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Thursday, August 23, 2012

This Week's Resources

I'm going to try and make this a weekly deal, since I come across or think of a ton of resources each week. Happy learning!

Teaching Tolerance
This site has great classroom activities that not only link well with social studies curriculum but also work to help students learn sensitivity and tolerance for the variety of viewpoints in their schools and communities.

Let's Play Math!
This article describes several math games and activities to really get kids thinking mathematically. It is written with the home schooling audience in mind, but the activities would also work well in a regular classroom or as fun family-time games.

50 Education Technology Tools Every Teacher Should Know About

Education Infographics
I wasn't really clear on what an "infographic" was until I saw this. It is basically just what it says: a graphic that provides you with information. This is a really great resource to think about when you are asking students to present information. Check out some samples on this site. 

Teaching with Images
This site provides a number of links and resources from a woman I follow on Twitter named Shelly Terrell, who specializes in ESOL instruction. Teaching with images is a great strategy for all learners, but is especially ESL-friendly.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Kim Sutton's Number Line

If you don't already know, now you do. I am new to the math world of curriculum and resources. So today, some teachers were asking about the Kim Sutton number line, and I thought I would check out the resource.

Alright Google! You did not fail me. I found two great items to assist me in understanding the number line and what makes it so unique. First, I found a packet of activities and notes from one of Kim Sutton's workshops. Then, I found the handy-dandy You Tube video to help me understand it all a little more.

I really think this all goes so well with the Singapore Math (see blog post from August 10) strategies teachers are incorporating at MWE.

Free Online Learning

I was browsing through some of my favorite blogs and websites when I came across the Free Online Learning site. It is great! The site has short, to-the-point videos on a variety of subjects. I think many people may find the computer tutorials really helpful.

Check it out at and let me know what you think.

Happy learning!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Tool #6: Web Tools for Discussion

Online discussion is so much fun and there are so many options out there to fit a variety of formats, learning styles, and moderator preferences. Here are some of the tools I have used over the last several years:

Think of this as a sort-of educational Facebook. The interface is a little different, but the idea is the same. I LOVE THIS TOOL. It is a secure site, and students need a join code to participate. There is also an option to have a parent join code for parents that like to monitor their kids' online activities. I like this first because of its convenience. Students can post their questions as they have them, which keeps them from forgetting to ask in class the next day. Posts can be private to the teacher or to the entire class. Sometimes, the students even beat me to the punch and answered public questions for their classmates.

This tool also allows for assignment creations and grading. You can also use it to send out mass group messages or alerts.

Probably the best thing, though, is that this tool allows those kids that are a little quieter and a little reticent to participate in class discussion to gain some discussion confidence. Some of my shiest students were the most active in the online discussions that we had on this site.

This is a great tool for gathering quick information and feedback. I used it to ask for open ideas on a certain topic from students. Students in my classes have also set up their own Wallwisher sites to get information from classmates that goes beyond basic polls. It does allow for anonymous posts, so those have to be monitored. It is probably a good idea to tell students to at least label their posts with their first names and last initials to help with the monitoring. Also, make sure to save the URL of your Wallwisher someplace convenient for easy access.

Poll Everywhere
I have used this in the classroom (with high school students) and in a professional development setting. For classroom use, I wasn't a fan. I had too many students without access to cell phones, which is one of the perks of this system. Students can cast a vote by texting their response to a designated poll number, which is generated by the site when you set up the poll.

For professional development, I really liked using Poll Everywhere. I set up some polls at the beginning of a session that helped spark some discussion. I do recall having some glitches with getting data to display both times, so this is definitely something I recommend playing with before you take it live in a classroom or professional development.

Adobe Connect
Adobe Connect allows you to set up virtual classrooms with a variety of components. You can use a webcam to add the visual component of the teacher in the classroom and use a mic to make talking to students a little easier. There are chat pods, where students can post questions and discussions. The moderator of the room can clear discussions at any point. There is also an option for private discussion between the teacher and student. There are quite a few options for additional pods, but I found myself using a share pod (place to put documents for discussion) and the video pod most often. There are also pods where you can share links to external sites and upload documents for your participants to download later.

I recommend taking some time to explore your options and pod-layouts before attempting to run a course. It is also a good idea to have someone more experienced with the program moderate with you for the first time or two as you work out the system. This also gives you the benefit of an extra person to assist with posting resources or manning the chat board.

There are a few others that I have used, but those are my favorites. I am planning to try out Open Class and Cover It Live in the future. I think Cover It Live will be a great option for covering large conventions. I'm also only using Diigo as a storage place at the moment, so I would like to make this a more group-oriented tool as well.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Singapore Math

Last week, I got a major initiation into the math world. My background is in English and literacy studies, so it has been a while since I spent a significant amount of time with numbers. I have survived, though, and lived to tell the tale.

Once upon a time, there was a man named Dr. Yeap Ban Har who came to Houston to save us all from our misconceptions about learning math. Dr. Ban Har is incredibly knowledgeable in his field, so he was a confident presenter. He is also a working teacher, which gives him current and vivid experiences to share with his audience.

First Impressions
I was initially overwhelmed with all of the new information, but I was able to go home after the first day, do a little studying, complete some practice problems, and enter day two with more confidence. Thank you to these authors and titles for assisting in my daily growing knowledge:
Check it out on Amazon

Check it out on Amazon
Both of these titles can also be located in our literacy library at MWE. Both texts are broken down into a very easy-to-read and follow format. They include methods for teaching various math concepts, with step-by-step instructions for presenting information to the class in the Singapore model.

The Singapore Model
Probably the most important idea behind the Singapore model is in the way that the learning is presented. I see it as being a continuum, moving from the concrete to the pictorial to the abstract. They call it the "CPA" approach.

Students begin by problem-solving using concrete manipulatives, things they can move around and hold in their hands. I was of course picturing counting cubes and plastic bears, which were the things I recalled using in my early mathematics years. Manipulatives can be anything, though, as I quickly learned. However, the consideration that should be given when choosing these tools was surprising to many of us. It is important to vary the manipulatives being used, so students don't attach a concept to a certain item. It is also important to make sure that all of the objects being used in a lesson are the same noun. Meaning, you don't just want to put a smorgasbord of items for students to use. Younger students need even more consistency with their manipulatives, so even keeping their counting cubes the same color when introducing a new concept is helpful. It all comes back to the way young brains work and the way we learn our worlds. The brain is fascinating!

This first step, the problem-solving, is crucial. The kids really need to be allowed to work out as many possible solutions as they can think of, and these solutions need to be questioned and valued by the teacher. They need to be able to explain their thinking processes. The key is not to learn the rules, but instead to learn WHY these rules work. They are not presented with the rules in advance, but simply asked to solve a problem. I will say, this approach would have definitely sparked interest in my young mind. I liked the challenge of solving problems; I could learn rules, but there was little reward in getting a right answer that I had been told how to get. Figuring out something on my own gives me a since of pride, and I think this approach can give the kids that same since of pride as they are learning key math concepts.

Once students gain more confidence in a concept (like addition or subtraction) they are ready to move to the pictorial phase, where they will instead draw their own models on paper. Model drawing was a brand new concept for me, but I LOVE IT!!! I don't think I can explain it and give it justice here, but the Step-by-Step Model Drawing by Char Forsten presents it in a very easy way. I just started at the very beginning of the book and worked through each of the lessons. Then, I did some practice problems in my notebook.

This isn't the only way students work through the pictorial phase. They can also draw pictures of the same objects they used in the concrete phase. The important thing is that they are using pictures to assist them in problem-solving.

Finally, students are able to move into the abstract phase, which is where they can work problems on paper and understand the rules that govern these processes. This can't happen until they understand the WHY behind the various mathematical concepts. They have to have AMPLE time to test out their theories and problem solve without the fear of being "wrong." This isn't about memorization, which is what I did in school--I still have flashbacks about the multiplication flashcards. This is learning to think and learning to explain that thinking. It is fantastic!

A Single Lesson
There is so much that I am not going to be able to include here, but I feel that there is one more important element to add before I end this post. After the CPA approach, which takes place across the years as students are introduced to and continue to expand their knowledge on mathematical concepts, a valuable thing I took away from the workshop was the 3-part lesson format. Each lesson follows generally the same format.

1. Anchor task (about 20 minutes): Students are asked to solve some sort of problem using manipulatives. More advanced students may instead use pictures, especially if this is a review of a certain concept. This is the phase where the teacher provides instruction and assistance in the task. She doesn't tell them the answers or how to do it, but instead gives them assistance and asks questions about their discoveries. She is also very aware of her language choices, making sure to use mathematical vocabulary consistently.

2. Guided practice (about 20 minutes): Students work in small groups to continue problem solving. They may use manipulatives and come up with possible equations. Again, this will depend on the concept and the stage of the learners. The teacher observes and offers support. Students may get assistance from peers, who will also be using their own manipulatives or models to solve the problem.

3. Individual practice (10-20 minutes): Now that students are understanding the WHY and the HOW, they practice while the teacher observes and assesses. Some students may need to continue using manipulatives to assist them in this process, while others may be moving into pictorial or even abstract methods. Again, it depends on the learner's stage of development. The beauty is, this method allows for easy differentiation.

Final Thoughts
I feel like there is so much I could not add in a single post. Hopefully I was able to give you an overview, though. If you would like more information, feel free to contact me and I'll gladly share my knowledge with you. :)

I will leave you with a sample word problem that Dr. Ban Har gave us. If you figure out an answer, post a response below. (HINT: READ CAREFULLY)

Four sisters, Alice, Betty, Charmaine and Dolly, had a total of 260 sweets at first. Mother gave Alice 20 sweets. Betty ate 10 sweets. Charmaine bought some sweets and her share doubled. Dolly have half of her sweets away. As a result, they each had the same number of sweets left.

How many more sweets did Dolly have than Charmaine at first?


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Tool #5: Web 2.0

I've used quite a few Web 2.0 tools in my own classroom and for presentations. My favorites are: Prezi, Capzles, TimeToast, Slide Share, Voice Thread, Wallwisher and PicLits. These are the ones my students were able to explore and really make their own.

Another tool I have found personally helpful is LiveBinder, which is just what it sounds like. It allows you to create online binders with tabs. You can share these binders with students, which is helpful when you want to provide them with easily accessible resources.

Check out my LiveBinder at

I tried to explore a couple of the new tools offered on the 11 Tools Blog. I started with MakeBeliefsComix. I didn't particularly care for this tool because of its limitations. There are only a select number of characters and ways to organize them. It leaves little for the creative mind. If that were the only thing, though, I would be ok with the site. I don't like that I am unable to save my comic without a lot of extra "stuff" around it. If I post it on a site or use it in a presentation, I don't want to see the print/save buttons or any of the extra web site items around my comic. I just want the image. There was not a convenient way to make that happen. If I'm wrong, I hope someone will please tell me how to make better use of this tool.

I also visited Big Huge Labs, and it was very familiar! That is because I have used it before but forgotten about it. I love this site for image editing. It is now bookmarked in my Diigo library so I remember to make better use of it. I decided to create a PopArt image of myself as a review project. Enjoy!

Tool #4: Google Apps

I may have gone overboard on my exploration of the Google Apps, but I do not regret it. I still needed some time to get better acquainted with Google Reader and all of the options that I have for how to sync this particular application across my devices.  I went with the Flipboard App to really streamline my access to and reading of the various blogs I follow and my Twitter accounts. I highly recommend the app for this purpose. I don't particularly care for the app in regards to Facebook, but I may get used to it.

As far as Google Docs and Google Forms are concerned, I've already used both of the applications pretty extensively. I was actually able to share a presentation through Google Docs yesterday to more fully allow us to collaborate during a meeting. I'm not sure how I feel about the public editing ability, so I will have to get more comfortable with using that option.

I honestly feel that I will make extensive use of both Google Docs and Google Forms to collaborate and communicate with teachers this year. It just makes things so easy! I tend to move from computer to computer and device to device, so having access to everything no matter what device I am using is a BIG plus for me. I'm still looking for ways to streamline all of this into a format that is manageable for me. The key will be to just allow myself time to explore and really personalize the technology to fit MY needs.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Tool #3: Online Videos & Images

I have a lot of experience with this particular tool-set, as I tended to include videos and images frequently as part of in-class lessons or online tutorials with my students. My favorite sites for gathering videos to use in the high school classroom were PBS, NPR, and YouTube/TeacherTube/SchoolTube.

One thing I've learned over the years, when it comes to using videos in any sort of live presentation it is best to download the file to the computer. I learned this during the year when my students created their own lessons to teach over various topics, and many of them included video clips. The problem was, clips that open at home don't always open at school because of firewall issues. I found it easier to have students email me links to their videos and I would download them to my computer in the evenings. Presentations all ran from my computer, so the files were ready on the desktop.

For Mac users, consider purchasing the app Wondershare-AllMyTube. It is about $30, but it makes downloading and converting videos from the web SO easy, especially if you do it often. I used this program over the summer to allow me to imbed videos into an Adobe Connect online discussion room.

As far as images are concerned, I prefer to include my own photographs whenever possible. I found Creative Commons to be very useful when I was selecting generic images to use in some of my teacher presentations. I'm probably guilty of some copyright infringement in my classroom lessons, but I am always careful not to publish anything on the web that is not 100% mine.

I have used Dropbox, but it is not my favorite. I prefer to upload files and documents to a classroom wiki, Edmodo, or Google docs for sharing purposes. I find that if I use too many filing systems, my files tend to get lost in space. :)

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Tool #2 Reflection

Creating a PLN (Professional Learning Network)

I don't think I truly appreciated the connections that were possible before I started really building my PLN. Previously, my PLN was limited to mostly teachers within my own district and a few that I had connected with personally at various workshops or conventions. I had a twitter account, but I did not use it. I followed a few blogs of my favorite educators (i.e. Jim Burke), but I didn't really subscribe to many RSS feeds. 

The biggest thing about building a PLN is really thinking about what you want your network to be. It can very quickly become unmanageable or too much to keep up with. I'm trying to be very aware of what I am doing, why I am adding certain links, and how I am going to utilize this for my own professional development and the development of others. 

I don't particularly mind sharing my thoughts publicly. I have been doing it for some time with my own students. Also, I view email as sharing my thoughts publicly, so I always have an awareness of how my words might be perceived. I think the key is to realize that words can hurt, so really considering word choice is imperative. There is a way to share an opinion or even disagree while still being sensitive and respectful of other views. I don't find this to be any different than how I share with my team. I am still aware of word choice and perception. The big difference is that those people I work with directly understand me personally, so I don't have to be quite as careful in my word choice. 

I actually added several blogs to my reader, but one that I am positive that I will continue to visit is the New York Times Teaching and Learning Network. I've gone here in the past for resources, but this is the first time I've followed their feed. 

I think this step in the training has really taught me how to link all of these resources so much more effectively. I knew about all of these tools and had used them, but I have not used them as effectively as I will be able to now. I am really excited about continuing to build this network. 

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Create a blog...check! This is my very first blog, so I hope all of my readers will bear with me while I figure this all out. Don't worry, it won't take me long.

Creating a blog is really easy, especially through the Google interface. I had a little difficulty only because I managed to login under my personal Google account, create a blog, and start editing. Ooops! If you have multiple Google accounts, make sure you login under the correct one before you set-up your blog. You can only use the URL once, and those are sometimes difficult to think up.

The free Voki Avatars are cute. I managed to create a not-so-free one the first time around and had to recreate. That was sad because my first one looked just like me. :)

The only other thing that slowed me down a little is the new blogger interface. It looks like it has been recently changed, so the instructional videos on the district blog were not quite as helpful as the probably once were. You can still revert to the old blogger look if you are having a hard time getting started.