Category Archives: web tools

Try ReadWorks Digital for Comprehension Skills

Readworks Digital(1).png

Are you looking for ways to test student comprehension skills online? If so, ReadWorks Digital could be just what you are looking for. This nonprofit company offers a completely free service for teachers that is aimed at making your students more successful readers. They have a library of lexiled, grade level texts that covers both fiction and nonfiction writing, and each selection is paired with a vocabulary work bank and formative assessment questions. Some texts even include text to speech audio. Here’s how it works.

Getting Started With ReadWorks Digital

Teachers can register for free accounts at http://digital.readworks.org and then set up the classes that they need. You have a choice of whether you want students to sign in with their Google accounts, or whether you want to create accounts for them. Students go to digital.readworks.org/student and enter the class code to register for your class. A default password is given to students when they log in without a Google account. Students can change their passwords to something more memorable, but the teacher can reset passwords at any time too. See the video below for more information.

Searching for Articles

There are a number of ways to find the text that you are looking for. Simply click Find Articles at the top of the page to get started and look to the filters on the left hand sidebar to narrow your results. Articles can be sorted by grade level or lexile level, according to your needs. You can also choose to search for texts that include audio or StepReads. A StepRead is a less complex version of the original article, and allows all your students to be reading the same content, but with some students accessing it at a reading level that is more appropriate to their reading level. (If you are familiar with Newsela, you will know how this works). You can also sort texts by fiction and nonfiction.

Across the top of the search screen you will also see the ability to sort by subject. For instance, you can filter by Social Studies, and then drill down further to articles on Civics and Government. You can do the same with Science and Literature texts. You can also filter by specific reading skills to meet the standards you are assessing. Skills like author’s purpose, fact and opinion, or sequencing can be chosen from this subset. There are also special collections from famous museums. See the video below for more information.

Assigning an Article

When you find the article you want, you can assign it to students by clicking the blue Assign button in the top right-hand corner. You can assign an article to the whole class or to select students. This is also the stage where you choose to include the audio version and/or the StepRead version. You can also choose a start date. This is the date that the article will appear on the student dashboard when they log in. See the video below for more information.

Grading Student Work

All assigned articles come with a set of reading comprehension questions. Once they are answered by students, you can return to your teacher dashboard and click on any assigned article to see the student data. Some questions will ask for a typed answer, so these will need graded manually. The same applies for questions that ask students to draw a picture or complete a task outside of the ReadWorks website. See the video below for more information.

Conclusion

For a free service, ReadWorks Digital has a lot to offer teachers. It’s growing bank of digital texts are engaging and informative. It is a clean, well organized website that even includes Teaching Tips for Teachers who are interested in using their resources with students. There are no mobile apps for ReadWorks Digital, but the website works perfectly well on Macs, PCs, Chromebooks and iPads so I would encourage you to check it out and see how well it could work for your students.

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Spiral is 3 #Edtech Tools for the Price of None

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Recently, I came across an interesting website for teachers called Spiral. It has three collaborative tools that are completely free and aimed at 1:1 classrooms. The tools are web based, and work on laptops, Chromebooks, and mobile devices. Spiral integrates with Google Classroom and includes a full set of data tools to track student progress. Here’s a quick look at what each tool does, along with some ideas on how to get started using them.

1. Quickfire

As its name would suggest, the first tool is geared towards some fast data collection. The teacher creates a question for students, (ahead of time or on the fly), and students respond on their devices. The teacher can ask for text/typed responses, or they can choose the canvas option that lets students draw their answers on a whiteboard. Once all the answers are collected, the teacher can share any answer (anonymously) with the whole class in order to discuss it further as a group. Lesson data is saved to the teacher dashboard. Quickfire is perfect for lesson starters, topic reviews, checks for understanding and more.

2. Discuss

With Discuss, teachers can create an interactive slideshow that students can follow slide by slide on their own device. You can upload an existing PowerPoint or create your lesson from scratch with text, images and videos. Best of all, questions or tasks can be added to slides at different points in your lesson. It includes a back channel type option where students can reply and comment on peer ideas. Again, individual answers can be shared to the whole class by the teacher for further discussion, and all data is saved to the teacher dashboard area. Discuss is perfect for empowering quiet students, facilitating conversations around learning, brainstorming ideas on a given topic, or for synchronous online lessons.

3. Team Up

Lastly, Team Up is a group work tool that teachers can use to sort students into groups and have them work together in a collaborative space. Teachers can set a single task for the whole class or separate tasks for each group. While working in a Team Up space, students can collect ideas and build a presentation in much the same way that the teacher does in the Discuss app. Students can work on individual or shared devices to produce their final product. Team Up is perfect for facilitating collaboration and group projects.

See all the tools and register for your free teacher account at https://spiral.ac/

Help & Further Resources

Here are some resources to learn more about Spiral:

 

How to Use Microsoft Forms in Office 365 Education

How to Use the New Microsoft Forms

Have you seen the new Microsoft Forms? One of the most popular articles on my blog in the last 12 months was related to its predecessor – Excel Surveys. Not only did that post get a lot of views, but it also got a lot of comments from people with questions about the features of Excel Surveys, or more importantly for some, the features it did not have. You can still use Excel Surveys, but Microsoft are in the process of transitioning to something better – Microsoft Forms. This version includes automatic grading and built-in student feedback. Here’s what you need to know.

Getting Started

You can find the homepage for Microsoft Forms by going to forms.office.com, or you may see Forms listed in the Office 365 App Launcher. Both links go to the same place. Technically, Forms is still in Preview but you can sign in with your Office 365 Education account today and start creating surveys and quizzes. The new Microsoft Forms work on desktop and mobile browsers.

Once you are logged in, click the New button to create your first form. Replace Untitled Form with a title of your choice, and add a description underneath if you want to provide any directions or information for students or parents who are filling out your Form.

Building a Form

Tapping the Add Question button gives you access to the question types that are available to you in this new version of Microsoft Forms. The options include:

  1. Choice: for creating multiple choice questions! Tap or click the slider to allow people to select multiple answers. You can also tap or click the ellipses button to shuffle answers.
  2. Quiz: a multiple choice question that you allows you to select a correct answer for automatic grading. Tapping the comment icon on each answer choice lets you add student feedback for each selection. Multiple answers and shuffled answers are also available to you when working on Quiz questions.
  3. Text: to collect short (or long) text answers use the Text question type. Tap or click the ellipses button to include number restrictions like greater than, less than, equal to, and more.
  4. Rating: for adding a star or number rating. Could be useful as part of an exit ticket or for voting on class favorites. Ratings can be out of 5 or 10, and tapping the ellipses button will allow you to add a label at either end of this Likert scale.
  5. Date: a question type that only allows for an answer in date format.

Microsoft Forms Question Builder Continue reading

I Use DuckDuckGo, Do You?

DuckDuckGo

I have a confession to make. I haven’t “googled” anything for a long time. I haven’t run out of things to search for, (I still do web searches dozens of times a day), but for the last 18 months or so I have been using an alternative to Google, and I haven’t looked back once. Here’s why you might want to think about doing the same.

What is DuckDuckGo?

DuckDuckGo is a search engine that has several unique features that set it apart from the likes of Google, Bing or Yahoo!. Among the most important to me is privacy. DuckDuckGo does not collect or share any of your personal information when you complete a web search. It is, to all intents and purposes, completely anonymous. The same cannot be said for Google, Bing or Yahoo! who use this data to build a profile about you so that advertisers can target you with ads that inevitably follow you around the internet.

Privacy is Dead, Right?

The vast majority of the internet is free to use, but it’s not without a cost. There is an expression I like that sums this up well – If you didn’t buy the product, you are the product. Google, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Bing and others all offer compelling free services, but whether you know it or not, they also collect large amounts of personal data from you when you use their products. Cookies, ads and other tracking tools watch your every move and record your online activities.

The truth is, your personal data is valuable, and an increasing number of people are trying to get a hold of as much of it as they can. Grocery stores collect data on you every time you use a store card. Email marketers track the clicks they get from newsletters you subscribe to. Internet Service Providers, research companies, telemarketers, political parties and countless other people all want to know more about you so that they can use that data to their advantage. As consumers, educators, parents and citizens of a digital world, we need to be aware of this.

However, I think we need to do more than just educate ourselves. We need to go further and help inform others (especially teens) of the trade off that they are making when they first start using these services. Are you comfortable with the kind of relationship you are entering into with these services? Are there alternatives with better privacy policies? Is there any way to take a stand against this incessant data mining? Questions like these led me to DuckDuckGo in the first place and started me thinking more about online privacy.

DuckDuckGo Safari Firefox

Is DuckDuckGo Any Good?

Actually, it is. I wouldn’t use it if it wasn’t. I started off using DuckDuckGo on a trial basis but I couldn’t help think I would revert back to Google or Bing before too long. However, I stuck with it for several days and doggedly refused to use anything else, just to see if it really could work for me or not. What I soon came to realize was that the search results I got from DuckDuckGo were actually very good, and when I compared the keyword searches with Google or Bing I got similar (or better) results.

It is also a growing service. Last I checked, DuckDuckGo was handling an average of 11.3 million searches per day. This number is nowhere close to the billions of searches that Google handles, but it is a number that is increasing all the time and it is testament to the fact that they serve up great search queries. This means a sizeable number of people do use DuckDuckGo as their default search engine.

Does it Do Any Tricks?

Indeed it does. DuckDuckGo has some useful options like themes, region and time sensitive searches, but you would probably expect features like that. It has a safe search mode that is enabled by default and there are numerous custom options you can explore in the settings, including the ability to turn off advertisements. You will also notice that, depending on what you search for, images, news, videos, definitions, maps and more appear as instant answers at the top of your results page. Music, recipes, weather, and movies are also among these results with the ability to play audio and video files from the search page, as opposed to visiting a site like YouTube that tracks your viewing history.

Instant Answer Search Results DuckDuckGo

However, the real power of DuckDuckGo is found in the bangs. Bangs are a way to quickly search thousands of your favorite sites with a handy keyboard shortcut. Bangs use the search engine on your favorite sites to give you exactly the results you need. For instance, let’s say you wanted to look for an external hard drive on eBay. You could go to ebay.com and type your keywords into the search box at the top of the page. However, with DuckDuckGo, all you need to do is type !ebay external hard drive and it will display the same website search results.

Note: You can do something similar on Google with a search query like site:ebay.com external hard drive, but this will give you a list of search results on Google’s website, as opposed to ebay.com, so it is an extra click if you want to view any of those results and it is more cumbersome if you want to view more information on multiple results.

As you can see below, there are bangs for all kind of sites and services on the web. In fact, as of today, there are at least 8,225 so the chances are high that a bang exists for the site that you want to use. If for some reason it doesn’t, you can make a suggestion for a website to add. You can use bangs directly from the search bar on DuckDuckGo.com or via the address bar in your browser if you make DuckDuckGo your default search provider.

DuckDuckGo Bangs

Is DuckDuckGo a Good Option for Schools?

Both Microsoft and Google have strict privacy options in regards to how it handles the data from teachers and students who use their services. That said, there is no reason I can think of as to why a school couldn’t use DuckDuckGo as the default search engine on school devices. For instance, it could form part of a great conversation around how the web works today. It is has safe search built-in by default and is also a great option for students when they graduate and are starting to think about using some of the same services as individuals – services that are not governed by the privacy agreements they were previously bound to between technology companies and their school.

Additional Resources for Schools:

How to Use Skype in the Classroom to Get Connected

Skype in the Classroom

When we think about ways to connect students globally and to think outside of traditional boundaries, I often think about the power of video conferencing. Microsoft has included a lot of opportunities for teachers to do just that with the education programs they have created for Skype in the Classroom.

At its core, the program allows teachers to register on a website that lets them connect with each other and arrange calls between their classes. However, there are often special events like the recent World Read Aloud day where classrooms can invite authors into the classroom via the Skype in the Classroom program. There was also the Just Say Hello program that partnered with O, The Oprah Magazine. Teachers can also take part in the Skype a Guest Speaker program where experts can brought to your classroom as part of a PBL unit or another program of study.

The following video on Skype in the Classroom is typical of the kind of benefits you get from programs like this. At one point the teachers says that for her, school has never been about happens in the four walls of the classroom, it is about how you can knock those walls down and connect outside of them. The reactions of the students that were involved in the call was priceless. There are numerous other examples in this video of the power of using a tool like this to connect students from around the world so take a look below.

An extension of this is the Skype Virtual Field Trip program. Teachers can browse and schedule a virtual field trip for their class in any number of different locations. This is an amazing opportunity for broadening the horizons of your students and can include different habitats, careers and countries so it has a lot of curricular ties. In the video below, students talked to a marine biologist who was in an underwater lab. These are experiences that you just can’t recreate by yourself so the power of doing that with technology is something that all teachers should give their students the opportunity to be a part of.

Of course, Mystery Skype is as popular as ever. It takes the power of a simple video conferencing call and gamifies it. Teachers can connect via the Skype education portal and play their classes against each other in a bid to try and guess the location of the other class. The video below explains what it is in more detail, but I especially like that the education team at Microsoft have even put together a free Mystery Skype curriculum for teachers. It is designed to help maximize the educational benefits and curricular connections of this fun, interactive way to connect classrooms.

Yet another Skype program that is potentially very powerful for schools to take advantage of is Skype Translator. It gives teachers the ability to connect with far more people than just English speaking classrooms, and that can be really valuable for building those cultural connections in the minds of our students.  I have yet to try it, but one of these days I am going to befriend a foreign language teacher to help me test it out and see how well it works. Either that, or I have to brush the dust off my high school French and German textbooks and recruit one of my co-workers, but that won’t be as much fun! 🙂

So, when teachers approach me with ideas about connecting classrooms on a global scale, Skype in the Classroom is inevitably one of the first places I send them. If nothing else, because it has such a low barrier of entry, especially now that you can join a Skype call with just a web browser, no account or additional software is required.

Polarr: A Great Free Photo Editor For The Web & More

POLARR Editor for the web

With more and more companies harnessing the power of the web, our reliance on traditional desktop software is not always what it used to be. Photo editors are a great example of that. Photoshop is amazing, but infinitely more powerful than 90% of us need. That’s why free apps like Polarr are becoming so popular. It is available for iPhone, iPad, Android and the web, and it is easy enough for anyone to use. Here’s how it works.

The web version is available at www.polarr.co. It works in all modern browsers, as well as Chrome OS. You can upload images from your computer, or connect cloud accounts like Dropbox, OneDrive, Google Drive, Flickr or Instagram and grab images from those accounts. There’s even a browser extension for Firefox and Chrome that lets you open any image on the web into the Polarr editor. While this is great for free images, it does have some obvious opportunities for abuse. However,  Polarr does remind you to respect the intellectual property of copyright holders.

The editor is very intuitive if you have used any kind of image editors in the past. In fact, if you have used Lightroom before, you will be right at home and be up and running in no time. It may be a little daunting for beginners, but it is easy to navigate and quick to get used to.

The left panel has a selection of image filters, as well as a History tab that lets you step back in time to reverse any edits you make. The right panel has a wealth of image adjustments. On the Basic tab you get access to sliders for temperature, tint, exposure, highlights, shadows, saturation and more. Further down, you will find a tone curve, HSL adjustments, split toning, sharpening, and other effects like vignettes and film grain.

polarr editor interface

There are also a number of tools available to help optimize your image to your liking. The cropping tool will be familiar to most people, but the radial or graduated filters are usually reserved for premium photo editors. With Polarr, you get those for free. There is even a histogram to help you see the true effect of the adjustments you make.

Not sure what the clarity slider is for? Need some help understanding curves? Fear not. Polarr has you covered. A simple help guide is available with jargon free explanations on each of the sliders and features that area available to you. There are before and after examples as well as a live preview of what happens when you apply a given effect. See the Polarr guide here.

vignette help

Is Polarr good for schools? Absolutely. It’s free, doesn’t require you to set up an account in order to use it, and it interfaces seamlessly with all your favorite cloud services. It is also available for iOS and Android devices, as well as the web, so the chances are very high that you will be able to use it in some form or another regardless of your device. Here’s a video of Polarr in action…

 

Free Mystery Skype Curriculum for Schools

mystery skype curriculum

Do you use Mystery Skype in your classroom? If so, you are probably familiar with how it works, but if you are looking for some extra tips, or want to get some other teachers involved, you should check out the new Mystery Skype Curriculum that Microsoft has put together for teachers who are connecting their classrooms all around the world.

The curriculum is free for anyone who wants to use it, but you do need a Microsoft account in order to sign in and view the latest version. Microsoft accounts are free, and you may already have one if you have a Hotmail or Outlook.com email address. If you are on Office 365 school, there is also a OneNote Class Notebook set up and good to go. You can find that here.

The curriculum is in the form of a OneNote notebook. OneNote, if you don’t already know, is a free, cross-platform, note-taking tool that is part of the Microsoft Office suite. You can download your own copy of OneNote for free on almost any device you can think of by visiting onenote.com. You can also read more about OneNote on this blog.

skype globe

The notebook is divided up into five sections. Each one tells you more about the best ways that teachers can use Mystery Skype in the Classroom.

  1. Welcome: How to play, why you should play, how to get started, etc.
  2. Documenting Your Adventures: A section where you can record your questions, the questions of the other class, and job assignments for students.
  3. Teacher Resources: Assessment rubrics, a time zone converter, tips for a successful call, and more.
  4. Student Resources: Self-reflection rubrics, success criteria and a debrief sample.
  5. More About Skype: Additional resources about Skype.

I would absolutely encourage you to download OneNote and get your own editable version of the Mystery Skype curriculum, but if you want to check it out without logging in or downloading anything, you can access a view-only copy on the web right here.

Overall, the OneNote Mystery Skype Curriculum is a great resource for teachers that will save you time and make your Mystery Skype games more engaging and more authentic for your students. It is a great activity to do in the classroom and the new Skype for Web means you might not even need to download Skype for desktop. It also means you can even use Skype on Chromebooks or any other device you happen to be using that doesn’t have Skype for desktop installed! The web version is still in beta, but you can check it out here.