Bev's adventures in ICT

It’s Your Letters

I wasn’t going to blog today. Honestly, I wasn’t. But then I thought, following on from yesterday’s post, I’d make some letter cards to share with everyone (and you can download them here). What struck me while making these was 1. – how difficult it was to find letters that were not watermarked or copyright protected and 2. how few lowercase letters were actually available. I had the most success looking at craft and home furnishing sites and I ended up creating some of the letters by using word art and filling them with unusual textures.

With this in mind I had a bit of a brainwave. Why not send children out and about (around school or possibly when you’re offsite) with a wordlist, plus a camera or mobile device, and let them find the letters required and take photos of them. You would have your own bespoke set of funky letters to use. It would be a really hands on way to support spelling and I’m sure the results would look great on a display.

 

Fun with Words

I thought over the next few blog posts I’d revisit a few old ideas that maybe some of you hadn’t seen before and I’m going to start with a few fun activities linked to words and spelling. Some of these activities would be simple to implement in the classroom and some take a little more time and effort but all of them would be useful to use in a literacy session. I’m also going to add some links to useful web activities you may not have seen before – hopefully there’ll be something for everyone.  And we’ll start with the picture above. This was created just by collecting lots of different styles of lettering from the internet – there’s plenty of it around and you could print out a whole load of different letters onto card (or use them digitally) to put a bit more pizazz into your letter cards. Let’s face it – they look a little bit more appealing than a set of plain cards with Sassoon Infant or Comic Sans letters on them. Of course their jazzy nature isn’t going to suit everyone (it’s possibly not the best idea for pupils with dyslexia) but it does look rather nice (might look good on displays too).  A similar idea can be found online at Iconscrabble: a simple but effective website that might appeal to older pupils.

Now one of the first ideas I ever posted on this blog was about creating pictures using the letters of what you wanted the picture to be of. It was inspired by the website Bembo’s Zoo and I focused on animals because I was trying it out with one of my grandchildren. I still think it’s a fabulous idea that could be used with pupils of all ages: the designs could be as simple or as complex as you wanted. If you want to make the images more interesting download a few cool fonts – there are plenty of free, funky ones available on the internet.

There’s lots of fun to be had with onomatopoeia, calligrams and mnemonics and it might be nice, particularly if you pupils are keeping spelling journals to help them remember words they have difficulty with, to let pupils make their own. Onomatopoeia pictures can easily be made digitally using clip art, or computer generated, art plus text and are especially useful if they are personal as this will help the child remember them. Calligrams, or tactile words as I’ve also heard them described, can be made really easily: you can either use a range of decorative fonts to help support the word meaning, as seen here, or try out the method explained here. I’m sure the children will enjoy it. When it comes to mnemonics I always think these work far better when they’re personal to the child, and they always come up with great ones. Once they’ve come up with their mnemonic they could try and illustrate it in the same way as with onomatopoeia: using clip art or computer generated graphics. After all – why not?

Pivot stick figure is another great tool to have at your disposal when having word fun as it includes all the letters in the alphabet so you can create words. If you click the above link you’ll see what I mean. Download the software and have a go yourself or, better still, ask the children to make some. They don’t have to be as colourful as the example above but it might be nice to load a background with some colour on it, especially if the animations are going to be used by pupils with dyslexia. If you’re feeling really creative you might like to make some more elaborate animations or videos for younger children, like the one below. Not really a spelling activity or anything to do with phonics: just something for when you’re possibly focussing on words starting or ending with a particular letter or sound. The video was created using the PowerPoint animation technique I talked about here. In fact, if you’ve got very young pupils you might also like to check out some of the word games available via Literactive’s Road to Reading section: it’s free to register and you can let them know you’re based in the UK (it will make a difference to certain things). Yes the website has an American voiceover but there are a number of fun activities to keep pupils occupied and I know a number of children (including some with PMLD) who absolutely adore the site.

 There a few more literacy based activities you might like to try here and, for a few ideas regarding spelling activities available online, take a look at this. I hope you’ve found something useful in today’s little bunch of ideas. As Barry Gibb so eloquently put it (or not): it’s only words…

World in Cartoon Motion

Comic strips and animated cartoons have been around a long time. Everyone I know has, at some time in their life, bought a comic book or read a comic strip; be it a small 3 frame strip in their daily paper or a large graphic novel. The great thing about comics is their accessibility. the pictures tell the story. Written text is often kept at a minimum and often a single word is all you need to portray a ‘sound’ or a mood: and that’s great when you’ve got some reluctant writers. Cartoons are another item that have something for everyone: from simple cartoons for the very young up to more sophisticated Manga or full length features. During our lifetimes most of us will have sat and watched Scooby Doo, or something a little more edgy, and thought it would be fun to have a go. Unfortunately not all of us are artistically blessed but you just don’t have to be!  With that in mind I thought it was worth sharing a few online or downloadable comic strip or animation creators that could be useful in a classroom setting.

Comic Strip Creators

  1. Make Beliefs Comix: This site was one of the first comic strip creators I used with pupils, quite a few years ago. I like it because it’s really simply presented and the children could work out how to use it really quickly. There are a selection of characters included (new ones have been added) but,  and this is a disappointment if you want to create an epic, you can only create four panels at a time. The site doesn’t have a save facility (a bit of a downside) although you can send a copy to your email address. I used to get children to hit the Print Screen key and paste it into PowerPoint (so they could crop it and add more if they wanted to) – a small step that children pick up quickly and are quite happy to do in order to preserve their work. Obviously, comic strips don’t have to be in English, so why not use them to support work in other languages?
  2. Bitstrips: I have never used Bitstrips but thought I’d include it here as some of you might find it useful. You seem to be able to have a go without registering if you want to try it out (although that appears to be free). Like Make Beliefs Comix,  it includes a selection of characters (and a separate activity where you can design your own) and looks to work in the same way. You are able to save your creations although I think this is to an online gallery – you might be better off using Print Screen! There is a Bitstrips for Schools option, which offers additional ideas support and features, but this service is not free.
  3. Super Hero Squad: I can easily see this site appealing to children as it includes recognisable characters from Marvel comics and is very bright and eye catching. On the negative side, the emphasis on the Marvel universe could limit the usability and flexibility of it within the classroom but it still a useful thing to have access to. It allows users to create small comic strips (with 1-4 panels) or a longer comic book story and does include lots of nice features, including a selection of fonts, and artwork. Completed work can be printed or downloaded to your own computer in pdf format.
  4. Lego Comics: Similar to the Marvel website in options and settings, this Lego style comic creator  is worth a look. It’s not one of my favourites as I think it is too heavily weighted towards boys character wise (girls like Lego too!!!!!) but it’s still worth checking out.
  5. Comic Life: Not an online creator or a free download but still the most complete comic strip creating tool for schools. Comic Life allows you to use your own photos and has a whole load of layouts and options available. It’s available for Windows and Macs and there’s even an app for your ipad. To get truly inspired check out some examples from Porchester Junior School in Nottingham.
  6. Stage’d: Another one I haven’t tried out properly but thought was worth including, Stage’d combines comic strip creation with animation. To try it out you need to install the Unity Web player to get it running online but once it is running you’ll that you have two choices of character: one called TS and another called Robot (they look like little wooden men). Once you’ve got started there is a little question mark in the bottom right of the screen – click this and up pop a selection of handy hints to get you started. the panel on the left shows you a selection of options for ‘dressing up’ the characters and allows you to select their actions. This tool is probably best for pupils in UKS2 and beyond – have a go and see what you think. Now time to look at…
Tools for Animation
  1. Domo Animate: Domo might not be to everyone’s taste but it’s a cool little thing from the people at Go animate (another one you might like to look at). Simple characters, lots of options, free to register (once you’ve registered content can be saved) and pupils I’ve shown it too have absolutely loved it. I’m pleased to see they’ve got rid of the word ‘fart’ in the sound effects section as this had the potential to send some children into fits of giggles!
  2. Shidonni: Simple, Foundation Phase/KS1 friendly website. Needs Microsoft Silverlight to run properly. Children design and draw a little character and bring it to life. The hand drawn quality makes it a little different to other animation websites and it certainly is cute. I can see this appealing to girls more than some of the other websites listed here but boys would have fun with it too.
  3. Zimmer Twins: Another animation creator that looks appealing and is free to register. I haven’t used this in school but have shown pupils in UKS2 what it can do and they’ve gone home and tried it out for themselves. There’s a great video showing how to create you movies included and the set up is quite similar in look and feel to Domo Animate.  There are lots of completed movies to look at, including this one on Cyberbullying. I like the way that you can rate completed animations and make comments and there is a teacher area if you are interested in using it within the classroom.
  4. DoInk: I’m not entirely convinced about this site as some of the recently created videos you can access are not suitable for sharing in school. It also needs a little more artistic flair and mouse control than the others featured here so might not be accessible or suitable for everyone. that said, some of the animations are beautiful to look at and I’m sure, with time and patience, good results could be achieved.
  5. Kerpoof: Make a Movie: Another activity available via the Kerpoof site: this has similar themes to the story creating activity shared yesterday. Each theme includes a selection of backgrounds and animated characters along side other options like your own doodles, text etc. Items have to be dragged onto a timeline to animate the movie, making it a little tricky for younger pupils, and there is no guidance included – you would have to have a go before sharing it with any students. Some of the characters included in the menus have to be bought in the Kerpoof store and this is not made clear until you choose them! I’m sure some pupils would find that frustrating! You might still like to give it a go though (or, as I did with Zimmer Twins – mention the site to pupils so they can show their parents and use it at home).
Obviously this list is incomplete. There are lots of other activities available online, or to download, so I thought it best to focus on those I have used or already knew about. Considering the animation element; there is plenty of information available regarding animation software that can be used in school (Scratch, Pivot Stick Figure, Anithings to name but a few) and I have previously blogged about creating stop motion animation and using mobile apps.  If you would prefer to use something you already have available in school, like PowerPoint, you could look at some of the activities I’ve created here. Just remember: animations and comic strips can be used across the curriculum in all kinds of ways. And, what’s more, children seem to love them.

I Wanna Tell You a Story…

There are a whole host of online tools, downloads and websites around that are really useful when you want children to get creative with their story writing. Some are very simple and others are absolutely astounding but, as the spotlight seems to always be one the literacy (and numeracy) skills of pupils I thought it was about time I shared a whole bunch of them on here. Many of them you may have come across or used before but I’m hoping there might be a few tools here that you can use in your classroom to inspire both you and your pupils. So, here we go…

Getting Inspired…

  1. We Tell Stories: A site well worth mentioning if you haven’t come across it before; We Tell Stories includes six different stories told in six different ways. Each has something to offer, depending on the age of your pupils, but the one I really like for primary school use is the Fairy Tales one. The child needs to make a number of choices to complete the story and, if they don’t agree with how the story turns out, can write their own epilogue at the end. Every class I have shared this with has loved it – including the boys, which you wouldn’t necessarily expect given the genre.
  2. Lightning Bug: This is an Australian website, full of  ideas to help with the story writing process. It includes a Teacher Resource section and numerous links to useful online content; including author sites and things like a plot bank.
  3. The Story Starter: This is very simple – it does exactly what you think it would do. You click a link and it generates a sentence to get your story started. Could work in conjunction with a story mountain or a ‘BME’ story plan structure. There is also a version available for younger children but be warned – some of the sentences (on both versions) are not what I would choose to use!

Creating Story Books Online

  1. Zooburst: Zooburst is a really unusual 3D Story book creator that I’m sure pupils will find really cool and (hopefully) inspiring. The 3D pop-up really brings a story to life and gives this site an extra something when compared to other book creating sites. You can rotate around the book in 3D, add your voice to the characters and use a webcam to introduce a bit of augmented reality. You can register on the site for free and there are a number of stories in the gallery you can check out before you get started. I would suggest you have a few goes yourself with it before unleashing it on a class but it certainly has the ‘wow’ factor and could get a few of your reluctant writers interested .
  2. Storybird: If you haven’t checked out Storybird before you need to visit it sometime soon. Again, it’s free to register and they have accounts specifically for classes. What sets Storybird apart from some other sites is the inclusion of beautiful and breathtaking original art – enough to inspire pupils to create wonderful things.  Whatever their age or level, students (well – everyone really) can create something that looks beautiful and can easily be shared with others. Check out the About Us section of the website and get inspired
  3. ArtisanCam Picture Book Maker: This picture book maker is a very simple online book creator that is both unique and beautiful. There are not many options here but the artwork is homely and childlike and it could be useful with younger children.
  4. E2BN Myths and Legends: Free and cool to use, the Storymaker tool available here has loads of options (recorded speech, added sound effects etc.) and you can register for a whole school account. Completed stories can be downloaded and can be short and sweet or far reaching epics. I think the style of clip art included here would really appeal to the boys but girls would enjoy it too.
  5. British Council Storymaker: A fabulous little tool that could be used to inspire older  pupils with SEN or used with younger pupils. It is not quite the same as the other activities listed here but deserved inclusion nonetheless.  This is an activity that guides you through the story writing process by giving you choices, starting with the three different types of story you could write (fairy, horror or science fiction). It’s simple but effective.
  6. Picture a Story: This activity might look a little twee, with it’s old fashioned styling, but it still allows pupils to use the items at their disposal (backgrounds, characters, props) to create a story. Stories can be written or recorded using a microphone (making it suitable for inclusion purposes in a class of pupils with differing abilities) and can then be shared with others via email.
  7. Little Bird Tales: This site is fairly new and was brought to my attention by the fabulous Tim Rylands. All I can say is it looks fabulous and is worth finding out about – check out Tim’s blog for more information (as there’s no point me repeating it!)!
  8. Kerpoof Storybook: Beautifully presented and appealing story creating activity with six themes of story included. Similar to the Myths and Legends site, but a little more modern in appearance, I like this one for a few reasons. Firstly, you can fill the pages with a background colour if you want to, possibly making it a suitable tool for pupils with dyslexia. Secondly, it has really been designed with children in mind and is pretty intuitive to use. You can easily change the size of your font and there are three fonts included. Story characters are included in a range of positions, there are loads of backgrounds and it also has speech bubbles you can add. To access the site fully, so you can save work, you have to register (again – it’s free) and there are lots of other great activities available via the site.
I hope you find something that will inspire your learners in that group of tools. Tomorrow I’m going to share a whole load of online animation tools and comic book creators! There will be something for everyone!

 

World in Union

Well, the 2011 rugby World Cup has started and I, for one, am pretty excited about it. Maybe it’s because I’m Welsh but I’m pretty sure others feel the same so I thought I’d share some resources and ideas you could use with your class. And I’m going to start with those super people at Purple Mash who are yet again ‘on the ball’ (excuse the pun) when it comes to current and relevant content to use in the classroom. There are a few resources to choose from here, including a great template for writing a match report , and all of the activities include fantastic themed clip art in addition to word banks or writing prompts. There are also other resources that would fit into this theme. There’s a Welsh Celebrity Profile writing frame which includes rugby themed clip art (great for writing about Shane Williams or your favourite Welsh player) and a Sports Star Profile (no rugby themed clip art but you could use the drawing tools). There’s a writing frame for describing the rules of a sport (rugby clip art included) and, if you visit the creative tools section, there are some useful writing frame templates available via 2Publish and 2PublishExtra. Make a rugby themed word wheel! Or a poster! Or a leaflet about one of the counties involved! Loads of lovely possibilities all in one handy online space. You could even use 2Investigate to create a graph about the top players. If you’ve not used PurpleMash before and would like to know more then get in touch with the bods at 2Simple or send them a message online (via Facebook or Twitter).

Of course the statistical information involved in any sporting event makes it obvious to link this topic to Maths and there are lots of possibilities. There is plenty of statistical information available on the official site but it might be nice to follow the event and come up with activities of your own. During the last Rugby World Cup a friend of mine used the pools as a sort of mini competition between the groups in his class. 4 pools – 4 groups. Pupils were in charge of keeping a note of all the scores recorded by teams in their pool and using little numbered rugby balls to keep their total updated every day. A bit of a competition with a smattering of basic number skills and place value thrown in – the winner being the table with the most points scored. There are also plenty of investigations that could be done based on the rugby field itself: area, perimeter, measuring etc. and a bit of fun to be had with angles (linked to goal kicking). There are also fantastic opportunities to link the topic to DT/Art (flag, kit or mascot design, build a stadium), Science (investigations of fabrics used in sports kits, forces), Geography (pick any of the countries involved) – you name it!

So what about activities linked to ICT? Well, in addition to the great stuff available via Purple Mash it would also be worth searching through resources available via TES Connect (there is bound to be something useful) and seeing what the teaching resource section on the official site has to offer. You could get pupils to make adverts, publicising the games ,using Windows Movie Maker, Photo Story or iMovie or use Pivot Stick Figure to make some rugby themed animations  I’ve put together made an ICT challenge pack aimed at KS2 (but you could adapt the idea) if you want to have a go. I’ve also added a selection of clip art to my posterous blog (it’s already included in the challenge pack) if you felt like creating top trump cards or something similar – in fact, why not get the children to do it. That’s far much more fun!

 

Old favourites revisited.

I spent a bit of time this morning going through long and forgotten folders on my computer (sad, I know, but a bit of housekeeping was in order) and came across a few things I remember downloading long ago when working with pupils with Special Educational Needs. Some of them are quite old and some of them may still be available online but I thought someone, somewhere might find them helpful so…here we go.

The first thing I came across this morning was a game/activity simply called Road. I remember downloading it so it could be used as a free time activity by a child who loved trains. I have a feeling I found it though SENTeacher.org but can’t see it listed there today so I’ve placed a link to a zip folder here. With a little investigating I’ve found a similar, more modern equivalent on HelpKidzLearn but this doesn’t have the same flexibility or options as Road which still seems to run okay on my newer system(although the one on HelpKidzLearn is switch accessible). It does look dated but might still be fun for the child who loves to play with trains and roadways. Another free time activity I came across and downloaded (possibly for the same child) was John’s Funny Face game: pointless fun for those with a few minutes spare.

Another couple of great downloads I remember finding via SENTeacher.org were called Tunes and Chimes: simple musical activities that worked brilliantly on a touch screen. In this day and age of apps and interactive content they are looking a little tired and dated but still might be fun to try out. Chimes is very simple and I first used it just to get a particular child engaged in touching the screen but Tunes is quite funky in its own way and might be a nice alternative to some of the newer interactive music things about (such as Incredibox), especially for younger pupils. It’s worth mentioning at this point that many of the downloads I found via SENTEacher.org are still there (some newer and updated) and could be useful in any classroom setting: not just one set up for pupils who need that little bit extra. A few of the mathematics downloads are particularly useful and it’s definitely not just a website for practitioners and facilitators working within the Special Needs sector! Another great place with free general classroom downloads is the Primary Resources online activities section. The activities run online but are also downloadable and there are some really useful things there, including an activity for ordering numbers that I have flagged up to many people over the years.

Returning to Special Needs, I came across a few downloads this morning to support the use of sign language in the classroom.  These came from ET Resources and are still available (Windows platform only). The downloads can be run in a demo mode (without purchasing an activation code) and include a range of simple signs that have a picture prompt and supporting text alongside the sign. You can search through the signs available and click on one to view. A small flashcard then pops up in the bottom right of your computer screen. The sets don’t include endless numbers of signs but it is a good way of checking a sign you’re not sure of or picking up a new one. The signs would be particularly useful when supporting a signing child in a mainstream setting – especially for those who were not confident in their signing as it is always good to have back up.

I have to say I came across endless downloads to support literacy when sorting things out today but, unfortunately, many of them will not run on anything newer than Windows XP. I have fond memories of using RnR spelling ( Look, Cover, Write and Check activity where you could add your own lists) with lots of children but it just doesn’t work on newer computers (although I’ve still got it if anyone does is still running XP and would like it!). There are similar things available to use online, they just don’t give you the same amount of control (although they are excellent). My pick would be the Doorway Speller but there are also versions from Ambleside Primary and ICT Games (among others). I also had a huge collection literacy of resources from Grey Olltwit – the site still going but has different activities and it would seem you know have to register – that no longer work but most of those activities (missing letter, hangman) would be available elsewhere on the web I am sure. You might wonder, with all this talk of literacy, why there is a picture of a calculator above this section. It’s just because I was going to mention it. I downloaded a stand alone version of it a long time ago and it’s still available online via Crickweb – a site with loads of great activities for different areas of the curriculum (and it also includes links to other worthwhile sites). And for those of you who don’t want a Big Blue Calculator; here’s a big red one – just in case.

There’s been a lot of chat on Twitter recently about Digital Leaders: pupils who can carry out a range of simple ICT based ‘jobs’ within school settings. It is an absolutely fabulous idea and there’s a great blog post about it, by Ian Addison, here if you want to find out more. Lots of schools have mini task forces for all sorts of little jobs ( School Council, recycling group, e-safety group – need  I go on?) so why not have a group of pupils doing little tech based things that will save the  a bit of precious teacher time.

Thing is, lots of school groups end up having little badges to wear out and about in the school corridors and I thought it might be nice to have something suitable and adaptable for the Digital Leaders. With that in mind I’ve created some editable badge templates, in Word and Publisher format that some of you might find useful. I’ve placed clip art images of children on them at the moment but these can easily be replaced by photos or other avatars. The borders could be changed to reflect school colours and I’ve used the much maligned Comic Sans font as I thought it was one most schools would have readily installed.  Why don’t you download them and start developing a Digital Leaders culture in your school – you know it makes sense.