Newsela PRO

Newsela is a collection of articles on current topics of interest to students across content areas. This is a fantastic resource for short, high-interest, nonfiction reading pieces for students at all grade levels. Each article is offered at various Lexile levels so teachers can provide the same content to all students while differentiating for reading ability. The articles have built in assessments aligned with the CCSS for ELA.

Anyone can create a free Newsela account to gain access to the content, but the district has recently purchased a Newsela PRO account for BRES and BRHS teachers and students. The PRO account gives teachers access to a “Binder” that keeps track of classes, assignments, and assessments, giving teachers valuable information that can be used to make curricular and instructional decisions. This video gives an overview of how the Binder works:

Newsela Teacher Binder from Newsela on Vimeo.

Teachers with Newsela PRO accounts can customize writing assignments related to each article. Students and teachers can highlight and annotate text as well. The Newsela Learning and Support section contains quick start guides and video tutorials for using all the built-in Newsela features as well as ideas for using Newsela within your curriculum.

To get started with Newsela, simply create an account and choose the appropriate school. You can log in with your school Google account. For more information about getting started, see Newsela’s Quick Start Guide for Teachers.


Breakout EDU

In our December faculty meeting, teachers at BRHS participated in an activity designed to promote the 4Cs – Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, and Creativity. The game was one of the Breakout EDU challenges, a variation of the room escape games that can be found online and in physical rooms around the world. The Breakout EDU games, however, are designed specifically for schools and are (as of this writing) free.

Breakout EDU Box

Our Breakout EDU box has arrived!

There are two types of breakout games at Breakout EDU. The digital games require nothing more than an internet connected device. (We played the National Park Adventure game at the faculty meeting.)  The other games require a box with actual locks that must be opened. Jo has purchased a kit that includes the box, the locks, and other pieces used to play the games, and we’re eager to see how teachers might use these games in their classes. We’d also like to see teachers create their own curriculum-related games.

If you are interested in trying a breakout game in your classroom, see Jo, Brynne, or me and we’ll help you set it up with the breakout kit and give you the password for the directions.  Consider joining the Breakout EDU Facebook group for more ideas and free games, or make one yourself!

Apple Pencils

Marking up a PDF with an Apple Pencil

Marking up a PDF

We’ve recently purchased three Apple Pencils for teachers and students to use with the iPad Pros. (Note that Apple Pencils work only with iPad Pros, not with the iPad Airs that have been issued to freshmen and sophomores.) The Apple Pencil is a high-end stylus that looks and feels like a pencil. It’s a great tool for drawing or handwriting. I’ve used one to mark up PDFs on my iPad when I want to easily circle text, make arrows, and write in the margins. It also works well with apps  with handwriting recognition features, turning your handwritten notes into typed text. To learn more about the Apple Pencil, read this description from Apple.

The pencils are currently available for use only within the library because they are expensive and difficult to track if lost. Students can come to the library with their iPads, check out a pencil, sit at a table to use it, and return it before leaving. If you plan to send a student to use one, please let Jo know in advance so she can charge it.

If you’re not sure how you or your students might use an Apple Pencil, here are some ideas:

  • Use Art Studio for drawing. Some people like to draw within the app. Others draw on paper, scan the drawing and color it in Art Studio.
  • Try the uMake app for 3D drawing.
  • Use Notability to create visual notes. For more information about visual notetaking, read this article.
  • Use Explain Everything (or a whiteboard app) to create a video tutorial. This would work well for showing how to solve math problems or for pointing out details in images or text.
  • Try using the free Nebo app for handwriting recognition.



Scanning Text

We’ve recently purchased a program called Readiris to use with our scanners and the new photocopiers. Readiris is OCR software (Optical Character Recognition) that will recognize text in a scanned document and convert it so it can be searched, edited, and read aloud by a computer.  We bought three licenses so we can have one installation at the high school, one at the elementary school, and one in Edgecomb. The high school copy is installed on the iMac in my office, and we encourage you to stop by and try it.

If you are not familiar with OCR software, you may be wondering why you would ever need to use it. These programs are used primarily to make text accessible to people who have print disabilities such as low vision, learning disabilities like dyslexia, or  physical disabilities that make holding a book or turning pages difficult. Digitizing text allows us to take advantage of computer features like text-to-speech that can support struggling readers. In fact, some of our students have IEPs that include the use of text-to-speech as an accommodation, but many other students can also benefit from listening to a selection as well as reading it.  Digitizing text also makes it editable and searchable. This can come in handy if you only have a print copy of the original.

If you or  your students need to scan a document and make it editable, here are the procedures you might follow. (These procedures are for the high school. The procedure in the elementary school and Edgecomb will depend on where your scanners are located and where the Readiris software is installed.)

Procedure 1

  1. Scan the document to your iPad using the ScanSnap scanner in the library and the ScanSnap app. (Learn more about it here.) You will see it as a PDF in the document list in the ScanSnap app.
  2. Airdrop the PDF from your iPad to the iMac in my office where Readiris is installed.
  3. Open Readiris and click on the File icon. Browse to the PDF that you airdropped to open it in Readiris.
  4. Choose the format you want to convert to.
    1. PDF will make a document that you can open in Preview on your MacBook Air or in several apps on your iPad where it can be searched and read aloud.
    2. DOCx will create a Word document that can be edited.
    3. ePub will create a document that can be opened in iBooks.
    4. Choosing the speaker icon will create an audio file (AIFF) of a computer voice reading the text. It can be opened in iTunes for listening.
    5. If none of these formats work for you, ask a member of the tech team to help you.
  5. Click the play button to convert the file. Give it a new name and save it to the desktop.
  6. Airdrop the converted file back to your iPad or to your MacBook Air.

Procedure 2

  1. Scan the document (or pages from a book) on one of the new copiers. Choose the account we have made specifically for scanning, You should see it as one of the choices on the copier.
  2. Go to the iMac in my office and open the Mail program. Find the message from the copier that has your scanned document attached. Save the document to the desktop.
  3. Open Readiris and follow steps 3-6 above.
  4. If you prefer, you can scan your document on the copier and save it on a USB drive. Ask me or Brynne to show you how.

As always, feel free to ask us for help or for a demonstration. When you’ve done it a few times, you will find that the procedures are quick and easy and the results are worth the effort.

Equipment for Your Audio or Video Projects

We have some new (and some repurposed old) equipment in the high school library and in my office that you might want to borrow for classroom use. If you or your students plan to do some audio or video recording or editing in your classroom, here are some devices and accessories that might help you.

This year we replaced all the junior and senior iPad 2s with new iPads from MLTI. We’ve kept some of the old iPads because they work really well as dedicated recording devices for still images, audio, and video. We’ve stripped them of all but the essential apps to free up storage space, and we leave them in airplane mode so they hold a charge for a long time.

iOgrapher iPad Case

We’ve purchased two iOgrapher cases that have large handles for holding the iPad steady while photographing or videoing. They also can be attached to one of our tripods for hands-free videography. We recently used one of these cases on a tripod with an old iPad 2 and the iMotion app to create a time-lapse video that showed some of the processes we use to make canoe paddles in the Making and Marketing class. The video below shows the process for making the carbon fiber blades for the paddles.

iPad Stand

We also have Dewey stands for the iPads that can be used as table stands for photo and video projects or allow you to use an iPad as a document camera. All stands can be used for iPad 2s or MLTI student iPads, and two of our stands can be adjusted to work with an iPad Mini. If you are using an iPad 2 and would like to zoom in close on a document or object, borrow one of our zoom lenses.

snowballIf you or your students are interested in audio recording, check out our new snowball mic. This mic comes with a small tripod stand and a USB cable to connect to your laptop or a desktop computer or use one of our adapters to connect a snowball mic to an iPad.

We’ve  recently purchased a new iMac to be used as a video or audio editing station. If you or your students would like to use iMovie or Garageband with a large screen, you are welcome to work on the iMac in my office.

iPad Supports for Struggling Readers and Writers

October is National Dyslexia Awareness Month and an excellent time to consider how our iPads can help students with dyslexia and other learning differences to access and create print content. If you are not familiar with dyslexia and the challenges some of our students struggle with daily, watch this video from MaineCITE.

The video above mentions AIM (Accessible Instructional Materials) available from Bookshare and Learning Ally that have proven helpful to dyslexic students. These programs help students by removing barriers to text and giving them access to the content they need to succeed in their classes.

Our iPads have some features that also can help students who struggle with text. One of these features is text-to-speech. The video below demonstrates how to enable “Speak Selection” on the iPad and how to use it to have text read by a built-in digital voice. This feature will help students read text from websites, e-books, and other digital documents. It also works well as an editing tool when you use it to read back text you have typed.

Students who struggle with reading often struggle with writing. The dictation feature on the iPad works as a speech-to-text tool by allowing students to say the words they want to write and transforming the words to digital text. (Note: this feature is not available on our iPad 2s.) The video below demonstrates how to use the dictation feature.

All teachers should be aware of the iPad’s text-to-speech and speech-to-text capabilities and know how to enable and use these features. Not only are these features helpful for struggling students, but they are useful for anyone who occasionally wants to hear text read aloud or try hands-free typing.

StoryCorps and the Great Thanksgiving Listen

StoryCorps is an organization dedicated to collecting, storing, and sharing people’s stories. For several years, they have been recording family members talking to each other and sharing family history. The recordings are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress for the benefit of future generations. You may have heard some of the StoryCorps interviews on NPR or seen animated versions of them on YouTube. This video is a good introduction to StoryCorps.

StoryCorps is sponsoring a project for high school students that invites them to record some family conversations. The Great Thanksgiving Listen is an opportunity for students to listen to and talk with family members during the Thanksgiving holiday and capture those conversations. Students can use the StoryCorps app to record the conversations and upload them to the American Folklife Center.

To get started, download the Teacher Toolkit.