Tagged With: website review
Actively Learn is a freemium online education platform that allows students to read a book (or some other document), make comments, answer questions posed by the teacher, and even collaborate with others. Quickly, it is becoming the close reading tool of choice for teachers because of its ease of use, differentiation of needs, depth of tools, and variety of resources.
Actively Learn is a high-functioning ereader for ELA, social studies, and science students in grades 2-12. It provides reading resources either uploaded by the teacher or selected from the platform’s library of thousands of fiction and nonfiction books (some free; some through Prime plans), Common Core-aligned lesson plans, videos, or simulations. These are filtered by topic, grade, length, reading level, keyword, or standards (i.e., CCSS) and can include embedded questions, scaffolded notes, and topical media. These can be targeted to select groups, individuals, or the entire class, providing scaffolding for some and enrichment for others.
While reading the ebooks, students can take notes, highlight, jot down questions, share ideas with each other, and respond to the comments of classmates. They can look up words they don’t understand and translate the text into a long list of languages that may be their native or a secondary language they are learning.
Actively Learn is becoming recognized as an effective inclusive tool that involves all students–from gregarious to shy–in student-centered, student-led discussions.
How do you get started
Once teachers create an account, they set up their classrooms either by importing student lists from Google Classroom, Microsoft, Clever, or Edmodo, or by providing the class join code to students. Assignments are created and made available to individuals, groups, or the entire class and teachers can monitor progress, check the gradebook, respond to student questions, review student input, and view class data through their teacher dashboard.
Students, too, have their own dashboard where they access teacher-assigned materials and more. If this is the first time they’ve logged in, they can start with a quick how-to on using Actively Learn.
If you’ve heard the buzz about eSpark this summer at conferences or training sessions, you already know it’s more than “just another math and reading learning platform”. Sure, it is that but what sets it apart is eSpark’s clever blend of learning tools that encourage students to progress at their own pace in their own way, to review when needed and move ahead when they get it. Each targeted quest curates a collection of third-party apps, webtools, videos, games, and other resources that focus on particular math or reading skills identified by the teacher or from the student’s earlier work as an area of academic need.
eSpark works on all devices–desktops, Chromebooks, iPads (with the free app)–pretty much whatever digital device you use in your classroom. In fact, some students can be working on Chromebooks while others use iPads. Because students log in, the program syncs between devices, starting students where they ended on their last visit.
What is eSpark?
Let me dig deeper. eSpark is a student-centered series of self-guided, self-paced PK-5 math and reading lessons that are based on class goals, teacher input, and individual academic need Students work independently, taking the time they need. Teachers monitor individual progress, see what each student completed on their last visit as well as when that was and how long it lasted, view students’ self-described moods, assess their pre- and post-quiz scores, and view their summative synthesis videos that provide evidence of their knowledge as they teach others what they just learned.
Right now, eSpark is only available for schools, not individual sign-ups (such as homeschoolers).
Summer has a reputation for being nonstop relaxation, never-ending play, and a time when students stay as far from “learning” as they can get. For educators, those long empty weeks result in a phenomenon known as “Summer Slide” — where students start the next academic year behind where they ended the last.
“…on average, students’ achievement scores declined over summer vacation by one month’s worth of school-year learning…” (Brookings)
This doesn’t have to happen. Think about what students don’t like about school. Often, it revolves around repetitive schedules, assigned grades, and/or being forced to take subjects they don’t enjoy. In summer, we can meet students where they want to learn with topics they like by offering a menu of ungraded activities that are self-paced, exciting, energizing, and nothing like school learning. We talk about life-long learners (see my article on life-long learners). This summer, model it by offering educational activities students will choose over watching TV, playing video games, or whatever else they fall into when there’s nothing to do.
Here are favorites that my students love:
One of the biggest problems facing digital natives as they grow into adults is understanding how to maneuver the vastness of the Internet ethically, safely, and to serve their needs. It sounds simple–log on, search, enjoy–but let’s equate this to a shopping mall. You enter the wide, inviting front doors, find the store with the product you need, and then must pay for it. If you don’t have money, you can’t get the product. Even if you could sneak it into your purse, you don’t because that’s stealing (and besides, someone might see you).
The concept of ‘buy’ and ‘money’ are often blurry on the Internet but the idea is the same: If you can’t follow the website’s rules to acquire the online product, you can’t have it. If you take it, that’s plagiarism and–like stealing from a store–carries drastic penalties.
Me, I don’t want to cheat anyone so when I acquire resources from the Internet, I want to do it legally. That’s why plagiarism checkers are important to me. There are many to choose from but one I recently discovered is PlagairismCheck.org. It requires no installation, is quick and intuitive to use, and covers everything I need at a fair price.
What is PlagiarismCheck.org
PlagiarismCheck.org is an online plagiarism checker that uses a sophisticated algorithm to check content for different types of plagiarism. It can operate as a stand-alone web-based tool or be integrated into an LMS like Google Classroom or Moodle. When you set up an account, you tell it whether you want to access it as a teacher, a student, or an individual owner. Each provides different tools. For example, teachers can collect assignments through PlagiarismCheck.org and track student submittals while checking for the authenticity of assignments. Once you have your account set up, you get one page for free, to see how PlagiarismCheck.org works. From there, you purchase packages depending upon how many pages you’d like to check. If you are purchasing a school subscription with roles like students, teacher and owner, you won’t need to purchase packages as individuals. You’ll pick from two subscription models:
- per page. School purchases pages for all its members, and members are using pages to run checks.
- per user. School purchases licenses for users, giving users unlimited access to the software (no page restrictions apply).
The goal of PlagiarismCheck.org is not to catch students plagiarizing (though it does) but to help them succeed in their academic ventures. It’s a subtle difference in interpretation but a big difference in attitude and results.
One more note: PlagiarismCheck.org is an excellent tool not only for students but for writers, entrepreneurial businesses, and teacher-authors. For the purposes of this post, I’ll concentrate on teacher-student uses.
Every school I know offers a summer camp. Sometimes, these are for just their students but often, the community is invited in an effort to provide a safe, fun summer learning environment for all kids.
The biggest problem with summer camp has nothing to do with picking interesting subjects or lining up teachers. It’s organizing enrollees. JotForm has the camp registration solution.
If you’re not familiar with JotForm, it is the gold standard for form creation whether on PCs, Macs, or mobile devices. For your summer camp, it can be used to sign up volunteers, get feedback on events, enroll people into classes, collect payments, and more. Its drag-and-drop interface makes building a form intuitive, and quick. With a wide variety of summer camp-themed templates, it’s easily adaptable to your school or camp colors and logo. Once the form is completed, it can be shared via a link or social media, or integrated into DropBox, Google Docs, and many other popular platforms.
Study.com is an online distance learning portal that provides over 70,000 lessons in fifteen subjects (including algebra, calculus, chemistry, macro- and microeconomics, and physics) aligned with many popular textbooks. Resources include not only videos but study tools, guides, quizzes, and more. You can read more detail on my Study.com review here.
What a lot of educators don’t know is that Study.com offers thousands of lesson plans for teachers — hundreds of them for free — to simplify lesson preparation and save time that is needed for student guidance. These lesson plans were created by teachers for all different grade levels and subject areas. They include:
- learning objectives
- length of time
- curriculum standards alignment
- key vocabulary
- related lessons
Once you select the lesson plan you’re interested in, you’ll see the credentials of the teacher who is providing the lesson as well as where it fits into a bigger course if that’s your interest (Though standalone, lessons often are aligned with a particular textbook). Many lesson plans include a video overview and a quiz to assess understanding of the material (though you can’t grade it without an account).
Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) are buzzwords that every educator wants to know more about. They are two distinct functions. Kathy Schrock, columnist for Discovery Education explains:
Augmented reality layers computer-generated enhancements on top of an existing reality to make it more meaningful through the ability to interact with it.
Virtual reality is a computer-generated simulation of real life… It immerses users by making them feel they are experiencing the simulated reality firsthand.
The differences are actually pretty simple. Virtual means experiencing a world that doesn’t exist. Augmented means adding something virtual to the physical world.
The AR that most people are familiar with is Pokemon Go. This app was wildly popular because of the seamless integration of real and fantasy. Moving this sort of AR to education gamifies learning in ways that challenge creativity, critical thinking, and problem solving.
One tool that stands out in the creation and use of AR for Education is Metaverse.
What is Metaverse?
Metaverse has become one of the most popular AR apps in schools. It is a forever-free platform with no in-app purchases, no premium offerings, and no limits on what you can use on a zero budget. It blends a website for the creation of AR experiences with an app for their display, nimbly allowing users to create, share, and interact with their AR ‘experiences’ (or projects). It’s easy to use and requires no coding. Users can access a wide variety of AR games, lesson plans, and other experiences created by others and shared in the Metaverse ecosystem via the free app (reminder: Always preview these to be sure they fit your student group). For those looking for greater personalization, they can create their own on the website.
Forms are popular in schools for all sorts of reasons. Some teachers look no further than Google Forms but for those who require greater simplicity and sophistication in a form builder, as well as agility and rigor, free JotForm (premium edition also available) is an excellent option. It works on PCs, Macs, and mobile devices and offers what seems like an endless supply of professional-looking templates for tasks like performance evaluations, permission slips, volunteer sign-ups, feedback on events, asking for donations, collecting payments, providing contact information, and more. Its drag-and-drop interface makes building forms intuitive, quick, and easy. And the completed form can be pushed out via link, embed, or email. Here’s my review if you’re looking for more details.
If you already use JotForm, here’s some great news: JotForm has kicked it up a notch by offering a free PDF editor.
Why a PDF Editor?
Every teacher I know must edit a PDF at some time in the school year. Maybe they want to customize an existing PDF for use in their class, or a form they created requires that sort of versatility. PDF Readers are common (like Adobe Reader) but editing one is trickier. If President Trump’s campaign chairman Paul Manafort had one, it would have changed his life dramatically (click the link to read more of this story–and thanks to the JotForm folks for pointing this out to me). Many school documents are shared in PDF format for ease of use on multiple platforms as well as security from being hacked or edited. The biggest reason by far why my colleagues require a PDF editor is that too often, the underlying document is lost and the teacher has nothing left but the PDF.
That’s when a PDF editor becomes critical. Click here for JotForms’ Complete Guide to Editing PDFs.
Every teacher knows that students do better with positive reinforcement. As tempting as “punishment” might sound when referring to that student who has scrambled your last nerve, to explain consequences of actions in positive terms goes much further toward student success not only in school but in the ongoing effort to build life-long learners.
“Positive reinforcement, whether it be with your family, when following laws, or with students, can best be defined as the logical consequences of doing what’s right.” –Jacqui Murray
As an education pedagogy, pursuing a classroom management system that revolves around positive reinforcement is called Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support, or PBIS. The importance of using tools that prevent disruptive behavior and support students is explained by NEA Past President Lily Eskelsen Garcia:
The most effective tool teachers have to handle problem behavior is to prevent it from occurring in the first place. Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) programs help teachers recognize the significance of classroom management and preventive school discipline to maximize student success. PBIS strategies are critical to providing all young people with the best learning environment.
Committed teachers can accomplish this in a variety of ways including supportive words, prizes, special activities, certificates, badges, and modeling proper behavior. Here are four online options that support the goal of recognizing students in a positive way:
As of June 16, 2018, Today’s Meet closed (read the full details here). That iconic backchannel chat platform for classroom teachers and learners, the one that for ten years was the first name thought of when discussing feedback and collaboration, one that quickly became a staple in classrooms and conferences. I went to my PLN for thoughts on what they’ll use in its stead. It turns out, there are good options, depending upon whether you primarily use Today’s Meet for:
- backchannel and student response
- polls, forms, or surveys
- warm-up and exit tickets
Here are webtool replacements you can use for summer or fall classes:
Backchannel and Student Response
A backchannel is a way for students to chat about lesson material while it’s being taught. It occurs in realtime but is non-intrusive to classwork. The teacher can throw a question out to students and evaluate learning or needs based on answers. Or students can pose a question and get answers from classmates. Here are three options you will like: