What, exactly, do I say to students? Teacher Prompts that Promote Positive & Specific Directions

Have you ever had someone give you directions and you got completely lost? Or attempted to follow a recipe and the dish turned out awful? Maybe to were trying to recreate a craft or model you saw online and it turned out nothing like the original picture.

In my speech and debate class I used to have students write out the directions how to make peanut butter and jelly sandwich, I set up a table in the front of the room with the main ingredients: bread, peanut butter and jelly. Then, I selected two volunteers: one student to read aloud his or her directions and the second volunteer to literally follow the directions exactly as they were being communicated. Here is where the challenge (and silliness) began. Giving clear, concise instructions to others is an important skill for young people to learn. In this activity, students practiced communicating ideas to others, recognizing steps in a process, and recognizing the importance of the use of clear language.

As teachers, we are always looking for ways to support student learning, articulate our objectives clearly, prompt students thinking or actions in positive and specific ways.  Here are more than a dozen positive and specific teacher prompts that cue student engagement, action, and thinking from George McClosky, Bob R. Van Divner, & Lisa Perkins’ list of “Self-Regulation Executive Function Definitions with Examples of Teacher Prompts.” No matter the student, classified or not, prompting in positive, specific, and brief directions helps all students succeed.

Perceive – “Everyone look at the board.”

“Listen to this.”

“Try and notice how . . .”

Modulate – “This is the kind of problem that requires a lot of thinking power to complete.”

Gauge – “What kind of thinking will this situation require?”

Sustain – “You might need to think longer about this if you want to come up with a good answer.”

Stop/Interrupt – “Please stop doing that.”

Inhibit – “Let’s listen to what XXX is saying.”

Hold – “Hold that thought while we continue.”

Manipulate – “Now take what you just said and try to think about what might happen next.”

Foresee/Plan (Short-term) – “Can you come up with a plan for solving . . .”

General/Associate – “Is this similar to any other  . . . . we have already done?”

Balance – “Be sure to look closely enough to see all the details.”

Store – “Remember what you just heard.”

Retrieve – “Who can recall what we saw . . .”

Time – “Spend about five minutes thinking about it.”

Monitor – “Look at each item carefully. Some require  . . . and some require . . .”

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West Coast Treasure: Resources for Adventure, Discovery, & Wonder

I have just returned from a week long vacation in San Francisco with my family. The benefits of my children having a teacher for a mother is that our vacation will be a fun filled adventure filled with discovery, wonder, and learning.  Hence, our trip to the west coast included jam packed days for exploration and inquire about the world. Below are the places that we visited and the array of resources that all teachers and parents can utilize online or in person that encourages science inquiry and an interest in American history.

Muir Woods

Muir Woods – Muir Woods National Monument is a sanctuary of Redwoods and ecological treasure. The ginormous trees are breath taking with the tallest tree is Muir Woods over 250 feet. Some of these trees are over 1,000 years old. This destination offers scientific facts about the California Redwoods, the role of Fog and Fire, the anatomy of the trees, and the history of the National Parks Service that protects this forest.

California Museum of Science

California Academy of Sciences – This Museum in Golden Gate Park is an aquarium, planetarium, and natural history museum. With hands on exhibits and virtual programs, the museum promotes science in both theory and everyday experiences. There is a host of programs and curriculum available online for educators.

de Young Museum of Fine Arts – Another great museum in Golden Gate Park, this art museum boasts a collection of Modern Art from around the world. The Marcus Garden of Enchantment is playful and mysterious and encourages people to explore its different pathways, structures, artworks, and natural features. Don’t forget to take the elevator to the top of the tower for a 360 degree view of all of San Francisco if you visit the museum. Online you can find an abundance of curriculum resources for educators covering teaching guides and lessons.

Alcatraz

Alcatraz – My 10 year old son would tell you that this was the best part of the vacation, visiting the island and listening to the stories of those who experienced Alcatraz as guards, inmates, and families. Alcatraz has a broad history from first being established as a fort during the civil war, a prison from 1859-1963, occupied to make a political statement for Native Americans, and now an ecological preserve. It is amazing to go inside the prison and hear stories from an array of people who worked there before it closed as a prison. There was also a unique exhibit on the island titled “Portraits of Resilience: Children of Incarcerated Parents” that brings to the forefront the impact of incarceration on families today. The NAACP reports that there are more than 2 million people in prisons. Criminal justice is a critical topic in education that plays a role in teaching history and literature. Books like Jason Reynold’s The Boy in the Black Suit and Wes Moore’s The Other Wes Moore paint a different picture from the Al Capone Does my Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko. Whereas the image of the gangster in the 1920s brought a romanticized picture of outlaws, over crowding in jails and racial bias in our prisons today offer a very different image worth exploring.

Monterey Bay Aquarium

Monterey Bay Aquarium – I know so many people who wanted to be marine scientists when they were younger. Monterey Bay Aquarium would be a dream job for many. Where else can you see so many differently kinds of Jelly Fish or Sea Stars in one place? This aquarium is an amazing center that specializes in researching and educating about marine life in order to co exist and sustain our oceans. The educator’s tab on the website offers an abundance of curriculum materials for all grade levels addressing current exhibits.

All around us are amazing cultural centers that promote learning, science, history, and an appreciation for nature around us. You do not have to take a trip to San Francisco to experience all the great resources that abound the city. Online one can take virtual field trips and peek into an ant colony, swim with the sea otters, or be inspired to write a poem about the beauty of the photographs of national landmarks.

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Tackling Words & Images Critically with Students

I am currently collaborating with both the Jacob Burns Film Center and Actively Learn to promote critical reading of images and words in my middle school English classroom. Together we wrote a proposal to present as a panel at SXSWedu in Austin, TX in March 2016 addressing ways to help students read critically. We need your help getting our panel selected, 30% of judgement is based on people’s choice.

Our proposal states,

As the historically static world of text, and the dynamic visual media worlds are converging, students are reading more and more on a screen than in a paper text, and are required to transfer reading skills to visual media. Technology and schooling continue to evolve, teachers must continue to support/equip students with literacy skills needed to participate, engage, and succeed in our global and digital society. To do so, students must develop skills to read in print and online, decode these messages, and critically think about text and media. The diverse panel will address strategies and techniques for teaching students to read texts critically and deepen comprehension of digital texts.

To see more and vote YES you can click on the icon below.

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Harnessing the Power of Picture Books in Middle School

Rundine Sims Bishop (1990) wrote, “Books are sometimes windows, offering views of the worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created or recreated by the author.  When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books.”

Because books have the power and potential to allow their readers to experience and see so many layers of ourselves and our world, teachers must select and read a wide variety of literature with diverse perspectives. As Sue Christian Parsons pointed out at ILA 2015,” [teachers must] work diligently to ensure that the books in our classrooms shine brightly as mirrors and, for readers to see themselves readily in book around them.

I am defining diverse books as books that honor the complexity of life and people. At the same time, diverse books go beyond just diverse characters, settings, and experiences. Diverse books can also include a wide range of genres and types of text. Whereas picture books are prevalent in elementary classrooms, they also have a place in middle school classrooms.

Pictures books offer stimulating artwork, accessible language, a smaller amount of text than a novel for. Picture books can be used for read alouds, introducing a complex idea, whole class modeling, enrich vocabulary and word development, and even creative writing prompts.

I have used the Mysteries of Harris Burdick as a read aloud and creative writing prompt to kick off a mystery unit.

To introduce complex ideas of communism and socialism during our dystopian unit I read aloud Click, Clack, Moo by Doreen Cronin and pair it with Farmer Duck by Martin Waddell.

While students are reading To Kill a Mockingbird and Melba Patillo Beals’ memoir, Warrior’s Don’s Cry I have read aloud Freedom Summer by Deborah Wiles, Teammates by Peter Golenblock, and Separate is Never Equal by Duncan Tonatiuh.

In my classroom have a bin filled with picture books and poetry anthologies about the Holocaust and Japanese Internment.

I kicked off Genius Hour this past year by reading aloud What Do You Do With an Idea? by Kobi Yamada and Mae Besom and also The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires.

Picture books are accessible books for students of all ages. They offer layers of stories told through words and images. They should not be left behind when students move up from elementary school.

I would love to know how you are using picture books with your middle grade students. Please share your ideas for picture book text pairings and how you are using pictures books in your middle school classroom in the comments section of this blog.

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Strategies to Boost Meaningful Conversations About Text

As we read, our minds can be activated in a variety of ways. Sometimes questions come up that might not be answered, a difference of opinion arises that isn’t cleared up or we want to say something. Our minds often linger on those questions, opinions, or ideas long after we have closed the book. Whether your students keep a Reader’s Notebook or you are looking for strategies that promote written conversations among students about books, here are some strategies for responding to text independently and with friends.

Responding to Reading with Journaling

  1. Focused Freewrite or Quickwriting – The idea is to simply write for 15 to 20 minutes. Don’t stop for anything. Go quickly without rushing. Never stop to look back, to cross something out, to wonder how to spell something, to wonder what word to use, or to think about what you are doing. Freewriting is an exercise in bringing together the process of producing words and putting them down on a page about a specific topic or subject. You can write about a particular character in the text or a specific chapter or conflict. You can respond to what surprises you, what intrigues or disturbs you in the text.
  2. Metacognition Reflection  – This response involves taking stock of where you are now, where you’ve come from, and analyzing what has happened to produce the discovered growth or change in yourself. In this response you are more self aware about yourself as a reader. Some guiding questions: What did you learn from what you read today and how did you feel about it? What is important to you about the book and what would you like to say about it? What connections did you make between your own life and experiences and what you read about today?

Writing With Friends

  1. Literature Letters – This response is a way for you to have a conversation with your teacher or another student about what you are reading. You will write a letter and will receive a letter back. All of the letters will record your thinking, learning, and reading. In your letters, talk about what you’ve read. Tell what you thought and felt and why. Tell what you liked and didn’t like and why. Tell what these books said to you and meant to you Ask questions or for help, and write back with your reactions, ideas, feelings, and questions.
  2. Dialogue Journals – Or written conversations are logs of reflections, reactions, and responses kept by a student and regularly exchanged with student partners in the class (Atwell, 1998). As you read the text, try to make connections between what you’ve read and what you already know. When you prepare to write a dialogue journal entry, think about how different parts of the text relate to your personal experiences, to things going on in the world, or to other parts of the book. For this entry you might pull out telling quotes from the text and respond to the quotes in your own words.
  3. Write Around (Daniels, 2007) – Form a group of four. Each person gets a large blank piece of paper and puts their initials in the upper left hand margin. As students work, request they follow the following: Use all the time for writing and don’t talk when passing papers. 1. Students write for one minute. Write your thoughts, reactions, questions or feelings about the topic. 2. Pass your papers clockwise. Students read through the entry on the page, and just beneath it, write for a minute. Write responses, reactions, or make a comment or ask a question. 3. Pass the papers again – repeat and continue four times total. You need to allow a little more time with each entry because students will have more to read with each successive exchange. 4. Now pass one last time and you should get back the paper that you began with. Now read the whole thing over and see the conversation you started. You won’t write the answer this time, feel free to continue the conversation out loud for a few minutes.
  4. Meaningful Discussions Talking Stems

I know what ________ is like because . . . . [Students make logical connections to their lives]

I agree/disagree because in the text . . . . [Students reference the text]

I wonder why . . . . [Students question why the author does something]

I’d like to add . . . [Students build on what others say]

I am confused by . . .  Could you explain . . . [Students ask for clarification]

Tell me more about . . .  Why do you think . . . .[Encourage readers to think deeper]

All these strategies are Writing to Learn activities which means students are utilizing writing as a tool to promote learning. Writing to learn allows students to think on paper and helps students clarify and organize their thoughts and improve their retention of content.

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Let’s Talk About Race: Writing & Discussion Prompts Inspired by The Other Wes Moore

“Very few lives hinge on any single moment or decision or circumstance. . . he inspired me and countless other young people to see ourselves as capable of taking control of our own destinies, and to realize how each decision we make determines the course of our life stories.”

My incoming 8th grade students are reading The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore (2010) for the all grade summer reading requirement.  The Other Wes Moore is about two kids who grew up with the same name of Wes Moore. There were many similarities among the two of them in addition to the same name – they were both raised fatherless and they were born in the same neighborhood in Baltimore,Maryland in the late 70’s. During their formative teenage years their lives took different turns. One grew up to be a Rhodes Scholar, dec­o­rated com­bat vet­eran, White House Fel­low, and busi­ness leader. The other is serv­ing a life sentence in prison for felony mur­der. The book tells the story of these two men coming of age and attempts to address the influencing factors how their similarities diverged into tragedy and success.

There are so many compelling passages that can spark important conversations around race, identity, and personal responsibility. I have pulled three particular passages that can be used as writing prompts and or critical conversation starters.

I.

“When did you feel like you’d become a man?” Wes asked me, a troubled look on his face.

“I think it was when I first felt accountable to people other than myself. When I first cared that my actions mattered to people other than just me.” I answered quickly and confidently, but I wasn’t too sure of what I was talking about. When did I actually become a man? There was no official ceremony that brought my childhood to an end. Instead crisis other other circumstances presented me with adult-sized responsibilities and obligations that I had to meet one way or another. For some boys, this happens later – in their late teens or even twenties – allowing them to grow organically into adulthood. But for some of us, the promotion to adulthood, or at least its challenges, is so jarring, so sudden, that we enter into it unprepared and might be undone by it. (2010, page 66)

Prompt: When do you become an adult? Some cultures have ceremonies that signify adulthood, but what age or experiences mark adulthood?

II.

“Do you think we’re all just products of our environments? His smile dissolved into a smirk, with the let side of his face resting at ease. 

“I think so, or maybe products of our expectations.”

“Others’ expectations of us or our expectations for ourselves?”

“I mean others’ expectations that you take on as your own.”

I realized how difficult it is to separate the two. The expectations that other place on us help us form our expectations of ourselves.” (2010, page 126)

Prompt: Are we products of our environment, expectations, or other?

III.

The common bond of humanity and decency that we share is stronger than any conflict, any adversity, any challenge. Fighting for your convictions is important. But finding peace is paramount. Knowing when to fight and when to seek peace and wisdom.” (2010, page 168)

Prompt: What does forgiveness look like and sound like? Is it easy or hard to forgive someone? Explain your response.

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Reflections & Takeaways From #ILA15

This past weekend I attended the International Literacy Association’s Annual Conference in St. Louis, Missouri. The conference offered hundreds of workshops led by many greats within the literacy community from The Book Whisperer, Donalyn Brooks, the Writing Thief’s Ruth CulhamHarvey Daniels, Kelly Gallagher, and Lucy Caulkins (those mentioned are only a fraction of the many the amazing authors and educators who presented. In addition, there were more than a hundred young adult authors speaking and signing books. My three days at the conference were filled with informative workshops, book signings, and connecting with my Professional Learning Network. Throughout the conference, the following ten ideas were mentioned repetitively:

1. We need more diverse texts. It is so important that the books we share with our students reflect a wide range of experiences. In addition, there should be a range of ethnicities, race, socio economic classes, and sexual orientations. Teachers cannot only offer the classics as reading material in their classroom. There are so many amazingly diverse YA authors who are telling honest stories our students need to have access to. These authors include Jason Reynolds, Kekla Magoon, Kwame Alexander, and poet Janet Wong to name a few. Diversity is also about offering different formats and genres of texts.

2. There is a lot of research on reading. Research shapes our teaching and offers beneficial information about our students from reading abilities to self perceptions about oneself as a reader and writer. Teachers need to remember that data is more than just numbers and test scores. Keeping records helps to inform our practice, and helps teachers to reflect on how we can do better to meet the needs of our students.

3. Surround yourself and your students with great books. I call this book love. Share with your students your own reading life and have students write their reading autobiography. Allow students to choose their own reading material and read aloud great books to introduce your students to different genres, authors, and texts. #BookLove is not going to happen if everyone is reading the same book. Classroom libraries should contain more than 500 books.

4. Reading Writing Workshop is back in style. Maybe it never left your district, but it left mine and now it is back. Students need time to read and write in class everyday and the reading writing workshop model helps students cultivate their reading and writing life. Teaching in small bursts (mini-lessons) is much more effective than 40 minute power point lectures.

5. Get your struggling readers invested. We all have angry readers, disenchanted readers, quiet readers, attention readers, picky readers, and competitive readers. Teachers need to motivate, engage, and build confidence and connections with these types of readers to help raise confidence in all our readers. Teacher and Nerdy Book Club writer, Justin Stygles, presented a great session about transforming the struggling readers in our classrooms. He spoke about teachers being reading mentors rather than reading dictators. He mentioned that time and building relationships is key when working with struggling readers.

6. Literacy is EVERY teacher’s responsibility. Yes, I am talking to all the math, science, and social studies teachers out there. One cannot leave all the responsibility of teaching students to read in the English Language Arts teacher’s hands. All content area teachers are responsible for helping their students be literate and succeed. Integrating literacy in the content areas can include reading aloud a text with content connections to having students practice specific reading and writing skills. The key is to work together.

7. Collaboration is key.The old adage says, “It takes a village.” Within your school, district, and community, educating young people is not an isolated task. With social media teachers can collaborate in many ways beyond their classroom walls. Get involved in a Mystery Skype, global collaborative project, or the Global Read Aloud.

8. There need to be more word work. Yes, I am talking about vocabulary. And no, a word wall is not enough to help students learn words or an effective vocabulary strategy. Neither is giving students a list of words and having them define and write sentences for each of the words. Teaching students roots, prefixes, and suffixes helps students to decode words and define the word in context. Let’s give it a try, do you know what arachibutyrophobia* means? Break it down and see if you can figure it out without using Google.

9. Teachers are writers too. If you are going to teach writing and expect your students to be writing like “real” writers, than you also need to step up to the plate. So, start a blog, write a story, poem, or article and share your work with others. Model the  reading and writing life you want from your students.

10. Connect with others, you are not alone. The amazing thing about social media (Twitter especially) is that you can connect with so many amazing educators around the world on any digital device. Annual conferences like ISTE, NCTE, and ILA just help to bring us all together under the same roof from time to time. It is so important for all teachers to have and cultivate a professional learning network (PLN). A PLN helps build connections, inspires, is collaborative, and contributes to one’s learning and professional development. Great teachers don’t just show up, they share and participate and are always learning.

*Arachibutyropobia – the fear of peanut butter getting stuck to the roof of your mouth.

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Classroom Non Negotiables

Summer is the time to take a deep breath, reflect, and revise for the school year ahead. There are certain aspects of my teaching that are non negotiables – the things that I will not change and or I am committed to in helping to reach and teach ALL my students. As an English Language Arts teacher in a middle school, I am teaching students; it’s not all about the content material. With that being said, these are the elements of my classroom that have become the “everys.”

1. The Interactive English Notebook – Three years ago I became a devoted fan of the interactive notebook and since then, I have been creating my own content to support my students as readers and writers. The interactive notebook has become my textbook and portfolio of what students are studying and learning. Keeping my promise to the earth to use a little paper as possible, I only make photocopies of the interactive foldables for my students; worksheets have been eliminated and Google Docs and Forms have become tools for assessments, surveys, and responses outside of the notebooks.

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2. Article of the Week – I assign little homework. In addition to independent readings outside of class (30 minutes a night Sunday – Thursday), the one outside assignment that I offer to my students is an article of the week. The “Article of the Week” was created by educator and author, Kelly Gallagher as a way to build prior knowledge and background. I assign students an article of the week every Monday and students have until Thursday to complete the close reading and reflection assignment. This year I am piloting a digital article of the week with Actively Learn. Actively Learn houses thousands of free articles and assignments or teachers can upload their own. Here is the thing about homework in my classrooms, students do not get graded on their homework, students earn game points for completed homework. Points equal priviledges. I talk more about the game platform next.

3. Classcraft Gaming Platform –  Each student has an avatar and is on a team. The objective of the game is to gain as many points as possible to unlock privileges like extra days on homework, access to test questions, or extended bathroom breaks. Students work together, as well as individually, throughout the school year earning points based on quiz grades, homework completion, and classroom interactions. This game platform allows for positive peer collaboration and camaraderie, it is a motivational tool for most of my students, and students are rewarded for positive behaviors (and vise versa, lose points for negative behaviors).

4. Reading/Writing Workshop – Returning to my Teacher College roots, I am reinstating the reading and writing workshop in my classroom. As I mentioned prior, I am not teaching a book, I am teaching readers and writers. I want to offer as much time in my classroom for my students to read and write and foster a love of words. Although I do not teach in a block schedule, I will have reading workshop twice a week and writing workshop twice a week for a total of 80 minutes each a week for independent reading and writing, read alouds, and mini lessons.

5. Genius Hour – Friday is Genius Hour. Students will work on a project of their choice with the foundation that it has to benefit the “community.” I am thinking about class blogs for students to write monthly entries of their research and genius work to share with the world the amazing projects dreamed up.

What are your everys or non negotiables? Please share or comments on this blog.

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12 Tech Based Alternative Assessments In Lieu of Book Reports & 5 Paragraph Essays

The ideas presented below are part of a poster session I will be presenting at at the International Literacy Association (ILA) in St. Louis, MI July 17-21, 2015. I always want to encourage my students to read and love reading. At the same time, I am trying out different ways to assess student reading and understanding of a text without a test, essay, or book report. Here are a dozen alternative book assessments that I have used with my own middle school ELA students.

1. Twitter Chats & Cyber Book Clubs- Students hold book discussions on Twitter.

2. Video Trailers – Students create a video trailer about the book and to promote the book to their peers using iMovie.

3. Movie Poster – Use Glogster or BigHugeLabs to create a promotional movie poster.

4. White Board Animation Video – Summarize the book in a creative and visual way.

5. Blog Post Review or Discussion Guide – Students write a review or create a discussion guide and post on a class blog.

6. Instagram Scrapbook – Students create a digital scrapbook of the key events and ideas expressed in the text.

7. Symbaloo or Thinglink Text Set – Have students create a text set (various articles and texts) to support the main idea or theme in the text.

8. Storyboard That – Use animation or storyboard platforms for students to recreate the key elements of the text.

9. Lego Movies – Students can design and film lego versions in key scenes from the text.

10. Prezi Teachers Guide or Lessons – Students can use Prezi or any presentation tool to create a teacher’s guide and design a lesson to teach from the text.

11. Write Book Reviews for Amazon or GoodReads

12. QR Code Key Quotes – Students can design a QR Code Scavenger Hunt throughout the book of key quotes or scenes that support the theme of the text.

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#ISTE2015 Tech SmackDown & TakeAway

I have just arrived home after attending the ISTE (International Society for Technology Education) annual Convention. The conference is an incredible opportunity for teachers, administrators, and anyone working in technology and education to see amazing speakers, innovative technology for the classroom, collaborate and be inspired. Below is a list of all the super cool technology tools that were shared (new and old). I have organized them according to the Common Core Standards to help think about how to use them in the classroom. The key idea of the conference is that it is not about the tech tool but building relationships, engaging students, teaching skills that will help students think deeply and succeed.

Reading & Writing

Reading Closely:

ThinkCerca – Reading & Writing Tool

The Learning Network – The New York Times

TED Talks

Actively Learn – Reading & Annotation Tool

Wonderopolis – Reading & Research Tool

Buncee – A Writing and Creation Tool

Comprehension:

Popplet – Storyboarding & Semantic Maps

Pixton – Storyboard & Animation Tool

Wordle – Word Generator

Tricider – Collaborative Polling Tool

Summarize:

iMovie Book Trailers

Big Huge Labs – Create Movie Poster

Twitter – Conversation Tool

Padlet – Collect Student Responses

Analyze:

Socrative – Polling Tool

Easel_ly – Create Infographics

Evernote – Curation and Writing Tool

Edmodo – Collaborating, Communication, & Curration Tool

Trello – Visual Organization Tool

Speaking & Listening – Presenting Tools to Build and Present Knowledge

Prezi – Digital Presentation Tool

HaikuDeck – Digital Presentation Tool

Animoto – Movie Making Tool

Glogster -Digital Posters

MovieMaker – Create Movies

PowToon  – Animation Tool

GoogleDocs – Collaborative Writing & Individual Writing

Google Slides – Google’s Power Point

Smore – Digital Newsletters

PodBean – Podcasting

ThingLink – Visual Curating Tool

Gamification

Classcraft – Game Platform

Kahoot! – Easy Polling & Assessment Tool

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