As a teacher, I know that it's important for my students to be reading nonfiction as well as fiction. One great way to incorporate nonfiction is by having students read online news articles. I like to use The Week, The Huffington Post, and the NY Times. I'm also a frequent visitor of Kelly Gallagher's Article of the Week archives. While all of these websites offer great news articles, printing nice "clean" ad-free copies for student use can be a bit of a hassle. That's why I recommend the following web tools:
"Lifeless Face #045" by nottsexminer
Do you see a face? Look again at the picture on the left. Look very closely. Now do you see a face?
Recently, while perusing the gift shop in my local art museum, I discovered a create collection of photography in a book called Found Faces. Immediately, I thought "This is the result of very careful noticings and creativity! This is what I want my students to do!" Of course, the book came with a $15 price tag, which I did not have in my budget that day, so I was more than a little disappointed that I'd have to go home empty handed. My next thought (which quickly followed by my initial excitement and the subsequent sadness due to lack of funds) was to purchase the book used on Amazon. (The current price starts at only $4.86 as I'm posting this.) I was really happy to find out it was cheaper online, but my happiness did not stop there...
A quick Google search revealed that there is an entire collection of these "found faces" on Flickr containing literally thousands of images similar to the photo above. Now, before you go copying photos and pasting them into Power Point presentations--or photocopying them by the thousands--do be aware that each photo in the collection has its own license terms; some have "all rights reserved," while others have only ask that you give credit to the photographer or that you do not use the photo for commercial purposes. Before you "borrow" a photograph, be familiar with its license terms and know what those terms mean.
So, how can "found faces" be used in the classroom? First, I love the idea that these photos are great examples of finding the extraordinary in ordinary places, and of really approaching the everyday with a careful, watchful eye. How many times a day do we walk past a hidden face without ever seeing it? It would be a great exercise in observation to have students locate their own found faces in their schools, homes, or communities. Additionally, I see huge potential in terms of narrative writing and descriptive writing in response to these faces. I think students would enjoy viewing some of these faces and writing their background stories. This would also be a great anchor activity, or a springboard for even richer narrative and descriptive writing experiences.
Recently, I discovered a vocabulary website called Membean. The site offers personalized vocabulary lessons to help with preparation for the SAT, the GRE, or general vocabulary improvement for both individuals and schools. The vocabulary lessons are visually stunning and very interactive; however, they are not free. Personally, I know that my school simply cannot afford to pay for tailored vocabulary development for each student, but Membean's format has given me the idea of setting up a vocabulary wiki and having my students create their own interactive vocabulary pages, including definitions, pictures, videos, sentences with context clues, etc. If your school has money to spend, by all means, it appears to be well worth the money, but I know for some of us, spending even a penny more isn't an option.
With that said, let me tell you what Membean has for free. (Doesn't the word "free" have a beautiful ring to it?) Membean has a wonderful collection of podcasts featuring different root words. (Thanks, Membean!) I plan to use a study in roots, prefixes, and suffixes as an integral part of my vocabulary curriculum this upcoming school year. In fact, I plan to use Membean's podcasts as a bellringer activity in my classroom by having students make note cards to record the meaning of each root word. I'll have students record the root, its meaning, and definitions of multiple words based on that root; they will also draw an illustration to accompany the root word. Students will be given an online pretest to assess prior knowledge, and will be retested throughout the school year to measure to assess growth. Below, I am sharing the template that my students will use to create the note cards. As always, feel free to copy/print/distribute.
A few weeks ago, I saw a post on an educational blog (probably Free Tech 4 Teachers) about StoryBricks, an online program that allows users to create their own MMOs. If you are a gamer--or, in my case, married to one--then you already know what an MMO is. If not, then allow me to explain: an MMO is a Massive Multiplayer Online game. Basically, it is a game played online by multiple players at once; the players' characters are able to interact with one another to make the story really come to life. Think World of Warcraft or Guild Wars. Now, I might not be the die-hard gamer that several of my friends and family members are (yes, even my mom is a gamer) but this definitely caught my attention!
With the buzz around gaming in education, and the push for increased computer science (STEM) in schools, I was curious to check out this new option. One of the most intriguing aspects of StoryBricks is that users don't simply play the game; they build the game using basic concept of computer programming. Once I signed in and began playing around, the interface really reminded me of Scratch. Scratch is a "computer programming language learning environment" created by MIT, which has been used in schools to introduce youngsters to the concepts behind computer programming. StoryBricks, on the other hand, seems to be aimed at an older demographic. I predict that this will be used mostly in middle school and high school classrooms. As many students in this age group are already playing MMOs, introducing the complexities of computer programming through this format is sure to spark some students' interests.
I'm not a computer science teacher, so my first thought was "That's great, but how can I use this in my English classroom?" The first idea that came to mind was using StoryBricks as a digital storytelling tool; I could have students create their own interactive myths or legends. I also notice that the commands that are used to build the stories really enforce logical thinking (if-then statements, for example). I also thought about the revision process that students would undergo in order to get their stories to turn out well. In short, there are many reasons why StoryBrick would make a good edition to the English classroom. If nothing else, pose it as a challenge to the uninterested student who hates homework but loves computers; have him* work on a story during his "free time" and see where it takes him.
Below, I have embedded a brief screenshot of myself experimenting with StoryBricks. It's best viewed if you imagine some incredibly suspenseful, adventurous music as you watch...
*or her, because computer superstars come in all shapes and sizes
I recently discovered ImageSpike after reading about it on the Free Technology for Teachers blog, and I can see endless possibilities with this tool! This would be a wonderful way to make my images more interactive. According to the website, ImageSpike allows users to "mark up" photos with "interactive hotspots." This sounds confusing at first, but it's easy to understand the concept once you see a "spiked" image. It's also very easy to create one.
To spike an image, first upload a picture from your PC or supply the URL address. Next, click on areas of the picture to create "hot spots." Hot spots are dots that appear on your image. When you hover over the dot, a link appears. You can link these hot spots to videos, web pages, images, etc. Again, just supply the URL for the content you want to link to the hot spot. It's multimedia on steroids.
Below is my first ever "spiked" image--a photo of Bernini's The Rape of Proserpina. This shows how I would use ImageSpike in my own classroom: to link resources to an image, keeping my information organized and visually stimulating. I could also see having students create images loaded with their own hot spots; this could take place of a standard poster board presentation, or could be used as part of a student presentation. I could also have students visit a "spiked" image (similar to the image below) and then take notes or answer questions related to the media that students are directed to. This would also work great with maps; I already have plans to create a spiked image of the journey of Odysseus to use this upcoming school year. How will you use ImageSpike?
It's no secret that I absolutely LOVE Screenr. And why not? The more I think about it, the more uses I come up with for Screenr in the classroom. One of my favorite uses is to create technology tutorials for my students to watch in the computer lab, eliminating some of the time I usually spend answering questions about page margins and inserting headers or footers. But, I've also begun to think of Screenr as a great tool for using with the IPEVO p2v document camera (which doesn't record on its own). Recently, I "played" with Screenr to see how well it would work for creating stop motion animation videos. You can see the results embedded below and--while my first attempt is far from perfection--it definitely shows potential. To create this video, I used clipart and a background from Smart Notebook software. I think that, given more time and a little more practice, this could become a great alternative to more expensive stop animation software programs. What do you think? Please feel free to comment on how you could use Screenr in the classroom.
SMORE is a new online program that allows you to design dynamic online newsletters for free. (ah, free! one of my favorite words, especially when it comes to education!) Right now, you have to request membership and wait to be approved before you can use Smore, but it is well worth the wait! Although Smore bills itself as a tool for creating flyers, it could be used to create any sort of web document; this would be an excellent site for creating a classroom webpage or a class/school newsletter. The themes are beautiful and simple, giving the pages a clean and modern look. Editing content is as easy as using Power Point, so even the web novice would be able to build online documents with ease. More experienced with building web pages? Try spicing up your newsletter by embedding pictures, links, or videos. Another great feature is that viewers can leave comments on the newsletter through Facebook, creating real-time feedback from viewers.
NOTE: I'm currently using Smore to build the newsletter for the members of my local chapter of the National Writing Project. You can view my document HERE.
A Cupcake Story from Smore on Vimeo.
By visiting Scholastic Scope online, viewers have access to tons of free resources, including PDF files of stories and readers' theater pieces, vocabulary and grammar worksheets, ACT-style quizzes, essay writing prompts, and much much more! I'm truly amazed that there is no log-in required to view these materials. There is even information regarding how the materials align with the Common Core State Standards. According to the website, these materials will be password-protected in the future, so visit their website and save these files while it's free! I plan on using many of the resources (my school has a subscription, so I will be able to access information even after it is password-protected); I'm particularly interested in the readers' theater pieces because they are a great way to expand students' background knowledge regarding literary masterpieces.
Create Your Own Games with SPLODER
I found out about Sploder completely by accident. For a class assignment, students were asked to collaborate in order to create websites focused on the novel The Time Machine. Many groups decided that they wanted to create games for their websites. I had no experience building online games, so I told students to Google "create video games online" and the standout winner among online video game creators was Sploder. My students loved building their own custom games and playing them. Below, I'm embedding a screencast of myself playing (very poorly, I might add) a student-created game, in which the player plays as the time traveller, fighting the morlocks with a mace. I must say that I really love it when I get to teach my students something new, but it's just as much fun when they teach me something new!
SpicyNodes is a dynamic organization tool that is designed to make content easier for your web page visitors to navigate. However, it also has plenty of educational uses; namely, it is a great tool for visually representing information in much the same way as Prezi. It offers features, including the ability to add images, music, and YouTube videos. Essentially, these "nodemaps" are multi-media mind maps. SpicyNodes is simple enough for students to create on their own. In fact, SpicyNodes offers sample lesson plans on their website HERE. SpicyNodes could also be built by teachers as an engaging way of delivering classroom notes, creating webquests, or recording group brainstorming activities. SpicyNodes could also be used for outlining information (such as book chapters), creating character profiles, or prewriting before an essay. SpicyNodes can also be used as a change of pace from standard tools, such as Power Point.
Dr. Jessica Pilgreen, Ed.D.