February 22, 2014

5 Reasons to Use Nearpod in the Classroom

Guest blog post by Jen Kimbrell

My job as an instructional technology facilitator provides me the opportunity to assist teachers in infusing technology into the curriculum. I am fortunate enough to work with over twenty classrooms that are 1:1. Having a device for every student has been such a blessing to my teachers and students. I have seen such a tremendous change in the way teachers are interacting with students in the classroom. Many of my teachers are becoming facilitators. They are guiding students to create, think critically, and collaborate.

However, this does not happen overnight. Receiving a classroom set of iPads can be overwhelming. I always advise my teachers to start small. Choose a core set of apps and stick with them until students are more comfortable with the routines and procedures of the devices.

One of my favorite apps to get started is called Nearpod. Nearpod is an application tool that takes your presentations to a whole new level. Teachers can take already existing PowerPoints or PDFs and upload them to the Nearpod site to create enriched multimedia presentations with interactive features. Some of the features include adding quizzes, drawing tools, and video to the lesson. Teachers can then share the content with the students and control the activity with the Nearpod app. Students have the capability to receive the content from the teacher on their device for a great interactive lesson. There are many reasons to love this application but here are my top five reasons why Nearpod is a great way to start the journey of using devices in the classroom

1.  Nearpod works on ANY device, whether students have iPads, computers, or other tablets. This is great especially for schools that allow students to bring their own devices.

2. The teacher has complete control of student devices. Yes, I said complete control. Before the lesson, the teacher provides a code for students to join the session. Once joined, the students submit their names which allows the teacher to see on the teacher iPad the names of the students that have joined. When all students have joined, the teacher can share the first slide of the presentation and begin the lesson. Students are only allowed to see the slide the teacher shares which ensures students are on task. If students try to go to the next slide the application will not allow them to do so. The students can exit the application but the teacher is notified when this occurs. This is a nice feature when just starting a 1:1 classroom or working with students in small groups, especially as it relates to classroom management.

3. Students can annotate slides to explain their thinking about a particular topic. For example, if teaching a math concept, students can show how to solve the problem by drawing it out using the pen tool feature. When the student uses the drawing tool, the student has the ability to submit their work. The teacher then has the capability of choosing a student response to share with the other students. This response can be seen on all student devices. Students can also take a quiz or poll directly on the device. Best of all, the information is saved to the Nearpod website for teacher analysis! The students’ annotated slides are also saved.

4. Only have a few devices? No problem, use them in small groups. I’ve seen the app used for guided reading groups, researching a science project, or collaborating on a math problem. The sky is the limit! There is also a premium version that costs around $120.00 annually that will allow students to use a homework code to work at their own pace without teacher control. This code can be used at home as well so students can review the lesson again and again. Other premium features include adding websites, audio, and longer video recordings.

5. The last reason why I love Nearpod is the plethora of already-made teacher resources created just for Nearpod. These resources can be found in the Nearpod store on the app or go to http://content.nearpod.com. There are lots of great free and paid lessons for all grade levels.

If you are interested in learning more about Nearpod and how to create your own, please check out a blog post I wrote about the subject. Have you used Nearpod in the classroom? I would love to hear what you think about this incredible app!

Jen is the K-5 instructional technology facilitator for the North Little Rock School District in Arkansas. Prior to this position, she was a K-5 literacy coach and a first grade classroom teacher. She is has a master's degree in Early Childhood Education and is National Board Certified. Jennifer is the creator of the Tech with Jen blog where she enjoys sharing strategies for using technology in the classroom.

February 19, 2014

7 DonorsChoose Tips for Success

Guest blog post by Francie Kugelman

Many of you know that Laura Candler and I produced a webinar a few years ago with great ideas on how to get resources for your classroom by using DonorsChoose. We're excited to announce that we've been invited to do a new DonorsChoose webinar as guests on the Classroom 2.0 Live show! It will take place on March 8th at 12 noon EST, and we hope you'll join us.

In August 2013, Laura and I began a community giving page called Caring Classrooms. In the six months since then, our community has raised over $40,000 for DonorsChoose projects, and helped over 30,000 students get the classroom resources they need. Last weekend we held a fantastic contest called Share the Love on DonorsChoose in which we raised over $3,000 in donations, and helped complete the funding on 14 different DonorsChoose projects. We also gave away $600 in DonorsChoose gift cards to lucky supporters of our giving page!

I love helping teachers learn successful strategies on writing DonorsChoose proposals and getting their projects funded, so I have listed some tips for getting your projects funded quickly and keeping donors happy:
  1. Upload a fantastic eye-catching photograph for your DonorsChoose identification picture because you want your project noticed by a potential donor. Have a catchy title, too, because you want your project to stand out amongst the thousands of other projects.  
  2. Keep the resources in your shopping cart down to a total of $300 or less. DonorsChoose will add some additional costs such as shipping and fulfillment to your project, and you want to keep the total amount under $500 if possible. Projects that are not very expensive have a much higher chance of getting fully funded. Think like a donor – would you like to help a project that needs $50 more to fully fund or $2,000 more? Donors like to feel they are making an impact, and it is difficult to feel that way when your project is expensive. If you want 4 iPads, write four different proposals. There is nothing more disheartening than seeing your project end before it is fully funded.
  3. Whenever someone donates to your project, you receive a notice from DonorsChoose. As soon as possible, write a thank you in the donation section of your project, even if your project suddenly fully funds. Donors who are appreciated like to donate AGAIN to other projects you have. Make sure your thank you is meaningful and not too short.
  4. Take great pictures of your projects and happy students using the project resources. You can shoot close up pictures of your students’ faces in the photos, as the DC rules are different for thank you pictures. You just have to have the permission authorization on file for any students that are in your thank you photos. Donors love to see great pictures of happy students. Those photographs will inspire them to donate again to your projects. Donors can make you a "favorite" teacher, so whenever you post a project, your donor will be notified.
  5. Complete the thank you process promptly so you have a 100% completion rating. Often, your funded DC projects no longer require your students to write thank you letters. However, you still need to write an initial thank you note when you confirm the funding of your project. Once the resources are received, you need to upload 6 photographs of your happy students using the resources, and write a final impact letter.
    Donors look at your rating, and Laura and I do, too, when we are selecting projects for the Caring Classrooms giving page. Plus, once you complete the thank you process, you can post more DonorsChoose projects. When you are a new teacher to DonorsChoose, you are limited to 3 projects in process, but once you have established yourself, you can have a total of 8 projects in process! The more projects you successfully complete, the more points you accrue. Lots of points mean you can write special project proposals like funding a school bus field trip, or ordering resources from a special vendor.
  6. Donors love to donate to projects that have a lot of donations from many people. It shows donors that there is a huge support system behind this project! As soon as you post your project, donate to your own project and use the matching code Disney, Inspire, or 100women during the first week to double the donation. Give your brother a dollar and have him donate a dollar to your project using his email address. Do this for your entire family. Trade with friends by having them donate to your project and you donate to their project. Each new donor helps your project look very popular and desirable. Plus, projects with a lot of donors often get featured on the DonorsChoose Projects page. Once your project is there, it's likely to be funded by a very generous donor you don't even know!
  7. Become an active member of one or more giving page communities and post comments in their Facebook groups. I often donate to projects where I recognize an online teacher friend's name. Besides Caring Classrooms, there are many wonderful community giving pages run by dedicated people who want to help teachers get their projects funded. When you post a comment on a community Facebook page, people begin to recognize your name and see you are an active member of the giving page community. We love to share the love, so get to know the people who are active giving page members.
DonorsChoose has helped me get the resources I need in my classroom, whether it be a class set of my favorite read alouds, a document camera, or a field trip bus. Receiving resources helps my students and me feel special and loved. Good luck on getting the resources you need for your classroom and school, and share successful tips you have too! If you would like to attend the webinar that I'm doing with Laura on March 8th, you can sign up here for us to send you a reminder. We'll be sharing many more tips for success on DonorsChoose!

Francie Kugelman is a fifth grade teacher in Los Angeles. She has had over 100 DonorsChoose projects successfully funded, totaling over $65,000 in resources. 

February 8, 2014

Literature Circles - Common Core Aligned & Fun!

Motivate Kids to Love Reading!

It's February, and your students are tired of the same old routines in reading. They're ready for a change, and you are, too. But if you teach in a Common Core state, you know know that whatever you teach, it must be aligned with the Common Core.

Literature Circles to the rescue! Literature Circles are small groups of students who choose to read the same book and participate in discussions and activities related to the book. Some forms of Literature Circles are very structured with students performing various roles such as Discussion Director or Vocabulary Wizard. Others are much more informal, with students meeting a few times a week to discuss the book without assuming specific roles. I refer to these more informal discussion groups as Classroom Book Clubs. In my experience, kids love Literature Circles because they can choose what they want to read and talk about books with friends.

Literature Circle Resources to Explore
Over the years, I implemented many different types of Literature Circles and ended up creating an entire section of my Teaching Resources website devoted to this strategy. My Literature Circle pages are full of teaching tips, free printables, and recommended books. You'll even find a free webinar recording about how to implement the Classroom Books Clubs model. If you are interested in learning more about Literature Circles, click here to start exploring these resources. If you are a Pinterest fan, you might also want to follow my Literature Circles Pinterest Board to find book recommendations and links to strategies that I find on the web.

Common Core Alignment Freebie
Because Literature Circles have been around for years, chances are good that you already know something about them. However, you might not realize that they are Common Core Aligned. In fact, Literature Circles are the PERFECT way to meet most of the Speaking and Listening standards for your grade level! At every grade level K-5, the CCSS requires students to engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions, although the specific standard vary slightly by grade. I compiled a list of the specific CCSS that relate to Literature Circles (K-5); click the image on the right to download this freebie. Each grade level appears on a separate page, and it would be a great list to keep handy for your lesson plans. You'll easily be able to justify why you are implementing Literature Circles in your curriculum.

Sample Speaking and Listening Standards for Literature Circles:
  • Engaging effectively in a range of collaborative discussions with diverse partners on grade level topics and texts, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly. 
  • Following agreed-upon rules including listening to others, taking turns, gaining the floor in respectful ways, staying on topic, etc.
  • Learning how to build on others’ talk and elaborate on points by linking your comments to what others have said 
  • Coming to the discussion prepared, having read required material
  • Supporting their responses with details from the text
  • Posing and responding to questions to clarify or follow up on information presented by other speakers

Benefits of Literature Circles
Not only are Literature Circles a great way to meet the Speaking and Listening Standards, they are fun and motivating for students. Students enjoy being able to select their own books and having the chance to discuss them with their classmates. Involving students in Literature Circles helps them dig deeper into the text and apply the close reading strategies they've been learning during their regular reading instruction.

Literature Circles take a little work to set up and manage, especially at first, but it's well worth the effort. If you are new to this strategy, be sure to visit the Literature Circles pages on Teaching Resources where you'll find a free webinar, teaching strategies, helpful tips, and loads of printables. If you need complete, step-by-step directions for implementing an easy form of Literature Circles called Classroom Book Clubs, you might be interested in my slidecast course where I explain exactly how to implement the program. It comes with all the printables you need to take the work out of planning.

Now's the time to take a break from your regular reading instruction to try something that's motivating, fun, AND Common Core aligned! Your students will love you for it!