Toolkit #2 – TTS Apps

The three ATL tools I have chosen to evaluate are all text-to-speech (TTS) apps available on iPads, iPods and iPhones. There are a lot of great software and applications for TTS that cost a lot of money but I have specifically chosen apps that are either free to download or have a low cost to download. These apps could be useful for not only students who struggle with reading and comprehension but can benefit students in a classroom that utilizes the principles of Universal Design for Learning theory.

I am keenly aware that these three apps have similar limitations. They all have some degree of robotic voices and mispronunciation of words. As well, because these are less expensive TTS options, there are fewer features and voice choices than in more expensive ones. Using TTS applications is something that students need to work with and practice using before they can gain familiarly with how to use the apps. By offering students and teachers inexpensive options, students may be able to purchase these apps on their own devices and use TTS to help them when reading information on the internet, grasping the meaning of a book or understanding an article.

Please see my Toolkit #1 – Text-To-Speech posting below for more information on text-to-speech and how to use it in the classroom.

Blio Capture 3

(iTunes Preview, n.d.a.)

How You can Access This Resources

Blio is available for download from the iTunes stores. It is a free app but there are costs for purchasing books. Books range in prices.

See iTunes page:

See Blio homepage:

Summary of the Resource

Blio is a website and app for devices that allows users to purchase and download ebooks. The Blio websites boasts that “Blio is a feature-rich eReading application that allows you to go beyond the written word. Experience books through the eyes of the author, with crystal clear sound and images that come alive in brilliant color” (KNFB, 2011, para 1). There are a number of different books that support the use of text-to-speech. Users can purchase different voices (as an in-app purchase) and have the books read to them.

(jans0071, 2010)

(Blio Support, 2013)                           Watch at 48 sec.

Reasons for Selecting this Resource

While this app provides different applications when reading, I choose this app because it allows for certain books to be read aloud, using the text-to-feature. There is also a voiceover feature for certain books as well. The app is fairly easy to use and before downloading a book, the app will let you know if you can read it using the voiceover option (which is free) or the TTS option (which you have to purchase). The app, I have found, allows the reader to have a different experience and supports those readers who may have a difficult time decoding words or comprehending what they have read, by reading the text to them. I have focused on the iPad app but you can also access Blio from a computer and listen to book being read, using TTS, on a computer.

Critique of the Resource

One of the major critiques of this app is that although the app is free to download there are other costs associated with this app. Not all books have the ability to use the voice over feature so you have to purchase the text-to-speech voice before you are able to use that option. Each voice costs $9.99 so if you want to try out different voices, the cost can really add up. Having listened to a preview of the voice choices there are a few voices that are very inhuman sounding so this limits the amount of choices that students will listen to. As well although there are some free books to download, they are not current popular books. It will cost money to purchase newer books and the books range in price.

Decisions and Supports That Would Need to be in Place

Usual decisions about technology purchases and usage will need to be considered. How will students access Blio? Will it be on school technology or their own devices? Another consideration is the amount of money that will be given to purchase books that students would be interested in reading. Will the school pay for books or is it up to individual students? Schools should be mindful of the intended use of the books, is a classroom assigned book or for personal usage. Schools will also need to think about the number of voices they will purchase and how students might react to those voices. They may need to test out the voices on and which ones are easier to listen to and understand.

Speak it!


(iTunes Preview, n.d.b.)

How You can Access This Resources

Speak it! is a text-to-speech app available for purchase from the iTunes stores. It cost $1.99 to buy.

See iTunes page:!-text-to-speech/id308629295?mt=8

Summary of the Resource

Speak it! converts text to speech and gives users a wide range of voice to choose from.

According to iTunes the Speak it! app allows users to “Copy emails, documents, web pages, PDF files, and more; paste them into Speak it!, and have the text spoken back to you with the highest quality text to speech engine available anywhere. You can even create the same quality audio files of the text to speech” (iTunes Preview, n.d.a., para. 2). The Speak it! app will read any style of text pasted into the app.

(Loh, 2011)

Reasons for Selecting this Resource

This app provides good quality for the price. There are a number of different documents it can read, emails, websites, ebooks (pdf and word doc) and the quality of the voices is one of the better ones on the market. I also liked the fact that you can change the size of the font and the app highlights the words as they are being read. Another feature of this app is that you can close the app without stopping the reading so you can work with other apps, while continuing to listen to something being read in the background.  Also while not a feature of TTS, you can save the output in an audio file and then you are able to email that file.

Critique of the Resource

Although this app is inexpensive, the purchase price of $1.99 is only a starting point. The initial purchase gives you four voices – two male and female voices of American and British accents. If you want different English accents or languages they are available to purchase from the app. Each new voice cost $0.99.

I found that this app requires the user to do a lot of copying and pasting from different sources into the app. This can be time consuming and frustrating for some people. If you have a lot of text to read from multiple sources it can slow down the process if you have to continuously copy and paste into the app.

Decisions and Supports That Would Need to be in Place

Since this an iPad app, decisions about purchasing and implementation of iPads is something schools will need to consider. With this app, students will need to be taught how to copy and paste information into the app and how to use the settings to slow down or speed up the speech. Schools will also have to decide about the purchasing of new voices and whether the school will purchase the app or have students downloaded onto their individual devices.

Web Reader HD – Text to Speech

Capture 2                                                                                        (iTunes Preview, n.d.c.)

How You can Access This Resources

Web Reader is available in an iPhone app and iPad app.

See iTunes page:

iPhone app – $1.99

iPad app – $4.99

Summary of the Resource

Web Reader is an app for both the iPad and iPhone that reads web pages to the user. Users can copy web address or open the app from Safari to change the webpage from text to speech. The iTunes Preview site for Web Reader HD states the app has the following features:

  • Fast – Web Reader starts reading quickly and can read long and large web page content without breaks.
  • Reads PDF.
  • Special Google Reader Support – When expanding articles in Google Reader, just hit the play button to read the expanded article.
  • Read Locally Synced Filed – When using apps that sync files locally to your device, like DropBox, you can now open those files in Web Reader and have them read to you. File formats supported are: HTML, Text, RTF, Microsoft Word.
  • Remote Control Support – Using the devices headset or BlueTooth device, Web Reader can now be paused from those device remote controls.
  • Continues Reading When Backgrounded. Web Reader will continue to read while you use other apps.
  • Highlight While Reading – Highlight the paragraphs and auto scroll the web page to show you what’s being read.
  • Launch from Safari. (iTunes Preview, n.d.b.)

(ChauvinApps, 2009)

Reasons for Selecting this Resource

The reason I choose the Web Reader as a resources was because of its ability to read web pages. You are able to paste a web address in the app and you are then able to navigate the web page while in the app. As well, you can start and stop reading where you want on the page. I liked the fact that you can access your files from Dropbox and have those files read to you. Another benefit of this app is that is runs in the background so you can listen to something being read while you are able to work on something else. This app is good quality for the price you pay for it.

Critique of the Resource

There some issues that I have come across when using this app. I have noticed that the app on my iPhone will periodically shut down and I then have to restart the app. I have to say that voice choice is limited and I do find the voices to be a bit robotic. Although I appreciated the fact that the app will highlight paragraphs, I wished it highlighted specific words as it read. Finally, I didn’t like that I had to purchase two different apps for my iPad and iPhone, as this increased the price.

Decisions and Supports That Would Need to be in Place

As with any type of technology, students will need to be provided with instruction and practice on how to use the app. This may not be an app that students will use continuously because they may find the voices to be too grating but decisions may be made to encourage learners who may need a little extra support with comprehension to use this app. Students should be given time to get use to the voice and to practice using this app.


Blio Support. (2013, September 17).  Audio and reading view types.

ChauvinApps. (2009, November 14). Web Reader Demo – An iPhone App to Read Web Pages with Text.

iTunes Preview (n.d.a.). Blio.

iTunes Preview (n.d.b.). Speak it! Text to Speech.!-text-to-speech/id308629295?mt=8

iTunes Preview (n.d.c.). Web Reader HD – Text to Speech Page Reader .

jans0071. (2010, July 1). Blio eReader by Toshiba.

KNFB Reading Technology, Inc. (2011). Books come to life. In Blio.

Loh, W. (2011, June 11). Speak it! iPhone App Review: Transform Text to Speech and Leverage Your Time.

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Toolkit #1 – Text-To-Speech

Type of compensatory support


A general overview of this type of compensatory support

Text-to-speech software and applications takes digital text and converts the text into speech. Parr (2011) states that “TTST [text-to-speech technology] allows any text to be read aloud by a computer-synthesized voice; it has the potential to empower struggling readers to work independently within grade-level expectations and demonstrate high-level thinking” (p. 1). In the past, critics of TTS (text-to-speech) have been critical of the speech sounding to robotic and difficult to understand. Software and speech applications have improved over time. People from different linguistic backgrounds can choose voices to fit their speech patterns and the speech has become less robotic sounding and is moving closer to sounding like a human voice. New developments in TTS software let the software not only translate text but visual images (pictures or graphs) as well, allowing this software and its applications to reach more people (Biancarosa & Griffiths, 2012).

The kinds of students who may benefit from this type of compensatory support

A wide range of people can benefit from using text-to-speech software. Biancarosa (2012) identifies the mounting demands in reading that students face as they advance in their school levels. Students are given text that is more complex, with more demanding vocabulary and concepts. Due to the increasingly challenging reading materials as students proceed through school, there are a variety of students with different needs can benefit from having text spoken out loud to them.

Some students who might benefit from using TTS are students with:

  • Learning disabilities
  • Visual impairments
  • Intellectual disabilites
  • Mobility issues
  • Physical disabilities
  • Attention issues
  • Limited English language

TTS also provides assistance for student without disabilities, as well. These students can use TTS to hear books, websites, documents, etc being read to them. Students who are strong auditory learners may also find that listening to text spoken helps them better retain information.

How the compensatory support may support student learning

There is a huge potential for text-to-speech software and applications to support student learning. It provides support for struggling readers and allows students who may have difficulties accessing text the ability to access text in a different way. Parr (2011) believes that traditional reading strategies work for a lot of students but there are some students who can not move past the information processing stage. “By the time the word is successfully decoded, the child may have neither the energy nor the capacity left to understand and utilize the content…many of these students enter into a vicious cycle of withdrawal from text. Frustrated, they often stop reading” (p. 2). TTS can encourage students to move beyond the decoding stage and into the comprehension and enjoyment stages of reading.

Using TTS, students can have:

  • Proofreading support
  • Vocabulary development support
  • Pronunciation of words
  • Comprehension support
  • Fluency support – pacing, expression, tone, and inflection

Conditions in the learning environment that would support the effect use of this type of compensatory support

The main requirement to use TTS in a classroom is access to technology. This technology would include computers, tablets, iPads/iPods, and ereaders. Technology costs money so educators would have to have the support of administration to purchase the different technology required.

As well, teachers need to plan and organize instruction so students have access to digital text that can then be translated into spoken words through devices. Classroom environments need to be closely considered. Before purchasing or implementing TTS into the classroom there are a number of questions teachers and administrators should consider: Where and how will the technology be set-up? Who will use the technology? Is it available for all? Will students have to provide their own headphones? Questions like these need to be carefully thought out before implementing the text-to-speech technology. Teachers need to be able to weigh the benefits against cost and environment.

The planning considerations for embedding the use of this type of compensatory support in learning activities and/or teaching routines

As mentioned previously, the learning environment needs to be considered, as does how this technology will be used in the classroom. Parr (2011) states

            Although text-to-speech technology is one way to differentiate instruction…there are  obstacles to classroom use. Struggling readers worry that they may be stigmatized, while confident readers worry that TTST users are cheating or receiving a special privilege. Parents and teachers worry that if students read with a computer, they will never read independently (p. 2).

The team needs to appreciate that some students will find TTS software useful and some will not. Balajthy (2005) states that “Software that is purchased hastily, without a thoughtful plan of implementation, will go unused…When use of the software is a central part of a student’s curriculum, it will play a much more powerful role than if it is an occasional add-on” (para. 27). Decisions about technology needs, should be made by a team that looks at the strengths and needs the learner has, the learning environment and the tasks the learner is expected to complete in that environment.

Another consideration when using TTS in the classroom is training for both students and teachers on how to use the technology in the classroom. Teachers need to understand how and where to access digital text. They may need training on how to scan documents. Teachers and administrators need to realize that this will take time and allocate the time and training to this process. Also, students need to be trained on how to use TTS successfully. For learners, the use of TTS maybe challenging but with timely and appropriate training, learners can use TTS productively. Teachers need to realize this is an ongoing process that may require additional scaffolding for the students.

The final consideration is making sure that students are involved in the process of learning, using and evaluating the TTS technology. Teachers need to be willing to have students communication their experiences and then by able to respond to what the students are experiencing. Evaluation procedures should be in place before the technology is implemented in the classroom.

The types of learning activities (tasks) this type of compensatory support would facilitate

There are a variety of different learning activities that teachers and students can use with text-to-speech software. These can include: Having text read to the student from books, textbooks, websites, PDF and word files. Students can use TTS to proofread their own writing to check for grammar, spelling and comprehension mistakes. They can use it for vocabulary development and word pronunciation. Using TTS gives students the independence to comprehend different text and have access to writing that may have, in the past, not been accessible to them.


Balajthy, E. (2005). Text-to-speech software for helping struggling readers. Reading Online, 8(4).

Biancarosa, G. (2012). Adolescent Literacy: More Than Remediation. Educational Leadership, 69(6), 22-27.

Biancarosa, G. & Griffiths, G. G. (2012). Technology Tools to Support Reading in the Digital Age. The Future of Children, 22(2), 139-160.

Parr, M. (2011). The Voice of Text-to-Speech Technology One Possible Solution for Struggling Readers? What Works? Research into Practice.

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Toolkit #2 – Wobble Cushion

2013-11-12 17.08.45A wobble cushion in my classroom

2013-11-13 12.28.44

Summary of the resource

The wobble cushion or wiggle cushion is an inflatable cushion that comes in a variety of different styles and colours to be used with students who have difficulties sitting still in their seats. The cushion “facilitates dynamic sitting by incorporating movement with conventional seating. They provide movement and a lot of tactile stimulation” (School District of Beloit, n.d., para. 1). For many students who have ADHD, autism or sensory issues the act of fidgeting is not a lack of focus but a way of focusing. Rotz and Wright (n.d.) cite a recent study that suggests “that the body affects the brain as much as the brain affects the body” (para. 4). Another study done states that “an activity that uses a sense other than that required for the primary task…can enhance performance in children with ADHD. Doing two things at once…focuses the brain on the primary task. These sensory-motor activities [are] ‘distractions.’ We call them fidgets — mindless activities you can do while working on a primary task” (Rotz & Wright, n.d., para. 7). Providing students with an object, i.e. a wobble cushion, allows them movement but in an intentional way and can help these students focus more. Students who are more focused become less of a distraction in class.

Wobble cushions can be purchased at a number of websites and cost anyway from $24.99 to $55. Shipping is usually an extra cost.

Websites where you can purchase wobble cushions:

2013-11-13 12.28.24

Why I Selected this Resource

This cushion can be used with any chair or desk. It is an easy, relatively cheap tool to introduce to students that can have positive effects on their behaviour. This cushion can be used with all types of students and is not only limited to students who have a diagnosed disability. There are many students who find sitting in chairs uncomfortable, for a variety of different reasons. All students should be provided with the opportunity to be comfortable in their learning and using a wobble cushion can be an easy way to make students more comfortable. I gave all the students in my class the option to try the cushion and see if they liked sitting on it; about half my class liked the cushion and wanted one for their seat.

So far, a number of my students have been using the wobble cushion and I have seen an improvement in their ability to be less distracted when doing seat work. I have seen a great improvement in my student with ADHD. He regularly fell out of his chair during times when he was suppose to be listening but since using the cushion he has not fallen out of his chair once.

Critique of Resource

This tool should not be used as the only resources for students who have difficulties sitting in class. It is one resource and should be used with others supports. There are some students who do not like using a cushion and other tools and resources should be found for them.

Some sites have suggested that students only use the cushion for 20 minutes at a time so they do not develop muscle memory and reduce its effectiveness (School District of Beloit, n.d.). Although I have not notice this in my class, it might suggest that extended exposure to this tool may influence its effectiveness. It may come down to the individual student and how it works best for them.

With any new tool or resource, if it is not handled correctly it can be exclusive rather than inclusive. I know of other classes in my school where the cushion is limited to a small number of students and because of that some students do not want to use the cushion because it is making them look different. This is less a critique of the cushion and is more about how resources are introduced and used in the classroom.

Decisions and Supports What Do You Need?

As with any resource, cost is an issue, especially if you decide to provide this type of aid to students who are not coded. Administration, students and parents need to be onboard with using this tool in class. Administration has to purchase these cushions and make the decision to provide support regardless of coding. Students need to be taught how to properly care for a wobble cushion (pencils stabbed into the cushion will cause it to pop). Parent communication is also important. Parents should be informed of what supports their child is receiving in class.


Rotz, R., & Sarah D. Wright, S. D. (n.d.). When ADHD Kids Fidget: Better Focus Through Multitasking. Retrieved from

School District of Beloit. (n.d.) Wiggle Cushion. Retrieved from

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Toolkit #1 – Raz Kids


A summary of Raz-Kids from Learning A-Z

Summary of Resource

Raz-Kids is a subscription website that provides children ages 4-11 with access to over 350 leveled online books. Books are leveled for different reading needs. Students can make the choice of either having books read to them or they can read them. Easier leveled book are animated to create more interest and understanding for students.

The website states that students can:

  • Listen to books for modeled fluency
  • Read books with pronunciation and vocabulary support
  • Record their reading

Once students have finished reading the book they can take a quiz to check their comprehension. Teachers have access to quiz scores and can monitor individual scores and tests to see which concepts students may have struggled with. Additionally, teachers can have students record their reading so they can listen to students’ fluency.

As well, students can access the website at home. The program tracks usage and the amount of books read and listened to. Raz-Kids also allows parents to check what their children are reading and examine their children’s quiz scores.

Why I Selected Raz-Kids

I chose this resources because I think it allows students choice in their learning. I like that students can choose to have a book read to them or they can read it themselves. Students are placed at their reading level and this resource is available for all students to use as a support for their reading. The website gives students independence, while at the same time allows both parents and teachers the ability to monitor their progress. Teachers can adjust their instruction based on real time quiz results.

Having students listen to a good reader is important and usually teacher read out loud to the whole to model what effective readers look like and sound like. I like the idea of using Raz-Kids as an alternative to reading to the whole the class. By using headphones to have the book read to them it allows a more personalized approach and allows students to go at their own pace. I use The Daily 5 system in my classroom and using Raz-Kids fits perfectly into The Daily 5 section of “Listen to Reading”. Boushey and Moser (the authors of The Daily 5) explain the importance of listening to reading as “We hear examples of good literature and fluent reading. We learn more words, thus expanding our vocabulary and becoming better readers” (p. 11). By using Raz-Kids in the classroom, teachers can encourage students’ fluency and studnets can personalize the books to their reading level.

I also like the fact that students can record themselves reading and teachers can listen to that recording when they have time. Teachers can use the information for the recording as a form of fluency assessment. The ability of students to record their reading and teachers to listen to that recording whenever they have the time, frees up teachers from the somewhat onerous job of listening to students read.

Critique of Resource

While there are many positive reasons to use Raz-Kids in the classroom, there some things to be aware of as well. Raz-Kids is a subscription website. The choice to purchase a class subscription costs $99.95 and is good for a year. As with a lot of payment based websites there is a basic subscription and then a more costly subscription. Raz-Kids is the basic subscription. If you are looking for more books, quizzes, lesson plans and resources on reading and vocabulary instruction you have to spend more money. In fact the parent company Learning A-Z provides science, reading, writing and vocabulary sites (at an extra cost) in addition to the Raz-Kids website.

Another limitation of Raz-Kids is that all the books are nonfiction and while students should be encouraged to read nonfiction books they should also be encouraged to read a variety of different types of books. Exploring the titles offered it is easy to see that this is an American based site and as such books on heroes or history have an American focus. This does not affect literacy instruction but may alienate students who do not have an interest in these subjects.

Students may not like the sound of a computer voice and this may distract some students from understanding what the story is about and affect their quiz results. Teachers and students may also need to be conscious of the fact that when listening to books there is only one speed so some students may find that the reader is too fast or too slow.

This resource should not be the whole focus of your reading instruction but used as a supplementary resource to support different types of learning and learners. Also teachers should not overly rely on the assessments from the site but use a variety of different assessments to gauge student growth. As with any resource, it should be use as a tool to further student comprehension and literacy and not solely relied upon to provide instruction.

Decisions and Supports What Do You Need?

Teachers, with consultation with administration, will have to decide where money will come from to purchase a subscription (There are discount for multiple classrooms and purchasing multiple products). The price however can add up and teachers need to be aware that a licence needs to be purchase for every year.

To use this resource, you will need a computer, internet connection, Adobe Flash and headset (one with a microphone works best). Teachers may ask students to bring their own headphones and decide to put headphones on the student supply list. Each student will require an individual computer so access to computers and the internet are essential. If teachers do not have enough computers for each individual student, they could rotate students through the amount of computers they do have. Since this is a program is a website, students can also be encouraged to sign-in at home.


Boushey, G. & Moser, J. (2006). The Daily 5: Fostering Literacy Independence in the Elementary Grades. Portland: Stenhouse Publishers.

Learning A-Z .(n.d.) Raz-Kids. Retrieved from

LearningAZVideo. (2012, January 31). New Raz-Kids Overview. Retrieved October 8, 2012, from



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Mystery Skype – Toolkit #2

Mystery Skype in my Classroom

What is Mystery Skype

I came across Mystery Skype on Twitter and the premise of Mystery Skype immediately caught my attention. The concept is two classes, anywhere in the world, connect through Skype and try and guess each other’s location through a series of questions. Most Mystery Skype aficionados stick with Yes/No questions. The students must focus on asking questions that will narrow down the search area so that they can guess the other class’s city.

Students are assigned a variety of roles, including questions keepers, inquirers, Google mappers, etc. (see this link for a list of jobs descriptions I would suggest that teachers start with assigning jobs and once students become more familiar with Mystery Skype they can begin to choose their own roles.

How You Can Find Others Who Want to Mystery Skype

These websites: or are sites where people who want to Mystery Skype post contact information. You can sign-up with your details and people can contact you or you can find people’s details and contact them.

Although there are lots of people signed-up on the previous mentioned websites, I haven’t had much success in either contacting anyone or anyone contacting me so I would suggest using Twitter. Use #mysteryskype or #mystery skype and either reply to people’s requests for a Mystery Skype or post your own request and people will reply to you. The bonus is that these people can become part of your PLN and you have interesting new people to follow. I find that you have to be proactive and contact a number of people. You have to keep checking the hashtag regularly.

Reasons For Selecting This Resource

Mystery Skype is fun. Students enjoy it because they like the mystery aspect. They also enjoy seeing children their age, finding out where they live, what their school is like and what kinds of things other kids like to do (during one session in early June, my students were shocked to hear that students in Pennsylvania were done school in a couple of days and the other students were shocked to hear that we had three more weeks of school).

On top of being fun, I think Mystery Skype encourages skill and community building. Students are encouraged to use critical thinking skills (my favourite example of this is a Skype we were doing to Florida in March. One of students noticed that the kids were wearing shorts so she immediately started looking at the southern United States), speaking and listening skills, geography skills and many others.

Using Skype gives students an opportunity to make connections outside of their classroom, school, community and even country. Students are able to recognize differences and similarities in a respectful manner and understand and increase their worldview.

The Critique

The constraints for any new idea introduced into a classroom comes down to time and resources. The first couple of Mystery Skypes can be frustrating and could take at least an hour. Students will be unfamiliar with their roles and what types of questions to ask. They will needs some guidance but once they begin to understand how to ask the most pertinent questions, they need a lot less class time. Another thing that I discovered was that you had to be flexible with your time because classes were in different time zones. I had to sometimes work around another person’s schedule, e.g. using my math block to do a Mystery Skype. Flexibility was a key issue.

Another constraint might be resources. I had to purchase a web camera (the money came from my classroom budget). I also used my SMARTboard to project the other class. If you do not have these resources you can still Skype. You can use the camera on your laptop or iPad and just Skype through your laptop. I saw a number of classes working this way.

For me, Mystery Skype is perfect in an inclusive classroom because it encourages community building both in the classroom and outside of the classroom. Students can be assigned a job that they can be successful at and everyone has a role to play in finding out where the other school is located. This year some of my lower students were the most enthusiastic participators of Mystery Skype. They loved the fact that they got to ask questions and answer the other class’s questions, and they were able to work with their classmates looking at atlases or on Google maps. Since this was a class effort, students who did struggle always had another classmate in their group that would help them if they were stuck.

I would also mention that before you Skype, expectations for behaviour should be clearly laid out. As with any new activity there might be some children who push the boundaries but I found that once they became more familiar and figured out what roles best suit them they become more focused. The activity allows students to identify their strengths and personalize their experience.

What Decisions and Supports are Needed?

My first place for support was my administration team. I invited them in to watch a Mystery Skype and found that they were very supportive of the whole process. Before we Skyped for the first time I made sure to send home a letter to parents explaining what Mystery Skype was and get their permission for their child to participate. I gave parents the opportunity of giving full permission for their child to be on camera or them giving permission for the child to participate but not be on camera. The parents were onboard and all parents gave their permission to have their child participate and only one parent did not want their child on camera.

Next year I plan to continue with Mystery Skype, and Skype to even more locations around the world. I think that using Skype in the classroom allows for endless opportunities to connect with others.

Website Resources for Mystery Skype:

Cheryl. (2013, March 16). Mystery Skype. [Blog]. Retrieved from

Morgan. Skype Etiquette and Mystery Skype. [Blog]. Retrieved from

Mystery Skype – What is it? (n.d.). Retrieved July 27, 2013 from The Global Connection Wiki:

Ripp, P. (2011, October 25).  So You Want to do Mystery Skype? [Blog]. Retrieved from

Schmidt. (2013, January 24). A New Kind of Mystery Skype. [Blog]. Retrieved from

Skype in the classroom.



#mystery skype

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Genius Hour – Toolkit #1

The What, Where, When and How of Genius Hour

The idea of Genius Hour comes from Google. Employees at Google are given 20% of their working hours to focus on projects that they have a passion for. The projects do not have to be related to their work. The idea is that when people work on what they are passionate about their productivity increases and great ideas come from following their passion.

How would this work in a school? Many educators have adapted Google’s idea to fit into a classroom model – Genius Hour. Educators commit to giving students a set amount of time to work on projects that they are passionate about. In a classroom this could look like one block a week (Genius Hour) or a whole day focused on passion-based projects (Innovation Day). Like Google, students are encouraged to find something that interests them and research, create, view, or read about it.

While this may seem like unstructured time to some, the idea is to provide direction and criteria (e.g. students must present their projects or they have to put together a proposal) to make sure that students are using their time wisely. It is up to teachers whether they will assess students’ projects. The purpose is to allow students the freedom of choice and the ability to focus on something that encourages the learning process.


Why I chose to share this resource and to implement the idea in my classroom – my students. I teach grade 5 and at this age their enthusiasm for learning has not diminished. They are full of ideas and just starting to learn what their passions are. A classroom that supports and encourages students’ passions is one that I want to teach in. I think Genius Hour fits perfectly into the definition of an inclusive classroom from Alberta Education (n.d.), “The goal of an inclusive education system is to provide all students with the most appropriate learning environments and opportunities for them to best achieve their potential” (para. 7). Genius Hour encourages all students to find and explore what they are passionate about regardless of ability. It also creates respect and understanding between students. Students are given the opportunity to show their peers what makes them special and who they are as individuals.

The Critique

Some of the major constraints to implement Genius Hour into the classroom are time and student motivation. Time is a foremost concern for teachers and Genius Hour does take away time from the regular curriculum. I know that many teachers find it a challenge to get through the prescribed curriculum as it without adding “extra” onto an already tight day. Teachers need to decide what direction they want their class to go and if schedule and time away from set curriculum is an issue, Genius Hour may not work for them. Of course, I would argue that even though students may not be focused on specific curriculum outcomes, the skills, knowledge and attitudes that students are working on are part on any Alberta subject curriculum and their projects could be tied to a multitude of different subject outcomes.

Many teachers, including myself, worry about student motivation when it comes time to decide on a project. How will teachers deal with students that are unmotivated, disinterested and become a behaviour problem? This is a concern for me because if I allow students freedom and one or two students abuse that freedom it can really disrupt the objectives of Genius Hour. Oliver Schinkten (2013) addresses this issue in his blog. He states, “You are the spark plug. Passion and Enthusiasm are contagious. If you walk in and try to sit back and check your email…tell kids to be quiet and get to work, threaten taking “points” away…….it will FLOP and you will hate it.” (para. 6).

I would also say that besides time and student motivation a limitation of Genius Hour may be parents and colleagues’ lack of understanding of what is happening in the classroom. They may be concerned about curriculum completion and may question time given to work on “non-curriculum” related projects. Communication is key. A letter sent home explaining to parents how Genius Hour fits into curriculum outcomes and having colleagues take a look at the students’ projects might alleviate any worries.

In terms of affordance, Genius Hour is affordable. Resources (materials and technology) are something that you would want to have a plan for beforehand. These questions should be thought about and discussed with administration: Who will provide the materials? What type of technology will you need?

What Supports and Decisions Are Needed

The first thing that teachers need to realize if they choose to do Genius Hour in their classroom is that they have to be flexible with their time and schedule. A decision needs to be made about a regular time for Genius Hour in the schedule. Teachers also need support from administration. Getting administration on board seems a key to making Genius Hour a success.


Alberta Education. (n.d.). About an inclusive education system. Retrieved from

Schinkten, O. (2013, June 24). An Important Message About Passion-Based Learning. [Blog]. Retrieved from

Website Resources for Genius Hour:  (Genius Hour Wiki and excellent resources)  (A great blog by Denise Krebs)  (Resources of to get students started on choosing a project by Paul Solarz)  (A guide of how to implement Genius Hour in your classroom)  (Genius Hour in primary grades and how it can be used in inclusive education by Jodi Pulvers)  (10 Reasons To Try 20% Time In The Classroom)


#geniushour – first Wednesday of the month @ 6 PST for Twitter chat

People to follow on Twitter if you are looking for more resources





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Consortiums – Learning Providers of the Future?

Until hearing Tricia Donovan speak about the eCampusAlberta consortium, I had never really given much thought to a consortium based around online and distance learning. I have heard of and used materials from the Alberta Assessment Consortium (AAC) and the Central Alberta Regional Consortium (CARC) but I guess I never realized what a consortium was. To me it was a place to go to find go resources for the classroom. Beaudoin (2009) define consortiums as, “a partnership among a number of educational institutions or other similar entities that have joined together to collaboratively provide instruction and other services to students that they might not otherwise be adequately equipped or inclined to do independently” (113).

Donovan states that eCampusAlberta consortium is the fastest growing online consortia in North America and browsing their website it is interesting to see the services offered to students, in particular their eToolkit. Donovan states that her organization is “learner-centric” and viewing this toolkit it seems that they are meeting the mark. Students have access to many different services and the toolkit is very user-friendly (

A couple of questions came to mind when looking at eCampusAlberta and their services. Donovon talks about a 76% course completion rate. Comparing this to the completion rate in Alberta high schools, 74.1% of Alberta students completed high school on time in 2011 (About High School Completion, 2012), I wonder how do outside agencies, like eCampusAlberta encourage to students to complete their courses? What effect does the consortium have on their students completing courses? It is interesting to see that not only do they offer career counselling but they also offer personal counselling. They seem to be focused on the learner as a whole individual. The connection between the learner and an online support system is one that I can see being used more and more in the future with more learners turning to online learning. How do online resources provide and support their learners both educationally and emotionally? A website that provides a sort of “one-stop” experience for learners is something that I can see a lot of learners would use. It will be interesting to see how and if schools and divisions adopt this model to improve completion rates and student learning.

Beaudoin, M. F. (2009). Consortia – a viable model and medium for distance education in developing countries?. Open Learning: The Journal of Open, Distance and e- Learning, 24(2), 113-126. Retrieved from

Donovan, T. (2012, March 12). Organization and Management: Issues, Supports and Resources. Retrieved from

About High School Completion.  (2012, June). Retrieved from


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LMS in the Classroom

Today we went to Heritage Park on a field trip. It was a great day, the kids were wonderful and they were engaged and interested. I had asked them to bring a camera to take pictures of what they saw. Well on the bus ride home, one lost camera later, I was thinking about  the amount of time it would take to upload all their pictures to their school accounts so we could use the pictures in an assignment and if I would ever even see their pictures again (Will grade 5 students remember to bring their cameras to school next week?). Could using a Learning Management System (LMS) be my solution?

I have been investigation LMSs for classroom use for the last couple of months. I want something that is free, accessible to students and myself, easy to use and will engage my students. I like the idea that a LMS can help my students personalize their learning and extend their learning to outside of the classroom as describe by John Baker on the Blackboard session about his LMS, Desire2Learn.

The potential to create, personalize, extend and expand learning has huge potential in education but I find my enthusiasm is tempered with caution. McNeill, Arthur, Breyer, Huber and Parker (2012) state that LMSs can be seen “as a move to provide a competitive advantage…they offer students access to learning at any time and in any place.” (p. 58). There are lots of reasons to get excited about the implementation of a LMS into the classroom. Baker (2012) describes his system as being used to “Improve the learning experience throughout someone’s life”. The ability to have students connect in a new way with their learning is exciting. I am somewhat cautious however about relying too heavily on one system of learning. To be able to personalize, student need to be given choice and different opportunities to demonstrate learning. LMSs are still a tool that requires teacher effort, knowledge and keenness to be effective in any classroom.

As I continue on my quest to find a LMS that will work for my classroom and students, I will have to remember that to have a LMS work in the classroom it takes effort on the part of the teacher. It is a tool to improve learning in the classroom. And in the end my students won’t remember what LMS they used to download their Heritage Park pictures, all they will remember is the memories they made, the information they learned, the pictures they took and that long awaited visit to the candy store.

Baker, J. (2012, February 15). D2L Story and Overview: EDER 679.29 eLearning in Canada – LMS discussion [Recorded Elluminate Live! Session]. Retrieved from

McNeill, M. A., Arthur, L. S., Breyer, Y. A., Huber, E., & Parker, A. J. (2012). Theory in Practices: Designing Moodle Training for Change Management. Asian Social Sciences, 8(14) 58-64. Retrieved from

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e-Learning in classrooms – Where have the teachers gone?

In previous courses I have taken on e-Learning there has been numerous discussions around teacher presence in an e-Learning context. Many discussions and readings have centred around the concept of the teacher moving from “sage on the stage” to “guide on the side”. It seems one of the draws of using e-Learning in the classroom is the ability to “teacher proof” (Guri-Rosenblit & Gros, 2011, p. 6) teaching and learning in the classroom. The teacher can be taken out of the learning process and students are able to use technology to individualize their learning.

What this view of e-Learning tends to forget is that just because students have access to technology it does not mean that they are engaged in the learning process. Guri-Rosenblit & Gros (2011) comment that “…the fact that putting students in the center of the learning process, and assuming that…technologies have the power of turning them into self-directed and autonomous learners have turned out to be quite naive and unsubstantiated assumptions” (p. 10). In my experiences I have seen this time and time again. The perfect example is researching. My students know how to use Google, they can find multiple websites on a topic but when it comes to analyzing the content for usefulness, and synthesizing the information (which are higher level skills) they are at a complete loss. In a situation like this being a guide does not help get down to the root of the problem – students do not have the skills to translate the information on the webpage into a meaningful product. Teachers need to teach them the skills but when the teacher is taken out of the learning equation, where will students learn those skills?

Maybe instead of the idea that a benefit of e-Learning is the ability to “teacher proof” a course, the benefit should be an increased quality of teaching. By promoting the idea that teachers who use e-Learning are quality educators and they are innovative, creative and focused on new methods of instruction this will move the argument away from “sage on the stage”/”guide on the side” to looking at teaching practices. These teachers are on the cutting edge and along with their students, central to learning in the classroom. The Canadian Council on Learning states (2009), “E-learning is a tool, not a pedagogical method. To be effective, e-learning must be linked to teaching practices that have demonstrated benefits, and should be used appropriately to reflect the nature of the content and learners’ needs and abilities” (p. 62). This sentiment is the conclusion I have reached and is something I strive to implement in my classroom and communicate to my colleagues.

Canadian Council on Learning, (2009). State of E-learning in Canada. Retrieved from

Guri-Rosenblit, S. & Gros, G. (2011). E-Learning: Confusing Terminology, Research Gaps and Inherent Challenges. The Journal of Distance Education, 25(1). Retrieved from

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Course Redesign Proposal

Redesign of a Unit in Grade Five Math


My current teaching assignment is in a grade five classroom. I teach mathematics and social studies to two different classes. For my course redesign I will focus on the Shape and Space (3-D Objects and 2-D Shapes) unit of grade five math.

Students in my two classes cover the spectrum of abilities. Several of my students are identified as having learning disabilities and are on IEPTs (Inclusive Education Planning Tool). They have the support of an educational assistant. There are a number of students at grade level and few students who are above grade level. The majority of students struggle with math concepts and would not chose math as their favorite subject.

Students in previous grades have had their math instruction taught in a traditional way. The teacher instructs and the students work on assigned problems in the textbook. They have had limited exposure to blended learning and are working on becoming comfortable with using technology. As this is the case, I have chosen to redesign one unit of study – shape and space. I have chosen this unit because it focuses on:

  • Describe and provide examples of edges and faces of 3-D objects, and sides of 2-D shapes
  • Identifying and sorting quadrilaterals  (Mathematics Kindergarten to Grade Nine, 2007, p. 43)

Since students are having their first introduction to blended learning in math I wanted a unit that was easily translatable using technology and I thought using online activities, as well as face-to-face activities to demonstrate edges and faces of 3-D objects was a good way to start.


Alberta Education states that “Students need opportunities to read about, represent, view, write about, listen to and discuss mathematical ideas. These opportunities allow students to create links between their own language and ideas, and the formal language and symbols of mathematics” (Mathematics Kindergarten to Grade Nine, 2007, p. 5). The purpose in creating a unit using the Supplementary Model is to encourage students to experience learning and communicating about math in a different way then they have been use to. I would like them to strengthen their understand of how they learn, appreciate and communicate math, through blended learning strategies.

Students will continue to have face-to-face class time but also will be able to experience different activities in an online setting. I would like my students to be better able to personalize their learning using the online activities.

With Alberta Education’s new pilot program IEPT replacing tradition Individualized Education Plans (IEP), the push from the government is to have all students in a class on an IEPT so the teacher can individualize their learning. By redesign a unit in math, I hope that my purpose falls in line with the direction Alberta Education is taking. As well, I hope by allowing for more personalization of learning students will have the opportunity to experience learning math in a new way. This new way of learning will hopefully encourage an appreciation of math in their lives and an increased desire to learn math.


Face-to-face:I will continue to use direct instruction to teach students the basic concepts of this unit. They will use manipulatives, questions and discussion in the classroom setting to further their understanding.

Online: The online component of this unit will focus on technology that the students are already using and are familiar with, as well as introducing a new technology in the form of video podcasts. Students have been using blogs to reflect on their learning since September in my social studies class. I would like students to use their blog now to reflect on their learning in this unit and to communicate to one another their experiences with 2-D and 3-D shapes. By using blogs I want to encourage students to create a Community of Inquiry (CoI) that they can build and share their knowledge in. At the beginning stage, I envision that there will be a lot of teacher presence but as students work through what is expected of them and create connections in math I imagine that teacher presence will decrease. I know that I have to set expectations (criteria of an excellent reflective post and exemplars) at the beginning so students can work together to create a cohesive CoI (Garrison & Vaughan, 2008, p. 17). I will do this by encouraging independence, reflection on learning tasks and using different strategies.

On my students’ blogs, I would not only like them to reflect on their learning but I would also like them to create video podcasts of them creating nets and identifying different types of lines. They will post these videos to their blogs so other students can access them. I would also be able to use their videos as formative assessment. By using podcasts this will hopefully allow my students to control their learning process and access examples when and where they want. (Kay & Edwards, 2012).

I also plan to use online resources from the Nelson Education site (Nelson Math Focus is our textbook resource), SMARTboard lessons and maybe a Google project that involves Google maps (I could use this project as summative assessment).

Alberta Education. (2007). Mathematics Kindergarten to Grade Nine. Retrieved from:  

Garrison, D. R., & Vaughan, N. (2008). Chapter Three: Design Principles. Blended Learning in Higher Education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Alberta Education. (Oct. 2, 2012). Inclusive Education Planning Tool. Retrieved from:

Kay, R. & Edwards, J. (2012). Examining the Use of Worked Example Video Podcasts in Middle School Mathematics Classrooms: A Formative Analysis. Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology, 38(2). Retrieved from  

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