Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Chrome Extensions that are necessary for some and good for all

I attended a Google Bootcamp with Learnstyle this summer.  There I met +D.J. Cunningham, a successful and dynamic entreprenuer who founded the company despite his dyslexia.  During our summer BootCamp, he showed us some valuable Google Chrome extensions that level the playing field for our students (not just those with learning disabilities).  Here are his recommendations, plus a couple of my own which I have been sharing with teachers in both elementary and secondary schools.

These extensions can be found by launching the App icon (top right hand corner of your Google sign-in page)

 and then clicking on "Chrome Store" icon.  Be sure to search for extensions rather than apps.  Once downloaded an icon will be added to your toolbar for easy access.

Read and Write for Google
The free version has a read aloud and translator for the web and Google docs, as well as a dual-color highlighting tool.    It also allows users to choose their voice and voice speed.   The premium subscription has talking and picture dictionaries as well as word prediction software.   This extension is perfect for struggling readers and writers, as well as English Language Learners and I love the fact that it works seamlessly with Google Apps for Ed.

Simple Dictation
This is a very simple to use dictation tool that allows students the ability to speak in order to compose an email or search the web.

This Google extension is an easy-to use text to speech tool that will basically read the web for you.  Unlike Read and Write for Google, there is no integration with your Google Drive.  There is a pause option and a speed control, as well as a variety of different human-voice options.

The Ginger extension (not to be confused with a variety of cat-related apps in the Chrome Store)is a spelling and grammar checker that offers corrections based on context including commonly confused words.

Diigo is both an annotation app (sign up for full version at www.diigo.com as well as an extension which allows you to annotate (sticky note, highlight) and store resources you collect on the web.  It's the perfect place for students who have trouble managing resources and finding all of their research notes.

These tools help to level the playing field for our students who struggle with reading and writing.

If you have any more, please feel free to share!

Other awesome extensions I use daily include: Evernote webclipper that works with my Evernote account; Pocket for those great articles I won't have time to get to until later; and Bitly for shortening URLs. 

Friday, January 3, 2014

Using Tech tools to promote Academic Conversations and Student Voice

@picswithastory December 31st, 2013
Thanks to a MISA Grant, I am able to work with a group of English Department Heads and teachers from across six secondary schools in our Board.  Our focus is to improve Oral Communication: specifically, to promote student voice,  academic conversations, and metacognition in grade 9 applied English courses.  Because of a Board-wide technology initiative, we will have access to iPads for our project.

We began by isolating a few tech tools that might help us.  We narrowed it down to the following:
Today's Meet;
Educreations (similar to Doodlecast and Show Me);
Garage Band;


Though students don't actually speak when using this tool.  We chose this as a great entry point for all students to have a voice.  A teacher could draw upon the entries of shy students who rarely participate orally.   This is a risk-free way to begin to value the contributions of all students.

Educreations (or a similar Whiteboard app)

We decided upon educreations because we wanted to capture student conversation as it was happening.  We purposely selected the tool for its simplicity.  The idea here is that students are given prompts and are to use the tool to record their ideas and opinions.  Then, more importantly, students listen to themselves and assess their skills and set goals for next time.

Both of these tools have worked very effectively.  We have co-taught a lesson using a poem about homelessness as a springboard.  We will begin our next planning phase using both GarageBand and iMovie.


Garage Band

Though the perfect tool for music lovers and creators alike, the audio recording feature makes it an ideal tool for students to practice their speaking skills and reflect on them.  Click here for a previous post about using Garage Band for reading fluency.


The teachers believe that if students have a media product about which to speak, they may be more successful when presenting orally.   Students will use iMovie to practice speaking formally as their task will focus on an oral news report and an editorial.  The teachers also wanted students to present live, so they will be presenting their selected current event and introducing their iMovie.

I am very much looking forward to seeing the results of this planning and learning.