Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Best App I've Ever Purchased Part 2

Last time we talked about how Puppet Pals can help students with story retelling.  It's totally fun, totally beneficial and totally worth the five bucks I spent on it.

Today I'm gonna show ya how to use Puppet Pals to make a lightening fast social story. I used this app for a student with autism who was preparing for kindergarten graduation. I snapped a picture of him in his cap and gown and made him a character in the story. We role played the process of his name being called, walking across the stage and receiving his diploma. He watched the video over and over. It was pure awsomeness.

Here's what you need to do to use Puppet Pals to make a social story of your own. Snap a picture of the child or children on your phone or iPad. You may want to take a picture of your actual environment or search for images in Google that match the environment you want the child to interact in.

Open up the Puppet Pals app. Start a new show, then click "add a character from a photo." Trace around the outline of the student.

I also made this basketball a "character" in our show. I just found the image on Google and save it to my camera roll. I then added it to our show.  Once you have all of your characters, you are ready for the backdrop. Our show is going to take place in a gym. This is where Puppet Pals can be easier than shooting actual video footage. I didn't want to walk down to the gym and take an actual photo of our gym. I just searched Google and saved this photo to my camera roll.  All blown up in the app it's not the best quality photograph, but I'm totally not worried about it. Click "add backdrop from photo" and BAM! You are ready to make your movie.

Here are the reasons why you will love this app for social stories.
1. Filming took 39 seconds.
2. This app lets you roll play situations that you are not really in.
3. Kids like to watch the movies over and over, which reinforces the positive behavior that you want to see.
4. Did I mention that filming took 39 seconds.
5. You can save it in a variety of places.

Check out our easy peasy social story on what to do if you lose a game. I invested a good 3-4 minutes on this bad boy. Enjoy.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Best App I've Ever Purchased (and I've Purchased a Bunch) Part 1

Every year I set a goal for how I want to improve in my teaching. This year I decided that I was going to revamp my comprehension instruction. When you teach primary special education ( or kindergarten) comprehension and decoding should be taught separately. Let's face it:  "Fat Cat and the Fish" isn't givin' us much to work with in the comprehension department.  I'm pretty pleased with the results. I try to cycle through and hit the same skill multiple times throughout the year. When I can, I use seasonal books to match the skills being taught. In January, every primary teacher in America and  I used Jan Brett's The Mitten. This one lends itself well to retelling. Come to think of it, so does my favorite app.

If you don't know Puppet Pals, you are missing out. I purchased it several years ago for around five buckaroos. There are similar apps that have more bells and whistles (and way more expensive), but I find the simplicity perfect for my students.

I purchased a "Mitten" retelling kit from Oriental Trading Company a few years ago. I had leftover that I used this year. After modeling retelling and then having the students practice with paper puppets, I decided to take this activity up a notch. Here's how it worked.

With my iPad I snapped photos of items that I wanted to use as puppets for our show. I find it works better doing this before launching the app. Then we open the app, start a new show, and click "add actors from photo." 

This gives you access to your tablet's photo steam. Click on the photo that you want to make into a puppet and trace around it.

You will need to do this for each character in your show. It doesn't take much time. For this retelling I didn't find that any of the included backdrops appropriate for our show. I searched Google images, saved a photo I liked, and then chose it as my backdrop. The setup is really.that.simple.  In small groups, students and I did a "shared retelling." I'm pretty sure I just made that term up. 

This is a video I made with a student with autism. He needed some guidance, but he was totally engaged. After the shared retellings, I add the "puppets" to our classroom iPad and encourage students to record their retelling individually during center time. They love it. Something about recording our own voices is SUPER fun.  The kids enjoy watching the retellings of other students. The best part is that you can do this with almost any story using your camera and a favorite classroom book.  Puppet Pals=the best $5 I've ever spent. 

Stay tuned for Part 2 where I tell you what other cool things you can do with this app. 

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Sorry. Not sorry.

Currently I’m taking a class on how to effectively technology into the classroom called Introduction to Blended Online Teaching. This course should more aptly be named It’s Not About the Technology,Stupid.  What? Not about the technology?  Confused yet?

The whole purpose of technology integration is to be better able to meet the needs of students. Therefore, the tech should serve a purpose. Read: no electronic babysitters people.  First, ask yourself what you are trying to do. Then, find/ use the technology to help you do that.

Tech doesn’t replace teachers. Unless it does. Let me explain.

In my resource room I am constantly stretching myself to meet the needs of my students. I provide a two and a half hour reading and language arts block to some extremely adorable, always funny and pretty needy kids. I group my kiddos by ability, not age. Every day they have four stations:  with me, my assistant, and independent centers. The fourth station varies. Two days a week they have speech therapy. Three days a week they work on spelling/phonics work. Everyone, that is, except for Tyler.

You’ve never met him, but you already know Tyler. He’s extremely adorable and street smart. He's driven by a motor that never seems to stop. He pretty much hates everything that happens indoors, which includes school. He also has no business working on spelling work for five days a week. Definitely not the best use of his time.  

I knew I had to act fast or Tyler was going to be renamed Trouble. I needed something that would allow me to target what Tyler was going to work on. I needed it to be motivating. I needed to hold him accountable. I also needed it to be something that wasn’t going to take me FOREVER to prep for him.  After coming up short I called in for reinforcement: my tech coach/work brother.

He hooked me up with this program called Scootpad. It’s web based and allows teachers to assign standards that students need to work on. You can determine the number of questions and the number of sets that you would like for students to answer. Each student can be different. Kiddos get immediate feedback on whether they are correct. It isn’t game based or super distracting.  But here is why I really like it.  Any time a students answer a question correctly they earn a coin. Teachers can set up a reward center in the program where students can redeem the coins that they earn.  Examples of rewards that I created by Tyler are eating lunch in the classroom with a friend, extra Lego time, fast food lunch of choice (that one is 1,000 points.)  Tyler knows that if he doesn’t answer a question correctly he doesn’t earn a coin. This has encouraged him to slow down and think about what the correct answer should be. This program doesn’t work well on tablets, so I have Tyler work on a Chromebook at my table while I am working with other students. Because it isn’t gamey, it does not distract the other students. The only frowny face about this program is that it costs money, but since I pretty much break even after buying super awesome toys, games and apps much needed supplies with my own money I’m not really gonna sweat it. Seriously. It’s a drop in the bucket.

Typically I would be very against a program like this. I am not the “drill and kill” type of teacher. I pride myself on differentiation. But when used carefully it is a reasonable teacher stand-in (minus my charm, warmth and ability to deliver an entire lesson in a Mary Poppins voice.)  It allows me to “work” with Tyler when I am physically unable to. He is motivated and held accountable.  He is working on skills that I know he needs to work on. Quite simply, it meets his needs, and that’s what it’s all about.

Full disclosure: Scootpad has not paid me to write this review, but I wish they would.

All names have been changed to protect the (not so) innocent.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Times, They Are a Changing

So much has changed since I first began Differentiation Station. Initially I wanted this to be a place where I could share free resources that I created for my classroom with other teachers in an effort to pay it forward. Although I sometimes use TPT I never fully felt comfortable in charging my teacher homies for something that I could just give them for FREE. In the beginning as newbie teacher, I was cranking things out all.the.time. I'm pretty sure I didn't sleep for the first two years of my teaching career. Can I get an amen? But now I have curated a large quantity of resources that I utilize frequently in my resource room. So lately I've been cranking along and becoming as comfortable as a teacher who tries to meet the needs of her students and can be.

But the powers that be have CHANGED THE RULES. By changing the rules, I mean that every child in my district is getting their own tablet or Chromebook! At first I felt like Oprah Winfrey had driven down from Chicago and given everybody in the audience (aka my school district) a super awesome gift. Then reality set in. I am totally going to have to change the way that I teach. I'll give you a minute to let that sink in.

 This means that I am going to have to curate a whole new tool box of resources. These will likely not be in the form of printables but rather digital tools. Since I am going to be doing a heckuva lot of work in the coming months I figured that I might as well share the fruits of my labor with youseguys. Below is a link to a Symbaloo page where I have curated some youtube links to some of my favorite brain break videos. If you haven't used Symbaloo, it is a great way to curate resource in a visual manner so that you can easily access the links that you use most often. You can also search for webmixes that others have created. Check it out.

What are your favorite brain break songs? Have you ever used Symbaloo to curate resource?

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Puzzles and a Giveaway

School has been in full swing for three weeks now! Here in Indiana we are moving toward a balanced calendar. We will have a week off for fall break, two weeks off at Christmas and two weeks off for spring break. This translates to shorter summer vacation (a.k.a. back to school in July!!!).

I've made LOTS of changes to my classroom that I can attribute to my OCD superb organizational skills, but this go round I'm going to focus on my puzzle center that I utilize during literacy centers. This center is especially important for my special needs learners to develop independent work skills, spatial reasoning, problem solving and visual discrimination, which is key to reading.

I've utilized puzzles in my room for years, but I was never quite happy with the set up. This year I decided to completely revamp it. I wanted a way to scaffold students who needed extra help. I started by taking inventory of the puzzles I already had and realized that I had way too many 100 piece puzzles and not nearly enough 24 and 48 piece puzzles. I had a limited budget to work with so I toted a bin full of books that were too difficult for my young readers to Once Upon a Child. The result was over $80 in cash that I used in the store to purchase more books at the appropriate level and puzzles. Check out some of the great bargains I found.

I got two Melissa and Doug floor puzzles for $4.50 each and several Ravensberger puzzles.
This Curious George Ravensburger puzzle was $3.50. The local educational supply store sells them for over $10 a piece!
This Thomas Ravensberger puzzle came in a metal carrying case and was only $2.50. Score! After scouring the earth for puzzles, which may or may not have included begging my Facebook friends to check their closets, I set to making puzzle mats for each.and.every.puzzle. This process involved a collection of neon poster board, more Sharpies than I care to admit (the permanent markers from the Dollar Tree actually work better)and the first two seasons of Breaking Bad on Netflix. I worked every puzzle, traced the outline of each puzzle piece, numbered every spot on the puzzle mat and numbered the matching puzzle piece with that same number. Can you say, "Holy hand cramp Batman!"? The process was slow and painful, but the end result allows my students to work the puzzle by number or picture.

Next, I took an inventory of every puzzle in my collection and ranked them from easiest to most difficult. Each week I put a new puzzle out for my students and mark it on my checklist to keep track of what puzzles we have worked. So far it's gone off like a firecracker on the Fourth of July, only not as loud.

I have tons of other things to share with you guys, but I didn't want to bore you share all my secrets at once. Stay tuned for how I organized my shelves (I'm not sure why I didn't think of it before), my new iPad news and hopefully (crossed fingers) how I built a reading teepee for my room.

In other news, I finally relented and launched my TPT store. I'm giving away my first unit, Short a CVC Mega Pack, to not one, not two, but three lucky follower of my TPT store!
This unit includes everything you need for a week of short a activities including Down on the Short a Farm (a word reading game), a Crayon Short a Word Sort with recording sheet, Out of this World Words (a making words activity with recording sheet), Short a Splat (a making words activity) and a Short a Word/Picture Match.

To enter, click on the link to head to my TPT store. Follow my store and leave a comment on the blog about your favorite back to school activity. I will announce the winners of my contest Tuesday at 6! Good luck!

Monday, March 4, 2013

Free Phonics Centers (3 of em)

Waaaaaaay back in the day (in an effort to promote Differentiation Station) I offered new followers a set of 3 free phonics centers. The give away closed two  years ago, but I still have peeps messaging me in hopes to snag the set. I thought I would help everyone out and post them here. So if you don't have these lovelies, grab em now!

Funny Bunny

Hive Hunt Recording Sheet

Hive Hunt

Oa/Ow in Space

Oa/Ow Recording Sheet

Friday, February 22, 2013

February Top 5 & Freebie Motherload

Things have been going well. Does anyone else get a little nervous when things go too well. Rather than wait for the other shoe to drop I thought it may be a better use of my time to share the five best things from this month.

5. Dental Health: So I've always avoided dental health in my little resource room. I assumed that the kids wouldn't find the topic interesting and that I wouldn't be providing any new information. I was wrong. (My husband has been waiting years to hear those words!) Many students did not know that they should brush their teeth before coming to school and going to bed. Most had family members with missing teeth.  I was so glad that we talked  about it. Plus, we were able to make this cute little craft to go with our writing. Adorable!

(Photo courtesy of Lesson Plan Diva)

4. We have masted addition (cue the halleluiah choir) and are working on mastery of subtraction Please enjoy this pirate themed subtraction game to play with your scallywags. Students take turns drawing subtraction cards. If they get it correct, they keep the card. There are also action cards mixed in (lose a turn, take a card from a friend, etc.) Play as long as time allows. The child with the most at the end of play wins.

3. Things are smooth sailing with my student with autism. He is finding his routine and we thoroughly enjoy having him. I have grown very attached to him in such a short period of time. He calls me Unger. So cute!

2. I had the best Valentine's Day ever. My husband, who is pretty much the best person I know, surprised me with concert tickets to see my favorite band The Avett Brothers. Does anyone else know them?  They just happened to be playing three hours away on Valentines Day. It was a late night, but so very worth being tired the next day.

As far as school goes, I made the superdy-duper-cutest Valentines Day noun/verb/adjective sort. I'm feeling givey (pretty sure that's not really a word) so click below to grab your copy to stash away for next year.
 1. Only twenty days until Spring Break, and I'm going to see Mickey Mouse with my bestie from work and our families.

So, what's the best thing that's happened to you lately?