Winter Around the World Collaborative Project

So much has been happening at Cecil Intermediate School that it has been difficult finding the time to write.   I’m not one to make New Year’s resolutions, but I am a huge fan of goals.  Blogging more often is at the top of my list.

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Recently, my homeroom and exploratory group participated in a worldwide collaborative project entitled, “Winter Around the World.”  Spearheaded by the fantastically creative librarian, Shannon Miller, over 250 classes around the globe added stories, illustrations, and poems to create a wonderful digital storybook.  You can learn more about the project here.

Cecil Intermediate students added haiku poetry as this was our focus in grade six ELA classes.  We used the Word Mover app by Read, Write, Think (free) to publish our poems.  Word Mover can be used on computers and Chromebooks also.  Here are a few of my favorite submissions:

Winter Life by Liam-page-001

winter poem by Katie-page-001Winter in Pennsylvania by Abby-page-001

I am so proud to have been part of this forward-thinking project.  My students were inspired by the sheer number of participants.  They loved viewing the ideas from children in far away places.

Please enjoy the sights, sounds, words, and voices of children as they share their experiences in Winter Around the World.

Winter Around the World

Giving Individuals a Voice with Padlet

Looking for an easy way for students to SHARE their learning?  Padlet is a terrific, FREE tool!

I encourage my students to share what they are reading frequently.  The students are much more likely to accept a recommendation from a peer than me.  Biblionasium has become a staple in our classroom, but I also like the on-the-spot responses that Padlet provides.

The steps to using this terrific, FREE, collaborative tool could not be easier.  First, create a new wall.  You can modify the wall by choosing fun backgrounds like blueprint or chessboard.  Create a title and description.  This is where I usually post my instructions.  Select a layout (freeform, stream, or grid).  I vary this depending on the assignment.  Then you SHARE it with your audience.  I’ve found the easiest way is it use the Padlet generated QR code associated with your wall.  (You can find it under the share icon.)  The students bring their device to the iPad or computer screen, scan the code, and they have instant access!  They can tap anywhere to add their response!  So easy!  They don’t even have to log in!  Best of all, the finished product can be printed as a  .jpg, .pdf, excel or csv document.   It can also be embedded into a blog!

Toontastic and Telestory are FREE

I have been so busy designing new and creative ways for my students to tell stories digitally. We’ve been using Animoto, StoryboardThat, and Thinglink to share our reading experiences.  I absolutely love these programs.

But once upon a time, when I had my whole team reading the SAME novel, I had the students use a fabulous storytelling app on the iPads.  It was called Toontastic.

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We read the intriguing story of Claudia and Jamie searching for the mystery of the Angel statue in From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg.

Well, I am happy to announce that Toontastic is joining Google and is now FREE!   This is a huge deal as this was a pricey app!  I love Toontastic as it offers so many great choices to showcase stories.  You start by planning your story via the plot diagram or story arc.  Choose your scene, characters, and mood music to communicate your ideas.  There are dozens and dozens to choose from.  Animate your characters and record your voice.  Put it all together to show what you know!  Is there any better way to show that the students understand the parts of a story? Love, love, love!  See our example below.

Now, I have not used Launchpads Toys sister app, Telestory, but judging from the App Store reviews, it is just as fabulous and FREE too.  According to the description, you can create and broadcast your own TV show!  The steps seem to be simple.

“Pick a theme, then mix and match over 30 animated scenes to film your own story.  Craft a script using our playful TV tropes (or write your own).   Dress up in 50 different digital costumes with face tracking.  Perform and record your own show with animated settings and special effects.  Broadcast your show by exporting it to the camera roll and sharing your creation with family and friends around the world!” 

This app is compatible with the iPod and iPhone too!  Moms and Dads might like to have this one too!

telestory

Digital Storytelling with StoryboardThat

This is our first year truly living with the Pennsylvania Common Core Standards in ELA.  Add that to a new reading textbook, and you’ve got some hard-working, frustrated kiddos.  I knew I needed to give my students another avenue to show what they know!  We read an awesome nonfiction passage in our textbook about how scientists measure animal intelligence and the difficulties associated with it.  Then I popped my students on the Chromebooks to use an awesome digital tool:

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The kids were crazy about this program.  It is so customizable!  There are tons of terrific backgrounds, people, animals, and objects to manipulate.  I had the students create paper template retellings first, and it was so easy to transfer them to StoryboardThat!  Check out Erigan’s storyboard – complete with audio too!

 

 

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You will absolutely love StoryboardThat for its easy of use and simple ability to utilize it in ANY classroom.  Try a FREE teacher trial for two weeks.  After that, it is very affordable.  You can create folders for each class or assignment, leave comments, and browse lesson plans.  I highly recommend this program!

Digital Tools for the Intermediate ELA Classroom

One of my dear friends recently sent me a text message. Her son, entering grade six, failed to meet the benchmark on his state reading test, and is completely uninterested in reading. However, he is completely interested in technology, and “can you help?”

What a tough place to be in, as a parent. Your child has come out of the current public school system without a) a love of reading and b) the ability to achieve a proficient status on a state standardized test. Now, I could go into the many, many flaws in our assessment system, but let’s remove that from the equation. What are we doing to kill the love of reading in our classrooms?

The Book Whisperer, Donalyn Miller, has the same concerns. What she suggests is offering the students the choice in what to read. Good reading skills are not built with test prep periods and practice tests. They are built with reading, pure and simple. And the most important thing to note is that not all students enjoy the same type of reading material.

But how can you provide many different types of materials at a cost that you can afford in your middle school classroom? Or, if you are a parent, how can you provide reading material that will excite your child?

OverDrive-AppFor fiction, I highly recommend the Overdrive app. To see my full post, click here. In a nutshell, Overdrive allows you to borrow digital e-books (and audiobooks!) from your local or county library. All you need is a library card. There are no late fees. No hidden charges. There may still be waiting lists for popular books, but you will be notified and can grab your book when it is convenient for YOU.

storiaI have not tried Storia, but it is an e-book app from Scholastic. Since I am such a huge fan of Scholastic, I may install it on my devices and play with it. I think I can use my bonus points to purchase some titles. Can our students share their thoughts about their books too?

6056bd7b0a1d42163f5dec0c014f2febThere are loads of other sources for nonfiction reading. My favorite this year was Newsela. Each day, Newsela publishes five new current event stories. Every student wins as the lexile level of each story can be adjusted! Some of my students were reading on a fourth grade level, while others could handle high school wording. Newsela leveled the playing field. Many of the articles include quizzes, and a premium version ($$$) will allow you to track progress of individual students, individual classes, and individual common core anchors. The premium version will also allow you to create open-ended questions. The program worked very well for me, but the premium price is a bit steep. A customized quote is recommended.

1269245I’ve started to receive emails about the updated TweenTribune site. It is now being run by Smithsonian Education. I’m definitely leaning towards this tool as it also has an iPad app! What do you think? Do you use either of these?

20130423-1817062In addition, I’m thinking of resubscribing to News-O-Matic. I’ll be watching my free app websites http://www.smartappsforkids.com and http://www.funeducationalapps.com.   I’ve noticed that a yearly News-O-Matic subscription often goes on sale. With five days of original news/week, it might be worth it. See my original post here.

WonderLogo-MathI also absolutely love Wonderopolis. It is less conventional than the other options above, but it is a terrific source for nonfiction that is engaging and exciting! See my full post about Camp Wonderopolis here.

BiblionasiumAnother new tool that I plan on using this year is Biblionasium. It has taken me a while, but I am finally convinced that reading and writing need to be social experiences for my students. They will learn just as much, if not more, from their peers, both near and far. Bilbionasium is a safe, free, social networking site for children ages 6-13 to share their reading experiences. They can read and write reviews, post comments, search for titles, recommend books titles, etc.  I think it will be a terrific way to give my students a voice that is simple, safe, and fun!

 

Do you have any other tools that I should consider?  Please let me know by commenting below.

How to Earn 10,000 Scholastic Bonus Points

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Since we are all thinking about starting our school year off with a bang, I must share an terrific resource from Laura Candler. She has created an amazing packet of FREE materials to help you earn 10,000 bonus points from Scholastic.

Curious about how it works? During the month of September, Scholastic will give 10,000 bonus points to any class that places a $300 order. But how can you encourage that many orders? Simple. Print her pre-made free book slips. For each order placed, students will receive a free book coupon (up to $5.00) for a future order. You then use your bonus points when a student redeems. Most $5.00 titles cost 135 bonus points or less. You should have plenty left over for classroom titles. Ms. Candler also provides a class chart to mark progress and a reproducible parent letter. It truly could not be easier. I was able to earn well over 11,000 points in September of last year as teachers also earn 100 bonus points from every parent who places an online order for the first time.

Click here to help your class earn 10,000 Scholastic Bonus Points!

Laura Candler’s blog is tremendous for other reasons as well. She has a great Donors Choose funding option that she runs on Facebook, and I’ve used numerous items from her Back to School pack. She runs her own reading workshops in her home state of North Carolina. She is a wealth of knowledge! You can find her @lauracandler and at her blog:  http://www.lauracandler.com/blog/blogs/laura-candler