Ten Awesome Webtools to Use in the Classroom

This is the third installment in a three-part series in which I am going to “tinker” with and review some webtools to enhance and transform your classroom experience! Please feel free to shoot me any questions about any of these tools, and I will answer them (or point you to the person who can answer them). 🙂

I decided to use Prezi, a multimedia presentation tool, to present my final three (well…four if you count Prezi) webtools. Enjoy!


Webtools discussed in this presentation:

7. Prezi

8. Instagram

9. Tagxedo

10. Popplet


Ten Awesome Webtools to Use in the Classroom (Part 2)

This is the second installment in a three-part series in which I am going to “tinker” with and review some webtools to enhance and transform your classroom experience! Please feel free to shoot me any questions about any of these tools, and I will answer them (or point you to the person who can answer them). 🙂

4. Poll Everywhere: You’ve seen those cases full of “clickers” (otherwise known as classroom response systems) that allow students to interactively engage with their teachers’ lessons–however, they are just too expensive for you to afford. Poll Everywhere may be your solution! This is a website that allows you to come up with any question in any format (multiple choice, true/false, or open-ended) and allows your audience to reply to the question in real time by texting their response. In multiple choice format, this looks like a series of codes (one assigned to each response) for your students to type in and text to a certain number, and each participant is only allowed one response. You may think, “Big deal! I could have them text my personal cell phone number and achieve the same goal.” However, the site also creates a giant bar graph for you to display on your projector or smart board. As the students text their responses, they are added to the graph in real time. It ends up looking something like this:


Perhaps if I had chosen a more interesting poll topic, I would have gotten more participation? Womp womp. :-/

There are a few issues that I have with this website. For one thing, I can’t tell who is responding with which answers, or whether all of my students have responded. This is frustrating if the students are responding to knowledge-based questions, because if someone out there is getting consistently wrong answers, I won’t know who it is–and that makes Poll Everywhere kind of a worthless assessment tool. However, if I’m asking feeling-based questions or opinion questions, the anonymity might be a good thing, because it might give students the confidence they need to say what they really think without worrying about their peers’ reactions. A nice thing about Poll Everywhere is that I am able to just casually try it out without creating an account and giving out my information. However, if I decide that I really like the site and I want to use it often, I can create an account and start saving a file for my quizzes and polls. I did not have the opportunity to use this website with real students; however, I have spoken to a few teachers who have used it successfully with their kids. Of course, the biggest hang-up is that all of your students need to have cell phones with texting capabilities. In today’s classroom, this is likely, but not guaranteed. This website, though it can be used for educational purposes, clearly isn’t geared specifically toward education. It could be used during any public presentation or business meeting. After talking about Poll Everywhere with some of my teacher friends, they recommended similar sites that were more educator friendly, such as Socrative and Kahoot!. Those will have to go on my “too-be-tinkered-with” list.

5. Audacity: Audicity is free software available on the internet that allows the user to record and manipulate audio tracks. At its simplest, you can hit the record button and speak into the microphone on your computer to create “voice-overs” to use in multimedia presentations or to publish as podcasts. However, Audacity is capable of much more than that–there are many different ways to manipulate your recording. You can amplify it or clarify it (diminishing any background noise), slow it down and speed it up, change the pitch, and of course, edit out any long spaces of silence (either manually or automatically). The great thing about Audacity is that, even though it is a pretty complex program, it is inherently differentiated. I am not a “techie” by any means, so I was pretty intimidated the first time I took a look at the Audacity interface:


Screen shot of Audacity

However, I know how to push “record” and how to push “stop,” and the first time I used it, that’s all I really needed to know. However, as I tinkered with it more, I started to figure out how to edit my recording and make it sound so much better. And, if I continue to tinker with it even more, I’ll eventually figure out Audacity’s most advanced features (splicing and mixing tracks together–so I could do voice-overs on top of music or even insert myself into audio clips with famous historical figures to conduct mock interviews, importing and manipulating sound files, converting cassette tapes and records into digital files, removing the voice from hip hop tracks so that my students can create and record their own unique lyrics, etc.). The software requires downloading, which may be an issue in very restrictive school districts. However, it is reliable software that will not add any malware to your computer, and it’s completely free–which is pretty incredible considering all of the features and possibilities!

6. Weebly: This is a jack-of-all-trades kind of site that allows users to create their own websites (using user-friendly templates and add-ons rather than starting from scratch with HTML coding) and host their own blogs. This site is completely free (to an extent–it can support use by up to 40 students before a reasonable subscription fee is required to “Go Pro”). Weebly has a division devoted specifically to education, which I really like. Weebly for Education has all kinds of great features, like allowing me to make a website or blog that is password protected, so that only my students (who I would provide with the password) and students’ parents could access the site. They also give me the option of hosting my students’ blogs from my website, which I think is really cool. On just about any other blogging site, my students would have to create their own blogs and they would just be floating out there in cyberspace for anyone to read (which many parents may not like). However, with Weebly, I can create a class website, and then have unique links on the website that work as portals to those student blogs (as in, the ONLY way to reach those blogs), and I could choose to make those password protected as well. However, I like the idea of creating a site with one general password to get in, and then allowing the students to be able to freely read one another’s blogs and connect with each other online password free. I could also task my students with creating completely public websites that educate visitors about a certain topic or social cause. It would be a great way to let my students know that they have knowledge and opinions worth sharing with the world!

A screen shot of Weebly's admin page, where the teacher can edit and add student accounts

A screen shot of Weebly’s admin page, where the teacher can edit and add student accounts

Weebly also supports a variety of multimedia, so I or my students can upload pictures, videos, documents, interactive maps, or even audio players and entire photo galleries! That means that some of the amazing webtools that I’ve been reviewing on my blog can be used in conjunction with Weebly–I can show live polls and poll results from Poll Everywhere, upload audio files from Audacity, animated videos created on GoAnimate, etc. This is one of those sites that is hard to truly tinker with when I don’t have a full class to participate, but I am really excited about the implications that Weebly could have on transforming my instruction. We could take everything that we create in the classroom online, and also learn things online that carry over into the physical classroom! 🙂

An example of a teacher website in edit mode

An example of a teacher website in edit mode

Ten Awesome Webtools to Use in the Classroom (Part 1)

This is the first installment in a three-part series in which I am going to “tinker” with and review some webtools to enhance and transform your classroom experience! Please feel free to shoot me any questions about any of these tools, and I will answer them (or point you to the person who can answer them). 🙂

1. GoAnimate for Schools: This webtool allows you (and your students) to make your own video animations! It comes with high quality background templates and character choices. It also gives students the option of typing in their own dialogue (to be read by a computer voice) or record their own dialogue, making the on-screen characters like puppets. The facial expressions of the on-screen characters can also be manipulated, though the choices are pretty limited (happy, sad, angry, or crying). Teachers can use these videos to record virtual lessons for students to view at home (which may be especially helpful for students who are absent, students with special needs, or ESL students). Students can also create video projects for a wide range of topics and share them with their classmates in person or online. There is a free demo available on the site, but a paid subscription is going to cost at least $99 a year (depending on how many students are using it). It may be worth it to purchase a group package and share the subscription with the other teachers at your school–especially if you can get the school district to foot the bill! Though it is pricey, this app is definitely worth the cost!

Screen shot of my GoAnimate! video. Abe Lincoln is about to seriously school these students on how it all REALLY went down...

Screen shot of my GoAnimate! video. Abe Lincoln is about to seriously school these students on how it all REALLY went down…

2. Edmodo: This is a social network made exclusively for use within the classroom. The interface looks strikingly similar to Facebook and it is incredibly user friendly. The teacher acts as a facilitator and adds student users into groups that she manages, and she can even invite parents to join. (So, for organizational purposes, I could have a ninth grade group and a tenth grade group….or I could even organize by first period, second period, third period, etc.) The teacher can upload assignments or polls, and post alerts or notes that the students can read and comment on. Again, the main page looks like a Facebook news feed, with the most recent posts floating near the top of the page and older posts getting pushed to the bottom. The teacher also has the ability to add apps to Edmodo (both free apps and apps that cost a small fee are available) for the students in her group to use. It’s difficult to truly “tinker” with this site right now, since I don’t have a classroom and I can’t practice interacting with real students–but I am very excited about this app! The potential for socially constructed learning, online collaboration, and community (parent) involvement is incredible!

Screen shot of my Edmodo homepage

Screen shot of my Edmodo homepage

3. Class Dojo: I grappled with whether or not to include this webtool, because it doesn’t directly relate to literacy–it is more of a classroom management tool. However, when it comes to classroom management, I need all the help I can get! And it makes sense to utilize technology on this front to make my life a little easier. Class Dojo is a tool that I saw several third grade teachers using during my recent internship at an elementary school. My immediate thought (just from observing) was that teachers are the only ones who really engage with this app. However, after “tinkering” around on the website and watching some of the tutorials, I discovered that the students are invited to play an active role as well. One of the most interesting things they get to do is have a hand in creating an avatar to represent themselves throughout the school year (all avatars are made to look like various monsters/creatures). After the students create their avatars, the teacher is able to create seating charts, award points for positive behavior, randomize who gets to answer questions during class or take a turn being the line leader, etc. Students are able to use the site to view their behavioral status, create goals for themselves, and reflect on poor behavior. Parents can get in on Class Dojo too, receiving automated behavior reports at the end of each day (the teacher doesn’t even have to think about it!). The site also vaguely mentions that students can use the Dojo to connect with each other. Because I created a teacher account and not a student account, I’m not sure exactly what this means. It also seems like a tool that is most effective with younger students (elementary aged and possibly middle school aged); however, I have read some testimonials on the site of high school teachers using this as a motivational tool (for participation) with their high school students (they recommend ditching the juvenile avatars and allowing students to upload real profile pics instead).

Screenshot of my class dojo

Screenshot of my class dojo

Dewey’s 24-Hour Read-a-Thon


One of my blog friends recently posted about her experience participating in Dewey’s 24-Hour Read-a-Thon, and I was so intrigued! I’ve heard of marathons, of course, and even dance-a-thons…but I have never heard of a Read-a-Thon. And immediately, the wheels started turning and I started imagining how this could be developed into a school-wide event to promote literacy.


Dewey’s 24-Hour Read-a-Thon apparently started several years ago with a single blogger who had a vision. She wanted to put everything aside, for an entire 24 hours, and just devote that time to reading. Of course, being an avid blogger, she wanted other people to join her in this literature-love fest and blog about their experiences as well–and this is what I really love. It’s not just about connecting with a good book; it’s about connecting with each other and bonding over a common hobby. Dewey has since passed away, but her legacy lives on. Dewey’s Read-a-Thon has become a global event that occurs in the blogosphere every October and every April. It has just exploded in popularity, with people signing up to be “cheerleaders” for the readers, people posting and responding to “mini-challenges” during the Read-a-Thon, and all participants posting to their blogs, Twitters, Tumblrs, and Goodreads about their experiences.


I can imagine this being a school-wide event–and not just for reading. I would also want my students to have the opportunity to get online and write about what they’re reading and connect with other readers as well–the full experience. I want them to not just read because it’s a “school thing,” but rather, feel like they are participating in a global community. These events generally take place on a Saturday, so we would need to open up the school building (the library/media center perhaps?) the night before the Read-a-Thon starts. It would start 12:01 AM on Saturday and end 12:01 AM on Sunday. I would encourage the students to pack as if they are attending a sleepover, bringing sleeping bags, pillows, and throw blankets in tow–whatever they need to get comfortable! They would also be encouraged to bring a few of their favorite books along with them. However, I would want to have some blankets, pillows (and of course books!) ready and available for those students who can only come just as they are. If we wanted to turn it into a fundraiser, we could even get students to find people to sponsor them per page read (maybe ten cents a page) and donate the money to a worthy cause. We would need to find teachers and parents willing to sign up to chaperone different “shifts” during the Read-a-Thon, and also provide a steady stream of food and snacks to the participants. The use of electronic devices would be encouraged (phones, tablets, laptops, etc.) so that students could post updates as they read. And of course, it would be great to have some prizes involved for the most prolific readers and/or bloggers–which is only fitting since there is usually a “winner” during a marathon or a dance-a-thon. There’s no doubt that putting on an event like this would take a lot of work and community support, but I can really see it stirring up a lot of excitement about literacy school-wide! What do you think?


Give Millennials a Chance!

Are you familiar with the term “millennial”? It refers to the young, upcoming generation–loosely defined as anyone born between 1982-2000–who have grown up in the midst of new technology. Millennials are accustomed to having computers, cell phones, and internet at their constant disposal, and therefore can be mocked by the older generations as unable to function without electricity. If you are a middle school or high school teacher, it’s likely that you are teaching a classroom full of millennials, so it’s important to understand them and how they operate.

If you want to know how “millennial” you are (which isn’t necessarily contingent upon age), you can check out this quiz created by the Pew Research Center.

One of the biggest things to keep in mind when you’re teaching millennials is that there is a lot of technology out there competing for our students’ attention–during school time and in the evenings during homework time. With so many easy distractions and so much to keep our kids awake all night (unlike my dad’s generation who, according to him, used to watch the television test pattern once the programs were finished for the day), it’s no wonder that it’s more difficult for Millennials to be focused and successful. I think we need to keep this in mind when we’re planning lessons (and assigning homework), and use technology in our instruction and delivery rather than trying to compete with technology.

Just think of all of the websites and social networks out there that could creatively be incorporated into our instruction to help our students further their thinking and learning. Even a video sharing site like YouTube could be used to enhance instruction. It has become very trendy to post (and watch!) how-to videos on YouTube, and they are becoming more and more prolific. It seems that there is a how-to video available for just about any topic imaginable! I think that we could be utilizing videos like these for tricky concepts in the classroom to help students who “can’t remember the steps” when they get home. If there isn’t a video available for the topic that we need, it would just take twenty or thirty minutes after the school day ends to film a how-to video for the math concept taught that day or a review of the history lesson that was packed full of facts. We could also get our students involved in producing videos like these! How exciting would it be to have a YouTube channel devoted specifically to our classroom (with written parental permission to get our students on video and publish it to the internet, of course)! I think creating an ongoing class project like that would harken back to what Alan November was saying about having students identify a problem, create a solution, and publish their work to benefit not just their classroom, but the world. It would certainly be a great motivator and a great way to engage students in their class work!

I also think that we need to be forgiving of our students’ attitudes—and perhaps lack of ambition. According to Kelly Williams Brown (author of the bestselling satire Adulting: How to Become an Adult in 468 Easyish Steps) we need to stop “collectively wringing our hands over young people acting young,” and try to remember what our thoughts and dreams were when we were that age. I have included an excellent TED Talks lecture from Kelly Williams Brown (also satirically titled)–“Millennials: Why Are They The Worst?” She is funny, but she also gives her audience a lot of great insight and reasons to appreciate millennials for their unique awesomeness. 🙂

Reading Across the Content Areas

Reading is not an activity that should be limited to English class. Rather, it should be embedded in content area curriculum in a way that sharpens students’ literacy skills and their subject-area knowledge simultaneously. Some content-area teachers may feel that it is counter-productive to focus on literacy in their classrooms; however, studies have shown that students who learn specific reading skills for content-area materials (i.e.–strategies for reading historical documents, science texts and lab studies, and/or convoluted word problems in math) will not just become better readers. They will improve in each of those subjects as well! Their sharpened reading skills will help them become better overall learners, and help them to better read their textbooks and improve their grades across the board. Here are some materials that may be useful for integrating reading into the content areas:


Marvelous Math by Lee Bennett Hopkins–Poetry that links to different mathematical concepts (lower level).

 marvelous math

Math Talk: Mathematical Ideas in Poems for Two Voices by Theoni Pappas–A great way to integrate math curriculum with reading fluency.

math talk

The Number Devil: A Mathematical Adventure by Hans Magnus Enzensberger–The narrative of a young boy’s Alice-and-Wonderland-esque adventure through a numerical, mathematical landscape.

The Number Devil


We the People by Bobbi Katz–Poetry about American history, spanning from “The First Americans” to “Imagine,” a poem about the future ahead of us in the twenty-first century.

we the people

Lives: Poems About Famous Americans by Lee Bennett Hopkins–Great for giving a more intimate, personal perspective to biographical history lessons.


The Brother’s War: Civil War Voices in Verse by J. Patrick Lewis–A good accompaniment to a study on the Civil War; helps students to see the perspective of both sides.

the brothers war

War and the Pity of War edited by Neil Philip–An anthology of poetry written about the horror and heroism of war, spanning in time from 11th century B.C. to present day.

war and the pity of war

Remember the Bridge: Poems of a People edited by Carole Boston Weatherford–A striking collection of poems and photos that cover over 400 years of African Americans struggling for freedom.

remember the bridge

I Never Saw Another Butterfly edited by Hana Volavkova –A collection of poems and drawings created by children in the Terezin concentration camp from 1942 to 1944. This is the legacy of an estimated 15,000 children who passed through this camp on their way to Auschwitz.

I never saw another butterfly

Eyes of the Emperor by Graham Salisbury–A piece of historical fiction detailing a young Japanese American’s account of the Pearl Harbor attack, and the prejudice that he endured from his fellow Americans during the aftermath.

eyes of the emperor

Hiroshima No Pika by Toshi Maruki–A piece of historical fiction detailing a Japanese woman’s account of how she survived the bombing on Hiroshima.

hiroshima no pika

The Man From the Other Side by Uri Orlev–A novel based on the true story of a Polish boy living in the 1940’s named Marek who hated the Jews, until he ends up befriending a Jewish boy his own age and helping him hide from the Nazis.

Man from the other side

Red Moon at Sharpsburg by Rosemary Wells–A piece of historical fiction detailing the life of a young Southern girl named India and her perspective on the Civil War that threatens to destroy her family and her Virginia home.

red moon at sharpsburg


My America: A Poetry Atlas of the United States by Lee Bennett Hopkins–A collection of 51 poems written by 40 different poets. A literary exploration of geography, climate, and people across America.

My America

Got Geography! by Lee Bennett Hopkins–A collection of poetry written by a variety of well-known authors who are enamored with the idea of travelling the globe. These poems are great for pulling out to introduce a unit on a particular geographic region.

got geography

A World of Wonders: Geographic Travels in Verse and Rhyme by Patrick J. Lewis–A book of fun, quirky poems about exotic destinations and fun geography trivia.

world of wonders


Redwoods by Jason Chin–A picture book may seem juvenile; however, this book is packed full of facts and trivia about Redwood trees that can be appreciated by all ages.


Ubiquitous: Poetry and Science About Nature’s Survivors by Joyce Sidman–This book pairs well-researched scientific facts with poetry to celebrate the micro-organisms and other “underdogs” of evolution who have managed to thrive throughout time. Sidman is the author of several scientific poetry/picture books that are suitable as introductions and/or supplements to science units.

Ubiquitous  Celebrating Nature's Survivors


Heart to Heart and Side by Side edited by Sandra Jordan–Two compilations of poetry written about seeing and reacting to famous works of art.

heart to heart  side by side

Talking to the Sun by Kenneth Koch and Kate Farrell–Another poetry anthology in which poems are matched to corresponding paintings.

 talking to the sun


Vocab Rock! Musical Preparation for the SAT and ACT (with CD) by Keith London and Rebecca Osleeb–The audio CD that accompanies this book is full of hip hop and alternative music that makes use of difficult vocabulary words in its lyrics. Activities and worksheets to guide the students’ understanding of the new words and their contexts is provided in the book. What a great way to study for a standardized test!

vocab rock

Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss–A witty argument for the continued use of proper punctuation, and the hilarious consequences and shifts in meaning that occur with punctuation is neglected.

eats shoots and leaves

Strategies for Content Area Teachers

SRSD—A model for training in writing strategies. SRSD (Self-Regulated Strategy Development) is a support system for teachers who want to train their students to use a new writing strategy effectively and independently. It involves 1. Developing background knowledge, 2. Discussion, 3. Modeling, 4. Support, 5. Memorization, and 6. Independent performance. Taking students through each of these steps systematically will ensure maximum retention and successful independent use.

CBM—A progress monitoring tool. CBM (Curriculum based measurement) is an assessment program in reading, writing, spelling, and math. They are easy to construct (and previously developed tools are easy to download and print), quick to administer and score, and provide reliable results that can be used for developing effective future curriculum. Visit www.easycbm.com to browse materials.