Friday, January 24, 2014

Digital texts through OverDrive

Hey CPS teachers! There's another new resource available to you and your students. Remember the post I wrote last year about OverDrive? Probably not. But if so, that same resource is now available for Columbia Public Schools teachers and students. Here's what you should know. 

Digital texts have been purchased to get the process started. The collection currently has about 550 titles of audio and eBooks, but expect it to grow as more of our libraries allocate money to digital texts. This process is much like the process through the public library but easier. Students log in to the account through the Columbia Public Schools Digital Library. Check with your media specialist to learn the student username and password, you know, for security reasons. Once inside, there are lots of ways to search for appropriate materials.

On your dashboard, you'll see options for subjects, collections, and levels. "Subjects" are sorted into categories such as biography, mystery, science fiction, and literature. "Collections" offer breakdowns by elementary and middle school. And "levels" offers you searchability by ATOS (not sure what that is), Lexile Measure, or Reading Level. Most of the selections at this time are geared towards middle and high school students. But there are some great elementary reads from authors such as Rick Riordan and Carl Hiaasen.

When you find a title you'd like to read, you have a few options for checkout. You can download the book as a Kindle eBook or as an ePUB. For either option, you need to have either an Adobe or Kindle account to read the book in those apps. If you don't have one of those accounts, or if this is for a child, you can also read the book in your browser. It can be read online, or you can download the book so it can be read offline. Pretty slick. 

If you have any other questions, ask your friendly local media specialist. And most of the checkouts are for 14 days, so get reading. 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Use GroupMaker for, well, making groups

Came across this nice little app through the Twitterverse. It's called GroupMaker, and it's a free way to organize your class roster and set up groups. There are a lot of features that makes this app easy to use and handy for the classroom. Let's take a look.
Main Roster Page (note cute dough figures)

First off, the app is free. Which is good. Once you have it downloaded, you'll want to set up your first class. You have the ability to make multiple classes and name them whatever you'd like. Class members are added manually, which could be a turnoff for you secondary teachers out there. But it only takes a few seconds to enter a student, and you don't have to enter anything more than a first name if you don't want to. That will save you some time. You can also assign pictures to each student. Or you can leave them as adorable little dough figures if you'd like. Another option you have at your disposal is the ability to classify each student by gender, race, or some other category of your choosing. 

When you have your students inserted, they make up your first roster. You'll see all their smiling faces (or the little dough figures) looking at you on your home screen. From there, you can use the app's Attendance Mode to mark kids absent. No, it won't interface with eSchool or any other SIS. But it takes that in consideration if you are making groups. There's also an option for a random picker to choose a student/group at random. Kind of like the random picker in SMART Notebook.

GroupMaker lets you create multiple groups. You name the group and then have several settings you can choose from to set up the groups. If you assigned information about student gender or ethnicity, you can account for that when making groups. There's also an option for sorting randomly. Here's where I think the app can improve. When I created my groups, all it did was break up the roster by number. The students were still in order alphabetically. It would make sense if there was a truly random generator to break up the roster into groups. I didn't see that in the app. Once you choose to account for gender, for instance, the students move around. You can easily drag and drop students into the groups you want. But I'd still like to start with a truly random grouping. Once in groups, you can also use the random picker to choose a group.

The app has some other features. There's a timer embedded in the app. That's for timing. There's also a sound meter, which serves no purpose as far as I can see. 

I think GroupMaker would be a handy app, especially in the elementary classrooms.