free tech resources

Common Core Reading–What if Students Don’t Like Reading

common coreHere’s a free lesson plan from the newest Ask a Tech Teacher book, How to Achieve Common Core with Tech–the Reading Strand. This covers K-8, 315 Standards, and has 14 projects.

BTW, the lines at the front of each step are to track progress in case you don’t complete it in one class period. Feel free to print out for classroom use:

Essential Question

How can games help me learn reading skills?

Summary

Students play an online game (i.e., Samorost) to hone reading and math skills. By end of unit, 5th through Middle School will review up to 7 math anchor standards, 8 reading anchor standards, 6 RST standards, 4 reading informational standards, and 1 reading foundational standard.

Big Idea

Games encourage students to read closely, determine and analyze central ideas, interpret meaning, assess point of view/purpose, differentiate between arguments, and understand sometimes complex material.

Materials

Internet, class Twitter account, student blogs, digital citizenship links

Teacher Preparation

Continue reading

Categories: free tech resources, lesson plans, Reading | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Common Core: A Lesson Plan for STEM (on Bridges)

common coreHere’s a free lesson plan from the newest Ask a Tech Teacher book, How to Achieve Common Core with Tech–the Math Strand. This covers K-8, 114 Standards, and has 20 projects.

BTW, the lines at the front of each step are to check off the skill–track progress in case you don’t complete it in one class period. Feel free to print to out for your classroom use:

Essential Question

How can I use practical and theoretical knowledge to solve a problem?

Summary

Students virtually construct a viable, affordable bridge and submit it (if age limits met) to a national competition. They use theoretical knowledge in a practical application.  When done, they reflect on importance of both theoretical and practical in problem solving.

This lesson contributes to the rigor of your school’s math program, defined by Common Core: … Use of technology differentiates for student learning styles by providing an alternative method of achieving conceptual understanding, procedural skill and fluency, and applying to authentic circumstances.

By the end of this unit, middle school students will review all eight Standards for Mathematical Procedures, 3 W and 3 RST standards, as well as embrace an authentic experience in problem solving and the practical applications of math knowledge.

Big Idea

Continue reading

Categories: free tech resources, lesson plans | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Common Core Language: Teach Your Students to Speak Like a Geek

common coreHere’s a free lesson plan from the newest Ask a Tech Teacher book, How to Achieve Common Core with Tech–the Language Strand. This covers K-8, 87 Standards, and has 8 projects.

BTW, the lines at the front of each step are to check off the skill–track progress in case you don’t complete it in one class period. Feel free to print to out for your classroom use:

Essential Question

 Why is appropriate vocabulary essential to academic success?

Lesson Summary

Students teach each other domain-specific words through presentations. This reinforces vocabulary, as well as presentation skills.

By the end of this unit, 3rd-middle school students will review up to 7 L, 4 SL, and 1 WHST, as well as authentically use and review Tier 3 vocabulary (or optionally, Tier 2).

Big Ideas

  • Words are beautiful.
  • Knowing Tier 3 vocabulary helps students understand the subject.

Materials

Internet, Speak Like a Geek assessments, Speak Like a Geek sign-ups

Teacher Preparation

Continue reading

Categories: fifth grade, fourth grade, free tech resources, lesson plans, third grade, words | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

Tech Tip #68: Check History in Your Browser

As a working technology teacher, I get hundreds of questions from parents about their home computers, how to do stuff, how to solve problems. Each week, I’ll share one of those with you. They’re always brief and always focused. Enjoy!

Q: How do I check to see where my kids/students have been online without making them think I don’t trust them?

A: If they’ve been online without you (because you considered them mature enough for this action), by all means check up on them. This is not a sign of distrust any more than guiding them through any other new skill is. This is you showing them the correct way to use the internet. You’re not spying on your children; you’re making sure everything is OK, kind of like checking in on them while they sleep.

Go to what’s called ‘history’. ‘History‘ is where a list of all the websites whoever logged in under a particular user name went.  Here’s how you do it:

  • Hold Control key (Ctrl) and push H. That brings up a sidebar with the sites they’ve visited.
  • Select the time frame you’re interested in

Continue reading

Categories: free tech resources, keyboard shortcuts, tech security | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

5 Sure-fire Ways to Teach Vocabulary

vocabularyHave you ever been around someone who knows exactly the right word when they talk? Don’t you conclude they’re smart? Capable? The one you want in your study group? How about the inverse–an individual struggling with language, maybe picks words that aren’t quite right or can’t come up with one at all. What do you conclude then?

Teachers have always taught ‘vocabulary’ using labels like word study, site words, Dolch, Hi-Frequency words. Common Core considers proper terminology part and parcel to preparing for college and career. They fall into three types:

  • Tier 1: Words acquired through every day speech, usually learned in early grades
  • Tier 2: Academic words that appear in textbooks, precise words that refine meaning, i.e. ‘sprint’ instead of ‘run’.
  • Tier 3: Domain specific words tied to content, included in glossaries, highlighted in textbooks, and considered important to understanding content.

The ‘tier’ you focus on in your teaching depends upon student age and material being taught. Here are five ways technology will make the time you spend on this subject more effective, fun, differentiated, and authentic:

  • Context clues
  • SpellingCity
  • Online graphic dictionaries
  • Word clouds
  • Vocabulary websites

Before we begin, let’s lay some groundwork. Vocabulary (or word study) isn’t done in a vacuum. You don’t pass out lists and have students memorize words and definitions (you don’t do that, do you?). If you used to, that’s changed with Common Core. Now, you are expected to integrate vocab into learning. Every time students run into a term they don’t get, you need to pause and help them decode it. It may be obvious from context, its parts (roots and affixes), but always–always—pay attention so students know unfamiliar words are not skipped. With Common Core, every nuance is important. It’s about uncovering knowledge.

Continue reading

Categories: free tech resources, words | Tags: , | 6 Comments

5 FREE Web Tools for a New School Year

When you were a child, your parents worried that the educational content you were learning might be out of date. Did history include the most relevant theories? Did science have the latest discoveries (and was Pluto still a planet)? When you became a teacher, you probably thought one of your big responsibilities was to stay current in your subject. You’re right–but today, ‘current’ is as much about content as how the message is delivered.

And delivery more and more often is powered by technology.

But when you read about tech tools used in cutting edge schools, your stomach churns. Is there enough PD time in your life to teach you all the tech you need to know? What if you can’t learn it?

Truth, you don’t have to know all 2878 (and counting) tech tools being used around the country. You just need to know five.  Learn them. Use them with students. Expect them to use them. When those are solid, pick five more.

Ready? Here are your first five:

tux paintTuxPaint

Art programs are critical in the K-8 classroom. Everyone isn’t a textual learner. To differentiate instruction requires assessment tools for all types of learners. Let’s start with art. There are some wonderful free art tools online (i.e., Mutapic and Scribbler), but nothing beats the versatility and Wow factor of KidPix. Unfortunately, it’s expensive, so I’ve found a wonderful alternative in TuxPaint. This free gem of a download has lots of tools, colors, toys–everything to allow student creativity to flourish as they communicate their ideas. Plus, if you focus on digital citizenship in your grade-level curriculum (and I hope you do), what better way than having students use their own images rather than someone else’s.

Classroom uses: to teach tools/toolbars, communicate ideas, compare/contrast visually, model digital responsibilities

gimpGIMP

All students love the big bold strokes that are part and parcel of TuxPaint, but after a few years, they’re ready for an adult art program. Unfortunately, a school license for Photoshop–the biggest name in image editing–costs thousands so most of us are forced to choose an alternative. Luckily, there’s a good one. GIMP is a FREE downloadable program that offers just about as much as PS (with enough changes to the process that they don’t have copyright infringement worries). You and students will be able to create and edit images, repair photos (in any number of clever ways), add clever filters, and more. This is a great tool to teach visual organizers and multi-media tools. And it’s easy enough, once learned, students will be willing to select it for projects outside of tech.  (Image credit: GIMP website screenshots)

Classroom uses: to communicate ideas, to compare/contrast visually, to avoid plagiarizing other’s work online by creating your own.

open officeOpen Office/Google Docs

Back when MS Office was used on 97% (I’m exaggerating, but not much) of computers, it made sense to teach it in school for productivity needs. But we have options now, and the fancy borders and pretty fonts offered by Office no longer overshadow the benefits offered by competitors.

Enter Open Office. This is a long-standing free alternative to MS which can do pretty much everything MS Office 2003 can do–word processing, spreadsheets, presentations. It’ll even import Office docs and save as Office docs. It is software, so it’s downloaded to one computer, to be used by one person. Many people like it better than Office because it’s stabler–doesn’t crash or corrupt documents as often. It’s a great option if you’re looking for an Office look-alike that’s cheaper.

But the 21st Century classroom wants to ‘publish, share, collaborate’. The growing (also free) favorite of schools is Google Docs. This also offers word processing, spreadsheets, presentations. It’s academic popularity has skyrocketed because students (up to 50) can work in groups to prepare a project, submit it for grading, receive comments and assessments without ever printing. It is a transformative education tool which has Microsoft playing catch up with its (pretty cool but not free) suite, 365.

Classroom uses: multi-media communication of ideas. For Google Docs: collaborating, sharing, publishing

evernoteEvernote/OneNote

Both are free in their basic version. On balance, most teachers I know use Evernote because it’s intuitive, versatile, and stable over more platforms than OneNote. One difference: OneNote’s  note page is more like Word. Where Evernote records notes as either text, photo, or a sketch, Onenote starts with a blank page where you type, add a drawing, drop a photo–like you would with a Word doc.

Whichever you pick, pick one. You–and your students–need an internet-based method of collecting websites, images, screenshots, videos, research and then organizing them into one spot. Start using one of these and you’ll never go back to… whatever… you used before you became enlightened.

Classroom uses: researching, comparing/contrasting, collecting evidence, displaying a strategic and capable use of tech tools

screencastScreencast

YouTube has changed the way we teach. I don’t mean the Gotchas that garner thousands of viewers, but the how-to videos that teach everything. Do you want students to create a project with Scratch? Give them a list of YouTubes to watch and make it student-centered. What about Alice? or Animoto? Same answer. What if you want to personalize training to your student group? Easily done in any number of screencast programs, and then uploaded to Vimeo, TeacherTube, or YouTube. Two online screencast tools I like are Screencast-o-matic and Jing. Both are intuitive, simple to use, and allow you to record your screen, create how-tos of tech skills, and share them with students via embeds. No more hoping someone else uploaded the exact video training you require to a spot your school doesn’t block.

And Screencasts are perfect for students, too, to show their understanding of a skill and their ability to teach others to use it.

Classroom uses: How-to projects, strategic use of tech tools to transfer knowledge, produce and publish knowledge, preparing a lesson for a sub to deliver in your absence.

Do you have any favorites you use daily? I’d love to learn from you.


Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-8 technology for 15 years. She is the editor of a K-8technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum, and creator of technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. She is webmaster for six blogs, CSG Master Teacher, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, Cisco guest blogger, a columnist for Examiner.com, IMS tech expert, and a weekly contributor to TeachHUB. Currently, she’s editing a techno-thriller that should be out to publishers next summer.

Follow me

Categories: classroom management, free tech resources, Web 2.0 | Tags: , | 4 Comments

Tech Tip #114: Embed Google Docs

As a working technology teacher, I get hundreds of questions from parents about their home computers, how to do stuff, how to solve problems. Each week, I’ll share one of those with you. They’re always brief and always focused. Enjoy!

Q: So many colleagues are sharing their documents through Google Apps, but I don’t know how to do that. Can you help?

A: I love this part of Google Apps for Education. When your Google Doc is complete,

  • save it by a name of your choice
  • File>Publish to the Web (on the menu bar)
  • Change the drop down choice ‘webpage’ to ‘HTML to embed in a page’
  • copy html code
  • paste into blog, wiki, website like I did below:

Is that cool?

But, what if your doc is created in Word (or Open Office) and you uploaded to your Google Drive. Can you ‘Publish to the web’ then? Sure, but first, you must open the file through Google Apps. Here’s how you do that:

  • Upload the doc to your Google Drive.
  • Go to More>Open With>Google Docs.
  • Once it’s open in Google Docs, follow the directions above.

To sign up for Tech Tips delivered to your email, click here.

More tips on Google Apps and Google:

Google Apps Support Bloom’s Taxonomy–Take a Look

Weekend Website 123: Google Gravity

Weekend Website #109: Google World of Wonders

Follow me


Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-8 technology for 15 years. She is the editor of a K-8technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum, and creator of technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. She is webmaster for six blogs, CSG Master Teacher, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, Cisco guest blogger, a columnist for Examiner.com, IMS tech expert, and a weekly contributor to TeachHUB. Currently, she’s editing a techno-thriller that should be out to publishers next summer.


Categories: classroom management, free tech resources, Tech Tips | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

5 Free Digital Tools for the No Budget Classroom

digital toolsSomething has changed in education content delivery, thanks to companies like Google, Khan Academy, MIT. When these industry leaders (and others) started offering high-quality educational tools for free, more followed. Yesterday’s muffled plea for equality in educational opportunities regardless of economic status is today’s reality. A rising tide raises all ships became a call for action rather than a dreamy quote.

This isn’t your mother’s schoolhouse anymore.

Think about the transformative teaching that comes from Google Earth, GAFE, Khan Academy, Scratch. A decade ago, they’d be expensive for-fee programs. Now, they’re free.

That’s just the nose of the educational camel. There are many more programs and widgets and tools that educators can take advantage of without cost, thus freeing up their limited funds for other programs, like elementary school music and art. Here are a few you want to take advantage of:

Online eLearning

Don’t you wish you had access to a Blackboard-type program that makes it easy to teach online, simple for students who miss class to catch up? What about GoToMeeting-style get-togethers where teachers show parents how to use online grade books or order lunches or access the nannycams mounted in preschool. Conventional Wisdom says parents will find you if they need help, but the truth is, every November, just weeks before report cards go out, a slew of parents swarm your room to find out how to see if their child is going to survive. Too bad these virtual training programs are the province of colleges and businesses.

They aren’t anymore. Here are two ways to meet parents and students online, on their schedule, where they need you:

  • Set up a Google Hangout. Yes, users must have a G+ account, but once that’s in place, you can have virtual Hangouts for parents or students providing training, updates, how-tos and question-and-answers.
  • Record information to a YouTube (or Vimeo) channel on any topic. This can be done directly in YouTube’s website,  to your iPhone or iPad with the free Vine app, or using a free recording program like Jing or Screencast-o-matic. Which you select depends a lot on what you want to accomplish.

Backchannel Communication

You heard about those clickers that collect feedback from students on the lesson being taught. They push a button on a handheld device to indicate they do or don’t understand something you’re teaching. Then, the teacher knows to slow down, figure out a different way to communicate an idea, or pick up the pace. How cool is that? And why do they cost so much?

They don’t anymore. In fact, if you use Today’s Meet or Socrative, they’re free. You can even have the results populate anonymously to your SmartScreen. You’ve seen that on TV, where tweets are posted on a show screen to share with viewers. Imagine that in your classroom. Pretty cool, hunh?

BTW, you can use Twitter instead of Today’s Meet or Socrative. Have students keep a Twitter window open during your class, post their 140-character feedback using a #hashtag like #needhelp, keep the Twitter stream active on your Smartscreen, and you have a backchannel device that’s also the ultimate of hip.

Parent Communication

You don’t need an expensive program like Veracross or Schoology to keep parents in the loop about tests, events, projects. Here are a few ideas that work just as well:

  • Set up a Google Calendar, embed it into your class website or blog, and let parents know it’s available with all due dates. You can color code by grade, class, importance. Whatever works.
  • Set up a Twitter stream with hashtags to differentiate between #homework, #projects, #important–whatever you choose. Once parents get used to Tweets, they will appreciate their cogent pithiness

Rubrics for Assessment

There are so many ways to create assessment rubrics that don’t include struggling over a Word table. How about these options:

  • Use a free online rubric creator like Rubistar. Fill in the table on line and print digitally. Or use one that will create a rubric based on Common Core Standards.
  • Create an interactive form-type rubric in the free-with-registration Adobe Forms. Rubrics are fully customizable, and the form collects results for you into your Adobe account. If you haven’t seen this site, click the link and check it out. It’s pretty amazing.
  • Create a rubric in Google Apps for Education. Like Adobe, this is highly-customizable (though takes a bit more work on the teacher part and isn’t as pretty if that’s important. I like pretty) and collects results for you to your GAFE account.

All of these can be shared, printed, most of them embedded. They are scalable and flexible to your unique needs.

Homework Dropbox

A homework dropbox doesn’t have to be through the school fee-based website account (i.e., Schoology). If your school has Google Apps, create your own private Drop Box for student homework like this:

  • Each student creates a folder called ‘Dropbox’ that is shared with you
  • Every time they want to submit work to you, they copy/move it to that folder so you can view and comment

Yeah, it’s that simple. There are other ways–email, a Discussion Board (when the homework is not private. Great for engendering conversation among students)–but this is the closest to a real homework dropbox.

That’s five options, plenty to get started. Any questions–leave a comment or email me. I’ll give you more detail.


Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-8 technology for 15 years. She is the editor of a K-8 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum, and creator of technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. She is webmaster for six blogs, CSG Master Teacher, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, Cisco guest blogger, a columnist for Examiner.com, IMS tech expert, and a weekly contributor to TeachHUB. Currently, she’s editing a techno-thriller that should be out to publishers next summer.

Follow me

Categories: classroom management, free tech resources | Tags: , | 3 Comments

Weekend Website #117: Co-Teaching Wikis

teach techLast chance to join the co-teaching wikis. By the end of this month, they will be private, unviewable without a membership. Drop over and check them out:

With Teaching Wikis (K-5 only), you follow along as a tech professional teaches each lesson in the SL K-5 curriculum textbooks.  Presented in a comfortable wiki format, you can ask questions as the lesson is presented, start a discussion with other teachers using the curriculum, access additional resources. It’s your mentor, your sidekick, your best friend in the tech ed field.

If you own any or all of K-5 Structured Learning technology curriculum (5th edition), you have free access to the grade-level teaching wikis. Just look on the front page of the book for a code. If you don’t own the curriculum, you can purchase access on a yearly basis here.

Questions? Contact me at askatechteacher@gmail.com

Follow me


Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-8 technology for 15 years. She is the editor of a K-8 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum, and creator of technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. She is webmaster for six blogs, CSG Master Teacher, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, Cisco guest blogger, a columnist for Examiner.com, IMS tech expert, and a weekly contributor to TeachHUB. Currently, she’s editing a techno-thriller that should be out to publishers next summer.

Categories: free tech resources, social networks, teacher resources | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Tech Tip #65: Google Street View

As a working technology teacher, I get hundreds of questions from parents about their home computers, how to do stuff, how to solve problems. Each Tuesday, I’ll share one of those with you. They’re always brief and always focused. Enjoy!

Q: I can’t find enough detail about a particular area of the world that we’re studying in class. Any suggestions?

A: That’s a lot easier to do today than it used to be, thanks to Google Street View. Students love walking down the street that they just read about in a book or seeing their home on the internet. It’s also a valuable research tool for writing. What better way to add details to a setting than to go see it?
Continue reading

Categories: free tech resources, Geography, Google Earth, homeschool, research, teacher resources, Tech Tips, Web 2.0, writing | Tags: , | 2 Comments

25 Techie Problems Every Student Can Fix–Update

problem solvingThe Number One reason–according to students–why their computer doesn’t work is… It’s broken. Can I move to a different computer??? Doesn’t matter why they’re wrong. My teacher’s job is to provide strategies so they can independently solve problems like these.

As a tech teacher, I know that half the problems that stop students short in their tech lessons are the same few. Once they’ve learned the following twenty-five trouble shooting solutions, they’ll be able to solve more than half of their ongoing problems.

ps

In the three years since I first posted this, I haven’t changed my mind about these problems. These transcend platforms, curricula, and Standards. When your youngest students can’t double click that tiny little icon to open the program (because their fine motor skills aren’t up to it), teach them the ‘enter’ solution. When somehow (who knows how) the task bar disappears, show them how to bring it up with the ‘flying windows’ key. When their monitor doesn’t work, go through all possible solutions together (monitor power on, computer power on, plugged into duplex, etc.)

Once they know the solution, I play Socrates and make them come up with it when faced with the problem. I reinforce the solutions by having them teach each other when called for. By the end of the year, they’ve got all twenty-five, and we can move on to more complicated issues.

Here are a few of my favorite posters that will get these solutions across:

–from 55 Technology Projects for the Digital Classroom and  19 Posters for the Tech Classroom



Follow me

Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-8 technology for 15 years. She is the editor of a K-8 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum, and creator of technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. She is webmaster for six blogs, CSG Master Teacher, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, Cisco guest blogger, a columnist for Examiner.com, IMS tech expert, and a weekly contributor to TeachHUB. Currently, she’s editing a techno-thriller that should be out to publishers next summer.

Categories: classroom management, free tech resources, problem solving | Tags: | 6 Comments

Back-to-School (Free) Training on Tech Tools

tech webinarsToday, we at Ask a Tech Teacher launch our list of Great Training for teachers. These are videos to show you how to use some of the apps, websites, widgets and tools mentioned on the Ask a Tech Teacher site, used in your technology curriculum, and that you really should know how to use (so you can teach students and other teachers). This is the brainchild of David Kinane (click for more of his brilliance), one of the Ask a Tech Teacher crew. He not only came up with the idea, but created most of them (well, all so far, but I have plans to help. I promise!).

If you haven’t met David, here’s a bit about him (from his website):

David has been Head of IT at a secondary girls school in the UK. He has been Head of IT at a large Auckland Intermediate School as well as Director of IT at a large Auckland primary school. David also spent a period of time working for Team Solutions at the University of Auckland, where he was the Secondary Schools Elearning Facilitator. David has presented on elearning at conferences in Europe, Australia and all over New Zealand and has been interviewed twice by EdTalks. David is a regular contributor to Interface Magazine and has written articles for Edudemic Magazine.

These videos are designed for educators who: 

  • use the SL tech curriculum
  • teach tech
  • teach a grade-level class and want to integrate tech into it
  • are an integration specialist, supposed to know ‘everything about anything tech’
  • would like to help students meet the Common Core tech requirements

Continue reading

Categories: free tech resources, teacher resources, Tech ed | Tags: , | 2 Comments

34 Categories–Over 500 Links–of K-8 Links for Your Classes

digital toolsI’ve spent a good chunk of time this summer updating my link collections so they are easier to wander through and reflect more topics you’re interested in. Here are 34 categories. K-MS are also subdivided by topics with age-appropriate links. The themed categories mix all ages together. I’m not sure which is better. It’s awfully difficult to differentiate by age considering the varied skill levels of students. Please forgive me if the grade-level categories don’t always hit the mark for you!

Remember: Any time students visit the internet, remind them of their rights and responsibilities, and the obligation to be good digital citizens.

Enjoy!

Kindergarten

1stGrade

2ndGrade

3rd Grade

4th Grade

5th Grade

Middle School

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Animals

Art

Collections

Digital Citizenship

GIF’s (animated images)

Holidays

Human Body

Images

Keyboarding

Math

Mouse Skills

Music

News

Poetry

Programming

Publishing

Reading

Research

Science

Simulations

Special Needs

Study Guides

Stories

Virtual Tours

Visual Learning

Word Study

Writing

Categories: classroom management, free tech resources | Tags: , | 1 Comment

5 Tech Ed Tools to Use this Fall

summer classesTechnology has become synonymous with education reform. Like starter on a barbeque, squirt around enough iPads and digital tools and classes start to sizzle. No one says, “Let’s teach cursive in 1st grade–that’s how we’ll fix things!” Nope. You won’t find that on the Education Improvement Bucket List (EIBL). So, bring your laptop and iPad to the local beach hotspot (that’s WiFi hotspot) and consider these new faces that will join your class in the Fall:

  • students are expected to type multiple pages at a single sitting
  • students are expected to take online assessments
  • students are expected to research using the internet
  • students are expected to use technology to publish and share and collaborate
  • students are expected to use a variety of media in communicating their ideas
  • students are expected to use glossaries and dictionaries, both print and digital

Sound familiar? They’re from Common Core standards, sprinkled through benign-sounding guidelines for math and literacy, steamrolling forward whether you’re ready or not. But you can be ready–no worries. Here are five skills to learn this summer and use in the  Fall that will make a big difference in how you prepare for these new requirements:

Teach keyboarding

If you have a school computer lab, get the experts there to teach keyboarding when your class visits them, then reinforce it in your classroom. If you don’t have a computer lab, create good keyboarding habits with your students every time they use the class computers. That’s a lot easier than it sounds. All you have to do is put a short list of keyboarding expectations up for students to follow:

  • use both hands on home row, on their own side of the keyboard
  • use the finger closest to the key
  • keep elbows at your sides
  • keep good posture

That’s it. Brief, but pithy. No student will think they can’t do only four items.  By the time those online assessments pop up, students will be (more) prepared.

Get familiar with Big Huge Labs

This is one of the easiest, all-purpose photo formatting tools around. It has dozens of ways to communicate ideas through images, with lots of lesson plan ideas–book covers, trading cards, photo captions. My favorite is the photo cube. Collect six pictures, say, stages in an animal’s life cycle. Upload to the six sides of a cube. Print and fold. It’s easy enough for 2nd grade and fun enough for olders. Who can resist rolling that cube and seeing all those stages in a chicken’s development? (BTW, if you’re a paper free school, create the cube online using PhotoCube and embed it into the class website or blog).

Use Online quiz creators

Common Core assessments will be online–eventually–so get students prepared by using online quiz programs like Equizzer . Create the quiz online. They take it online. Grade it online. Equizzer is free; others are inexpensive. Pick one you like and use it. No more excuses.

Another option is a program like PuzzleMaker. Create crosswords, hidden words, mazes that assess student knowledge in a game format. The learning concept is the same: Students demonstrate their understanding of a scholastic topic via an online tool.

Create an internet start page

An internet start page is the first place students go when they bring up the internet. It includes whatever you want it to–a calculator, To Do list, class calendar–and links to dictionaries, thesauruses, encyclopedias, and other reference materials important to student literacy.  All the topics you discuss throughout the year are in one spot, easy to find for first graders, quick for all students. I use a site called Protopage (click for an example of my classes), but you might want to use Symbaloo, LiveBinders, or Only2Clicks. Spend some time this summer checking out options and setting up the one that will work for your classes.

Test out some online publishing tools

Whatever you do, do not return to the classroom thinking all student work must be printed, hopefully before it gets crumpled, lost, or eaten by pets or siblings. There are so many ways to publish work that doesn’t involve MS Word and dead trees. First, convert Word docs to a PDF (click ‘save-as’ and then select ‘pdf’). As a PDF, it can be opened on any computer, iPad, even in an ereader like iBooks. If you have Google Apps for Education, students can use Google Docs and submit by ‘sharing’ privately with you (only you). No transfer, no handling, no printing. You can also publish documents to online sites like Scribd that will keep them organized, private, available to your group, and embeddable into class blogs, wikis, or websites.

But don’t limit yourself to textual documents. You can also publish via images (lots of sophisticated free sketchpads like Mutapic available), infographics (like the free Visual.ly and Easelly), graphic organizers (Eduplace has a huge collection), videos (YouTube made this easy with their tape-and-edit features), even music. Pick two of these visual tools and make them part of your curriculum differentiation for those non-text learners in your classes.

Collaborate online

Two great choices for online collaboration are Google Apps for Education and Google Hangouts. Both make it easy to get-together with classmates, hash out projects whenever and wherever students are available.  Google Hangouts are like sitting in a group and sharing resources. Everyone shows up on the screen (to a max of 10) and can share their documents and desktops, then save to everyone’s cloud-based Drive for later use. Not only is this a great way to extend classroom learning, it can be incorporated into your faculty in-service training, too.

There you have it–5 ideas you don’t want to return to school without. Set aside an hour and click through the links I’ve provided. Try a few projects. See what resonates with you. Leave a comment below–is there anything you’d recommend teachers must have for their classroom?

Want more useful tools? Try these:


Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-8 technology for 15 years. She is the editor of a K-8 technology curriculumK-8 keyboard curriculumK-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum, and creator of technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. She is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing TeachersCisco guest blogger, a columnist for Examiner.comIMS tech expert, and a weekly contributor to TeachHUB. Currently, she’s editing a techno-thriller that should be out to publishers next summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

Follow me

Categories: classroom management, free tech resources, teacher resources, Tech ed | Tags: , | 10 Comments

Dear Otto: Use Tech to Differentiate Lessons?

tech questions

Do you have a tech question?

Dear Otto is an occasional column where I answer questions I get from readers about teaching tech. If you have a question, please complete the form below and I’ll answer it here. For your privacy, I use only first names.

Here’s a great question I got from Ali:

I would love some information on differentiating tech lab lessons. I struggle with that the most in my lab.

I love tech for differentiating. There are so many software programs and online tools that speak to a student’s individual interests–Word (for writing-intensive), Publisher (for multimedia), PowerPoint (for multimedia), Voki (for video/audio), Big Huge Labs (for lots of choices). For 5th grade and up, I have a unit I co-teach with the grade-level teacher. I introduce students to about 18 online tools, then they pick one for a class project (whatever inquiry is going on in the classroom at the time). Here’s a link to my collection. You will want to those that suit your group. Favorites are Voki, Poll Daddy, Animoto, Photostory, a mind mapper. In all the years I’ve taught this unit, I am constantly amazed at student choices. those I would have predicted loved writing pick video tools, and vice versa.

Here are some more ideas for differentiating instruction in your classroom:

  • keep lots of activities going in your classroom, so students can work at their own pace and thus, self-manage their tech education. Keyboarding practice is great for that. While some students finish a project, others work on keyboarding. Sponge websites are another–have a collection of links on the class internet start page that support class inquiry. If/when students finish a project, they can work through those links.
  • teach visual organizers then let students use them as an option for projects. Here are some websites you’ll find a wide selection of graphic organizers for every need:
  • add color to everything. If you’re teaching Word, include how to add pictures, borders, fonts. Students will tolerate all the text to get to the decorating. If you’re reviewing Excel, show how to color cells, text, add images. Students will do the math stuff so they can make it pretty.
  • use online tools like Puzzle Maker as an alternative to traditional study guides. Anything you can gamify will go down easier with students. They are digital natives so let them do what comes naturally.
  • As a matter of fact, gamify anything possible. Here’s a link to simulations on everything from science to government.

How do you differentiate instruction in your class? Do you find yourself relying more often on tech to accomplish this?

More posts on using tech to differentiate teaching:

To ask Otto a question, fill out the form below:


Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-8 technology for 15 years. She is the editor of a K-8technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum, and creator of technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. She is webmaster for six blogs, CSG Master Teacher, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, Cisco guest blogger, a columnist for Examiner.com, IMS tech expert, and a weekly contributor to TeachHUB. Currently, she’s editing a techno-thriller that should be out to publishers next summer.

Follow me

Categories: Ask Otto, classroom management, free tech resources, lesson plans | Tags: | 1 Comment

Powered by WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: