Monthly Archives: November 2015

5 Tech Tools to Add Power to Your School Day

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Tech Tools for Homeschool and Classroom

The Oxford Dictionary defines a tool  as “a device or implement, especially one held in the hand, used to carry out a particular function.” In our classrooms, technology is everywhere. Teachers use it; students use it. But are we getting the most out of these products as tech tools?

In this post, we will look at five tech tools that you can add to your school day, without needing PD or a college course to use them. Not only are these great for the classroom, they add interest to homeschool and tutoring sessions, providing other ways for students to learn and practice material.

5 Tech Tools to Try

IXL Math and English

IXL is a comprehensive math and English language arts practice website for use by K-12 students and educators. A paid subscription ($12.95/mo, or $99/year) gets you unlimited access to thousands of Common Core Standards-based practice sets, progress monitoring, including reporting, and awards for the student as he masters standards. If you are a Canadian citizen, you are also directed to curriculum specific to your province. tech tools

IXL Math and Language Arts – free, standards-based practice each day.

For those who don’t need the full subscription, free access gets you 20 practice problems per day — a great independent assignment to assess student progress on a particular standard. You don’t get the reporting feature, but I have my son photograph and text me the score screen to show me how he did on an assessment.

New content is posted to the site regularly, with new material for higher-level English on the way, and brand new apps to get access to the site on all your mobile devices.

Project Spark

Interested in teaching computer science to your students, but don’t know how? Sign up for Project Spark, and your kids will be coding with no help from you, at all.

In Project Spark, students use a video game setting and intuitive commands to create “worlds” run by “brains” (computer programs), creating characters and game-style actions (e.g., picking up objects, getting rewards) by writing their own html code. The interface is game-like, but the learning is straight-up computer science, with students learning about string variables, subroutines and other basic computer science concepts using drag-and-drop coding components.

Students can choose to publish their worlds for others to explore and use. If they don’t know how to do something (e.g., change the color or texture of a creature’s skin) there is a ton of Google-able content by other users.

The digital download is available free for Xbox One and Windows 8.1.


Timelines are a great way for students to summarize their learning in history class. In my house, however, lives a young man who has always abhorred any activity that involved “cutting and gluing.” Using Dipity, an online timeline-building tech tool, he can create beautiful timelines, complete with photographs and links to online resources — a great way to create a multimedia presentation, using simple cut-and-paste functions.

Users can change backgrounds, fonts and timeline markers not only to create timelines, but also to document their learning over the year, to create visual guides to their reading over the semester, or to chronicle important events in their own lives — the options are limitless. tech tools

Use Dipity to create stunning, interactive timelines online.

Users can create a few timelines free, or subscribe to Dipity Premiums (subscriptions start at $4.95/mo) for more timelines and premium backgrounds and effects.

Bing Home

For a great tech tool that can become a great addition to your students’ independent work, look no further than the Bing home page.

You probably have noticed that the Bing home page image, which changes daily, is always visually stunning and generates many questions. But have you ever noticed the little squares on the Bing home screen? These clickable spots on the daily image lead to great content on the image, using Bing’s own highly rated search function. tech tools

Use the Bing Home image as a springboard for web-based research.

For example, in the image for today (11/10/2015), we see an overhead view of a shopping mall, which we learn is in Singapore (by clicking on the “info” button at the bottom of the screen). The clickable spots on the image lead to three other Bing tech tools, Bing images (of street shots in Singapore), Bing videos (showing shopping areas in Singapore) and Bing web search (with links to a renowned Hindu temple in Singapore).

You could use the Bing home page image to start a great web quest, or as a way for students to begin to explore a topic of study, to gather ideas for their own research project.

Bing offers many other tech tools for the classroom. All are free. You can choose to set Bing as your home page or simply type in to use the home page image.

Khan Academy

Need something for one of your advanced students to do while you work with her classmates? Does one of your students need a refresher on how to solve for x? Is your homeschooler interested in Neoclassical Art and you don’t know a thing about it? Khan Academy is a tech tool for you! tech tools

Khan Academy lets students create a customized learning path.

With only an email address, you can start a class account and invite all your students, or set up accounts for each student, for free. You can assign placement tests for a particular subject, and Khan will build a customized practice plan for that student. Or you can let a student create his own learning profile, telling Khan Academy what he wants to study, and letting Khan recommend materials for him (a great “unschooling” tool).

No matter how you choose content, Khan keeps track of your students’ activities and progress, through their own individual dashboards, and a coaching report placed your teacher dashboard. Additionally, parents get a report on their child’s activities, via their email address. Students win badges for various tasks (minutes on Khan, mastery of a concept, videos watched).

Khan has an amazing wealth of short instructional videos for teachers and students (if you forgot how to read the periodic table, or use the FOIL method in algebra).

Khan Academy  is always free, all the time, and is available for PC or Mac OS.

Tech Tools for All Your Teaching Needs

Have you used any of these tech tools in your classroom or homeschool? Leave us a note to tell us how you included any of these in your routines.

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Power Thinking: Concept Mapping in Smart Notebook 2015

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Powerful Thinking… Powerful Learning

When we teach, we want students to learn. The more we can get them to think about the content we are presenting, the deeper and longer-lasting their learning becomes. In this post, we will explore Power Thinking, a concept mapping and outlining strategy that helps students organize information. concept mapping

Power Thinking: a great concept mapping and outlining strategy for all ages. {Image via Creative Commons}

What is Power Thinking?

Power Thinking is a strategy that students use to organize information, much like you would do in an outline. The most important piece of information, the title or topic, represents Level 1; main ideas are Level 2; other ideas or details become Level 3. Additional levels may be added, depending on the topic or the age of your students. For some students, the information can be color-coded by level, or the ideas can be numbered.

In the Power Thinking strategy, students stand in a circle in an open floor space and take turns placing pieces of information on the floor, building the map one piece at a time. When students run out of information to add, they may move one piece to another part of the map. In my classes, I usually conduct two rounds with information, then two rounds moving information, before ending the task.

The trick to Power Thinking is that the task is performed silently. This allows students who need more think time to process without classmates calling out answers or giving advice. It also requires students to think more deeply as they wait.

The Learning Benefits of Power Thinking

As with any concept mapping activity, Power Thinking helps students think about the many ways they can connect information, leading to a deeper understanding of the topic being studied. The hierarchical thinking that is used also helps students understand main ideas and supporting details. Older students can use this thinking to take better notes.

Power Thinking assists a wide range of learners, providing multiple entry points for the students in your class. The ability to stand and physically move items helps students who need a more active learning environment. Color cues, when used, aid in identifying levels of information, and help some students remember the levels later. Because there are many ways to connect pieces of information, students who are divergent thinkers are able to participate equitably, as well.

Concept Mapping Technology

Thanks to the plethora of educational technologies available in most classrooms today, students can practice concept mapping on many electronic devices. In this post, we will explore the use of the Smart Board and Smart Notebook 2015 software as concept mapping tools to use in Power Thinking.

Concept Mapping Using Smart Notebook 2015

The newest version of Smart Notebook includes built-in tools for concept mapping on your Smart Board.  Follow the steps below to make your Power Thinking Activity high-tech.

Before you teach:

  • Step 1. Open Smart Notebook 2015.
  • Step 2. Click the new concept mapping tool on the top tool bar. concept mapping

Smart Notebook 2015 includes a new concept mapping tool in the main tool bar.

  • Step 3. Prepare term cards for students. On notecards or pieces of sentence strip, write the terms and phrases that you want students to use in the concept mapping activity. {A practice set on bird eggs is included for your convenience.}

Power thinking:

  • Step 4. Pass out term cards to students. Each student should have at least two cards. Adjust the number of terms to match your class size.
  • Step 5. Students begin mapping. One at a time, students come to the board and create a map item by writing the term on their card, and circling it. Circling it causes the term to become a movable item on the Smart Board.
  • Step 6. Students connect items on the map. As students place their terms on the map, they can drag them to other terms and connect them by drawing a line between related items.
  • Step 7. Students move items. Once all the terms are on the board, continue with 1-2 additional rounds, allowing students to move one item to a new location, erasing and redrawing connections.

After teaching:

After the learning task is finished, you may save and print your concept map. Power Thinking can be repeated after instruction of key parts of the topic, and can also be used as a summative assessment after instruction is completed.

For an exciting collaborative twist on concept mapping, see the video, below, where students collaborate to build a concept map of words and photos using their individual mobile devices and the classroom Smart Board.

Get Mapping!

I hope you enjoy this concept mapping tutorial for use with your Smart Board. Happy mapping!

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