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5 More of the Best Interactives for Beginning Readers


Like we said in our blog last week, learning to read is a lot of work, but “work” is the last thing we want our students to associate with reading! In our experience, interactives and reading animation games are some of the best tools for engaging beginning readers and turning “work” into a fun and effective activity.

If you’re looking for a few ways to engage your beginning readers, check out the five websites below. 

Bitesize Literacy is a BBC resource jam-packed with interactive literacy, math andbeginning readers science games for Key Stage 1 students (KS1 is a phase of primary education students between the ages of five and seven in England, or six to eight in Northern Ireland). Since literacy is our business, we’re particularly fond of the phonics, rhyming, alphabet, spelling and punctuation games—and so are our students!

beginning readersLeading to Reading is the largest children’s literacy nonprofit in the United States. In addition to the interactive games, LTR provides free reading resources including booklists, articles for parents and teachers, easy-to-read guides offering tips for reading with preschoolers and multi-cultural literacy resources.

beginning readersABC Fast Phonics is a free tutorial that uses cartoons and sounds with audio narration and clickable words to teach, you guessed it, phonics!

beginning readersPBS Kids is a site funded by a Ready to Learn grant from the United States Department of Education. Here’s their mission: to develop television programs, exciting games, playful Web sites, and easy-to-use learning resources for kids, parents, caregivers, and teachers—all with the goal of helping children ages two to eight get ready to read.

beginning readersInteractive Sites for Education is home to a wide variety of literacy games that cover ABC’s, capitalization, grammar, poetry, vocabulary, spelling and much more!

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Exciting student travel opportunity with National Geographic


student travel opportunityWe’re always looking for ways to challenge our students and give them a rich, multi-cultural experience—one that helps them grapple with new ideas, cultures and experiences. While students can certainly do this in the classroom, there is no substitute for seeing the world first hand. So we were pleased to stumble upon a student travel opportunity: National Geographic’s student exhibition offerings.

Through one of their four programs, students can get first-hand field experience on a National Geographic Expedition, Field Workshop, Photo Workshop, or Community Service trip to one of dozens of destinations that suit their interests.

All of the trips range from eleven days to three weeks and if students hurry, they can still meet summer 2013 deadlines. Here’s a brief rundown of each program:

Expeditions are two to three weeks long and are geared for those interested in an in-depth exploration of a specific region. Depending on the location, students may do anything from work with biologists and track wildlife in the Amazon to snorkel and scuba dive off the reefs of Belize.

Field workshops are 11-12 days long. Students should expect to spend most of their time in one or two home bases where they will take part in hands-on activities, participate in workshops with National Geographic experts, and explore the surrounding area on active excursions.

Photo workshops are 11-12 days long and include assignments in the field, classes, and critiques, which culminates with a final gallery opening that is led by a National Geographic photographer.

Community Service assignments allow students to truly delve into the culture of small villages throughout the world. Here students will work alongside members of the community on collaborative service projects focusing on infrastructure, education, and conservation.

Cost and eligibility for each program varies, so we suggest that parents/students call National Geographic directly for more specific information.

What we can tell you is that there is a $700 application deposit which goes towards tuition costs. Flights are not included in the tuition costs, but all meals, lodging, activities, excursions, ground transportation, taxes, gratuities, and pre-trip materials are.

Here are only a few of the destinations students can choose from:

  • Alaska field workshop (12 days)

  • Australia expedition (20 days)

  • Barcelona field workshop (12 days)

  • Belize expedition (12 days)

  • Brazil’s Amazon and Pantanal (19 days)

  • China expedition (21 days)

  • Paris photography workshop (12 days)

  • and lots more

Teachers, if you’d like to request a travel catalog to pass along to your students, click here for an online request form.

Teachers, if you are interested in cost-effective ways to see the world and receive professional development at the same time, check out two of our recent blogs, “5 ways to see the world: summer professional development for teachers” and “Become a cosmopolitan educator: 3 more ways to see the world for free.”



Enhance your reading curriculum with these 3 free audiobook databases


One of our colleagues, an English professor and self-proclaimed book addict, once admitted that he always kept a book of literary theory on the passenger seat of his car so that he could read during red lights. While we can’t in good conscience recommend this, we do want to refer you to three free audiobook databases that’ll give you the ability to safely polish off a classic and drive at the same time.

Why audiobooks?

  • They make sitting in traffic tolerable—even pleasant
  • We’ve also seen how enthusiastic our struggling readers are about them
  • They’re completely free
  • They give students’ digital access to many of the texts we use in our literature courses

Enhance your reading curriculum with these 3 free audiobook databases

To date, LibriVox has 6,483 audiobook titles and all of them are free. All of the works on the site are in the public domain and are read by volunteers. If you or your students are so inclined, you can become a volunteer reader. No experience is required and LibriVox accepts everyone regardless of their language, accent or delivery style. That said, we continue to be impressed with the quality of the readers.

 reading curriculum

Lit2Go is another free audiobook collection of stories and poems. Not only is the site sleekly designed and easy to navigate, you’ll also find an abstract, citation, playing time, and word count for each text. Many of the passages also identify related reading strategies. Each reading passage can also be downloaded as a PDF and printed for use as a read-along or as supplemental reading material for your classroom.

reading curriculumOpen Culture is in the business of curating any cultural or educational media as long as it’s free. In addition to a nice collection of free audiobooks, expect to find free online courses, textbooks, movies and language lessons.

reading curriculum


If you could write a haiku to a Martian, what would it say?


MAVEN MarsWe just found out that NASA is calling all Earthlings to submit their names, along with a three-line haiku, to the Going to Mars with Maven contest. If you need a little incentive to get your submission in by July 1, try this on for size: The three most popular submissions will actually be written to a DVD and sent to Mars onboard the MAVEN spacecraft!

There is one caveat: Those who submit must be 18 or older. The good news is that teachers are allowed to submit on behalf of their students.

We think this is a great way to get students excited about science, space, space travel and writing. It’s also a creative way to help students make a personal connection to the MAVEN mission, which is scheduled for launch in November.

To learn more about the Going to Mars with Maven contest, or to view current entries, stop by their website by clicking here. You can also watch a video about the MAVEN mission below.


Enhance your collaborative learning techniques. Plant a Pearltree.


collaborative learning techniquesClick on the bookmark tab in your Internet browser. Is there any rhyme or reason to it? If you’re like us, it’s a mess of random webpages. Some of the bookmarks are mislabeled, some we haven’t checked in over a year—and when we want to find the sites we actually visit, we have to start excavating.

Enhance your collaborative learning techniques. Plant a Pearltree.

Pearltrees is a new visual bookmarking tool that makes organizing your webpage shortcuts intuitive and orderly. It also makes it easy to connect and browse web-content curated by other educators.

Why is it called Pearltree?collaborative learning two.jpg
A “pearl” is just another name for a visual link to your favorite websites. Click on your “pearl” to see a screenshot of the webpage; click again and you’ll be routed there.

After you add your “pearls,” you can move them around your visual map (your “Pearltree”) and organize them however you want.

Pearltree also allows you to sync your account with Facebook, Twitter, email, or your own personal blog. This is ideal for collaborative learning projects; it’s also useful for teachers who want to share course content with their students.

If you’re looking for a few more apps to help you stay organized—or even apps to help enhance your collaborative learning techniques—check out our guide, Surfing for Substance: 50 No-Nonsense, No-Fluff Websites and Apps for Educators

A blog? A website? No, it’s Populr, a new collaborative-learning tool


collaborative learningWe’re always looking for new ways to enhance our students’ collaborative learning experience, so we were excited to come across Populr, a new micro-publishing service. What’s that? It’s not really a social-media site. And unlike blogs (intended for a steady stream of information) and websites (tedious to set up and maintain), Populr allows you to build “POPs,” mini, one-page “websites” that:

  • Don’t require upkeep
  • Are highly targeted to the viewer
  • Allows users to create and share sophisticated, but easy-to-set-up messages (that include images, video and sound files)

 collaborative learning

 When your students collaborate on a project, they often exchange ideas through email, text message or face-to-face during class. All this certainly works, but Populr gives your students the ability to upload videos, PDFs, photos, and customize the layout in the same amount of time it would take to draft an email. And all your students have to do is drag and drop. To learn more about Populr, check out this video:

If you are looking for more collaborative learning apps, check out two of our recent blogs:  “5 apps to unite your district and encourage collaborative learning” and “5 More Apps to Boost Collaborative Learning.”

Soshiku: A Homework and Time Management App for Students


time management apps17-year-old Andrew Schaper was frustrated that he couldn’t find a convenient way to keep track of all of his school work…so he decided to do something about it: He created Soshiku, a free homework and time management app for students.

Soshiku was originally created for high school and college students, but if your students know how to use a smart phone, and we’re sure they do, they’ll find it useful.

Soshiku allows users to:

  • Organize assignments by courseTime Management App
  • Receive text message and/or email reminders before each assignment is due
  • Add assignments to a customizable calendar via the Soshiku website or text message
  • Quickly see overdue and upcoming assignments
  • Collaborate with partners by swapping notes, files, and messages

Free accounts allow users to:

  • Keep track of five courses and 20 assignments (per course)
  • Upload 10 attachments (per assignment)
  • Document 20 tasks (per assignment)

It’s a small sacrifice, but you will have to put up with advertisements unless you upgrade your account for $5 a month.

Now that you’ve got your students organized, we thought we’d recommend one of our other time management blogs for teachers: 5 Time Management Apps Teachers Can’t Live Without. We hope these time management apps will make your daily grind a little smoother.


5 YouTube Shortcuts Every Teacher Needs to Know


youtube shortcutsYouTube has been blacklisted by many schools. Some reasons for this are more legitimate than others, but even if you’re one of the lucky ones with access to the site, you’ll want to ensure that your students’ YouTube experience is safe for them and easy for you. You may think of yourself as a star-studded YouTuber (we thought we were too), but something tells us that you’ve never heard of these lesser known YouTube shortcuts and safety tips.

Declutter your viewing experience
You can control the videos you pull up, but you can’t control the random content YouTube recommends in the margins any more than you can control the comments users leave at the bottom of the screen. Not only are these distracting, they’re often inappropriate, especially for younger students. The good news is that if you download A Cleaner Internet app, you’ll be able to declutter your viewing experience so that it looks like this:

youtube shortcuts2


And not like this:

 youtube shortcuts3

Cut to the chase
Tired of searching through long videos for the five second clip you actually wanted to see? We feel for you. Here’s a simple solution: Let’s say you want to link to a section of video that starts at 7 minutes and 2 seconds? No problem, simply add #t=07m02s to the end of the video’s URL.

Keep in mind that the #t= as well as the letters “m” and “s” will always need to appear in the URL. So if you want to link to a section starting at 3 minutes and 8 seconds, your URL will look like this: #t=03m08s  

YouTube Editor
If you’re looking for an intuitive, no-hassle platform for editing your videos, YouTube actually has one built into the site. Now you can combine videos, trim and rotate clips, add text effects or music and even insert transitions.  

Change the size and resolution of videos
It’s great when you can show full-screen videos, but often we come across useful clips that are too pixilated to show in full screen. In addition to the "full screen" option, there’s also a lesser-known viewing window that's larger than the standard size, but does not fill the entire screen.

Simply select the mid-size viewing option (a square icon) on the bottom right of the video window and adjust the resolution by hitting the resolution count (360p, 480p, etc).

Keyboard shortcuts
This doesn’t directly relate to Internet safety, but knowing keyboard shortcuts will prove to be useful. Simply click on the video with your mouse to enable the keyboard. Now you can tap on the spacebar to start and stop videos and use the left and right arrows to rewind and fast forward. Additionally, the up and down arrows can be used to control the volume, and “Home” and “End” will take you to the beginning or end of the video, respectively.

If you’re interested in enhancing your credentials or taking your career in education to the next level, stop by our site to learn more about Marygrove College’s Educational Technology program. And just so you know, Educational Technology is only one of several online degree and certificate programs that you can pursue at your pace and on your terms.


Honorificabil—huh?: 5 Vocabulary-Building Apps


You may be teaching younger students or preparing high schoolers for the SAT. One thing’s for sure: Regardless of whom you are teaching vocabulary building is an essential part of every teacher's job! And if we do it right, we can help students foster an appreciation for the importance of lifelong vocabulary development. These five vocabulary building apps are a wonderful way to bring technology, engaged learning, and just plain fun into you classroom on a regular basis.

Honorificabil—huh?: 5 Vocabulary-Building Apps

vocabulary building appsProfessorWord
 This is a great tool for students of any age and stage of language development. Download ProfessorWord on your classroom computer(s); run it whenever you bring up a website on the classroom projector and voila! Any time you run across a vocabulary word students don't understand, simply click on the word and view the definition.

vocabulary building apps2Lingro
This program is a fantastic ESL tool for native Spanish speakers or native English speakers learning Spanish. Access the Lingro website, type in the URL you want to visit, and Lingro will make every word on that site "clickable," allowing students access to instant Spanish translations. Students can collaborate, look back at recent words, and more.

vocabulary building apps3Brain Blaze Root Words
Understanding root words is one of the most powerful tools a student can hone to suss out the meanings of unfamiliar words. Brain Blaze Word Roots Flashcards is an interactive app for students to test their root word knowledge solo, in pairs, or in groups. We can see a multitude of classroom game possibilities too.

vocabulary building apps4Word Root of the Day
While we're on the subject of root words, we love this site that would provide a great way to start the day in any English class. Word Root of the Day is one of the most visually attractive, informative, interactive, and interesting platforms to see how roots help "grow" our words. Your students will look forward to each day's new root.

vocabulary building apps5.pngMindSnacks SAT Vocab
This app wasn't called one of the Best Learning Apps of 2011 for nothin’. Did you ever think the words "Fun" and "SAT Vocabulary building" could go together? We didn't either until we found the SAT Vocab - Mindsnacks app. Your students will get addicted—and this is one technology addiction we can fully support.

Try these new apps out on your students and see what they think. We suspect that your vocabulary building lesson plans will be even more effective when you use engaging tools your students can use both at school and at home.


Make Writing Less Intimidating with these 5 Digital Storytelling Apps


Storytelling is an indispensable human activity, one that we use not only to convey our identity and experience, but also to convince others of our arguments. Because storytelling is so important, we believe it’s important that we encourage students to tell their stories—and in a way that challenges and inspires them. One way to get students excited about storytelling is by using a medium that they not only love, but are completely comfortable with: technology.

As with  traditional storytelling, students must write, but what makes digital storytelling engaging—and often less intimidating—for students is that it gives them the ability to add computer-based images, text, recorded audio narration, video clips and/or music. If you’re looking for a few applications to get your storytellers started, we’ve got 5 of them to get you on your way.

Make Writing Less Intimidating with these 5 Digital Storytelling Apps

digital storytelling1Scared of Words
The folks over at Learn Direct have created two digital story generators that give students visual and textual control over the plot. Once students have customized their character, dragged and dropped animals, food or accessories onto the pages, they’re asked to rewrite words and phrases in the story to reflect those changes. And once your students have created their masterpiece, they can either print or save as a PDF. In addition to this, they can even enter their story into a competition for a chance to have their book professionally printed and bound! 

digital storytelling2Marvel Kids (Free)
Pop culture can’t get enough of superheroes and neither can our students—which is why you may want to swing by Marvel Kids! We’ve talked about using comic book generators in the classroom before, but this website wasn’t on our radar at the time. With Marvel Kids, users can create a 1 to 3 page panel strip or, if they’re ambitious, a 1 to 22 page comic book where they control the sound effects, characters, thought bubbles and dialogue. Once they’re done, they can save to the desktop or print.

digital storytelling3Storyboard That (Free; limited account)
Storyboard That gives students the ability to create rich and powerful storyboards without having to download or negotiate tedious software. Choose from either three or six frame templates and browse their library of over 25,000 images. And when you’re ready, start customizing your dialogue and text boxes.

The app is free, but users can only create two storyboards a day and will have limited editing capabilities. Monthly accounts ($2.79) give teachers unlimited usage and access to a portal for up to 50 students—which means that they can view all of their students’ storyboards, offer editing suggestions or collaborate with students to change them.

digital storytelling4.pngTalking Tom and Ben News (Free)
Tom and Ben, a dog and cat news-anchor duo, have a show, but you’re in charge of what they say and do. Younger students will love having them talk to one another, repeat what you say in turns and record it for playback.

Users are also able to customize the app by uploading personal videos! Just press the TV button in the app to record a video with the camera or choose one of your existing videos from your Photos gallery. Once your personal video is in the app, you’re ready to get this canine-feline duo talking.

digital storytelling5.png.jpgStudent Publishing (Free)
Want to make your students into published authors? No problem, Student Publishing will provide the platform to make it happen. Use Student Publishing’s online book-making tool to illustrate 12-page stories with paintable backgrounds, sticker graphics and uploaded photos. Use the PDF upload option to easily publish work your students create by hand or with other computer programs. But that’s not all! Student Publishing even gives you the ability to create a free, hardbound classroom book up to 64 pages long!

If you're looking for new ways to enhance your curriculum or capture your students' attention, download our guide, Surfing for Substance: 50 No-Nonsense, No Fluff Apps for Teachers.

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