Give Your Eyes a Break and Try Blackle

How can a search engine save energy? That was a question that I pondered yesterday when one of my students (Kat) explained to me the idea behind a search engine called Blackle.

It works very much like Google because it was created using a Custom Google Search Engine (I have blogged about this in the past). The search engine serves as a reminder to us all that we all have a part in saving energy, even when searching the Internet!

How does it do this? The majority of the website's screen is black; therefore, it doesn't need a large amount of energy to appear on your screen. Blackle not only saves energy, but could helpful for students who have certain learning or visual disabilities.

Many students struggle with the glare of a white screen on black text. This could be a great alternative to the bright and colorful Google search engine that most of our students use. If you have a learning disability like Dyslexia  a darkened screen may help reduce the shear number of colors on the screen, allowing you to interpret and read information more effectively.

Whether you want to save energy, want an alternative to Google, have a visual disability, or just want to give your eyes a break, give Blackle a try. It's powered by Google anyways!

Paper Rater: A Great Writing Tool for Any Grade

Writing is often a difficult task for many of our students because they find it difficult to express their thoughts through written words. A great tool to help our students develop their writing skills is through a free website called Paper Rater. Students simply copy and paste their essay, research paper, or journal entry and choose get report. I want to thank one of my seniors (Joel) for offering me this idea for an article!

Students will receive a detailed report checking spelling, offering grammar suggestions, analyzing word usage, rating transitional word usage, measuring sentence structure, providing a vocabulary usage score, and generating a grade for your paper! Although it is not completely perfect (no technology is), it does provide an excellent option for students needing another "set of eyes" to look over their paper and offer suggestions.

Check out my "What to Do in a Few Video" on how to use Paper Rater below:

Edutopia's Parent's Guide to 21st-Century Learning

If you are a parent in the 21st Century, its hard enough to keep up with our kids, let alone the latest technology developments! I won't even ask about being a teacher and a parent!  :)

Understanding how our kids are using technology is one piece of the puzzle. Having a conversation or creating a memorable technology experience with our kids is the next step. We often complain that technology always changes and we can't keep up, but there are many organizations that are doing the work for us. 

A great resource developed by Edutopia may help you  (as a teacher and a parent) keep track of both the latest trends in technology and how to become part of your child's learning experience. The George Lucas Foundation developed a site called Edutopia, which is an excellent resource itself. However, just recently the organization developed a free PDF called A Parent's Guide to 21st-Century Learning

Inside you will find resources K-12 on using Skype in the classroom, 21st century skills, digital citizenship, and even financial literacy! What makes this publication different from most, is that it offers tips for getting involved! 

The PDF contains an article on Digital Citizenship for Teenagers, a hot-button topic for many families and schools across the country.  I particularly enjoyed the article on Skype in the classroom, which encouraged parents to get involved with their child's class by Skyping into the classroom on a business trip. 

Even if you cannot use some of the technologies in the classroom, this is a must share with parents. We complain about parents not being involved, but in many cases, they want to be involved but just don't know how. Why not use the flexibility and power of technology to do so? 


StoryBots are Amazing!

My 3 year old son and I were having some quality time this morning. We were watching cartoons, he was playing Angry Birds on my iPad, and I was checking out Twitter. Boy how quality time has shifted into an exercise in multitasking!

As I was going through Twitter, I came across a cool site called Storybots. I have heard about it in the past, but never really had the time to explore it. Storybots is an easy to use websites for teachers and parents to use with their elementary aged students. It gives you an opportunity to make your own videos starring "you" and the Storybots. Simply upload a picture of yourself and provide a name and a parent / teacher's email address and you are off and running. This would be a great tool for students to use to summarize a book that they read.

If you are not so interested in creating your own videos because your kids aren't old enough or you don't have enough computers, there are always the other resources on the site. There is an ABC Video series that teaches students about each letter of the alphabet. There is a Behavior Game that kids can play to learn proper behaviors and have better manners. If you are an elementary teacher, you may even want to check out the free Activity Sheets for students to use to color and learn at the same time. Finally, there is a section where you can create your own book!

After checking it out with my 3 year old son, he highly recommends it!  Check out this video he liked on the letter "A":

Presidents versus.....Aliens????

Now that the election is over, how do we recapture the attention of our history students? A good friend of mine, who is a history teacher, alerted me to a game called Presidents versus Aliens. There are two versions of the game, one is free and the other in 99 cents. The object of the game is to answer as many questions correctly about past US Presidents as possible. When you get the question right, you get the chance to "flick" the President (just like the game Angry Birds) to destroy aliens, who are hovering over famous US Landmarks!

When you have destroyed all of your aliens, you get the chance to "earn" Presidents to your profile. When I played the game, I found a variety of challenging questions, which would be useful to make learning History more fun. From my past experience, I would say that this app would be a great tool for late middle school and high school students.

As a side note, when I played...I went 4 for 4. Thanks Mr. Hatfield!

Surprising Trends in the World of Education

A few weeks ago, I read that schools were buying more iPads than PC's. Apple has always had a position in the educational realm, but why? After viewing this infographic (shared with me by one of my regular subscribers. Thank you Tess!), I began to realize that this trend stems way beyond a school's technology budget. Apple's influence is becoming a social trend. 

According to research from the Pearson Foundation, 55% of schools are allowing students to bring in their own devices to school. You hear about more and more schools going to a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) model, but does this work in education? I worry about kids who come from poverty, who actually do not have a cell phone. They do still exist.

The attitudes of our students are shifting too. According the Pearson Foundation, 87% of high school students believe that tablets, like the iPad, have an educational purpose. Perhaps this is why more schools are turning to Apps and the iTunes store to purchase their instructional tools. These students are not turning to Apple when buying their laptops. Only 14% of them do. 

Apple isn't the only company impacted by this trend. According to this infographic, there are almost 4,000 Android devices available to consumers in the market. The trend seems to be mobile learning. Take a look at this graphic and you may be surprised by the trends that you see! 

Our iPads Section is Slowly But Surely Coming Along!

A few months ago, I announced that I would be focusing on adding more articles on iPad Apps to Learn - Lead - Grow's website and blog. Several months later, I would like to announce that our new section of the website and blog is coming along. Check out apps that will help you in your classroom!

As always, if you have suggestions for apps that are free and would help students learn, please contact me! I appreciate the number of messages I receive on a daily basis from all of my followers! Without you, this blog would not be possible! Thank you!

No Keyboard for Your iPad? Dictation Made Easy

Yesterday I was sitting in a waiting room, using my "waiting" time as a chance to complete some of my "homework" (I am currently enrolled in an Instructional Technology Certificate program). As part of the class, we had to read a few articles and provide a written response on a discussion board. I jotted down my answers in the spiral notebook that I brought with me to later type on my PC. Then my mind started thinking...hmm...there has to be a better way.

After some searching in the iTunes store, I came across the free Dragon Dictation App. I remember Dragon Naturally Speaking from my days as a middle school computer teacher, when it was naturally viewed as our "arch enemy." I decided to let go of the past and download it!

I was pleasantly surprised by the capabilities of this speech to text app. You simply touch the screen and speak. When you are finished, the  app will take what you said and translate it into text. I started reading from my spiral notebook and compiling my paper. There were a few glitches here and there. It thought I said "gate" instead of "gauge" and there were some grammatical errors.

The program allows you to easily replace, delete and add words. After I filled up a page, I did have some trouble trying to edit and add more text. What I did like is that it allows you to "share" your notes through email or social media. I simply emailed page 1, 2, and 3 to myself so that I could paste them into my response.

This App is very UDL friendly, meaning it provides access to written assignments for ALL students. Whether your student has trouble putting things on paper, has a permanent physical disability, or a temporary injury, this is a great tool to use to help students compile written text. In my opinion, it should never fully replace writing things down on paper or composing a Word Processing document. There are times when we all have to do this. This tool is a great way to help our students become better writers - if it is used as a tool and not as a replacement.

Common Core Resources

As the landscape of education is shifting, we need to keep up to date with resources which will help us make the necessary changes in our classrooms. With most states shifting to the Common Core Standards, many teachers are left scrambling for resources, ideas, and implementation strategies. Many organizations are offering webinars, workshops, etc. to help ease the transition for teachers.

A good friend / administrator of mine, shared this excellent Common Core resource from America Achieves  If you don't know much about the AA, they are an organization that helps shape educational policies and provides educators with quality educational resources to meet today's toughest challenges.

America Achieves Common Core website is a work in progress, which is starting to become populated with valuable tools for educators to use when implementing the Common Core. The site is starting to accumulate a library of rubrics, lesson plans, and instructional videos by educators in the field. I really like the fact that most of the resources are developed by teachers for teachers. There is an EQuiP section of the website that focuses on Math and Literacy, where you can download, edit, and use many of the resources to fit your situation.

As with any change, there is a certain level of uncertainty and fear. This site does a great job providing resources to ease the mind of any educator. For example, the site contains a series of "Shift" videos, where teachers explain how the Common Core is impacting the way they teach and how students are learning.  It also is working to provide real-life teaching examples from classrooms across the country. During the fall of 2012, the site states that it will be gathering 'one Math and ELA video per grade level.

We are most certainly "creatures of habit." However, as the landscape of education is changing, we must shift our thinking as well. Tools like America Achieves may be a great way to ease the transition.

Edmodo Updates

I have been using Edmodo for quite some time. In fact, I just wrote about a way that your students can cast their votes in next week's Presidential Election. Edmodo just recently received a face-lift and has added some really unique features.

For example, you now have the ability to Schedule a Post. In the past, whenever you made a post, you couldn't hide it from students. It automatically appeared. With the new update, you simple have to type your message and click on "Schedule." Edmodo will allow you to choose a date and time (by the hour) to send your message.

In the teacher view, there is a window available to see recent student activity. You can see which students logged on and when. You can even see what they were up to.

I also like the updated student planner. In the past, by default you had a monthly view calendar. Edmodo has made some changes so that you can filter dates and assignments by the week. I really like this update because it is not as crowded.

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