Tag Archives: differentiation

Top EdTech Tools for Digital Differentiation

My latest post for the Neo Blog is, “Top EdTech Tools for Digital Differentiation.” You may recognize some of the tools I recommend, such as Newsela and the one I blogged about yesterday, Immersive Reader. But you might be surprised by some other gems that are less ubiquitous right now.

One of the messages I hope that gets across with my Neo post (and everything I include on my own blog) is that differentiation should be happening for all students, not just the ones who are struggling. With technology, we can help all students to learn more, and teachers can have more time to give children the personal attention they need.

My previous NEO articles have been: From Normal to Better: Using What We’ve Learned to Improve Education, Applying Universal Design for Learning in Remote Classrooms, How Distance Learning Fosters Global CollaborationHow to Use Design Thinking in the Classroom, and How to S.T.E.A.M. Up Distance Learning.

Next month’s post for Neo will be, “How to Facilitate Meaningful Discussions in the Hybrid or Virtual Classroom.” If you have any advice, I would love to hear it!

Students at Sutton Middle School use online research to answer questions during a lesson in history class. Photo by Allison Shelley for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action

Wizer

Today I am posting about a product that technically would never had made it on this blog if I didn’t break some rules sometimes.  First of all, it’s a tool for making worksheets.  Yuck.  I know worksheets are a necessary evil sometimes, but they are way, way overused to give students busy work.  Secondly, to get the most out of this tool, you will need to pay for a subscription.  I try to recommend free tools because I know teachers pay for too much already out of their pockets.

However…

This subscription ($35.99 for a year) is a great deal for all of the features you will get – the features that also make this the most powerful digital “worksheet creator” I’ve seen.  If you don’t believe me, try the 14 day trial.

In many ways, Wizer is comparable to a Google Form on steroids.  In both of these, the teacher can create questions, push it out to students, and receive grades and reports on their responses.  But here are the ways that it’s different:

  • It currently interfaces with Google Classroom, Edmodo, and Microsoft, so you have two more option than you do with a Google Form.
  • You can design the worksheet to look much more visually appealing.
  • You can use any of the teacher-created Wizer worksheets to tweak to use as your own. Or, if you like inventing the wheel, make your own from scratch.
  • There are over 10 different question types you can use, including: Drawing, Fill in the Blanks, Label an Image, Sorting, Open Questions.
  • You can record (audio or video) instructions as well as text.
  • Students can respond using audio or text.
  • Students can design their own worksheets.

Here is an example of a worksheet for Tuck Everlasting that I found in the Wizer Community.  You can see what the Teacher Dashboard looks like below.

wizerdashboard
Wizer Teacher Dashboard

Now I think you’ll admit that those are pretty good options.  But the one that’s the game-changer, the one that made me decide to blog about Wizer, the one that is an incredible deal for $35.99/year is the option to differentiate within your worksheet.

With “The Awesome Plan,” teachers can create Learner Profiles for each of their students based on ability, interest, preferred learning mode, whatever you want.  You can create rules based on those categories.  Then, when you create a worksheet, you can use alternate questions for different Differentiated Instruction groups.  For example, do you want to have Fill-In-the Blank questions?  Some students may need a word bank, and others may not.   If you have all of your Learner Profiles done, you can just select with a couple of clicks who gets the word bank and who doesn’t.  Do you have some students who can answer open-ended questions, and others who need multiple choice?  Assign alternate questions!  You can see a quick video example embedded below.

Initially, you will have to do some work to get your Learner Profiles in order.  But imagine the simplicity of creating assessments once you’ve got your information loaded.  If you’ve got students who have their own devices, this tool could make your life much easier – without sacrificing the engagement of your learners.

If you are someone who has used Wizer, please share your feedback!

Customizing Words by Osmo

Even though the Osmo Words game has been around for a few years, many people probably do not take advantage of its full potential.  The Words app is engaging and fun, but can be even more powerful educationally by customizing it.

If adults sign up for a free account at myOsmo, they can add their own albums of pictures and words that can be downloaded to the library on the mobile device being used to play Words.  For example, my first graders choose their own countries to study.  As we learn about different features of the countries, I add photos to an album in myWords that they can then use to review.

You can find instructions for customizing the Words game here.  Using your own albums not only allows you to make the game relevant to current learning topics in your classroom, but also to differentiate.  You could use the same pictures in different albums with different vocabulary.  Or, you can associate a picture with several words of varying difficulty.  For example, a picture of the Taj Mahal may prompt the students to guess Taj Mahal, India, or even tomb.

The online album customization is made even easier with links to UnSplash, an awesome resource of Creative Commons photos.  Or, if you don’t want to make your own album, there are many that other teachers have made and shared publicly that you can also download to your device.

osmowords
Some examples of the public albums in Osmo Words

Prodigy

This year I seem to have a group of students in each of my grade levels who are passionate about math.  Every time I pull out a math activity, they devour it with glee.  It has been a challenge for me to give these students assignments which maintain their excitement for “hard” math without discouraging them with work that is too difficult.  Their classroom teachers are facing the same dilemma.

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to see what my 4th and 5th grade gifted students thought about Prodigy.  Prodigy is an online math game that is free.  (It is also available as an app.)  Teachers can add classrooms of students, and can manage the math topics students practice, as well as the levels at which each student plays.  I immediately assigned all of my students to topics above their current grade levels.  After introducing it in class, I gave them their individual passcodes, letters for their parents, and the caution that playing Prodigy was completely optional.  I also notified their homeroom teachers, and made it clear to the students and the teachers that it was completely up to the teachers to decide if the students could play the game in class.

My students say that the graphics are apparently reminiscent of that popular game, Pokemon.  The students create avatars and can battle each other by doing math problems. They can also earn different abilities as they progress through the game.

There is a paid option for Prodigy, where parents can buy memberships.  This allows the students to access a few more features than the free version.  I have one student who asked his parent for permission to get the membership so far; everyone else seems satisfied with the free game.

I like that I can see individual student reports with Prodigy and that I can differentiate for each child in my class.  I am also pleasantly surprised to see how excited the students are about playing the game.  In addition, the privacy aspect seems fairly good, as the avatars do not give away any student information.

Prodigy does not teach.  It is not a substitute for engaging classroom lessons that include higher order thinking skills.  I enjoy using it as a formative assessment as it gives me reports on the strengths and weaknesses of each of my students in the skills they are assigned, but I would be appalled by any teacher who used Prodigy as their only method of assessment or differentiation.

As long as my students continue to be excited about math, I will view Prodigy as one of the many tools at our disposal that supports their learning.  But I will also continue to provide them with real-life opportunities to use math in relevant ways.

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Math Pickle Revisited

It amazed me to discover yesterday that the last time I posted about Math Pickle was in 2011.  This is a great resource for challenging those mathematical wizards in your class, and I really need to access it more often myself.

Math Pickle

“We learn best through hard fun,” is a quote that you will find on the Math Pickle website.  And there are many “hard fun” puzzles and conundrums to bewilder students of all age levels.

If this is your first time visiting Math Pickle, then I would recommend you click on the link for K-12 Video Support.  From there you can click on any grade level or math skill for a grid of suggested activities. Some of the activities are videos, while others include Powerpoint, Keynote, and even PDF worksheets.

Check out the Math Pickle Termite Terrorists Challenges here!
Check out the Math Pickle Termite Terrorists Challenges here!

My 2nd graders did the “Termite Terrorists” activity yesterday, and I really enjoyed watching them work through some of the puzzles. The included video is meant more to explain the activity to the teacher, but I actually showed the beginning to my students so they could see the lovely introduction that included the disgusting termites;)  This lesson lent itself to differentiation so easily because the students who made it through a puzzle could go on to another one that was a bit more difficult.  Their conversations and strategies were varied and fascinating.  We were amazed by some of the different solutions that could be found for the same problem. Since I actually didn’t look at any answers (and not all are provided), the students had fun trying to “beat” my lowest number on each challenge – and they often did!

Another wonderful resource on the site is the Curricular Puzzle Books link.  It includes free materials for Grades 1-6, and even includes a student-created puzzle book.

There are lots of other areas to explore on the site, including recommended board games.  Gordon Hamilton has done a fabulous service to the education community by providing so many great challenges and resources for free.  You can find out more about the amazing creator of this site, who also happens to be a board game designer, here.  If you can’t get enough hard fun from the Math Pickle website, check out Gordon Hamilton’s Teachers Pay Teachers site for additional puzzles available for purchase.

This I Believe

If you never had a chance to listen to “This I Believe” on NPR, then you have been missing out.  Although the series does not air any longer, you can still access many of the recordings, and there are books available as well.  The best way to describe these personal essays is this paragraph from ThisIBelieve.org: “This I Believe is based on a 1950s radio program of the same name, hosted by acclaimed journalist Edward R. Murrow. Each day, Americans gathered by their radios to hear compelling essays from the likes of Eleanor Roosevelt, Jackie Robinson, Helen Keller, and Harry Truman as well as corporate leaders, cab drivers, scientists, and secretaries—anyone able to distill into a few minutes the guiding principles by which they lived. These essayists’ words brought comfort and inspiration to a country worried about the Cold War, McCarthyism, and racial division.”

You can find recent recordings from the show here. The appropriateness of the recordings for school depends on the age-level of the children.  I have used pieces of the “This I Believe” high school curriculum originally provided through NPR with my 5th grade GT students.

The other day I bookmarked an intriguing Tweet from Drew Frank (@ugafrank) about a “This I Believe” video created by a student for a class.  I finally had the chance to view it last night, and I was blown away by the message and creativity. The student’s name is Kasey Tamamoto, and her video is definitely appropriate for all age levels.  As soon as I viewed it, I knew it would be the subject of today’s post. There seem to be quite a few of these videos on YouTube.  I haven’t watched them yet, but I bet there are some other exceptional examples as well.

For more inspirational videos for students, visit my Pinterest Board or this post on my top 3 favorites.  I also have a Pinterest Board of Inspirational Videos for Teachers – where Kasey’s video would fit just as well!