake typically hinders learning rather than enables it.

So those four big questions from earlier? Don't add tech as your fifth question. Instead, think about how technology can help you answer those questions. Tech shouldn't be squeezed into your curriculum. It should support your current teaching.

Happy Teaching!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Blogging Along with Formal Research

Whenever I tell my juniors they are about to begin writing a research paper, they all groan. Loudly. They know just as well as I do that research is difficult and tedious, and that they'll have to spend time learning or relearning MLA formatting and citation in order to write their boring, meticulous, dry position papers.

Over the years, I have tried various approaches to research, like linking their argument to a literary work, writing in the voice of an author they have researched, or researching their own family history. All of these have been an attempt to make the process less painful for us all, but where I have failed is that the topic chosen doesn't usually make up for the process, and part of the problem (in fact, it becomes more of a problem) is that a student may have a topic he feels passionately about, but must write the paper in an academic voice to suit the MLA gods.

I've been curious about blogging, but was too afraid to try it until I saw a wonderful presentation from Steve Fulton at our state's English conference in 2011. He had his middle school children research and write about anything they wanted, and encouraged them to explore different genre options and different voice options in their writing. It made me think that surely I can provide my students with an engaging writing experience to supplement, not replace, their academic research.

My 2011-2012 AP students became my guinea pigs, and we launched our research project. I told them they had to pick a topic that would 1) give them room to argue a position and 2) give them some means to comment on America's position globally. Right away they went for the popular topics, like world hunger or education, but soon, they started to understand that if they were going to also write casual or even funny blogs on their topics, they had better choose differently. Consequently, the topics became much more personal and interesting. One student discussed the Americanization of martial arts; another discussed how sports affect politics.

We then ventured into blogging. I helped students create and update blogs, and modeled the difference between "blogging language" and "formal paper language." The students were able to work out major points of argument in their blogs, then transfer their ideas to their research papers. Many students felt more confident in their arguments because they had first written the blogs, and several students commented that understanding how to change their voice to suit their mode of writing was the most beneficial lesson. All of my students thought this research process was made easier by using blogs, and I noticed how much better the papers were in terms of argument, choice or sources, and formatting.

I have links below to a few major blog sites, and I hope you'll give blogging a try. - you can create a blog and add your students as authors, then make the whole blog private. - you create a class and add students. They don't need an e-mail for this. - the largest education blogging site on the web.