Thursday, February 20, 2014

Have you met Tagxedo - Wordle's much handsomer brother?

Tagxedo does everything that Wordle does... and  a little more.

It allows you to  use shapes and words to create word clouds with a little extra style. There are many preset options for quick creation but everything is editable and customizable too. You can save your work in a variety of formats or share online.

My favorite Tagxedo feature allows you to upload your own images and lets you create word clouds using them.  Here is my Twitter profile picture that I made using Tagxedo. Aren't I lovely?

Kids could us this feature to make an "All about me" style poster using key words. Or they could use a picture of a famous person or animal and use words to describe them.

Looking for an idea for a great mother's day or father's day card? You can use one of the many built in shape templates to make a word cloud full of compliments. With my grade 1 students we have done this as a group activity. We have brainstormed words for our fathers and picked a few shapes and fonts we liked. I then printed out a few different styles for students to choose from to use as their cards.

You can find a presentation on 100 ways to use Tagxedo here.

To get some inspiration on what you can create with Tagxedo check out their Facebook page.

One note:  When I retested Tagxedo for this article  I was able to use the "Create" tab to make the images above but the search box on the first page seemed to be broken.  I wasn't able to use search terms or twitter feed to create a picture. Hopefully this feature will be fixed soon.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Problem with Pink Shirt Day

Don't get me wrong. I think what those young boys did in Nova Scotia was amazing. Standing up against bullying takes guts and they did make a difference that day. If you don't know the story you can read about it here:  Inspite of this I have a real problem with the what Pink Shirt day has become.

I want to tell you a story about what I saw last year in my school.  It was Pink Shirt day. Students were all decked out in there pink gear (many shirts had been bought specially for the occasion) one of my little guys came in to my class a little late, looked around and looked down at his shoes. I watched as everyone turned and waited for him to take off his jacket so they could see his pink shirt. He wasn't wearing a pink shirt. Suddenly he was surrounded by 4 or 5 students. "Why aren't you wearing pink?"  "You have to wear pink today!"  "Don't you care about bullies?" The Pink shirt message had not gotten through with those kids.  We talked about it as a group that day but it wasn't the only time I saw similar conversations and situations throughout the day. It happened in grade 6 as much as it did in grade 1.

Here is a great video from the Young Actors Studio that acknowledges the problem and shows how NOT to celebrate pink shirt day.

It is a little bit our fault.  The announcement say "Wear Pink to stand up against bullying"  The video's say "Make a difference and Wear Pink."  Our school even showed students a video promoting Pink Shirt day where the participants poked and prodded a student until he got the message and wore pink. The Pink has become more important than the message.

Kids need to hear us talk about what bullying is.... and what it isn't.
Kids need to learn about how to can treat each other in positive ways.
Kids need to understand the bullying is wrong.
Kids don't NEED to wear pink to show they understand.

This Pink Shirt day I challenge you to find a real way you can fight bullying in your schools. The Pink shirt worked in 2007 because it showed that particular bully that the boy wearing pink wasn't alone.  How can you show each other you support each other this year? How can you help the victims of bullying in your school feel like they aren't alone?

What did I learn in school today? I need to think about the message I am sending out to my kids when I put in their agenda or newsletter saying "Wear Pink".  Are they learning the lesson I hope they are or are they just going through the motions because it is what is expected of them?

What have your experiences been like for Pink Shirt day?

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Partner Time: Learning while we partner up.

I'm a big believer in partner talk time. My students get a chance to discuss new ideas, teach each other new vocabulary, read with a partner and work together often during the day.  With little ones making partner groups can be tricky.

Ask 6 year olds to find a partner and you will quickly see who is friends with who, who no one wants to work with and who really really wanted to work with someone who doesn't want to work with them.

I tried pair generators on sites like the one on Superteachertools  and they can be great at times but give you very little control of your pairs and also are a little boring for the kiddos at times.

One of the best ways I found to create truly random pairs (that I can still control a little) is match-up cards.

Match-up cards are sets of things that come in twos. Students have to find the person who has their match-up card pair. That person becomes their partner.

Examples of match-up cards:

Uppercase and lowercase letters  (I have A and you have a? Great we are partners!)
Number pairs (I have 1 and you have one? Great lets talk!)
Sight word match (Hey look we both have the word  "maman" guess we are are working together)
Color words and color swatches (I have the word blue... do you have a blue card?)
Cut up equations ( I have 5+5 ... I'm looking for someone with the answer 10)
Word and picture cards ( I have the word cat. Who has a picture of a cat?) - Hint use pre-made vocab cards and cut in two. Example
Question and answer cards (Use these to review information)
Word puzzles ( Match the rhymes for example)

What I love about this method:

1) It is random but also controllable.

I can hand out the cards any way I like. I can also make sure that two students don't end up together (or do end up together) by mentally keeping track of what cards I gave them.

2) A little learning with your pairs

The cards give my students a chance to do a little reading, math, or vocabulary building while they are looking for a partner.

3) Peer teaching opportunity

As the kids wander around you will hear students tell each other.. that says CAT you need to find someone with a cat picture.  or "I don't think 5+6= 19  because I know 5+5=10  I think the answer is 11"

4) It gives me a use for those cute classroom cutout shapes.

I seem to collect cut out shapes or apples and frogs and leaves. Every year my collection grows but I never had a really great reason for owning them. Now I can write my match-up cards on them. It takes very little time and the kids love them.

The whole process takes about 5 minutes when students get good at it. They get a chance to walk around a little and they don't complain about their partner choices because they know it was "random". Students also know that the person we end up with is our partner until the next time we play partner match. We don't need to pick new partners every time we talk. Once a day or even once a week is enough.

What did I learn at school today? Picking pairs can be as fun and educational as working in pairs. Making match-up cards is quick and easy and is a great way to get students to practice skills while getting paired up. What strategies do you use to match-up partners?