Category: Reading

8 Web Tools To Add Pizazz to the End of School

There is no end to the number of online tools available. I get inundated with them by friends (My child wants to use this website. What do you think?), fellow teachers (Would you check this web tool–does it work for literacy?), parents (My child loves this tool. Is it appropriate?). I am always thrilled because introductions through friends and colleagues are much more authentic than through online advertising or an ezine.

When I review a website or app, I take 15-30 minutes to test it out, try to see it through the eyes of the age group that will use it. Here’s what I look for:smore

  • Does it have advertising? If so, it needs to be nominal and G-rated. I don’t want them to be overbearing or distracting. Worse is if they are inappropriate. I’ve seen great websites and online tools ruined by objectionable ads.
  • Is it intuitive? Students want to be able to figure the program out without being taught. An intuitive website and/or app 1) has an easy-to-understand start-up screen that clearly identifies how to use the tool, 2) the process for using the tool is similar to others the students is familiar with, and 3) the student can independently launch and operate the web tool or app without requiring an adult.
  • is it user-friendly? Does its design and layout make students want to accomplish the goals of the program? Are students engaged in the activity, motivated to use the web tool? Is it functional? Is it visually stimulating? Does it require only a nominal amount of reading?
  • Does the web tool differentiate for types of students and their unique needs? Sure, there are lots of good web tools appropriate for a certain standard classification of student. What I want is the web tool that can adapt to varying needs.
  • Is the tool challenging? Does it require sufficient critical thinking to keep the student engaged or do they get bored quickly?
  • Is the web tool compatible with most browsers, most computers? I don’t want it so old it won’t play well with the type of computer commonly used by students. I also don’t want it so specialized that students must buy extra equipment to use it.
  • Is the web tool free? That’s preferable. There are lots of good web tools that are free to a certain point and charge a fee after that. Depending upon what ‘point’ that kicks in, I’m OK with that
  • Does the web tool encourage higher-order thinking–creativity, evaluation, critical thinking, problem solving?
  • Is the web tool or app error-free? This means not only that it’s free of spelling and grammar errors, but that it doesn’t freeze, stall, shut down, or crash.
  • Does the web tool have educational applications? When students are at school, I want to focus on academic endeavors, leaving those more focused on ‘play’ to the home environment. So many fun programs are also educational, this isn’t a high hurdle.

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minecraft

How Minecraft Teaches Reading, Writing and Problem Solving

Image credit: Paulo OrdovezaLast month, Scientific American declared “…“not only is Minecraft immersive and creative, but it is an excellent platform for making almost any subject area more engaging.” A nod from a top science magazine to the game many parents wish their kids had never heard of. This, following Common Sense Media’s seal of approval.  On the surface, it’s not so surprising. Something like 80% of five-to-eight year-olds play games and 97% of teens. Early simulations like Reader Rabbit are still used in classrooms to drill reading and math skills.

But Minecraft, a blocky retro role-playing simulation that’s more Lego than svelte hi-tech wizardry, isn’t just the game du jour. Kids would skip dinner to play it if parents allowed. Minecraft is role playing and so much more.

Let me back up a moment. Most simulation games–where players role-play life in a pretend world–aren’t so much Make Your Own Adventure as See If You Survive Ours. Players are a passenger in a hero’s journey, solving riddles, advancing through levels and unlocking prizes. That’s not Minecraft. Here, they create the world. Nothing happens without their decision–not surroundings or characters or buildings rising or holes being dug. There isn’t a right or wrong answer. There’s merely what You decide and where those decisions land You. Players have one goal: To survive. Prevail. They solve problems or cease to exist. If the teacher wants to use games to learn history, Minecraft won’t throw students into a fully fleshed simulation of the American Revolution. It’ll start with a plot of land and students will write the story, cast the characters, create the entire 1776 world. Again, think Legos.

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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

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tech q & a

Dear Otto: I need reading resources for ELL/ESL

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 Shelley:

Tomorrow is a half day planning day so I can’t wait to look at all of the websites you have for 1st grade. I’m wondering what recommendations can you give for ELL/ESL students? One of my student’s home language is Spanish and the other home language is Pashto. Thank you for any recommendations!

I found these websites that share story books in lots of languages:

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