Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Happy Leap Day!

Have you heard? There's a huge Leap Day Sale going on over at Teachers Pay Teachers! I'm offering 20% off of every item in my store, and if you use coupon code L2P9Y, you can take an additional 10% off! That's about 28% savings total. Hop by my store and check it out! Don't wait! The sale is for TODAY ONLY!

Frog image remixed from

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

This Week in the Preschool Computer Lab: Transportation!

It has been a crazy couple of weeks with part of our preschool program furloughed and the other part still at school, and also two early release days for students for parent-teacher conferences. Our computer lab schedule has been all discombobulated! I wanted something pretty simple for the few students who were getting computer lab last week and this week, but something that wasn't so vital that it would be bad for the others who are missing it.

Since one of our themes this month has been transportation (the other has been community helpers), I was happy to discover a cool activity on the ABCYa site that allows students to customize--and then drive!--a really cool, tricked-out vehicle. Check it out!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Rise to the Challenge!

Clip art (c) Microsoft. Used by permission.
I wasn't sure if they could do it, and furthermore, I was afraid the teachers might laugh at me. "You expect four year olds to do WHAT?" I imagined them saying. Finally, I bit the bullet and tried the computer lab lesson I had been thinking about with my Pre-K classes. It took at least 3 adults to make it work during each class session.  We were running around like crazy the whole time, but you know what? They did it!

You're probably wondering what the big lesson was all about, and I'll elaborate on that in a moment. That's not the point of this article. The point is that I tried something that I knew would be challenging for my students. I tried it even though I wasn't sure if we would fail. The results-- student engagement, student learning, and all of us adults getting to see what the students could do--were worth all of the doubts and fears. 

What I'm trying to tell you is to push your students, and yourself, a bit beyond your comfort zone. That zone where you're running around like crazy supporting the students and they are doing things they've never done before, that's the learning zone. In college they called it scaffolding. It is easier when my students are doing something they can do independently--both for them and for me--but they aren't learning at the same level. So push your kids, and more importantly, yourself!

One caveat: Don't be the stage mom who pushes her kids to the brink. During my lesson, no one was crying or having a nervous breakdown. I wasn't asking them to do something that was developmentally inappropriate. I just had a nagging doubt in my mind about whether it was just a little bit too hard. That's the sweet zone.

So what was the lesson? Last year I attended two different educational technology conferences where I saw Glogster EDU in action. I was intrigued by the easy controls and the engaging design and media. I was afraid whether it would be too much for non-reading four year olds to manage: too many steps, too many buttons, and most importantly, what would they report on when they couldn't read to do research? I finally settled on having students make a glog about the life cycle of the monarch butterfly, our school's unofficial mascot. This coincided with our monthly curriculum theme of insects and life cycles. I walked students through the process of making a glog by helping them create a class glog together at the interactive whiteboard, then set them loose creating their own with partners. As it turned out, they didn't need to work with buddies and actually resented having to share the activity! Not all of the students finished their glogs in the 3 class sessions that we worked on it, and I didn't end up publishing them on the school website as I had planned, but that truly didn't matter because of the learning that went on!

I'll post a full lesson plan at a later time along with my reflections about how it went and links to some of the glogs they created. Just this week I found myself once again pushing students beyond my own doubts, and it was a great success! I'll have to tell you about that one another time!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Friday Five: 5 Ways to Universalize Projector-Based Lessons

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Projectors and interactive whiteboards (IWBs) have transformed the way that many teachers practice their craft these days. I've heard teachers say time and again that they couldn't teach without the tools they've grown to love. With ubiquitous use of projectors, though, there is one caveat: lessons that center around the projector are by design very visual. What about offering support for students who may struggle with purely visual material? 

Perhaps you've heard the term Universal Design for Learning, or UDL. The idea of UDL arises from a design principle in architecture: if you build something to be accessible to those with special needs, it benefits everyone. Ramps in the curb can be used by skateboarders, parents with strollers, and pedestrians as well as those in wheelchairs, for instance. The beauty of UDL is that when you design for a variety of learners, everyone benefits. The supports below may benefit low-vision students, students with visual processing disorders, and students with attentional issues. They will also support learning for all the rest of your students by representing information in different ways and by providing multiple means of engagement, two of the three principles of UDL.

5 Ways to Universalize Projector-Based Lessons

1. Design slides and other visuals with high-contrast in mind. Consider using large, clear text (no fancy scripts for important information), simple, large graphics, and changing the coloring to a high-contrast color scheme like yellow text on a black background.

2. Provide verbal support. Always give directions and assignments verbally in addition to what's shown on the board. Don't be like the teacher I had in middle school who would come in and turn on the overhead projector and start writing notes for us to copy with barely a word. I could've learned those lessons by copying out of my teacher required.

3. Consider providing optional print handouts for all students. This is especially helpful for longer slide shows with lots of information, or for assignments that students will complete on their own paper from directions on the board. Most slide show applications, including SMART Notebook, ActivInspire, Mimio, and of course, PowerPoint, allow you to print handouts with mutliple slides on a page. Making the handouts optional means you won't have to waste paper for those students who don't care to use a printed version.

4. Allow students to work with partners or buddies to process information presented visually. This doesn't mean that all assignments have to be done with partners; just break up your lesson into chunks and give students a minute or so after each chunk to turn to a partner and summarize what they've just learned.

5. Offer a Livescribe pencast of the lesson for students to view later, with audio support from you. If you're not familiar with my favorite new ed-tech tool, the Livescribe pen is a computer in a pen that makes audio recordings tied to writing on special paper. Tapping a particular part of a diagram or a page of notes allows you to skip to that part of the audio and hear what was happening when it was written. Notes tagged with audio can also be uploaded to a computer and saved as a "pencast": a video file that shows the writing unfolding on a blank page while the audio plays. Some teachers are recording lessons ahead of time in a flipped classroom model or for students to review later. Others have allowed a different student to take notes with the pen each day while recording lessons, and then shared the pencast on a class website or blog.

Have you taught a student with special visual needs? How about a student who just couldn't attend to visual lessons? What do you do to make your projector-based lessons accessible to all? Do you use UDL in your classroom? How?

You can learn more about UDL at the following websites:
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