Thursday, January 18, 2018

EdTech for Struggling Readers

A teacher's number one responsibility is to meet the needs of their students. Now this sounds like an obvious statement, but it isn't always as easy as it sounds. In fact, it is hardly easy at all. The reason we use technology in education is to support student learning by helping teachers meet the needs of their learners.

This post will focus on two support tools for struggling readers. Whether they are Native English Speakers, English Language Learners (ELL or ESL), or Dyslexic, our schools are filled with a large amount of students who struggle when they read. These tools will obviously not solve the problem for the students, or teach them how to read (only skilled teachers can do that). Yet, these tools might give some support to those students at a time when a teacher isn't available to them.

Speechify - Chrome OS & iOS app
I was introduced to Speechify in Episode 99 of The House of #EdTech Podcast by Chris Nesi. Speechify does what many apps and accessibility features on devices do by reading text that a student highlights on their screen. So you may be thinking, then why use it? My answer would be, ease of use and quality of voice. The drop-down menu in the chrome extension allows you to change the speed of speech and voice with a couple of clicks. There is even a child voice that can be used, which sounds surprisingly real.

If you decide to go the premium route with Speechify on your iOS device, the app goes the extra mile! You can connect the Google Chrome Extension to your iPhone and it will share text between the two devices in a clean and organized manner. Send multiple multi page documents to your phone and have them read to you. It's like taking anything on your computer screen and sending to your phone as an audiobook.

Speechify also does something rather phenomenal with your iOS device. Take a picture of a page of text and speechify will import it as a text file, and then read it to you.

Think of how this can support your students that struggle reading classroom content. Also, think about your students that have hectic life schedules, they can now listen to their science book on their way to work or practice.

OpenDyslexic Font Extension - Chrome OS
This extension simply changes all of the font on the webpage you are viewing to the OpenDyslexic font with one click. It's that simple!

OpenDyslexic font has been in development for at least a couple of years now. I do want to state that I'm not licensed or trained enough in dyslexia to know if it is actually proven to help students with dyslexia. I have however had a handful of students try this font extension on their chrombook screen, and some claimed that it helped them read their screen better, while others didn't like using it. So like many things EdTech, it will probably come down to a preference by the student.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Tools to Support Student Inquiry

Inquiry Based Instruction has been an area of study for me for the last couple of years. In my opinion, teaching through inquiry is not only engaging for our students, but develops an essential skill that our kids need to be successful in the 21st century. In this post, I want to share a few of the resources I have been using for the last few years, as well as a few resources that I just learned about.

Before finding your digital resources to support inquiry in your classroom, I highly recommend reading Trevor MacKenzie's book, Dive Into Inquiry. In his book, MacKenzie walks teachers through the 4 types of student inquiry: Structured, Controlled, Guided, and Free. This process allows educators to understand that inquiry based instruction is not just a free for all approach, but a structured practice.

Wonderopolis - K-6
Image result for wonderopolis

Wonderopolis is a fantastic website that models inquiry for students and teachers. Every topic on Wonderopolis begins with a question, and then follows up with an article that allows students to explore that question. Your students can even submit questions to the Wonderopolis site as well as vote on other questions on the site to be explored next.

The Question Formulation Technique or QFT is a collaborative way for students to work in teams to brainstorm questions based off of a teacher given focus. It teaches students how to prioritize their questions and evaluate the differences between open ended and closed ended questions. The Right Question Institute website is full of resources to make the QFT process a success in your classroom. 

Genius Hour 4 - 12
Genius HourAs students  toward Free Inquiry, the Genius Hour website give students and teachers a structure on how to be successful during a self driven process. The Genius Hour practice is based off of what Google implements with their development team. Giving their employees time to work on self-interest projects that have potential to improve the company, has allowed Google to create many of their popular products. What Genius Hour attempts to do is bring this ideology into your classroom. Giving students the option to choose projects that will have potential to improve their understanding of a concept or pass through a competency.  

Do you have a resource you use for inquiry based instruction? Please share it below!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Keeping Students on Track with Google Tasks

Time management and prioritizing are two huge challenges for students (and some of us educators as well). Schools and teachers use agendas, messaging apps like Remind, Monday Folders; the list goes on and on. We know students need a variety of reminders to keep them on track, but what about tools that teach them these responsibilities for themselves. Is there a tool that already exists that teachers can show students how to become more responsible and learn how to prioritize? I believe there is: The Google Tasks Chrome Extension!

Google Tasks is a part of the Google Universe that is so simple, that it's often overlooked. With connections in Gmail and Google Calendar, Tasks offers a seamless use for your student's studying and workflow.

You may be thinking, "That's great, but my students aren't always in their calendar or checking their email when I need them to be keeping up with class assignments." That is why the Google Tasks Chrome Extension is the perfect solution.

With the Google Tasks Extension, your complete task-list is only a single click away. Like all Chrome Extensions, there is no need to switch tabs to open your calendar or mail to access your list. With easy accessibility, your students can now have a quick place to click and add to their to do list.

What about prioritizing?
Two excellent features about Google Tasks is that they allow your to rearrange your list by clicking and dragging items up and down the list. Tasks also allows you to place due dates that automatically sync to your calendar.

If your school district is a Google Apps for Education district, there isn't an easier way to teach your students (and teachers) task management and prioritizing skills than using the Google Tasks Extension.

Check it out here: Google Tasks Extension