Monday, January 31, 2011

Interactive Math and Science Simulations

I recently came across the PhET website project that was developed by the University of Colorado. I have found it to be a really great resource for all grade levels. Here is a description of the site taken directly from their about page:

PhET provides fun, interactive, research-based simulations of physical phenomena for free. We believe that our research-based approach- incorporating findings from prior research and our own testing- enables students to make connections between real-life phenomena and the underlying science, deepening their understanding and appreciation of the physical world.

To help students visually comprehend concepts, PhET simulations animate what is invisible to the eye through the use of graphics and intuitive controls such as click-and-drag manipulation, sliders and radio buttons. In order to further encourage quantitative exploration, the simulations also offer measurement instruments including rulers, stop-watches, voltmeters and thermometers. As the user manipulates these interactive tools, responses are immediately animated thus effectively illustrating cause-and-effect relationships as well as multiple linked representations (motion of the objects, graphs, number readouts, etc.)

The website contains simulations for math, earth science, chemistry, physics and biology.  They are organized by subject and grade level. They can be used on an interactive whiteboard, linked to a website or Moodle course , or as part of a lesson or classroom center. By providing resources of this type for our students we are providing them with multiple means of  representation of information. This is a key component of the UDL framework.

Students may become inspired by reviewing these simulations. Through the use of screencasting or digital storytelling they may decide to create their own visual representations of topics.


Common Formative Assessments Using Study Island

Our district subscribes to Study Island for its grades 2-8 students. The software started out primarily as a NJ Ask test prep tool. It has evolved into much more. Although there are many features that i could highlight I would like to talk about the Custom Assessment tool in this posting.

The custom assessment option allows teachers to create online assessments for one student in a class, a group of students in a class or an entire class. The faculty member can browse through questions by topic. He or she can select a topic question and tell the system how many of that type of question he or she would like included in the test.

The software will andomize the numbers in a math question or change the text in a language arts question.  This allows the teacher to have multiple questions that assess the same skill.

By having the ability to create custom assessments, faculty members are able to quickly develop formative assessments that will help guide instruction. The fact that these assessments can be taken online, with a student response system or on paper provide a number of options.

The newest release of Study Island now allows faculty members to share the custom assessments that they create with the other teachers in their school. They have added a custom assessment library.

When implemented correctly, study island is a valuable instructional tool. The software offers numerous reports, customizable options and an intuitive interface. I must say I am very happy with our subscription.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Interactive Sites to Teach Grammar

I came across these two websites recently while working on an interactive curriculum portal for our Language Arts Department. Both sites contain interactive activities and games for teaching Grammar. 

Learn English was developed by the British Council. It is designed for ESL students, but the activities can be used in any elementary language arts classroom. There are a number of interactive activities that would present very well on a Smartboard. They can also be used in centers on classroom computers or on the Smartboard as well.

Road to Grammar Jr and Road to Grammar both contain a number of online quizzes, activities and games that can be used in an elementary classroom.

There are a number of websites on the web with interactive grammar games and activities.  I found these two to be a couple of the better ones I reviewed.  If there are others that you enjoy using with students please share them in the comments section.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Are we teachers?

Today during our professional development sessions we introduced a new project that our Supervisor of Special Education, Director of Curriculum & Instruction and I have been working on called "The Pyramid of Intervention" The pyramid is an interactive resource for all teachers K-12. It provides faculty with resources, instructional strategies and interventions that can be used to assist students in your classroom. It is designed to be the first steps before the I&RS process.

The pyramid is divided into 3 tiers. Tier one contains strategies and resources that can be used for all students in your classroom. As you move up the tiers you are narrowing your focus to those students who are "outliers" in your classroom. These are the students who are not responding to your varied modes of instruction. They require more targeted resources. Our tier 2 provides a large inventory of targeted strategies for these students. Each tier of the pyramid has a corresponding form.  The form is used to track your progress with each student that you move through the pyramid. It is a great tool for documenting what steps you have taken to assist those students.  The last step of the  pyramid is a referral for I&RS.

It is our hope that by requiring the implementation of the pyramid before the I&RS process we will be able reduce the number of I&RS referrals. We strive to be able to provide teachers with a very intuitive resource to go to in order to find the strategies and interventions that are necessary for their students. By documenting these steps in the forms, our faculty will be able to go to an I&RS meeting with documentation of what was tried, what worked and what has not worked.

I am very excited to provide this powerful resource to our faculty. Now that the presentations are over I have had time to reflect on what we have done.  I am reflecting on my own classroom experiences as a middle school and elementary school teacher. I only wish I had access to such a resource then. Working on the pyramid of intervention has focused my thoughts on instruction and differentiation. How important is it to treat every student and an individualized learner? How can we address the various levels, interests, and learning styles in our classrooms?

I ask the question, "Are we teachers?"  I say no. Teachers are individuals who Teach. The traditional definition is someone who teaches or instructs.  The model of, " I teach and you as a student choose to learn or not", does not properly represent what we are charged to do at the K-12 level. It more fully defines a college educator.  In a college students pay tuition. Professors teach content and it is up the the college student to decide if they will learn and apply what they have learned. It is not the responsibility of the  professor to ensure that all students are learning.  It is an entirely different story in K-12 education. I think a good name for us is "Student Learning Consultant". As I see it, our job is not to teach. Our job is to ensure that students learn. If a student is not learning it is our responsibility to identify the reason why and provide the interventions necessary to change the behavior.

Our pyramid of intervention, Universal Design for Learning tools, online pd courses and blogs that were introduced today are tools to  assist us in our challenge to ensure student learning. I look forward to helping you vet these resources.


Monday, January 10, 2011

The New Textbook

The Apple Ipad has taken off in the consumer market as the product of choice for tablet consumers. This device has extraordinary potential for the classroom. I do not normally conduct product reviews on this blogs. I will save my review of the Ipad for a later date. I would however like to introduce you to a new player in the market. The product is called "The Kno". Take a look at the website below to learn more about this device. Many of the concerns I have had with existing tablet computers seem to be addressed with the new generation of devices.

After looking over these types of devices i start to think about the pedagogy that goes with them. What are we doing to differentiate in our classrooms? How are we supporting the Universal Design for Learning model? How can these devices be a tool to change what we are doing?  Do our schools have policies, supports, and resources that support the application of devices of this type in the classroom? Do we simplify access to the web for our students? Should we be teaching content from a textbook published 3-5 years ago? Can we develop creativity, innovation and global citizens by introducing these devices into our classrooms and budgets?

I believe that this technology will have a profound impact on the classroom and student achievement. However, there is a lot to consider.  Please feel free to comment below.