Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Tech Wednesday: Spelling City

This week I am showing you a website called Spelling city is a new twist on the good old spelling list. This website allows teachers, students, and/or parents to build spelling lists or choose from list of words already created and practice or test on those words. I remember as a kid in elementary school having to get out my spelling book and practicing over and over again word after word in hopes of remembering how to spell them for the test on Friday. This website is the same basic concept but in an online form that helps reach students in a medium they are more comfortable with.

The interface is pretty simple for all parties involved. You can choose to create either a 1, 5, 10 or a batch entry (unlimited). From there you can save your list for retrieval by students with a simple URL that can be posted on a class site, portal page, browser favorites, etc. This allows students to work with your list at their own pace on their own time or as a station in your classroom. From there students can test themselves, play games (simple games like matching, hangman, and word searches). One feature that I think is particularly useful is the teach me option. In this option the word is read out loud, spelled out loud, read out load again and then used in a sentence. This is helpful for your ELL (English Language Learners) who are working on learning sight words as well as other words by placing them in context.

All in all a very simple website that can be powerful for the elementary teacher as well as the secondary teacher in addition to parents. This can be used not only during the school year but also over the summer as well. In secondary content area teachers can use it to help students learn to spell key content area vocabulary. The one drawback is that if the word has a double meaning or is not recognized by the website, you will be asked to provide a new word, or the word will be excluded from the online exercise. For example I tried putting in some high level biology words such as angiospermae & hexadactylia (if they are spelled correctly) and it wasn't able to find a meaning in its references for those words. Unfortunately they don't take recommendations for word addition; instead they draw the words they include from lists built on the site. Not quite sure how that works since words the site does not recognize are not included in the exercise, etc. but I guess they are kept on lists you create and save.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Tech Wednesday: Online Tools

I wanted to take some time this Wednesday (ok Thursday) to talk about online tools. Thanks too Google and the open source movement we have some wonderful tools that are helping to break down the digital gap. As a middle school tech teacher I sometime forget that once students leave my classroom not everyone has access to the same tools or access to tools at all as they do in the classroom. This is where tools such as Google docs and Gimp as well as many others. Giving access to these tools to both students and teachers has the potential to break down many barriers.

All too often I here staff say that they can't do something or assign something as homework because students don't have access to software at home. However with a few clicks and a quick registration and you can have a Google docs account. With this account students can work on assignments and save those online on Google servers which give them access anywhere they have internet access. Then with a few more simple steps that assignment can be converted into a PDF, Word file, and others. Along with the document program there is a presentation, spreadsheet, and form generator, with these tools teachers also have powerful tools to work off-site with. This can eliminate the need for thumb drives, CD/DVD RW drives, and etc. as everything is web based. Being web based that is one of the biggest drawbacks in that one needs internet access to access these tools. There are more online document tools than Google docs others such as, gimp (photo editing), Picasa, etc. With these programs the major downside is that they are software and require installation and some ask for donations. It is always good to be read the fine print first with software that asks for a donation as sometimes you have a specific grace period you can use a full version without a donation.

So remember that with just a simple search online one can find free and/or online tools that enable and empower students and staff to work on project both at school and outside of school. Look below for a short demo of Google Docs.