Summer Browsing

Summer for teachers is half over and though we probably want to relish these dog days a few weeks more, many of us can’t help but look toward the fall and start to prepare. In the hustle and bustle of the school year I often bookmark sites I come across that may be useful, but that I don’t have the time to explore and decide if they actually are. Well, that’s what summer is for.

I have written elsewhere about tools a substitute teacher can use. These sites will adhere to three basic guidelines that I use to determine if a resource will benefit me as a substitute teacher; it can be accessed anywhere, it has a broad range of coverage, and it is free.

The first is LearnZillion. This is a curriculum development community that provides teachers with lessons and support, particularly in Math and English Language Arts. The strength of LearnZillion is in its videos. It has hundreds of 3-10 minute videos on a plethora of topics. So, say you get into a class and they are comparing improper fractions. You know how, of course, but you are a little rusty, summer and all. So you use the search bar and come up with a huge variety of videos illustrating improper fractions, which can be further refined by grade, type, source, and standard (for teachers from the US).

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I have written about Khan Academy before, and this site shares some of the benefits of that site. Where this site differs is in the images that it uses to explain topics. Khan deals in numbers, words, and ideas. They do it well with that format, but LearnZillion uses pictures, images, and animations to engage the learner. That small difference is something I appreciate in the primary/elementary classes I usually find myself in. Accessible anywhere: Check. Broad range: Check. Free: Check.

Next is the International Children’s Digital Library. This amazing resource has books from all over the world that you can read to your class. The interface is a little old-school, but there are incredible search settings, such as cover color, for that book that you saw but can’t remember the name of. But you can also search by characters, intended age group, book length, and fiction/non-fiction. They even have collections dedicated to certain themes, such as Celebrating Differences and Strong Women and Girls Make the World Go Round. Another great feature is that if the book has been translated, you can switch between the various languages.

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I see this as an amazing tool for ESL and French classes that I teach. Plus, you can sign up for free and build your own bookshelf, populating it with books that you know to be good for a particular topic or lesson. Accessible anywhere: Check. Broad range: Check. Free: Check.

The last site I will mention is Common Sense Media. They have great resources for teachers and parents, such as movie and app ratings. However, the strength for educators is the straightforward, detailed lessons on various topics as they apply to the modern, technologically integrated world. The three broad areas are Digital Citizenship, News and Media Literacy, and Social & Emotional Learning.

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Digital Citizenship sub-section, “Information Literacy”

We all know that the material for teaching about “Digital” topics goes out of date fast and is often either out of touch with the students or tries to pander to them in a way that is insulting to their intelligence. Common Sense lesson plans seem to strike a balance between being relevant and up to date but also developing general ideas that are more timeless and applicable across a broad range of situations.  

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The lesson plans are laid out in clear sections so that they can be adapted to your class and teaching situation. There are often links to other resources that can enrich the lesson, and handouts, graphic organizers, and assessments are prepared for you. Crucially, the lessons often require students to visit real sites to explore the topic they are studying. For example, they go to their favorite site and find the privacy policy, or see what information the site asks for to allow you to use it. Accessible anywhere: Check. Broad range: Check. Free: Check.

I hope these three resources can help you as you are planning for the new school year. If you have any sites that you find useful, please comment so that we can all check them out.

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