Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Techno Teaching

Well, my long weekend is over, and it's time to get back to work.  It was really nice having an extra day to do whatever I want.

I spent my extra day working, and then visiting with my family.

I took Jelly over to my parents' house to pick up Butter and because I haven't seen very much of them since going back to work.  This time last year, I went through weeks at a time without talking to my mom - and that's not something I want to happen this year.  I'm one of those people that talks to my mom on the phone several times a week - just to say hi and see what's going on in our lives.  I don't want to slip in to a bad habit of being too busy to spend time with my family.  Not again.

While we were there, Jelly got her first experience riding a horse...


Butter walked the horse, while my brother kept her firmly on the horse's back.  Bareback, nonetheless.  She was a little nervous, at first, but really enjoyed it after a couple of seconds.

Before heading off to my parents' house, I spent some time on my computer.  Looking in to some websites that I can use in my classroom.  One thing I've discovered about having a self-contained classroom is that it's not as easy as just differentiating work so that all levels are reached.  In a perfect world, all of the assignments would be given at the level of the students' abilities... but if that were to happen, even more gaps would start to emerge.  My job is to fill in gaps, not make them even wider.

Enter online learning.

I'm fortunate enough to have a co-teacher with me for math and 30 minutes of reading each day.  She's the special education teacher, and it's nice to have her there so that she can really provide support to the kids that need a little more explanation and guidance while working.  Which is really awesome for the 4th grade content I'm teaching.  It doesn't help with the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade skills several of my students are lacking, however.  

So, I spent a couple of hours looking up some websites that will help teach some of those skills to the students that need it.  

Let's be real.  I'm only one person.  It would be awesome if there was enough hours in the day for me to sit down with each one of them and provide one on one support and intervention.  But there's not.  And the one or two times a week I do get to sit down with them isn't near enough for what they need.

I was lucky enough to find some great sites.  All data driven.  All providing independent assessments and goals based on the needs of the student.  All 100% free!!  Can't beat that.

For students that need a little help with basic math facts, there is xtramath.com.  A website that provides an individual log-in for each student.  They get online, are directed through prompts by a virtual teacher, are assessed in the beginning to customize their learning plan, and then can log on each day for a quick round of drills.  Drills focused on addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. A skill is not passed until mastery level is completed.  Meaning, they will continue to practice the facts they need to know before advancing to the next stage.  I get feedback on what skills they have mastered and which areas they are struggling.

For a focus of common core math standards, there is a great site called Ten Marks (tenmarks.com).  It also provides individual log-in, and I customize the standards for each student so they are given extra practice in the subjects we are currently learning.  Right now, we're focusing on place value.  So, if a student needs a little extra help in place value, rounding, ordering numbers, etc., I can get on to the site and assign common core practice.  This is much deeper than basic math facts, the questions are all delivered in common core format.  And, again, I can change the level of content...meaning if a student is lacking in lower grade skills, I can assign the skills from that grade level for them to practice. For students that are higher, I can provide higher level skills.  I get great data based on the whole class, individual student needs, and intervention suggestions for students that may need a different level.  

That gets me covered for math... but what about reading, language arts, science and social studies?

So, then I stumble across Study Ladder (studyladder.com).  Once again, individualized, and customizable to the needs of each student.  I can assign tasks from kindergarten through 8th grade on ALL subjects.  They include language arts, math, reading, science, and social studies.  They even offer subjects like music, art, and learning a second language!  Got a student that's having trouble with phonics?  OK, I can assign them tasks that will guide them through interactive games and assignments that will help them.  Got a student that has problems with comprehension?  No biggie...the program will guide them through comprehension skills.  Want to provide extra practice for skills that have been taught?  I can assign the whole class practice games so when they log on, they can choose which game to play that's already focused on their needs.  And, once again, data at my fingertips for each student!  What I really love about this site, is that I can plan ahead and print out practice sheets if I know that a computer won't be available on a specific day.  Or I can print out individual practice pages for students to keep in a folder to work on during small group time, or for extra practice at home if I want to.

I also joined a site called Spelling City (spellingcity.com).  There, I can upload our spelling lists each week, and the students can practice at home or in class with games that include their spelling words.  A lot more fun than basic rote memorization.  They can play hangman, fill out a crossword, learn the definitions, and other fun games that help them become familiar with their spelling list.  A great resource for students who finish their work early, or have a computer at home that they want to use for school work!

And lastly, let's not forget that I'm fortunate enough to own an iPad.  Even though I accept full responsibility for anything that may happen to my iPad in the classroom, it seems kinda pointless to have one and not use it for the great educational apps it offers.  There are a plethora of learning games, but I actually managed to find an iPad learning system that is individualized like all the other sites I found...and provides great data and feedback.  PLUS, a student can access it online or on my iPad.  That app would be ScootPad (scootpad.com).  This program is very similar to Study Ladder, meaning if offers support and customizable content for more than just math.  Unfortunately, the free program only offers math, reading, and language arts.  For a $50 annual subscription price, I could add spelling, vocabulary, writing, assessments, interventions, etc.  Not a bad price, but the free version will offer enough to support the other sites I'll be using.  Plus, on days where the computers are all taken, it will be nice to put a child on my iPad for some help.

Adding all these great resources to my classroom really helps me think that I can be more than one person.  I can reach each individual child with their needs and demands.  Sure, time will always be a factor... but with some serious planning and time management, I will make sure that every day students are getting practice with something.

Also, having so many sites to choose from, I don't run the risk of a student getting bored with the same ol' same ol'.  Depending on how I schedule time out, there should be some room for choice available to my students.  They can keep a log of how much time they're spending on each site, and divvy up their time so that they are getting an array of learning.  

Each site offers home support, if the students wish to access the sites from home.  Parents can get involved and monitor the progress their child is making, and see the areas which need the most practice.  Unfortunately, not many students have access to a home computer, but those that do can get some benefit out of the sites - if they so choose.

I'm a firm believer that a computer can't replace a teacher.  A computer will never be able to provide the nurturing and support that's delivered from a real-life teacher.  But, as a teacher, I know that a computer can provide support.  It can provide extra practice.  It can help fill in some of the gaps that are missing, that I just don't have enough time to cover individually...as much as I'd love to.  

And kids need technology.  

Sometimes it's a refreshing break to get on a computer and play some games.  Sometimes kids get sick of hearing their teacher go on and on about a specific topic.  Having a colorful, fun, interactive learning experience on a screen may be just what they need every now and then.

I'm OK with that.

If these sites close up a few of the gaps my students have...then it's pushing them a few steps closer to where they need to be.  And I won't ever pretend that I'm good enough, on my own, to stretch myself out between 19 students, 19 different needs, 19 different personalities, likes, and dislikes.  But, I don't have to pretend that I'm not committed.  I have said many times that I will do whatever it takes to get these kids to feel successful, accomplished, and to leave my classroom leaps and bounds further than when they first walked in.  I have confidence that these websites will help me achieve that goal.  And I'm excited to see how they play out.

Right now, though, it's time for me to go and get ready for work.
Have a great Tuesday!!



  1. I saw a piece on 60 minutes Sunday night about this site. The student testimonies during the piece claim it is helpful with Math. The teacher is able to see who is doing what, how long it takes to answer questions, and who needs help. Might be something of interest to you.


    1. Thanks, Sarah!! This site does look awesome. My kids have really enjoyed using Study Ladder, so far, because it's mostly games. Khan looks like it would be a great site for direct teaching guidance with the use of videos, which could be really handy for kids that were absent for a lesson, or kiddos that need reteaching. I'm definitely going to try this one out!


Tell me what's on your mind - I love to hear from you!