Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Web 2.0 Wednesday: Evernote is my B.F.F.

Have any of these situations ever happened to you?
  • You're in the grocery store and get an idea to make a favorite recipe, but you can't remember all of the ingredients.
  • You are trying to remember what the hours are for your allergist to see if you can get an allergy shot today.
  • You need to call someone who gave you a business card, but you're not sure where the card is.
  • At Wal-Mart shopping for something else, you saw several great toys to get your kids for Christmas. Unfortunately, when it's time to plan your Christmas list, you can't remember what they were.
  • You have a hundred little notes you've written yourself to remember your library card number, various passwords, the combination to your gym locker, and miscellaneous ideas you've had.
  • You have trouble remembering movies you'd like to see or books you'd like to read.
  • You wanted to use a coupon at Archivers (you know, your favorite scrapbook store), but you forgot to bring them with you.
  • The doctor's office, church, and your in-laws' house all have wi-fi, but you can't remember any of the passwords. 
Sadly, all of these memory-impairment episodes are examples from my actual life. Good thing I discovered Evernote, because it has solved every one of these issues and more! First thing's first. Check out this quick video that explains what Evernote is.

Are you starting to see the possibilities? Whenever I receive a business card, I take a photo of it with my phone and add it to Evernote. When I discover a book or movie I'm interested in, I can clip the info from the web, take a photo of a poster or cover with my phone, or just type in the title. As I've walked through stores, watched T.V. commercials, and browsed the web this holiday season, I've collected a Christmas list for my kids. I've used my camera phone to save several of my favorite recipes into Evernote so that I always have them handy at the grocery store. All of the wi-fi passwords for the places I frequent are saved in Evernote, just in case I ever need them again. At the Georgia Educational Technology Conference, I took all of my session notes with my Livescribe pen and uploaded the pencasts to Evernote.

All of this information is text searchable, including anything from a photo note, and I can access it from my home computer, my laptop, my work computer, my iPhone, and my iPad. Everything syncs between them automatically. When I need to know the hours for my allergist, I can search the word allergy, and it pulls up the card I photographed showing the hours. You can even organize your notes into custom notebooks, so my notes from the conference are in one notebook, while all of the wi-fi passwords are in another. Are you thinking about the possibilities?

Do you use Evernote? What do you use it for? How has it saved the day for you in the past?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Teaching Resources, All Through the Year!

Images (c) Microsoft. Used by Permission.
I just got home from school; how about you? I'm sure like me, your evening outlook involves making dinner, cleaning house, wrangling kids into bed, and hopefully, at some point, putting your feet up to relax a little. There are just a few more hours left for the big Cyber Monday sale at Teachers Pay Teachers, so be sure to take a few minutes to take advantage of the 30% off savings! Everything in my store is 20% off, and with coupon code CMS28, you can take an additional 10% off of everything!

Not sure what to buy? Why not stock up for the year? Here are some great resources for all through the year!

There you have it: twelve wonderful seasonal resources to last you all year long! 

Did you find any great deals for Cyber Monday, on TpT or elsewhere? Share your finds in the comments section!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Friday Five: 5 Books I Love to Read Aloud

This week's Friday Five will be a quick one. Here are five of my favorite read-aloud books!

All ages. Who wouldn't enjoy reading these books, with their silly language, lovable characters, and of course, the requirement of your "very best Spanish accent"?

4th grade and up. I always loved the many opportunities for discussing idioms and playful use of language while reading this book to my fourth graders. It was definitely on the high side, so be ready to take it slowly and explain the difficult vocabulary. The video is a lot of fun to watch when you finish the book.

3rd grade and up. This is one of my absolute all-time favorite children's books. If you haven't read it, you need to. I will say that I don't think I ever got through it without crying in front of my class. This always bewildered the students. It isn't as emotional for them as it is for us!

All ages. This cute picture book is a great discussion starter about having a positive attitude. Upper grade students will also enjoy the sarcasm.

3rd grade and up. I dare you not to cry as you read aloud this inspiring story about a teacher that changed Patricia Polacco's life as a young girl. This book opens a door to talking about teasing, bullying, and learning differences as well.

I adore books, and reading aloud is such a special experience. I couldn't possibly limit my read-aloud favorites to five. Expect a follow-up on some Friday in the future!

What are your favorite read-aloud books, and why? Share them in the comments!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

It's Coming, It's Coming!

Teachers Pay Teachers is getting ready for a big ol' Cyber Monday sale, with lots of sellers participating and thousands of products being sold at a discount. Monday only, Smarty Pants Teaching Resources will be offering 20% off of every item, and you can use coupon code CMS28 (Cyber Monday Sale on the 28th) to get an extra 10% off from Teachers Pay Teachers, for a total of 30% savings! Whaaaaat! That means that file folder games will be just over $2.00, and all of the individual ordered pairs activities will be under $2.00! It's a great time to buy bigger packs like the Fall and Winter Ordered Pairs Pack, normally $8.00 and on Monday, just over $5.00!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Web 2.0 Wednesday: Wallwisher

Don't worry, you don't have to choose lime green.
Picture a giant corkboard covered in sticky notes. That's the idea behind Wallwisher, a site that allows you to create custom notice boards for sharing text, video, pictures, and links. You can create a wall without signing up for an account, though you do need an email address. Walls can be set to private so that only you can see it. You can also moderate a wall. This means you approve all new notes before they're added publicly. 

How can you use Wallwisher in your classroom? Here are a few ideas.
  • Create a board to collect reading responses. My friend and colleague Maureen has such a wall, along with a page on her school website with directions for students and a rubric. By the way, she recorded the audio directions using Voice Memo for iPhone. It sounds pretty good, doesn't it?
  • Use a wall to collect comments in a debate. For instance, who was in the wrong in the Boston Massacre? Have some students represent the colonists and some the redcoats. 
  • Wishing a student well as he or she moves along to another school, or to collect birthday wishes from classmates.
  • Allow students the option of gathering resources for a research project on Wallwisher. Students can include links, photos, and videos related to the topic, and can rearrange the notes to organize the information.
  • Allow students to do class note-taking on Wallwisher and share with one another, or with students who were absent.
  • Have students share a note about themselves at the beginning of the year on a Meet Our Class wall.
  • Post assignments, reminders, and coming events for your students and parents.
  • Allow parents to use a board to network with one another throughout the year. It's a great way for parents to get quick answers, organize volunteers, and coordinate special events and parties.
  • Create an interview board. Allow students to post questions for a subject-area expert, and then invite the expert to answer his or her favorite questions, either with text or video.
Have you used Wallwisher in your classroom? Do you have a great idea for using Wallwisher or a similar service? Share it in the comments!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Friday Five: 5 Websites for the Interactive Whiteboard in your Music Classroom

Copyright © 2011 Pratibha Varshney,
As with everything else, my school's specials rooms are a bit different than a typical school. Except for the computer lab and the media center, our specials rooms are set up for teachers to bring their classes and use the rooms without the benefit of a dedicated specials teacher. That means that when teachers visit the music or science room, they must come up with their own lessons. Our wonderful teachers are up to the task though, and our excellent paraprofessionals are assigned to maintain the rooms and provide lessons that the teachers may use.

One room that was not getting a lot of use last year was our music room. Our principal mentioned to me that she'd love to see classes come in and use the room more, and I offered to hunt around for some websites that classes could use on the interactive whiteboard to make music lessons more engaging. The 5 sites listed below were some of my favorites, not only for the board, but also for students to visit independently or in small groups at the computer. You might even consider using some of them for extra credit or homework.

Incredibox's music man looks bemused.
1. Incredibox
I found this site to be so much fun that I have played with it on my own several times! It's pretty self-explanatory: Drag the symbols at the bottom of the screen to the t-shirts of the characters to select instruments, percussion, effects, chorus, and voices. They blend into a lovely whole. The Bonus symbols will unlock as you go, and provide an optional, pre-made animation and song. Click them if you're interested; skip them if you're not. Secular schools, be aware of the yellow Bonus shaped like a cross: it's religious in nature.

Many of you likely already know Aviary. This site makes it easy to mix up all sorts of instruments and make your own original compositions. It's simple, yet powerful. Just set the number of beats per minute at the top, choose the instruments you'd like to include, and then turn "on" the notes you want by clicking the circles. When you first select an instrument, all of your notes on the left are for the same instrument. You can change individual lines to different instruments by clicking the Change Sounds button on the top right. You'll need to create an account to save and share your creation. Here's a simple one that I made.

Simple Melody.egg on Aviary.
Imagine students creating a video or slide show and creating their own original music for accompaniment. You can even work in a lesson about copyright and respecting others' work. Word to the Wise: This is not a site where anything you create will sound good. :o)

3. Tony B Machine
Here you'll find an 80's-style keyboard / synthesizer with several options for beats, vocals, and more. It's easy to make something that sounds nice here since it basically takes your options and makes them work with existing melodies and beats. There are also advanced options if you want more control. Click on the CD at the bottom to listen to other users' compositions. Something I really like about this site is that you can work the whole thing with the keyboard. That makes it fully accessible for blind or low-vision students who can't interact with the completely visual-based options above.

4. SFS Kids
The San Francisco Symphony Kids' Site includes a tour of each family of instruments, where you can click on individual instruments to learn more. I liked the feature that lets you zoom in on interesting areas of the photos and also hear each instrument. Music teachers will no doubt enjoy the Music Lab portion of the site, which contains some great basic lessons in music, including some interactive demos for some of the topics. The Performalator in this section allows students to try playing familiar melodies on a simple keyboard using numbers and color-coding. You can also use the number keys on the keyboard. The Composerizer has a selection of measures that students can piece together to form their own creations. Finally, The Radio allows students to listen to a variety of classical compositions. Your students may recognize several of them!

New York Philharmonic Kidzone's main page is the theater.
5. New York Philharmonic Kidzone
This site is polished, professional, and by far the most comprehensive of any I visited. The site's divided into several sections. In the Composition Workshop students can mix their own minuets, play a game called Musical Mingles, and experiment with orchestration, taking one piece and hearing it with different instruments. The Composer's Gallery lets you learn about a wide variety of composers of different styles and periods. You can read a short bio, see an illustrated portrait, and for most, hear a sample of the composer's music. In the Dressing Rooms you can meet the composers and soloists of the New York Philharmonic with photos and a short bio of each. The Newsstand provides period newspapers (Baroque, Classical, Romantic, and 20th Century), as well as current NY Philharmonic news. The Instrument Lab includes directions for creating your own homemade instruments as well as lots of information about how instruments are classified and what makes different types of instruments work. Some of the craft directions include a sound bite of the instrument you'll create and an audio description of the instrument. In the Musicians' Lounge (you've got to appreciate a website that uses the apostrophe correctly!) you can meet current Philharmonic performers and read a short description of the instrument each plays, along with hearing a sound clip of the instrument. The Game Room contains a collection of games (obviously), including some that are found elsewhere on the site. Check out the Music Match Composers and MusiQuest games on the interactive whiteboard. 

Finally, the Instrument Storage Room has all of the instruments of the orchestra arranged by family. Clicking an instrument lets you read about the history, link to descriptive information on, see a video of a performer discussing the instrument, hear a clip of the instrument in action, and see related instruments. The one I checked out, the french horn, included some connections to other cultures, mentioning its relation to the ancient Jewish shofar and a trumpet used by native Hawaiians. There is also a Videos section, but to find it I had to click on the site map link at the bottom. Whew! That's a lot of material. This would be a great leaping off point for a research project. Something else I like: All of the text is written at an appropriate reading level for students; I'd guess from 2nd grade readers on up. 

Honorable Mentions:
These sites didn't make my top 5, but were still interesting.
Do you have any favorite music sites I missed? Let us know in the comments!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Web 2.0 Wednesday: All Abilities Playground

Finally, at long last! It's a website that my blind students can use! In our school we have one pre-k classroom with two blind students. The teacher and I have been struggling to find new activities for the students to work on in the lab and on the classroom computer. With our students being pre-readers and not quite ready for the complexity of a screen reader like JAWS, we've struggled to find things that will work and keep them engaged. We have Braille overlays and have had success with games that give audio feedback when a letter is pressed, such as Animal Who? and Letterella on TVOKids and the "Letter Machine" section of the Millie and Bailey CD-ROM we use in the lab, but obviously after months of doing these same types of activities, the students were beyond bored. Then I received my November newsletter from Ian Bean a.k.a. SENICT, who I follow on Twitter. There I read about the All Abilities Playground.

I was super impressed with the audio feedback and explicit directions, as well as the ability to work the whole site from the keyboard. I was immediately able to play a memory game with my eyes closed, and I didn't have to cheat once! If you work with blind or low-vision students, visit the Mouse and Keyboard Playground and check out Memory, IbisBuster, and TrixMix. There are also switch-accessible versions of the games in the Switch Playground.

A big THANK YOU to Ian Bean for bringing this site to my attention. Our students thank you too!

Do you work with students who use a switch to access the computer? How about blind or low-vision students? What sites do you use to meet their needs?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Web 2.0 Wednesday: Go ahead and blab about it.

I {heart} Blabberize. I haven't had a chance to use with students yet, owing mainly to the fact that it's blocked for our student accounts at school. I think it's super cool though, and I'm still hopeful! Blabberize lets you take any picture or photo, cut out a mouth (you make it any shape), and record audio to make the image talk. The resulting video is called a Blabber. It's easier to just look at an example than to try to explain it. Here's a cool one my daughter Maggie made a while back. You can see some ideas for using Blabberize in the classroom below the Blabber.

A few ways to use Blabberize for instruction:
  • Have articulation students practice their speech for an authentic audience. (That's what my daughter has done here.)
  • Allow students the option of sharing first-person animal or historical figure reports by Blabber. 
  • Really any type of factual report would work here. How about if a flower told you about its parts?
  • Use Blabberize as a publishing option for student writing.
  • Have two students, or a small group, perform a debate with a Blabber using multiple characters.
  • Consider a Blabber for a short video podcast on your blog or class website to share what you are doing in class.
  • Create a class e-card using Blabber--for instance, a holiday or get-well card. Think of a creative image to do the talking (a cartoon doctor? a Christmas elf?) and let your whole class read the sentiments together chorally or in turns.
  • Practice writing dialog with correct punctuation, and use Blabber as a culminating activity. Perhaps you could have 2 characters and a narrator.
  • Shy students might want to use their own photos (make sure you have parent permission) and use a Blabber as an alternative to a presentation in front of the class.
Have you used Blabber for instruction? Do you have some great ideas for using it with your students? Share them in the comments!
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