Friday, October 31, 2014

Software for the Classroom: Review of Animation-ish

Ages: Kindergarten through grade twelve 

Content Areas: Cross Curricular

Cost: Varies depending on the license purchased. More pricing information can be found on their website. Of note, a 15 day free trial is also available.

Technical Requirements: Animation-ish can be run on Windows, Mac, and Drawing Tablets

Description: One of my personal all-time favorite children’s authors has launched an award-winning software program titled Animation-ishPeter H. Reynolds is the bestselling author and illustrator behind the incredible titles IshThe Dot and The North Star. Mr. Reynold has moved beyond books and into the digital space with the launch of Animation-ish, which is described as “an easy-to-use animation software program that inspires creativity and enables children to show what they know.” Students can use this program as an alternative to writing a story (allowing a teacher to asses ability regardless of writing or graphomotor challenges), to create a presentation (which could be of benefit for students with language difficulties) or to animate a project. 

Not only will your students be able to bolster their digital literacy skills by learning how to independently create their own animations, but they can use it a medium to demonstrate their knowledge across curricular areas. As such, this would be an invaluable tool for teachers trying to embody the "multiple means of expression" aspect of Universal Design for Learning or differentiated instruction. Furthermore, embedded into the software program are a number of curricular based activities that they have aligned to the national educational standards

Technology has always been a professional interest of mine and, as a teacher, I would attempt a video or animation project with my class each year. However, so many of the video creation tools available are really designed for professionals, which can be a barrier to implementation in the classroom. What Animation-ish does is provide a child-friendly, simple way to have your students demonstrate their learning via video creation. This will serve as a highly motivating way for learners to showcase what they know, especially when compared to traditional assessment measures such as tests, papers or physical projects.

If you are curious about what this software can do, or apprehensive about the tech skills you must possess to integrate this modality into your classroom,  the team behind Animation-ish has published an exceptional Quick Start guide. Furthermore, professional development is a critical aspect of learning a new tool and a variety of lessons on how to use the different features of the program have made available on the Animation-ish website in order to help you. Beyond this resource, Mr. Reynold also offers a variety of tools for creating a creative classroom, which you may want to explore.  Most are literacy based and infuse elements of high quality art.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Noggle: A Math Fact Game

Today's post continues our occasional series about classroom games and tools developed by Yellin Center Learning Specialist Renee Jordan during her years as a classroom teacher. 

 2 through 8

Curricular Area: Mathematics 

Description of Game:
Mastery of math facts is a vital component of math education. Math facts are the building blocks of all other higher level math operations. Therefore, it is important that students have abundant opportunities to practice their math facts. Noggle is an enjoyable math game for students that can be used as an alternative to fact drills and traditional worksheets.

Noggle is customizable across grade levels, since the numbers can be changed to reflect the abilities of the students in your classroom. Be sure when you are picking numbers to fill in your grid that you are able locate multiple math facts. Another way to adapt this game is by the types of equations you ask your students to search for (e.g. addition, subtraction, division or multiplication).

In my classroom, I have used Noggle as an early finisher activity, a morning puzzle, or as one option in a math game lesson. I found that I was using Noggle so often as a start to the day puzzle or early finisher activity that I taped out a grid using painter's tape on a spare whiteboard mounted in my classroom. This also encouraged my students to create their own number grids on our classroom Noggle board that their peers could try and solve. Alternatively, a teaching colleague used open space on one of her bulletin boards to devise her own permanent Noggle board.

This is the Noggle Board I used with my students, but you can create your own.

Materials Needed:
One handout per student


1. Draw a game grid on the board

2. Fill in the game board with numbers of your choosing

i. Be sure to check your numbers and see that you can find a several equations that your students would be able to locate and solve independently

ii. Example of completed grid with addition, subtraction and multiplication equations


iii   Example answers from the aforementioned grid using the numeral 3 in the top left hand corner (in the shaded cell): 3 +4 = 9; 4+3=9; 9-4=3; 3+6=9; 6+3=9; 9-6=3; 3+2+1=6; 3+4+2=9 3x2=6

3.  Explain the rules of the game to your students and designate the types of equations you would like them to find (e.g. addition, subtraction, division or multiplication). 

 i.      I often reference the game Boggle and explain that it is a similar structure but with numbers instead of letters, and that you are finding equations instead of words.
 ii.      For the younger grades I will only select addition or subtraction;  for older grades I will challenge students to find the additional equation types.
iii. I always encourage my students to find equations with more than two numbers (e.g. 1+3+4= 8) 
iv. I always encourage my students to use the communicative property (e.g. a+b=c and b+a=c)
4.  Highlight the text at the top of the game board where the students can refer to the goal and game rules in case they forget

5. Allow the students time to play the game.

Alignment with Common Core Standards:
  • CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.3.OA.C.7: Fluently multiply and divide within 100, using strategies such as the relationship between multiplication and division (e.g., knowing that 8 × 5 = 40, one knows 40 ÷ 5 = 8) or properties of operations. By the end of Grade 3, know from memory all products of two one-digit numbers.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Matisse at MoMA Makes a Great Trip and Project!

A new exhibit of Henri Mattise's work at  New York City's Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) is just the thing to inspire young artists. During the last years of his life, Mattise moved away from painting and created a series of stunning cut-outs, which are now on display. These works of art were made using only white paper, a type of paint called gouache, scissors, and pins or glue. The resulting images are similar in style to many of his paintings, but their effect is more dynamic and three-dimensional, thanks to the layered paper. 

Matisse is a particularly accessible artist for young people. He favored bright colors and simple shapes that lend themselves easily to experimentation. Exquisitely detailed pieces, like oil paintings by da Vinci or Rembrandt, are fun to look at but can be intimidating. Even very young children will enjoy looking at Mattise's colorful paintings and cut-outs, however. As you walk through the exhibit, encourage kids to describe the kinds of emotions they think Matisse may have been feeling as he created the different pieces. Ask them to pick a favorite and to explain why they like it best. Challenge them to consider how certain pieces would feel different if he'd used different colors or shapes. Ask whether they like Matisse and why they think others enjoy Matisse so much.

The exhibit began earlier this month and runs through February 8, 2015. Timed tickets are required for non-members of the MoMA. Visit the exhibit's website for detailed information.

To take the fun one step farther, invite children to make their own cut-outs. Young artists may enjoy watching a short video of Matisse working on a cut-out. Then they can try to replicate one of Matisse's pieces or invent their own. Colored construction paper could be used, but for a more authentic experience begin by painting rectangles of white paper in solid colors. Invite kids to experiment with paint application; visible brushstrokes can add exciting texture to the finished piece. Painted papers should be weighted as they dry so that they don't curl. Once they're dry, kids can cut shapes and arrange them on white paper. Some of Matisse's cut-outs are shaped like plants, animals, and people, while others are simply abstract shapes; kids should experiment with both! Once he was happy with his arrangement, Matisse used either sewing pins or dabs of glue to fasten the shapes in place. If you use glue, be sure not to anchor the shapes down too firmly. Part of the fun of cut-outs is seeing the different layers.

Memory of Oceania - Henri Matisse - created 1952-53
For more information on the technique and on Matisse himself, check out the MoMA's wonderful online resources .

Friday, October 17, 2014

Current Events Demonstrate the Consequences of Plagiarism

Montana Senator John Walsh's recent embarrassment is what we in education call a "teachable moment." It was determined that Walsh, who was appointed to serve as senator this past February, plagiarized nearly a quarter of the master's thesis he submitted to the Army War College to complete his coursework in 2007. In response, the College has recently rescinded Walsh's master's degree, and Walsh has announced that he will be dropping out of the state's upcoming election.
When stressing the importance of proper citation to students, this is an excellent anecdote to relate. The internet makes it easier than ever for schools to catch students when they don't give credit where it's due, and the consequences, as Walsh's case shows us, can be severe.

Citation can be tricky, however, and some students don't fully understand the difference between research and plagiarism. The issue isn't as cut and dried as some might think. For example, plagiarism doesn't have to be intentional; even unintentionally failing to credit someone else for their words or ideas counts as cheating.

To help students understand plagiarism, look no farther than Purdue's Online Writing Lab, one of our favorite writing resources. For teachers, there are several excellent ready-made lesson plans that should help clear up misunderstandings about academic honesty. And students should bookmark the excellent page of resources on topics like the difference between paraphrasing and quoting, how to format in-text citations, etc. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Learn with Homer: Reading App Review

Recommended Ages: 2 to 6

Content Areas: Early Reading

Price: Free (with in-app purchases). A web-based version has a 30 day free trial and then a monthly subscription fee.

Why We Love It:
Learn with Homer was created by Stephanie Dua, a Brooklyn mother and Harvard Public Policy graduate who spent her early career working in educational policy and reform in New York City. When Ms. Dua’s eldest daughter began searching for engaging at home reading resources, she realized there was a need for a high quality, research backed digital foundational literacy program.

The Homer Method infuses the best research on how children learn to read, with high quality, engaging art and storytelling to create a program that supports children in becoming successful readers. You don’t have to just take their word for it; the team behind Learn with Homer publishes all the research that underpins their program, so parents and teachers can assess it for themselves.

The program is designed to be a sequential, step-by-step learning process where the child progresses at his or her own personalized pace and each new skill builds upon those previously mastered. The program starts with the basics of sounds and letters before moving on to words, ideas and knowledge. The program includes original artwork from talented illustrators, songs, rhymes and game-based learning theories to truly make the reading experience enjoyable for a child. Each of the stories and activities are thoughtfully created or illustrated for the Read with Homer Program, making it an incredibly comprehensive and robust early reading application. It is easy to see why Learn with Homer has been the recipient of so many awards and acknowledgements.

For Parents
Beyond teaching your child the fundamentals of reading, Learn with Homer will also expose your child to music and rhymes from a variety of cultures to help them learn correct pronunciation and verbal timing. Science, history and art are also infused in the non-fiction reading resources to teach new vocabulary. Writing is also an element of the Learn with Homer App through their Pigeon Post which allows your child to compose, send and receive digital postcards from loved ones. Extensions beyond the digital space are also available through printed projects which include craft ideas, writing practice activities, coloring pages and puzzles. Through the parent dashboard, you can also keep track of the progress your child has made and see his or her growth over time.

For Teachers
Learn with Homer has a classroom dashboard which allows teachers to track the progress of their entire class in real time. As a former classroom teacher, I found this aspect valuable for my formative assessment, as it allowed me to identify the strengths and weaknesses in my individual students. This, in turn, helped inform any subsequent reading interventions and activities I employed. Furthermore, you can feel confident in utilizing this tool in your classroom, as the team behind Learn with Homer has done all the work of linking their program to the Common Core standards for you in a document published on their website.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Resources for Teachers: Sight Word Recognition Game

With this week's posts on The Yellin Center Blog, we welcome a new blogger to our Yellin Center team - Learning Specialist Renée Jordan, M.A. Ms. Jordan's blogs will include tools and techniques for teachers and parents that she developed as a classroom teacher, as well as reviews of apps, books, and other resources.

On a Roll
On a Roll is a game I developed as part of the language arts curriculum for my students in kindergarten and first grade. Sight words are a small group of words (approximately 300-500) that account for large portions of the common texts we read. For example, words such as: this, that, then, he, she, and etc are considered sight words. Due to their high frequency, it is critical that students cultivating early literacy skills develop their sight word recognition skills. 

Description of Game

On a Roll provides a fun, engaging way for students practice their sight word recognition. The game is fully customizable, thus allowing educators to alter the grid to include sight words that are specific to your students’ needs. Furthermore, peer collaboration is a great strategy for reinforcing learning. Therefore, having students work in pairs and use their peers as support when identifying sight words that challenge them will also be beneficial.

In my own classroom, I have used On a Roll as an independent, stand alone lesson, as an "early finisher" activity, and as one activity in my literacy centers. Furthermore, I found that my students really enjoyed and benefited from the activity and wanted to make permanent game boards for my classroom. As a result, I made multiple game boards with all the sight words I wanted my students to master by the end of the year and laminated them. My students were then able to use dry erase markers on the game boards, which were easily cleaned at the end of each lesson. 

Materials Needed
  • One handout per every two students. You can download the handouts here (for page 1) and here (page 2), or create your own.
  • 1 die per two students
  • Pair students with a partner and distribute materials.
  • Explain the rules of the game and highlight the text at the bottom of the game board where the students can refer to the rules in case they forget.
  • Each partner will take a turn rolling the die
  • They will then find the sight word that corresponds with the number rolled
  • Then the student will locate the sight word on the game board and color it in
  • The first student to color in an entire row is the winner

Allow the students time to play the game. If time is left, have the students find a new partner and play again. Alternately, you could make multiple game boards with a variety of sight words your students need to master. Therefore, when they have completed a round of play they could attempt a new word list.

How this game aligns with Common Core Standards:

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Review: Storybird Web Based Writing Platform

Storybird - Artful Storytelling

Recommended Ages: Grade 1 and up

Content Areas: Reading and Writing

Price: Free

Why We Like It : Storybird is a beautifully crafted, aesthetically pleasing website based application for reading and writing. Students sometimes struggle with the motivation to write, and it is important to provide them with engaging, meaningful ways to practice their written skills; Storybird does just that. Storybird is especially valuable for students with strong visual and spatial skills and has a wealth of high quality, artist created images that children can use as inspiration for their writing. In addition, Storybird allows students to infuse the same images into their story in order to help them tell their tale. The image support could be beneficial for helping students who struggle with sequencing a story, as the pictures will serve as reinforcements and cues as they craft their narrative.

Beyond writing, Storybird can be an excellent method to increase the time a child spends reading. Children can read other children’s stories, or those of their friends. There are multiple genres available for children to choose from, which increases the likelihood that each student will discover something that interests them. Furthermore, professional authors use Storybird to connect with their fans, which allows children access to their stories as well.

For Parents
There are other games infused into Storybird that your child can play to further interest them in the reading and writing process. For example, there are puzzles hidden throughout the artworks that your child can solve which, as a reward, will unlock new stories and puzzles for them to enjoy. Exposure to reading and writing at home is important. This is one avenue where your child can gain more experience reading and writing outside of their classroom hours. In addition, you are able to read your child’s creations and provide them with positive reinforcement through the program. Furthermore, your child’s work can be shared with other family members and close friends who can also encourage your child. This will help grow your child’s confidence in their writing abilities. 

For Teachers
Storybird enables teachers to create robust libraries of student work. These are able to be shared with parents and administrators as examples of student written output. In addition, lesson creation and assigning grades are features of the Storybird application that are integrated right into the site.

Publishing books is an important final aspect of the stages of writing. Storybird provides a high quality avenue for students to self-publish their work. This will increase their engagement and sense of ownership over the writing process. Also, collaboration is a huge part of the Storybird program. As your students read and explore their peers' work they are able to comment and send positive reinforcement to their fellow students.

Good to Know
  • Users must be 13 years of age to become a member. If a child is younger than 13, he/she must provide a parent’s email address, and then the parent is immediately notified that their child has become a storybird.
  • Student privacy is protected. Social interactions are classroom-contained.

How Storybird Aligns with Common Core Standards

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Rhyme to Read App for Beginning Readers

Ask reading teachers what books they use to teach youngsters to decode and they’ll almost unanimously mention controlled texts. These simple books are excellent tools for helping young children gain fluency and automaticity with words. 

Controlled texts tell short, simple stories using a combination of patterned words and sight words. For example, a book that focuses on the “–et” letter pattern might feature a character named Bet and tell a story using words like “wet,” “pet,” “jet,” “get,” etc. alongside common sight words like “the,” “and,” etc. Rhyming words are easier to read because children don’t need to sound out each word in its entirety; they can read many words easily by simply adding a new beginning sound to /et/. The repetitive nature of the wording in the stories helps, too. By reading the same words over and over again throughout the book, developing readers learn to recognize the words by sight instead of having to sound them out each time.

For parents hoping to give their children confidence with decoding, controlled text series can be purchased from many bookstores and websites and even downloaded from the Internet. One of the best is the Bob Books series, and Starfall also offer some good options. One of our favorites, however, is called Rhyme to Read, which is available as an app.

It’s no wonder that Rhyme to Read is great; it was developed by two expert educators. Sara Hines, who has a Ph.D. in Special Education with a focus on learning disabilities, has over 25 years of experience teaching reading and has even spent time teaching at Hunter College. Lynn Laiman, the second author, has a Master’s Degree in reading and has worked in schools for 20 years as both a classroom teacher and reading specialist. Their brainchild gives families access to a wonderful set of digital, controlled texts with the touch of a button.

In the series, new words are introduced on the left page of each book, and children can read sentences containing the words on the right page. This format makes it easy for parents or teachers to preview new words with kids so that they’re more likely to feel successful when they encounter the words in the context of the story. A list of all the words introduced in each book is available on the last page, too, offering a chance for seamless review. The books increase in difficulty throughout the series, and kids will come across words they’ve already learned as they progress to more advanced books.

The first book in the series is free, and the remaining 19 books can be purchased for $9.99 from the iTunes store. As far as apps go, Rhyme to Read is on the pricier side, but this well-designed program is well worth it. It’s far less expensive to buy the digital “books” than it is to purchase a set of leveled readers, for one thing. And Rhyme to Read has capabilities paper books simply don’t. For example, children can tap words to hear them read aloud. Target words, the ones that follow the featured pattern, are read in one voice, and sight words are read in another. Even more ingenious, tapping on the word on the left page, where it is first introduced, plays the word in a segmented way (i.e. “c-at”). This helps them to understand how to attach the new beginning sound (/c/) to the familiar pattern (/-at/). On the right page, though, they can hear the word read fluently (“cat”).

Rhyme to Read has received rave reviews from users, and we are very impressed as well! We hope this thoughtful resource is helpful to you and the young children in your life.