Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Sites to Practice Typing

My mom was (and still is) a super-fast typist. She's an accountant, and I remember being amazed that she could type numbers into her computer programs without even looking at the keyboard. My dad was a teacher at the time, and she would type his exams sometimes; I remember thinking that the keyboard was going to go up in flames due to how fast she was! 

As I watched my mom type, I began to see the computer as more than just a gaming system -- it was a way to be more efficient and professional. Even at a young age, I could see that typed work always looked more "put together" than hand-written work. Further, my mom could type faster than anyone could write, so I started to see the computer as a tool to save time. 

The more I thought about it, the more I decided I needed to learn to type fast like Mom...so I started practicing. Rest assured that I spent plenty of time playing outside as a kid, but the summer between 2nd and 3rd grade was when I took random books off the shelf, placed them in my lap, and just typed what was inside.

I'll go ahead and put this here, since I know you're thinking it....
As I've gotten older, I've learned to embrace my nerdiness.

I have no idea what possessed me to type books (why didn't I make up my own things to type?), but it ended up being great practice since I got to type all kinds of symbols, too. 

In 3rd grade, my teacher assigned everyone the task of researching an animal of our choice. (To this day, I still do not know why I chose the Palomino horse...) I used my newfound typing skills to finish and submit my paper super-early (those of you that know me can see that my personality has pretty much remained consistent since elementary school!). I don't recall the sequence of events that led to the next step -- I just remember that, somehow, I ended up typing all of my classmates' animal research papers on the little computer in the corner of our classroom that all the other kids only used to play Oregon Trail. 

My typing skills have only gotten better and faster since then, and they have served me well throughout the years. I fully understand that today's children are growing up with different devices and different needs, but I still think typing is a valuable skill -- and one that our kids should be practicing at least every once in a while. 

If you subscribe to the same school of thought, here are some free resources you can use to let your students practice typing:
A lot of these games require Flash, which means that you won't be able to play them on an iPad unless you pay for a fancy app that allows Flash websites. However, if you do want to practice typing on an iPad, you may want to invest in an iPad keyboard. Personally, I prefer iPad keyboard cases that allow you to type while the device is both vertical and horizontal. Here are favorites:

Friday, May 12, 2017

Safe Search Sites for Kids

As a teacher, I want my students to ask questions and then work to find the answers themselves. I will always be there to guide and support my students to find the answers they need, but I think the process of searching, filtering sources, and deciding which information is best is more valuable than the actual answer.

That said, I would never direct students to just search in Google for their answer. I am of the belief that kids are only young once and that they are exposed to enough "adult content" at an early age via various forms of media; I want to let my students "be little" for as long as possible! And I'm always surprised when I search for something seemingly innocent and receive some...not so innocent results. 😳

The happy medium I've found is to guide students to search on "kid friendly" search engines. Our district subscribes to a number of these...if you work in my district, check with your campus librarian to see exactly which databases are available to you. 

However, if you're looking for something free that can be used at any time, here are some kid-friendly search engines I like:
Be aware that none of these safe-searches are going to catch 100% of the icky stuff, so I still recommend being present and aware of what children are looking for online. 

Once you have these links, there are several ways you can get them onto student devices. Click here to read about 8 ways to quickly share links with students. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

#TCEA17 Favorite Finds

Now that I'm back from TCEA 2017 and have had a little time to process what I've learned, it's time to share my favorite finds. {If you attended the conference, I'd love to know about your "favorite finds!"}

Here are my favorite finds from #TCEA17:

1. Create Cartoons/Avatars in Google Drawings or Microsoft PowerPoint -- Kristy Edgar is a middle school teacher who creates cartoon videos to spice up her American History lessons (here's an example called "American Revolution, ep. 2: Allies are Friends"). She creates characters using basic, 2D geometric shapes and then uploads her final products to her YouTube channel. Not only could this be a fun addition to your instruction, but it could also be nice for students to make their own characters to review geometric shapes and show their learning in a creative, "techy" way. Click here for her full presentation.

2. Symbaloo Lesson Plans -- This hidden feature of Symbaloo allows teachers to find structured, media-rich lesson plans in the marketplace or create their own. The resulting plan looks similar to a board game with text instructions, web pages, search bars, web articles, videos, math formulas, and/or embedded content sprinkled inside. Teachers can even customize the board so it forces learners to go on a specific path based on their answers. (Click here to see an example lesson plan about the solar system.)

Teachers need a free Symbaloo account (or upgrade to the Edu version for free) in order to create or assign lessons, but students don't have to log in at all, which makes this tool perfect for everyone -- including young learners without an e-mail address. When students start a Symbaloo assignment, it prompts them to enter their name and the assignment number. Then the teacher can easily track data -- including results, when assignments were started, how long they took to complete and/or how far each student was able to progress in the assignment, questions answers correctly vs. incorrectly, and more.

Click here for the Symbaloo Lesson Plan Manual, or click here for a quick YouTube video overview.

3. Photos for Class -- Part of practicing good digital citizenship is making sure we use only images we have permission to use online and in presentations. Teachers and students can always conduct advanced Google Image searches to filter pictures based on rights...or we can use websites that make the process a little easier. For instance, Tony Vincent tweeted about PhotosForClass.com, which allows users to search for copyright-friendly photos that are already watermarked with a citation when downloaded:

To access over 500 TCEA session handouts, click here. You can also follow along on Twitter by searching for #TCEA17 to read everyone's tweets.