Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Orientation iPod Video Tours

I don't know about you guys, but orientation is one my least favorite times of the year. I love meeting all the new kids, but I hate repeating the same thing over and over and over. With 5 eighth grade teachers, I do the same exact presentation almost 30 times each fall. Orientation requires a lot of talking - I have to convey loads of information, so even though I try to mix in other activities to keep everyone interested and intersperse some hands-on learning, I'm still exhausted by the end of the day.

So, two years ago, I smartened up. My goal was to create a library orientation activity that didn't result in permanent laryngitis. I had a class set of iPods at my disposal, so I developed a library iPod tour. Using my iPhone and iMovie, I recorded 1-2 minute clips about each section of the library. Students move from station to station around the library. At each station, they watch the corresponding video on the iPod about that zone. After viewing the iPod video, they complete a task.

Here's an example of what students watch at Stop #2 - The Computers.

This is the task they're asked to complete:

Task #2 – Computers: Locking your workstation keeps other people from using your computer account. Predict what might happen if you forget to lock your workstation.

And here's another example - Stop #3 - Graphic Novels.

And the corresponding task:

Task #3 – Graphic Novels: What are three characteristics or traits most graphic novels have in common? You can use the books to help you come up with a list.

When coming up with the tasks, I went out of my way to include questions that were higher level thinking, rather than simply recall. I ask students to rank things, make predictions, and categorize.

Overall, it works well. Students groove on the independence of the activity and the novelty factor of the iPods, and I'm able to convey all the important information without losing my voice.

How do you handle orientation? Any tips for making it easier?

Friday, September 14, 2012

Whispersync Voice and Visually Impaired Students

We seem to have an unusually high number of visually impaired students this year, so we've been working hard to help the classroom teachers meet their accommodations. Every 8th grader, including those with low-vision, needs to choose one of ten dystopian novels for an upcoming English project. The novels are all titles published in the last year or two, and I can't find enough ILL large-print versions to meet demand.

So, to solve the problem, I've been buying digital versions of the books and putting them on our Kindles. The kids can change the text size on the Kindle, allowing them to view the page at whatever size is best for their eyes. Alone, this solution would be adequate, but this week Amazon released a fantastic tool called Whispersync for Voice. This awesome improvement allows me to start reading the Kindle version of the book and then pick up where I left off in the audio version of the book on a different (or same) device. That means I can stop reading at the beginning of Chapter 2 on my Kindle, and pick up my iPhone to start listening to the book at the beginning of Chapter 2.

Here's how it works:

* Purchase a Kindle book that has an accompanying Whispersync narration. There are 26 free titles to pick from (classics like Moby Dick and Little Women) and almost 15,000 titles in total.

* After purchasing the Kindle book, you'll see a box that says "Now that you own the Kindle book, you can add the professional narration for $X.XX to switch between reading and listening without losing your place." Click the link, and it will take you to Audible.

* If you don't already have an Audible account, you'll need to create one. It's important that you link the Audible account to your Amazon account.

* Purchase the accompanying Audible version of the book.

* Download the Kindle book to your Kindle or other device (iPod, iPad, etc)., and download the audio book (if you're not using a Kindle, you'll have to download the Audible app).

It's pretty seamless. Read on device, and then pick up listening on the other device.

For our population, they're doing their reading AND listening on the same device. When their eyes get tired, they can just seamlessly switch to the audio version.

The only bummer is that it doesn't work on the Kindle Touches we bought 3 months ago, but it DOES work on the Kindle Keyboards we bought two years ago (once we upgraded to software version 3.4). Go figure. According to Amazon, the supported devices include: "Kindle Keyboard with software version 3.4 and greater, Kindle Fire 2nd Generation, and Kindle Fire HD."

An even cooler product with SO MANY educational applications is called "Immersion Reading." This works like the Whispersync Voice described above, but you can read your book as you listen to the audio version, and it will HIGHLIGHT the text as the author reads it aloud. How great would this be for students? The only bummer is that availability is limited to the latest versions of the Kindle Fire.

Have you used Whispersync Voice or Immersion Reading with your students?

Friday, September 7, 2012

Back in the Groove

It's September, so I'm back at my computer with the old to-do list posted in front of me. How is my desk already this messy on the fourth day of school?

Like most teachers, it's a little bit of a struggle to get back in the saddle after a couple months of vacation. This year, as an added bonus, I'm seven months pregnant, so everything I do seems to take just a tiny bit more effort than normal. Teaching requires physical endurance - I always forget how much energy I need to "perform" all day long. I always sound like a croaking, gasping frog the first few days until my voice and breath readjust to the routine.

Here are my tips for getting back in the groove after summer vacation:

* Don't wait until the night before school starts to re-do your routine. I find it a lot less stressful to ease into an earlier bedtime/wake-up schedule. If I've gotten up at 6:30 AM the last few days, I'm sleepier at a more "normal" time, and the shock of 5:15 AM is easier to handle when the first day does roll around.

* Pack some protein in your lunch. I'll admit that during summer vacation, I took a nap every day after lunch. It was wonderful. Now, back at school, 1:00 PM rolls around and I still have three periods to teach, with no nap in sight. I've found I feel noticeably different in the afternoon if I eat protein for lunch. I'm a big fan of cottage cheese or greek yogurt, but there are all kinds of high protein things that help prevent 7th period crashes.

* Squeeze in exercise after school. This is sooo hard for me right now, as all I really want to do is go home and sit (or rather sleep) on the couch, but thirty minutes of cardio gives me a time to reflect on the day, obsess over silly details, and then turn off my "school brain" for the rest of the evening. The exercise also gives me enough energy to make dinner!

* Turn off your electronics two or three hours before bed. Studies suggest that the blue light emitted by computer screens suppress your body's secretion of melatonin, which means staring at a screen may prevent you from feeling sleepy. Make yourself step away from the computer, TV, etc., at a reasonable hour, and do something crazy, like read a (paper) book to help you relax.

What are your tips for surviving (and thriving) during the first week back at school?