Jul 19, 2013

Fabulous Finds Friday: Kids Book Review site

So funny story...  About a month ago, a Vivint sales rep came to my door to tell me that, although Vivint mostly does home security, they were trying out a wireless internet system in my area. She wanted to know if I was interested in trying it for a month and giving feedback.  I was actually very interested seeing as I had just gone the rounds with Comcast AGAIN and was fed up with them and looking for a new option.  And so Vivint wireless was installed and peace was once again restored to our cable/internet world.  Last week another sales rep came by to get my feedback on my experience so far.  As we were talking, I mentioned that I happened to be a teacher.  She mentioned that she happened to help start a site for kids to review books, called litpicks.com.  She described it as Goodreads for kids, but there is a nice twist to it: free books. For your kids. For your classroom.  For your library.

So here's how it works.  Publishers that are looking to get an idea of what kids like, or just get the word out about their book, send copies to litpicks.com, who then send it on to you.  The kids read it, post a review about the book on the website, and get to keep the book (printed copy or e-book is sent).  You, as the teacher, can go online and see the reviews your students have written and can help them pick which books they should request.  The more books you get, the more books your kids can try and become interested in.  Reading books can suddenly become techy and "cool".

So the big question is, how are you going to use this great site??  Here are a few of my ideas:

  • A lot of teachers assign monthly book reports-this has never been my kind of thing.  But I think it might be fun to have a book report assignment consist of reading and reviewing one of the books on LitPick.  The kids would probably get such a kick out of reading each others' reviews as they were posted, which might encouraged the stragglers to get theirs done too!
  • Every couple of months, we have a Parent Student Book Club, in which the kids and their parents read a book and meet together to discuss it (and eat treats, of course!).  I'm planning on requesting a class set of one of the ebook versions to use as our Book Club book.
  • Use one of the books as a read aloud and write a class review together.
  • Have pairs of students partner read one of the books together, co-write a review, and then present their review to the class as if they were Siskel & Ebert.
  • Have students use their review to create a movie-trailer-like video.  You could set up a "movie theater" with the chairs, pop popcorn and watch everyone's movie-trailer book reviews.  If you wanted to you could even type up a list of all the books being reviewed so that, as they're watching, the students can mark which of the books they want to go read.
  • Have students create a book jacket for one of the ebook versions they request, using their review on one of the inside flaps and writing a summary of the book on the back.
  • Every week, give kids time to tell the class what book they're reading from LitPick and why they gave it the review they did.
What else can you think of that you could do with LitPick?

Jul 8, 2013

Rich Math Tasks - What Are They Really?

I'm sitting in a motel room watching "How the Universe Works" and doing Pre-Calc homework, at the end of day 1 of a math training I've been presenting.  What a Monday.
Math has definitely been on my mind lately, and I'm excited about some of the work I've been presenting at this math training.  Ever heard of a rich math task?  It's the new big thing floating around the math world and I've seen a lot of supposed "math task" cards and activities floating around tPt.  It's actually been a bit frustrating for me as I've opened task document after task document, only to find that it's really just a math activity for small groups or a multi-step story problem.  This is not the core of a rich math task and is not what I'm looking for.  So I thought I'd list some characteristics of rich math tasks.

Rich math tasks...

  • The problem has important, useful mathematics embedded in it.
  • The problem requires higher-level thinking and problem solving.
  • The problem contributes to the conceptual development of students.
  • The problem creates an opportunity for the teacher to assess what his/her students are learning and where they are experiencing difficulty.
  • The problem can be approached by students in multiple ways using different solution strategies.
  • The problem has various solutions or allows different decisions or positions to be taken and defended.
  • The problem encourages student engagement and discourse.
  • The problem connects to other important mathematical ideas.
  • The problem promotes the skillful use of mathematics.
  • The problem provides an opportunity to practice important skills.

  • (courtesy of "Why Is Teaching With Problem Solving Important to Student Learning?", NCTM April 2010) 

    Would you add any other characteristics to the list?  Do you use rich math tasks?

    More resources and math task ideas to come!

    Jul 5, 2013

    Fabulous Find Friday: Back to School Night Infographic

    Infographic courtesy of Easel.ly

    Do you ever get the feeling parents aren't reading your class newsletter...like, never?  I used to get frustrated when parents would ask me questions I had already answered in the newsletter, several notes home and the class website.  Incidentally, these were also the same parents saying on the end-of-year survey that they wished they were more informed about classroom happenings and curriculum and I thought, "Seriously? What more can I do?"    I finally realized that it wasn't about doing more but instead communicating in a way that worked better for parents.  I had to take a step back and think about where the break-down was happening.  As much as I don't want to face it, because I'm not a super tech saavy person, our world is changing, information is flying at people at a much faster pace and parents just don't have the time or the energy to sit down and read anything unless it's 144 characters less, so to speak.  This has led to my weekly newsletter about curriculum being condensed to bullet points under curriculum subject headings, calendar events written like a shopping list and all other information about classroom happenings being sent to parents in an e-mail listserve.  And can I just say, thank goodness for the e-mail listserve.  I write one e-mail with a brief intro, bulleted list of 1-2 sentences about what I need to communicate (fieldtrip info, supplies needs, volunteers wanted, etc), finish it off with an explanatory paragraph for those still reading the e-mail by that point, and sign off with a positive statement and a compliment to the parents.  Voila!  No lost papers in the dark abyss of the child's backpack, no copies or formatting needed, and the amount of "in-the-loop" parents more than doubled!
    Ever since then, I have reassessed the way I communicate important information to parents, making things simpler, less cluttered and less wordy.  Last year, at Back To School Night I went with an information packet in the form of a double-sided, 3 column brochure.  This was much easier for parents to read and understand.  This year, I'm thinking of branching out even more and putting my classroom information in the form of an infographic.  I have little experience with graphic design and no experience with programs like Photoshop but will that stop me? No.  Because I have found a site called Easel.ly that allows you to create infographics, well...easily.  And the best tip about creating infographics I've come across is to plan out ahead of time which information you want to display.  For me, this is important weekly dates like spelling tests or when homework is due.  I'm also including a month-by-month timeline of general curriculum topics, e-mail and class website links, a quote about my educational philosophy, dress code options, etc.
    The more I work with Easel.ly, the more I'm seeing how easy it is and thinking of the possibilities for student use.  Utah history infographic?  The steps for dividing multi-digit numbers?  The timeline of Sleepy Hollow?

    Have you used infographics yet?  I want to hear how you use them and what I should know as I jump into this technology adventure!