SoulPancake – Ideas for inspiring creativity

SoulPancake is a site co-created by Rainn Wilson with different creative “activities” that people can submit to answer some of “life’s big questions.” On the site, it gives people options to upload pictures or written responses to some interesting prompts, questions, and photos. A junior high teacher might not want their students to post directly on the site for privacy reasons, and some of the topics would not quite be age-appropriate for our students. However, t I think it’s worth exploring to find some engaging writing prompts for warm-ups or other practice. You could also see what others have submitted and maybe bring those back to your class to open up a discussion?

Here are some of the topics I found that seemed like they might be cool for middle-level students:

No-Stalgia: List 5 things that you are glad that you never have to experience again

Write your Biography in 10 words or less

Tweeting to the Oldies: Describe the sights, sounds, and smells of your grandparents in 140 characters or less

Smithsonian’s History Explorer

I traveled to Washington D.C. for the first time this summer with my family, and I was amazed at expansive “The Smithsonian” actually is. It is much more than the name initially sounds like – it is actually the largest museum complex in the world with 19 museums, 9 research centers, and over 100 affiliate museums. We were only able to visit a few facilities on our short trip, but I could not believe how many awesome things there were to explore for free!

While doing research for another project, I came across the Smithsonian’s History Explorer website. From the About page on the site, the “Smithsonian’s History Explorer was developed by the National Museum of American History in partnership with the Verizon Foundation to offer hundreds of free, innovative online resources for teaching and learning American history.” I immediately forwarded the resource to my Social Studies teachers on campus!

The site includes easy-to-use search tools to sort resources by type, grade level, historical era, and cross-curricular connections (my favorite!) There are primary sources, videos, and even full lesson plans available for teachers. The page is very simple to navigate, and there are even tutorials to help users access all the features of the site. Even if you don’t teach a US History or social studies class, I think that there are some great resources for teachers of all  subject areas. Let me know if you find something that works for your classroom!


TEDEd – Lessons Worth Sharing

What Causes the Phases of the Moon Lesson Page

So I’ve been a fan of TED videos and the TED Radio Hour on NPR for both personal and teaching use, but I can’t believe I hadn’t explored the full lessons available on TEDEd before. We just finished studying the phases of the moon in my 8th Grade Science class, but I know this is a topic that many of my students struggle with. I am always looking for more lessons and different ways to address the topic, so I was excited when I found a link for this video on Twitter. When I got to the page, I was surprised to find that there was a whole “flipped” format lesson to go along with it, including assessment questions, supporting reading materials, and an open-discussion question. The format would be great to assign to students as an independent flipped lesson through something like Edmodo, but I could also see a teacher very easily using the materials in a whole class activity with face-to-face discussions, too. I love how it is a small chunk of information presented and assessed in a variety of ways – perfect for differentiated instruction in a junior high classroom!

There are hundreds of lessons organized by content area, and you can even see how many times they have been viewed or used by other people. Obviously, I am particularly excited to share that there are over 5 pages of videos for Science alone, but there are also interesting and engaging resources for math, literature, social studies, health, and psychology, among other topics.

Since the videos are short (usually 6 minutes or less) and the material is well organized, it would be easy to incorporate one of them as a warm-up or hook as you are starting a new lesson. Let me know if you find one that works for your class!


Tech Tool Overload

Since starting my position as an Instructional Technology Specialist this fall, I have been working hard to read, research, and try the newest and best tools for technology integration for my teachers. I feel like I had a pretty good knowledge base to begin with, but I wanted to make sure I stayed up to date with trends and developments in the ever-changing world of #edtech. I’ve been building my PLN by becoming more active on Twitter, and I’ve been trying to use this blog as a way to highlight some of the most exciting things I have been able to try.

However, sometimes as I read other blogs and sites, I start to feel overwhelmed by the number of resources available. I feel like I could never really know or become an expert on every app, site, and technique out there. It also seems that there are sometimes 20+ tools designed to complete almost identical tasks, so I wondered – is it really necessary to hop on the bandwagon for every latest and greatest new thing?

Yesterday, I found a blog post from Rafranz Davis (@RafranzDavis) titled: How to Avoid the “Flood of Tech Tools” Trap. It really helped me realize that I would be best served to really evaluate all the new stuff I hear about with a critical eye. I need to think about the purpose and usability of new resource and whether it is really good enough to replace something that is already working for me.

I’ve learned that it’s OK to become an expert on a few great tools and to have favorites, as long as I remain open-minded and still willing to seek out new things. Reading the post also helped me stay motivated and find purpose in maintaing my own little blog here. I might not have the most exhaustive, comprehensive list of tech resources out there (at least not yet!), but these are tools that I have experience with and can recommend to my teachers 100%!

Remind 101 – Safe and easy communication!

So, Remind101 is something l that I have been using for a few years, and I know it is pretty popular. But I need to get back into the swing of blogging after the holiday break, and this is a simple and really helpful tool that a teacher could start using immediately!

Remind 101 is a free and safe way for teachers to stay in contact with parents and students. Through their online system, teachers can create, schedule, and send text messages as a way to remind students of upcoming events, provide important class updates, or even share links with them. The service is great because all contact information and phone numbers are kept private – meaning that students cannot see the teacher’s number, nor can they see any information about other subscribers. As the teacher, I also do not have access to any student cell phone numbers – all I see is a list of my subscribers’ names.  I also love that I can schedule messages in advance and have them delivered at the most appropriate time. I will be giving a unit exam this Friday over weather maps and ocean currents, so I have already scheduled the “Don’t forget to study!” reminder for Thursday evening around 5:30pm. I can manage these messages at the website, or through the free smart phone app.

The service is free to use, although standard text messaging rates apply. I have gotten great feedback from both students and parents from this service, so I can highly recommend it. Just an idea to think about introducing as you are refreshing routines and lines of communication after Winter Break!