Monday, July 27, 2009

Rolling with Reading Ideas

As I keep my eyes open for educational sites, it seems that I have connected with tons of math sites this summer. I find this interesting when I've actually been looking for reading and library types of sites since that is where my teaching area is concentrated!!

So before August rolls around to signal my personal start of the new school year (even though I'm not formally obligated until August 18), I wanted to share some reading ideas and information I've come across recently.

One article concerns read alouds and building community. Community is very important in elementary schools as we address creating a safe, risk-free environment where every individual is respected and valued. Mary Lee Hahn
shares eight read aloud titles to help develop community and classroom connections. She then offers some good tips on expanding these titles to develop reading strategies of summerization, inference, and theme --a great two for one idea!!

Kevin Henkes has several school-related titles that work well for read alouds during the first week of school. One of my personal favorites is Chrysanthemum where the students make fun of a girl's name because it is so long and unusual. And don't forget Wemberly Worried where a young girl worries about everything including if she will have friends at school. And then I love to read Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse where Lilly's once-beloved teacher takes away her prized possession before she gets to share it at show & tell. Here is a link to Teaching Heart with ideas to utilize these titles in elementary classrooms

Read alouds are beneficial to students in elementary and on up all through the year. Shari Frost shares an article on read alouds to start off the year for several age groups. Take a look at the section of the article where she offers suggestions for selecting titles to read at the beginning of the school year emphasizing the often overlooked genre of poetry. Looking at older students, this article from The Reading Zone addresses the use of read alouds in the middle grades with some great suggestions for titles and some additional links.

If you would like readers other than yourself or have a roomful of visual learners, you may consider using sites such as Storyline Online from the Screen Actors Guild Foundation. For animated books, you might consider a subscription to TumbleBooks where you can access a Free Trial. And you might be interested in these titles featured on YouTube

And lastly, I want to remind you of the use of Readers Theater in the classroom. Readers Theater (RT) is a great way to build reading fluency as students practice their parts to include dramatization but it does not require backdrops, props, and movement on a stage as would be required for a play. Aaron Shepard offers free scripts online as does The Reading Lady If you have never utilized RT, please check Mandy Gregory's site for a great detailed RT lesson plan and other sites that offer free scripts.

If you are not ready to commit to RT, at least check out the titles in Mary Ann Hoberman's You Read to Me, I'll Read to You series. In addition to choral reading experiences, this educator's guide pdf from the Hachette Book Group provides several language and cross curriculum ideas to incorporate these books into your classroom.

This is just a fraction of the wonderful reading ideas and articles available online. It would be great to hear about your favorite reading sites and how you plan to roll into the new school year!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Math Madness

Summer is a good time to view educational websites and to update your school web page as I know many teachers look for links for parents to use at home.

Here are some math links that you may want to share with parents but you'll want to check them out for school use as well. These were recommended primarily from Free Technology for Teachers or from TeachersFirst.

Visual Math Learning
This site stresses the importance of visualization in learning. The mission of this site is to "provide parents and classroom teachers with the means to better employ visual imagery. It is designed as a supplementary resource to help students in their mastery of mathematics. It is also designed to help parents to better understand mathematical concepts as they work to assist their children in home learning". The site includes practice exercises and games over integers, fractions, division, and other basic math concepts for elementary and middle school students.

The Math Worksheet Site

This site offers a free section of worksheet generators with limited customizing features for elementary math basics. Math and subtraction problems are offered in both horizontal and vertical formats and you can specify the number of numbers to appear on the page. There is a subscription fee for individuals and school use that offers additional features. This site might be useful when you want to send a practice page to inform parents of a math skill needing practice at home or an extra review page when you have a substitute.

The Problem Site
From TeachersFirst, this free site offers math and word games as well as some printable game worksheets appropriate for grades PK- 12. Games include magic squares, hangman, treasure hunts, strategy games, and others. Do note that this site includes ads on sidebars which may distract younger students. This would be a good site for review practice at school or at home.

Funbrain Math Arcade
This site offers 25 games but you have to win one to progress to the next game. Games are appropriate for grades 1-8. Students determine their level at the beginning of the activity with directions provided for each game. These arcade type games would be fun for review on a SmartBoard in the classroom as well as at home.

More games to explore

Elementary Interactive Math

Homework Spot Math

For teachers
You might be interested to browse these sites for suggestions to assist special needs learners or to provide background information on mathematical concepts. Mathematics

Apples 4 the Teacher Math

Reading and Math Strategies

The Access Center

Jim Wright: Intervention Ideas for Mathematics

Enjoy these last days of summer to explore "math madness" inside the cool of your home!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Fantastic Photo Fun

Continuing my Web 2.0 quest this summer, I've enjoyed discovering some free photo creator sites. As I view the "followers" on Twitter and the "friends" on Facebook, I take special notice of the photos and names people use for their profile. Some use a Flickr landscape photograph for their identification or a cartoon graphic or a customized avatar. Others show a portion of their face which indicates an artistic flair yet the photo provides recognition.

I read that you establish more credibility if you use your real name and an actual photo on sites such as Twitter. According to Sebastien Page , Scott Williams , and Carissa Rogers , your "personal branding" creates a more professional and approachable look, especially when you are using Twitter for business (and educational) purposes.

So, being a newbie to social networks, I was hesitant to use an actual photo for security reasons. Yet I didn't want to use an avatar or worse, the default logo for the lack of a photo. I decided to look for a more artistic way to display my photograph and stumbled across some fun free photo editing sites.

First I started playing around with BeFunky which requires no registration and your creations can be saved and shared. On some options, such as the Patriotic selection, I was unable to view or access the necessary buttons to save my creations. I have submitted the problem but it has not changed for me yet. This is a very easy and fun site to use to alter your digital photographs. Additionally, you can have your creation printed onto a t-shirt or coffee mug or other item for gift purposes!!

I used a sketch option with blue coloring for my Twitter account.

I used the same photo but went with the Warholizer option (no other color options available) for my Facebook account.

Finally I used the same photo again but used the Sunburst effect for my blog page. This option has the least amount of photo enhancement as I wanted to look like a real person for this blog.

Another site I discovered was piZap which was created as a photo tool primarily for social networking users to post images to their favorite social networking sites or to embed their photo into websites. It features cartoon balloons, stickers, and photo editing options. Be sure to check out the "Effects" option as it includes the "twirl" effect (as shown in the Obama photo) as well as color options, a blur effect, and others. The altered photos can be downloaded as well as quick posted to many social networks. It is fun, and easy, and most importantly, it is free!
Now I also wanted to release my more artistic side so I tried a site called Psykopaint however I quickly discovered that I'm really not that talented. I would say this site is truly for painting artists that enjoy dabbling with digital photos. I had difficulty controlling the brush and I really didn't know the difference of some of the terminology. It is in Beta form but it is one to watch for upcoming advancements if you know how to paint.
The last site I want to share for now is a free site called Block Posters where you can enlarge photos to poster size. The site suggests that teachers could enlarge particular photos to use on bulletin boards for educational and decorative purposes. The selected photo is printed on several separate pages that you determine for the size you want and then piece together to create the larger final product. Although it appears that the final enlarged product may have a more pixelated finish, for certain situations, this could look quite artistic.

Let me assure you that all of these sites (other than Psykopaint) are very easy to use and are a lot of fun! Consider using them to create special photos for social network pages or for scrapbooks or for whatever makes you happy!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Getting "back" to Backflip!

While some people are using the summer to clean out their garage or closets, I've been attempting to go through My Favorites stored on my home computer. It is getting crazy keeping up with all of the sites I've saved at school and at home. And now I've added to my website stash as I "star" favorites in my Google Reader and Bloglines RSS accounts as well as Twitter posts!! Will the craziness never end??

Previously I used a service called Backflip , a free, Web-based bookmark service to create a personalized archive of wonderful web discoveries so saved sites can go with you from computer to computer. I used this site during my National Board certification process and during my participation in a state tech grant as I traveled to the state department for workshops. It was great to have those sites available in organized folders to access regardless of my location. During that time, I also used the public folders to access sites that other NB/Library Media candidates shared. So why am I no longer using it? Basically, I discontinued using Backflip as it became very slow to load. And after I achieved NB and the grant retired, I found myself using the same computer at school and began saving to My Favorites again.

But the other day I thought I'd check Backflip out again. And behold! All of the folders and many of the sites that I had saved back from 2001 were still in storage!! And better yet--it seemed to load much faster. In reading the status report, a new database machine has been employed which has resulted in faster access and I discovered that Backflip blogs on Twitter to provide service information. This is all very impressive to me as Backflip service is provided free by volunteers.

I have also subscribed to Delicious but again haven't used it much either. I think it has been a time situation--it is just easier to click "Save in Favorites" as opposed to going to another link to save. As I looked back on The 23 Things I posted earlier as I began my Web 2.0 quest, I noticed that Delicious was the social bookmark site associated with the program. So I'll start tagging and saving sites to this account and then compare that experience with my rediscovered Backflip site.

I did go to Diffen to compare Backflip and Delicious and unfortunately, like many of my other searches, this was another comparison that has not been reviewed.

Starting today, I plan to train myself to start using a web bookmark so I can again access my saved sites from either of my two schools or from home and hopefully avoid spending time looking through the cluttered and scattered saved favorites I've collected on various computers. So I'm on my own to find the perks and problems between Backflip and Delicious. Anyone want to join me?