Tuesday, November 10, 2015

My New Favorite App 3: Learning Ally

is my new favorite technology for my classroom.

Many special education teachers find that 
IEP modifications such as "teacher will provide student with audio books"
are common in the writing of IEPs. Rightfully so.
Audiobooks help students to comprehend text that they may not have 
been able to access due to their disability. 
They are a necessary modification that benefits many learners.

Students can set up their library on the web and listen on their iPhones.  There are options for voice only and voice+text.  I have students that prefer one or the other. The students are now in the routine of bringing phones/iPads/devices to school and I have the application downloaded on our PC's, too!

The Importance of Audiobooks
Learning Ally explains:

"Whether it be from decoding difficulties, phonological processing issues, or even vocabulary stumbling blocks; audiobooks have proven to help countless students engage with text that a student could not read alone."

"For many students with a learning disability like dyslexia, without proper phonological awareness and decoding skills, their listening comprehension is much higher than their reading comprehension. With the help of audiobooks, students can rely on listening skills to help maintain fluency in grade level curriculum, materials, fiction, non-fiction, literature and more."

excerpts from: here.

Trying to Find Audiobooks 
Finding audio books can be difficult. 
Years ago, districts purchased tapes or CDs for students to receive audio book accommodations.
Then, not every book was available.  One year, I even recorded myself reading classroom texts for each day and placed it on a tape player (yes, a cassette tape) for a student to listen to while others were independently reading. But today, since most students no longer have a CD player, there are a variety of online books for students as audiobooks. Sadly, many are pricy per book. Others are pricy per student

Enter Learning Ally.

Above are screenshots from one of my students' accounts. I provided the students with all the textbook and novel titles for the year and they searched the site to add all the books at once into their library.  They then download the books when they need them on their device and listen in school or at home.

In My Classroom

I have been using it for a few weeks now and here are my thoughts...

All the textbooks, class novels, and many independent reading selections are available on Learning Ally.  This make my job of tracking down audio books easy!

What I am most excited about in my classroom, however, 
is the motivation that the app is providing my students. The students are increasing their reading independence and decreasing reading anxiety.  For some, they are heading what good fluency sounds like.  (And an added bonus, they like the REAL voices instead of the digital-sounding-voices).

  Maybe it is simply the fact that the students are allowed to 
bring in their device and a set of headphones. Although I doubt it.  ;)

Don't assume that your students know HOW to use audio books.
It is important to show them the Learning Ally website and app.
In my opinion, it is a skill to use audio books correctly.

It is a skill to be able to use reading skills (such as looking back in the text) with audiobooks.  Take the time to show them and they will meet success quicker.... and "buy in" that this is a took that will help their learning.

Have students practice searching for books and downloading books.  Have students practice reading a segment and answering comprehension questions, asking them to reflect whether they should re-listen to the section or rewind.  Have them practice the length of text they should listen to before pausing to take notes or complete comprehension guides. Have students play with the settings (speed/pitch of voice) to reflect on their preference.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Halloween Candy pH Lab

The purpose of this lab is to determine if popular Halloween candies are acidic or basic (alkaline). The students will follow the scientific method to test using pH paper and baking soda as indicators. 

This lab is intended to be used to determine whether Halloween candy are acids or bases and to identify them on the pH scale. After reading the purpose and research for the lab, the students will create a hypothesis for each substance that will be tested. They will record their observations, complete analysis questions, and write a conclusion.

The first step is to gather materials.  I considered having students bring in few pieces of Halloween candy, but in this case, I went out and purchased the candy from my local candy store. $20 later, I recommend buying less candy (you don't need much to get the results) or having students bring in candy.

In the picture below, you can see the variety of candies I purchased.  It is best to have a mixture of sour, sweet, and chocolate candies.

It is also best to consider that highly dyed candies (i.e. the red fun dip and red nerds) may alter the results if they are too red.  This was the only candy we had difficulty reading the results of.

I set up my room for the lab groups to test four candies each.

As research, we watched and discussed two brain pop videos:
Brain Pop Acids and Bases  and Brain Pop pH Scale

While I have had students test every item in the past when we use the litmus paper, the pH paper (used in this lab) is more expensive and therefore I prefer to limit the usage. 

Then, the students followed the scientific method to make predictions,
follow procedures, and record their results.

I rotated the room adding hot water from an electric water kettle that I had prepared earlier.  The water didn't need to be hot- just warm.

My lab is available here: Halloween Candy pH Lab

The students stirred the candy in the warm water to help it dissolve before testing.
Above are pictures of a few of the candies being tested with the pH test strips.

I purchased my pH strips here.

Below are our results of the pH testing for 12 candies.  You can test any candy with the lab,
These just happen to test the ones below.

In no particular order, the students estimated**:
Airhead - 2.5
Warhead - 2
Chocolate - 6.5
Nerds (cherry) - 3.5*
Lemon heads - 2
Blowpipe - 3
Sour Spray - 1.5-2
Skittles - 3
SweetTarts - 2.5
NerdRope - 3
Fun Dip - 1.5*
PopRocks - 5.5*

*for these items, the red dye affected our results and the students guessed
**these are student results, actual results may vary

After completing the lab procedures, recording data, and answering analysis questions, we reviewed the properties of bases and acids. I posed the question that if an acid and base will react to neutralize, what will happen when a spoonful of baking soda (a base) is placed in the candy?

As expected, the more acidic the candy, the bigger the bubbles/"fizz" when the baking soda was dumped in!

My students loved this hands on lab (who doesn't love labs with candy?)
and the results that were relevant to their world.
They love being able to visualize acids and bases using indicators.

I loved that they loved it.  I loved the connections they
made between the lab activities and their own lives.  I loved the
insight they showed in analysis of the lab and class discussions.

They realized there IS truth to "don't eat too much candy or you'll get a toothache"!

Check out more information about the lab here: Halloween Candy pH Lab

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Independent Study Part 2

This year was my first year implementing a passion-based independent study.  
I implemented it for students in grade 8 back in February and shared my preparation in a blog post: here.  Now that I have one full year completed, I am excited to share our results and reflect!

The students were given a packet to guide them in deciding the study of their choice...

This is a picture of the packet photocopied for all students and staff mentors to work through.
The students took their time and parents were informed of the packet and the importance of the process of taking the time to pick a topic the student(s) were passionate about.

We spent about two or three weeks working our way through the packet and narrowing down the student's independent focuses...
The packet worked perfectly for the students and I don't need to change a thing for next year as far as the process goes. The only thing I may do is photocopy an extra page or two of the calendar if I decide to extend the timeframe of the study, because I plan to adapt the timing...(which I will discuss below)

This is the packet I used to organize the study.

The students picked 1-3 topics that they could see themselves being passionate about working on.  I then reached out to staff with the students interests. 

To find mentors, I sent an email (similar to below) to the staff: 

The Grade 8 Gifted and Talented students are currently working on independent study projects. The independent study will allow students to study their passion or master a new skill, meeting once a week under the guidance of a mentor teacher.  

We are looking for teacher mentors who will be willing to share their professional expertise, talents, and experience with these students. The Grade 8 students' areas of interest are:




We are seeking teachers who have comfort in any of the above topics to act as a mentor to a student or pair of students. A weekly meeting schedule will be individualized between the student(s) and teacher.  Please reply to this email with your interest and possible areas that you would feel comfortable overseeing a student's independent study.

I worked to match up students with staff members who had an interest in facilitating their study.  (Ideally, in future years, it is my hope that I can build a data-base of sorts for community members who would be willing to volunteer or provide experience for the students.  Even if the student is still matched up with a school-based teacher mentor, the teacher would then be able to facilitate communication with the community members.  That is my goal for next year).  After matching students and mentors, some students opted to work in partners, based on their interests. 

The students met with their mentors and finalized the topic and direction of their study/project.
Here is the finalized brief description of my students' topics for the 2014-15 school year:

1. Coding: Three 7th grade student worked collaboratively on coding.
 2. Writing: An 8th grader wrote, edited, and revised a short (188 page) novel she had been working on with the goal of potentially publishing it.
3. Technology: A student designed and developed an Open Source Smart Watch, following plans she had found online. She supplied the pieces and used a 3-D printer to develop additional parts to make the watch.  See the watch here: http://oswatch.org/index.php
4. Architecture: Two student worked collaboratively on researching and completing a project related to architecture.
5. Computer Science: One student worked independently on computer science/programing with Raspberry Pi, a credit card-sized single board computer.  He supplied the device.
6. Music: A student worked on music production with the program "Fruity Loops" on his computer.  He supplied the program and worked with the school music teacher to receive feedback on developing his own songs.
7. Stocks: Two students researched and completed a project in the area of stocks investments and finances, developing their own portfolios.

This is a picture mid-study of the student's progress who was working on Raspberry Pi.  His mentor purchased the Raspberry Pi Projects for the Evil Genius book and was able to find some projects that appealed to him to work on.

This year, the students had four months to complete the projects.  We had our initial meetings in January/February and the students presented their work in June. Next year, I plan to start the project mid/end of September and end it in April-ish...giving the students more time to work and ending it earlier than the hectic end of the year.  

My approximately timeframe for the 2015-2016 independent study will be:
End of Sept/October: complete planning stages of packet
November: initial meetings with mentor to complete calendar
December, January, February, March: weekly meetings with mentor
April: finalize study and present work

The students met with their mentors approximately every week.  The students liked arranging this independently with their mentor and working around their individual schedules.  Some students felt they finalized their project and others felt they simply make progress on a long-term project (such as writing a book or learning raspberry pi) that couldn't be accomplished in the time period given.  For these students, we make sure to have them set goals for what portion of the long-long term project they were hoping to complete. 

Project Conclusion: 
At the end of the project, the student had a very relaxed session where they came and had ice cream and informally shared their work.  This seemed appropriate for the time of year (very hectic end to 8th grade year with finals, etc) and the students' feedback was that they did not want to share their work publicly.  However, this is an area I think I would like to add on to for next year.  I would like to find a way to keep the study low-pressure and to focus letting the student explore their creativity with their project, while still highlighting their extra efforts and work!

This is a picture towards the end of the study of a student's Open Source Smart Watch. This was one project that was not finalized at the end of the study, which we anticipated due to the intensity of the project.  The student impressively was able to  design and build the hard shell casing with a 3-D printer and got the battery working! She still has about 10(+) hours of intensive work left to finalize the inside of the watch, which we plan to finish over the summer or fall in an extended independent study!

You can check out my packet on teachers pay teachers: here.

I would love to hear feedback from anyone who used an independent study.  
How did you structure it? What was successful? What would you change?

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Movie Review: A Place at the Table

If you are looking for a current event issue to research and discuss in your classroom,
Hunger may be it.

 "A Place at the Table" is a documentary that explores the hunger problem in America - that 1 out of every 4 children do not know where their next meal is coming from.

The New York Times points out that the PG movie displays carefully chosen statistics and stories, without taking the aggressive stance against policies that similar documentaries (Food Inc, etc) have.  The article also states that the the movie displays information that the common viewer would know.  

In the case of middle school students, the film proved to reveal a number of statistics that the students did NOT know.  Below is a bulletin board of questions and comments our students came up with after viewing the film for the first time.

We later turned the posted comments into a quality classroom discussion.  (Similar discussion format found here.) The video is also something that may be combined with the popular SNAP Challenge. (Disclaimer: Since it is a sensitive topic related to family finances, families may choose to participate individually but this is not a class activity or requirement.  The purpose of the activity is to challenge individuals to eat on $4.15 a day for a week and to reflect/share the experience.)  September may be a good time to use this activity since it is Hunger Action Month.

Videos like "A Place at the Table" are a great opportunity to have a meaningful classroom discussion.  We held both a fishbowl and a silent discussion, covering the student chosen topics and other topics such as government support, minimum wage, unemployment, etc.

Click HERE to find out more about both discussion formats.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

St. Patrick's Day Celebrations

After being lucky enough to visit relatives in Ireland for two weeks this summer, 
I was super excited to make St. Patrick's Day related lessons for my classroom this year.

Pictures from one crazy drive though Ireland! We returned from our trip the week before school... 
so these are the only pictures I have uploaded to my computer so far.  Fail.
Teaching middle school, I have never experienced the "fun" of a St. Patrick's Day classroom party.  (If I did, I imagine it would look like this this this and this.) ...but here are a few ideas I had to make the holiday meaningful within my lessons...

1. Use QR codes to lead students to videos and text about the holiday.  I really do like the concept that informational text can come in the form of a video clip.  I did find some awesome video clips on www.history.com to make the product below.  Everything from comparing and contrasting myths of leprechauns to watching beef stew be made. {Yum.}
Bottom line? St. Patrick's Day is high interest AND there are a lot of misconceptions about the holiday and history.  I love opportunities for "research & respond" for a topic that has common misconceptions.  It is a great opportunity for learning.

2. Keep your lessons meaningful but with a fun twist on the lessons you already had planned! This time of year I am usually briefly reviewing coordinate graphing before testing...as well as completing a life science unit.  So I changed my usual graphing game into something more St. Patrick's Day-themed and kept my lab to using the color green rather than my old lesson plan of using multi-colors!

 What do YOU do?

Monday, February 23, 2015

Teachers are Heroes Sale!

Teachers Pay Teachers sellers are having a Teachers are Heroes sale
{with the promo code HEROES} 

I have been working to add additional pages to some of my old products in time for this big event!
Make sure to come by the store and check out my 45 products to wish-list them before the sale.

Check out my most wish-listed items...

And also make sure to check out the list of sellers below who have their stores on a
28% off SALE on Wednesday 2/25!

Thanks to Study All Knight for the linky and Glitter Meets Glue for the graphic!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

My New Favorite App 2: Docs Teach

My newest favorite app is Docs Teach. It is an app that allows you to view collections of primary documents. They have many preset activities....but you can also create your own on the website to be used on the iPad!

Just a note on primary documents...According to the PARCCOnline site, primary documents are fair game to be used on the PARCC mid-year exam.  Students may have to use primary documents to write a narrative piece explaining the event or an informative how to.

Below is a picture showing samples of the app in use.

The students choose the assigned content and viewed the documents. They then discussed key text features of the primary documents.  We asked them to record a few notes on each document and spend about 2-3 minutes discussing.

They then complete an activity. For our class, this happened on the second day of the lesson. The students reviewed their notes and the documents and completed the activity. The one pictured here is for the students to weigh the evidence by placing the documents on a scale according to least or most supportive of immigration. After finishing their activity, the app prompts the student to reflect and submit a reflection to the teacher.  Each student typed a short reflection and emailed their answers to us to review. 
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