How to Form Cooperative Learning Teams


Team Formation Tips from Laura Candler

Forming effective teams is a important when implementing cooperative learning strategies, but it’s not always easy to figure out the best way to form teams of students who will work well together. Here are some tips, strategies, and free resources to help you get started!

What’s the Most Effective Team Size?

Research has shown that a team of four students is the  most effective size for several reasons. A four-person team allows for many different kinds of interactions. The group can work as a team, or it can be broken down into two sets of partners. Each team should be as heterogeneous as possible so that kids can learn to work with all different kinds of people.

When Should You Form Teams?

Teachers often wonder if they should start out with their students in rows and move them into teams after the first week, or if they should seat them in teams from the first day of school.

Personally, I like to start off on Day 1 with the kids in random teams (since I don’t know enough about them to form heterogeneous teams). I want them to know that this is the usual way we do things, and that cooperative learning is not just fun and games.  I teach them from the very beginning how to have self-control when sitting in a team, and how to deal with problems and distractions. Each day for the first 3 or 4 days I randomly assign them to different teams so they can get to know all of their classmates quickly.

Important Factors to Consider

  • If possible, each team should consist of one high-performing student, two average students, and one low-performing student.
  • Teams should generally include both boys and girls.
  • Each team should reflect the ethnic diversity of your classroom.
  • Cooperative Learning teams generally stay together for about six weeks in upper elementary classrooms. Older students may be fine in the same team for an entire grading period.
  • Cooperative Learning teams generally stay together for about six weeks in upper elementary classrooms. Older students may be fine in the same team for an entire grading period.
  • After forming your teams, provide opportunities for them to get to know each other. These icebreaker activities are called “team builders” and they are essential.

Two Methods of Forming Effective Teams

Option #1: Quick and Easy Index Card Method

  1. Write each student’s name on an index card.
  2. Deal the cards into 4 equal piles according to student ability (High, Medium High, Medium Low, and Low)
  3. Choose one card from each pile. Be sure to include a mix of students (according to gender, race, and personality). Set this stack aside as Team 1.
  4. Form the remaining teams in the same way. Assign a team number to each stack of cards.
  5. On a separate sheet of paper, record the name of each team and its team members. That way you’ll have something to refer to the next time you form teams. You don’t want kids to end up on the same teams over and over.

 

Option #2: Team Formation Cards Method

Team Formation CardThis method isn’t much harder than the index card method, but it has more steps. You will also need a set of the Team Formation Cards shown on the right. Here’s a sample card to help you follow along with the explanation.

Step by Step Directions:

  1. Print enough Team Formation cards so that you have one card for each student in the class. Never show these cards to your students!
  2. Write each students’ name on a card, circle “boy” or “girl,” and fill out the section on race.
  3. For ability, decided if the student is High (H), Medium High (MH), Medium Low (ML), or Low(L). The numbers of students for each category need to be roughly the same. This judgement is very subjective and can include areas such as leadership ability, willingness to work hard and complete homework, organization skills, ability to follow directions, and so on.
  4. In the Notes section, write down any miscellaneous information such as learning disabilities, personalities, special needs, etc.
  5. After you fill out the cards, spread them out in rows on a table. For this example we will assume you have 28 students in your class, which means you will have 7 students in each category.
  6. Start by placing your 7 highest students in one COLUMN. Your Highs can be thought of as the leaders in your class; these are the kids you can count on to lead the group in a positive direction. Next, place your 7 Medium High students in a column beside the Highs. Continue with a column for the Medium Lows and the Lows.
  7. When you finish, you will have an array of cards that is 4 columns wide and 7 rows high. As you look over the array of cards, picture each ROW as a team. Look across each row and decide if you need to switch some cards to make the team more balanced. Do you have two boys and two girls? Do you have one High, one Medium High, one Medium Low, and one Low student? Does each team accurately represent the ethnic composition of your class? Will the students get along with each other? Look at all the teams and continue switching cards in each column until you have teams that are as heterogeneous as possible.
  8. It’s important to have a way of keeping track of who has been on which team. The Team Number boxes will help you remember who has been on each team throughout the year. After forming teams, record each student’s team number in the box on the bottom of his or her card. To assign team numbers, start with the top row and call it Team 1. Write a 1 in the first box on every team member’s card. The next team becomes Team 2, so write the number 2 in the first box on their cards. Continue with all 7 teams. After six weeks have passed and you form new teams, you will be able to see at a glance who was on each team. That way you can make sure that most students are placed with new team members each time.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What if the number of students in my class isn’t divisible by four?You can have teams of three or teams of five also, but any more than five students seems to be a problem. I prefer teams of three if I have extras. This is because I notice that in a team of five, one student seems to be left out. Other teachers prefer to have a few teams of five because they have students who are frequently absent. They place these students on five-member teams so that any time that student is absent, the team has four members. However, sometimes I wonder if these students might be less likely to be absent if they perceived themselves to be important members of small teams. If they are seated at the end of a five-person team, they may feel that they are not needed.
  2. My school operates on a Nine Week schedule. Is it okay to keep teams together for nine weeks instead of six?If students stay together all day, six weeks is still the optimal number of weeks to keep teams together. I have learned this through my own experience. After this amount of time, I spend too much time dealing with social skills. If they are looking at each other ALL DAY every day, maybe they don’t need to be together more than six weeks! However, if you teach in a middle school or high school setting and you have the students for just one period a day, you can keep them together for nine weeks without any problem. Most of the middle school teachers I know do exactly that.
  3. What about that student who can’t get along with anyone?I place all my students on a team, but if I have someone who is extremely rude and hard to get along with, I provide another seat in the class also. I let the class know that working on a team is fun, but it comes with certain responsibilities. You have to respect the members on your team and treat them as you would like to be treated. If someone can’t seem to do that, I remove them from the team for that day and give them an alternate assignment that’s not nearly so fun. In fact, I make sure the assignment is very challenging and involves lots of paperwork. If they ask for help, I say that if they were on a team they could get help. I let them know that if they complete the assignment and come in the next day with a better attitude, they may rejoin their team. I have had very difficult students who would start every day with their team and by lunch time they were on their own. Gradually, though, they were able learn how to treat the other students with respect and stay in the team all the time. Just be clear about your expectations for behavior.
  4. What if my school tracks students into ability groups and I have all low-ability students? Even within a group of students who are similar in ability, some students stand out above the others as leaders. Spread those students out among the teams, and use the other factors such as race, gender, and personality to form heterogeneous groups. But above all, please use cooperative learning with these kids! They need it more than any other group!

Final Note: The tips and strategies in this post deal with deciding who should be in each team. For more information about how to physically arrange your desks to accommodate a team of four students, read my Cooperative Learning Seating Options post.



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Grab Your Free School Year Calendar!


When I was teaching, I searched everywhere to find the perfect calendar for my students, but I just couldn’t find one that worked. I wanted 8 1/2 x 11 monthly portrait-style pages that would fit in a 3-ring binder, and I also wanted large blocks for writing in the dates and events.

Eventually I gave up the search and decided to make my own. To create more space for writing on the weekdays, I made skinnier date blocks on the weekends. It turned out to be exactly what I needed, so I decided to share it with other teachers.  They loved it, too!

The School Year Calendar starts with July of the current year and ends with June of the next year.  The calendar pages are in color, but if you prefer black and white, just change your printer settings to the B&W mode.

Sign up here for your free copy of my School Year Calendar!


Calendar Use Suggestions

After I began using these calendar pages with my students, I realized that they also make great planning tools for creating a thematic unit or planning with others teachers. Throughout the year, I discovered more and more ways to use this calendar until it became almost indispensable! Here’s a list that might help spark some of your own ideas:

  • Instructional Planning
  • Personal Meeting Planner
  • Literature Circle Schedules
  • Attendance Graphing
  • Project Planning and Organization
  • Homework Planner
  • Classroom Event Calendar

Editable School Year Calendar

My free School Year Calendar is a PDF file, and you can’t type on it, nor can you edit it. You can print the pages and write on them, but that’s about it. Fortunately, I do have a PowerPoint version that you can customize and make your own. You can add or remove clipart, change the fonts, type in the calendar blocks, resize the calendar, and so on. My Editable School Year Calendar pack isn’t free, but it’s worth every penny if you want to make changes to the pages before you print them!

Whether you use the free calendar or purchase the editable version, I hope you find the School Year Calendar to be helpful!



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What are Cooperative Learning Structures?


Cooperative Learning by Spencer KaganStructures are very specific strategies that can be used to organize interactions between students who are working in cooperative learning teams.

Most structures can be used with almost any academic content, but some structures are better than others for certain tasks. For example, some structures regulate interaction between pairs, some are best for team work, and others involve the entire class.

The key is to success with cooperative learning is developing a thorough understanding of which structure is best for a particular group size and instructional purpose.

Dr. Spencer Kagan has developed over 100 structures, but you don’t need to learn them all to use cooperative learning effectively. Most teachers adopt 10 or 15 favorite structures that they use on a regular basis. Each cooperative learning structure, or strategy, consists of very specific steps.

Dr. Kagan granted permission for me to share the steps of one of his most popular structures, Numbered Heads Together, along with suggestions for using it in your classroom. To learn more about the structural approach and how to use each strategy, read his book, Cooperative Learning. It’s the best resource around for cooperative learning, and it clearly explains dozens of structures!

Sample Structure: Numbered Heads Together

  1. Number students off from 1 to 4 within their teams.
  2. Call out a question or problem. Example: Where do plants get their energy?
  3. Students in teams put their heads together to discuss the answer. They must make sure everyone on the team knows the answer.
  4. Randomly call a number from 1 to 4. For this step, you can use a spinner, draw numbered craft sticks out of a cup, roll a die, use an online tool, etc.
  5. On each team, the student whose number was called writes the answer on the team response board. They may not receive any help from their team at this point! If they didn’t pay attention during the discussion, they need to make their best attempt without help. They place the response board face down when ready.
  6. When all teams are ready, ask the designated student to stand and hold up his or her response board to show the answer. Check each team’s answer for accuracy.
  7. Repeat with additional questions as time allows.

Ways to Use Numbered Heads Together

  • Science – Reviewing for a test, discussing experiment results,
  • Math – Solving word problems, reviewing geometric shapes, reviewing terms like prime number, multiple
  • Health – Reviewing parts of the body and body systems, discussing the food pyramid, discussing issues related to drugs and violence
  • Spelling – Practicing the spellings and definitions of words, creating sentences when given a word
  • Reading – Discussing setting, plot, theme, characters of a book; listing character traits of various characters in a book; finding the main idea of articles in Weekly Reader or Scholastic News magazines; reviewing poetic terms (onomatopoeia, alliteration, etc.); finding examples of poetic devices in poems
  • Writing – Revising and editing written work samples (place work sample on overhead, students put heads together to discuss specific errors in punctuation, spelling, etc.)
  • Grammar – Finding nouns, verbs, etc, in sentences; reviewing common versus proper nouns; plural versus possessive nouns; diagramming sentences
  • Social Studies – Learning about the stock market; practicing map skills, answering chapter discussion questions, reviewing for a test
  • Primary Grades – Reviewing basic shapes and colors, reviewing initial consonant sounds, working with rhyming words, answering questions about a read-aloud book, deciding when to add or subtract with math word problems, naming a pattern (AB, ABC, ABB, etc.), spelling simple words, discussing the results of an experiment, making up sentences with a given word, reviewing the parts of a plant, discussing the events of the day, talking about the calendar

More Favorite Structures

Remember that Numbered Heads Together is just ONE structure, and there over 100 more! Because each structure is a unique, it’s like having tools in a toolbox. All of the tools are worthwhile, but most of them are only effective when used for a particular purpose.  Visit Kagan Online to learn more about cooperative learning structures and how to use them. Some of my favorites include:

  • Roundrobin
  • Rallytable
  • Roundtable
  • Team Interview
  • Mix-Freeze-Pair
  • Think-Pair-Share
  • Showdown
  • Line Ups
  • Teammates Consult
  • Jigsaw
  • Corners
  • Mix-N-Match
  • Find Someone Who



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Promoting Kindness in the Classroom through Teambuilding


I’ve been a fan of cooperative learning since I first stepped into a classroom, and I’m convinced that teaching kids how to work with others is one of the best gifts we can give them. Research consistently shows that in order to be successful in any career, we have to know how to get along with others and to work together as a part of a team.

These social skills are important in everyday life, too. People who embrace diversity and who treat others with kindness are far more likely to be happy than those who are rude and who have no tolerance for different perspectives.

Now more than ever, we need to take a stand against bullying and intolerance. We must proactively teach kids how to treat each other with kindness and respect. But we need to do more than teach kids to tolerate diversity, we should teach our students to appreciate each other’s differences and celebrate their uniqueness!

I’ll be the first to admit that it’s not always easy to foster these character traits in the classroom. Cooperative learning provides a framework for promoting kindness, but teaching kids how to get along with others requires more than just seating them together in teams and telling them to work together. We need to teach specific social skills and do everything in our power to foster a caring classroom community, right from the first day of school. I believe in this point so strongly that I’ve created a whole page on Teaching Resources called How to Create a Caring Classroom. Visit that page to check out the freebies and other resources there which include a free replay of my webinar, How to Launch a Super School Year. I also created an entire page on my site with strategies for teaching social skills in the classroom.

The best place to start promoting kindness is within cooperative learning teams. When students take part in teambuilding activities, they develop stronger bonds with their teammates. As they work with different teams throughout the year, they will eventually connect with all of their classmates and will learn to appreciate everyone’s unique qualities.

Teaching Students How to Give Genuine Compliments

One powerful strategy for fostering appreciation for others is to teach students how to give and receive genuine compliments. Some children might not have any experience at all with praising and complimenting others, so begin the lesson by having your class brainstorm a list of positive statements and words of appreciation.

Remind your students that no one wants to hear empty praise because we know when others are not being sincere. Sometimes it takes a little work to find meaningful ways to praise and compliment each other, but it’s worth the effort. If you’ve introduced growth mindset to your students, remind them that praising someone for being persistent or open to new ideas is more meaningful than telling someone that they are smart or pretty. Here are some sentence starters you might want to introduce:

  • I like the way you….
  • I appreciate it when you….
  • Thanks for…
  • I enjoy working with you because…
  • I admire the way you…
  • What’s special about you is…
  • I’m glad you’re on my team because…

Teambuilding to Promote Classroom Kindness

After you discuss what it means to give a genuine compliment, you’ll need to provide opportunities for your students to practice this skill. Cooperative learning teams are the perfect place for students to test out these strategies in a safe environment. Furthermore, the process of actively looking for positive traits and complimenting others is a powerful teambuilding tool.

One way to do this this is to assign a team task that’s somewhat challenging, such as a STEM activity, and ask your students to practice complimenting each other as they work together. After you introduce the activity, remind your students to look for opportunities to give specific and genuine compliments. Walk around the room as they work, and point out any nice compliments that you hear. For example, stop next to a team and say something like, “I just heard a really nice compliment in this team. Sally complimented Linda for coming up with a creative way to holding the straws together on their puff mobile.”

Team Compliment Cards

Another effective strategy is creating Team Compliment Cards. In this activity, students show appreciation for their teammates by writing compliments on homemade cards. Each person writes his or her name on one card, and all cards are passed around the team. As the cards are passed from student to student, they write compliments about the person who is the “star” of each card. Finally, the cards are returned to their creators, and everyone can read the compliments their teammates have written about them.

To find the full directions, download the Team Compliments Cards Freebie from my TpT store. Several templates are included, or you can have students create their own cards from blank paper. This activity works really well after students have been working with the same team for several weeks, and it’s a great closure activity to do right before you move students to new teams. In fact, this activity is so powerful that after students read their compliment cards, it’s not unusual for some of them to beg me to keep their team together for a few more weeks!

Promoting Kindness in the Classroom

I hope these teambuilding strategies will make it a little easier for you to promote kindness in your classroom. To find additional resources, search TpT using the hashtag #kindnessnation to discover dozens of freebies from TpT sellers who believe that promoting kindness and acceptance of others should be a priority in every classroom. To make this task a little easier, we’ve joined together to provide teachers with ready-to-use resources for fostering a caring classroom community. Enjoy!



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Cooperative Learning Seating Options


Cooperative Learning Seating Options - Tips from Laura CandlerIf you’re new to using Cooperative Learning strategies, you might wonder how to seat your students so they are able to interact with each other without losing focus during direct instruction.

There are many possible options, but one thing to consider is whether you want them to sit together all day long or just for certain activities.

I described a few of my favorite options below, and you can see several more in the Seating Options PDF on this page.

Option #1: Seating in Permanent Teams

When I put my kids in teams, they sit together all the time. I am lucky enough to have flat-topped desks that I pull together to make a small table. Teachers who have the L-shaped desks put their kids together, too, but they have to leave a little gap between the chairs to allow the kids to get in and out.

If you have desks with slanted tops, sometimes you may want to have the kids move to a space on the floor when working on activities that require a flat space. Below I have tried to draw 2 of the arrangements I have used.

       

I prefer what I call the T-Table arrangement shown on the right above and in the photo below. With this arrangement, no one has his or her back to the front of the room and they don’t have eye-to-eye contact with each as they do in the face-to-face seating arrangement.

Cooperative Learning Seating - T-table formation 

When students are doing individual work, I have them put up “barriers.” These can be pieces of folded cardboard or just their 3-ring binder notebooks. We’ve also found that 2 file folders placed end-to-end and laminated together make a nice barrier.

Option #2: Seat in Rows; Form Teams for Activities

Some teachers leave their kids in rows at first but just seat the kids in each team close together. When they do a cooperative activity they have the kids pull their desks together for a short time or have the 2 kids in front turn around and use the 2 desks behind them. When they get more comfortable with CL, they let the kids sit together all the time.

 

How to Choose Students for Each Team

The options I described above refer only to your students physical seating arrangements. For more information about how to decide which students should be on each team, read my post, How to Form Cooperative Learning Teams.



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Teachers, Help MrOwl Help YOU!


Wouldn’t it be awesome to find a free tech tool for creating  collections of online resources, photos, and documents all in one place? Look no further! Welcome to MrOwl, a new platform that makes it easy for teachers to search for online resources and save them, upload photos and documents, organize resources by topic, share them with others, and so much more!

I discovered MrOwl last year when the founders, Becky and Arvind Raichur, asked me to review MrOwl and share my feedback about how to make the platform more useful for educators. After reviewing the site, I was so impressed that I wrote a blog review and developed a webinar to introduce MrOwl to educators.

To be clear, MrOwl is a public platform, and it wasn’t specifically designed for educational use. However, it does have loads of unique features that make it especially appealing to teachers. Here are a few of the things you can do with MrOwl:

  • Create topic-based collections of resources called “branches”
  • Make your branches public or private
  • Search for, save, and organize online resources
  • Upload photos and documents to your topic branches
  • Share collections of resources with others
  • Connect and collaborate with others who share your interests

Watch the Replay of the Discover MrOwl Webinar

 One of the best ways to explore the unique features of MrOwl is to watch my webinar for teachers, Discover MrOwl: A Free Tech Tool for Organizing, Sharing, and Collaborating. During the webinar, I explained how to set up your profile and how to use the basic features of the MrOwl platform. But the most important part of the webinar was demonstrating how to use MrOwl in your role as an educational professional and how to use it in your classroom with students.

Teachers, Help MrOwl Help YOU!

One thing that has impressed me about Becky and Arvind is their sincere desire to make MrOwl even more useful for teachers and more appropriate for students. They’re excited about MrOwl’s potential for classroom use, and they’re seeking feedback from educators about how to improve the platform so that it meets YOUR needs. They’d like to add a special MrOwl for Educators FAQ section to their Help menu, but they need help from teachers to make this happen. Here’s how you can help:

  1. Watch the replay of the Discover MrOwl webinarBefore you watch it, print out the Discover MrOwl webinar handouts so you’ll have a place to take notes.
  2. Create a free account on MrOwlWhen you register, keep in mind that your user name will be visible on the site, so choose one that you won’t mind others seeing.
  3. Log on to the MrOwl from a computer and explore the platform. Create a few topic branches and subtopics within those branches. Search for online resources and save them. Upload photos or documents to one of your topic branches. Download the MrOwl smart phone app from Apple iTunes or Google Play, and test out the mobile version of the platform. Find Laura Candler on MrOwl and follow me!
  4. If this is the first you’ve heard about MrOwl, read my original blog review to learn a more about this new technology. Then watch the Discover MrOwl webinar and share your feedback with Becky and Arvind. They really do want to hear from you, because they need YOUR help to make MrOwl an even more amazing resource for educators!
  5. If you have questions or need help with MrOwl, click on the Help menu in the navigation bar to access the help pages. Were you able to find the answers there? If not, make a note of your questions so that you can ask them during the webinar.How do you envision using MrOwl both professionally and in the classroom with your students? What additional features would make MrOwl even better for educators? What information should be included in the MrOwl for Educators FAQ help menu?
  6. How do you envision using MrOwl both professionally and in the classroom with your students? What additional features would make MrOwl even better for educators? What information should be included in the MrOwl for Educators FAQ help menu?

If this is the first you’ve heard about MrOwl, read my original blog review to learn a more about this new technology. Then watch the Discover MrOwl webinar and share your feedback with Becky and Arvind. They really do want to hear from you, because they need YOUR help to make MrOwl an even more amazing resource for educators!


 



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Math is More Than a Numbers Game


Free Math Vocabulary Building Webinar!

Have you ever considered the importance of vocabulary instruction in math? If you think about it, success in math often hinges more on the ability to read and understand the language of mathematics than on the ability to perform mathematics computation.

In other words …
Math is more than a numbers game. 

Years ago, standardized tests consisted of page after page of computation, but today’s math tests require students to read challenging word problems and understand precise mathematical terminology in order find  the solution. For example, upper elementary students who don’t know the difference between factor and multiple or range and median are going to struggle to perform well on tests. Geometry is another area where accurate knowledge of the key vocabulary is closely tied to understanding of the essential concepts.

It’s pretty clear that mastering the language of math is just as important as mastering math facts or being able to solve complex computational problems.

So what’s the best way to teach math vocabulary? I can assure you that having kids is memorize words and definitions is NOT the way to go! Besides being extremely boring, rote memorization does not provide students with the opportunity to explore the complex nuances of meaning inherent in math terminology.

The good news is that the most powerful strategies for helping kids learn the language of math are also the most motivating and fun! Why? Because those methods encourage kids to TALK about math concepts and practice using the vocabulary correctly as they take part in hands-on activities and math strategy games.

Powerful Strategies for Building Math Vocabulary Webinar

Over the years, I’ve developed a collection of activities and games that are highly effective for building math vocabulary, and they’re super fun for kids, too. I enjoy sharing those strategies in a webinar for teachers called Powerful Strategies for Building Math Vocabulary. In the webinar I also share about 4 important phases of math vocabulary instruction and describe strategies for targeting each phase. If you’re interested in the webinar, click here to watch a replay. If you like a PD certificate for the webinar, it’s available when you purchase this webinar from my TpT store.


Recharge & Write Problem Solving Activity

Recharge &  Write is one of the strategies I share during the webinar, and it’s a perfect example of a cooperative learning activity that encourages math talk. In a nutshell, each team needs a “recharger” and one math problem worksheet per person. Students put their pencils into the recharger when discussing each problem, and they take their pencils out to solve each problem without talking. Recharge & Write is a bit difficult to explain, so I recorded a short video to show how it works.

How to Power Up Any Activity to Boost Vocabulary Development

One of my favorite parts of the webinar is diving into HOW to “power up” any activity to boost its effectiveness. I start by sharing how I modified the rules of the traditional “Guess My Number” game to make it a powerful tool for building math vocabulary. Mystery Number Detectives takes only a few minutes a day to play and requires very few materials, but while students are playing the game, they’re practicing and reinforcing important math vocabulary and concepts. The best part is that they’ll be having so much fun, they won’t even know they’re learning! In fact, my students loved this game so much that they begged to play it and didn’t want to stop for recess!


Free Webinar Replay and Handouts

The live session of Powerful Strategies for Building Math Vocabulary is over, but you can still watch a free replay of the webinar.  To learn more about what I covered during the webinar, download the free handouts from my TpT store and take a look. As you can see, this webinar is jam-packed with engaging strategies for helping kids master the vocabulary of math!



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Discover MrOwl, a Free New Tech Tool Teachers Will Love!

Have you discovered MrOwl? It’s a free, new tech tool you can use to create a personalized Internet experience based on the topics that are important to you. You can easily build, organize, and customize topic “branches” that you share with friends and family. It’s completely free of advertising, too. These features make MrOwl the perfect tool for educators who can use it in the classroom with students and on their own for organizing lesson resources.  You can even use MrOwl to create a free class website!

Using the MrOwl Chrome extension, you can easily save your favorite website links so you know where to find them later. Furthermore, you can upload your own documents and photos to your branches, making it easy to create comprehensive collections of searchable information.

The best part is that MrOwl gets wiser as more people use it. The branches that you build help to shape the MrOwl community “tree,” an ever-growing, searchable collection of web links and resources. These branches are curated by real people in the MrOwl community, not a computer, so they’re free of inappropriate content and organized in a way that makes sense. MrOwl is free of advertising, too, so you aren’t distracted by annoying pop-ups or sidebar ads.

But MrOwl is more than a safe search engine or a handy bookmarking tool; it’s also a unique social media platform that makes it easy to interact with others who share your interests. MrOwl community members can follow other users, message their own followers, and even invite people to collaborate with them on their branches. It truly couldn’t be any simpler! Members can also grab, “heart,” and share branches created by others.

Discover MrOwl in a Free Webinar 

To help teachers get started with MrOwl, I developed a webinar called Discover MrOwl: A Free Tech Tool for Organizing, Sharing, and Collaborating. The live presentation is over, but you can still watch the replay here. MrOwl is brand new, so if you like exploring new tech tools, you’ll love this webinar! MrOwl is a really powerful tool with a lot of cool features for teachers and even more on the way. During the webinar, I explained how to get started setting up a profile, creating topic branches, organizing your content, and collaborating with others. I even explained how to use it to set up a free class website.  When you watch the replay, you’ll meet Becky and Arvind Raichur, the founders of MrOwl, too!

Explore MrOwl on Your Own

To start exploring MrOwl on your own so you can see how it works, click over to my profile page, @laura_candler, and check out some of the branches I’ve created. If the page you see doesn’t look exactly like the one below, it’s probably because you’re not logged in. It’s easy to create a free account, but be sure to choose a user name that you don’t mind being public and visible to others. I recommend using your real name if it’s available, which is why I signed up with @laura_candler. After you log in, return to my profile page and follow me! Then grab branches you like to save them for later and explore MrOwl to find new interests and get inspired!

The MrOwl Backstory

MrOwl is the brainchild of Becky and Arvind Raichur, and their vision dates back almost 20 years to 1999, a time before Google and Pinterest when it was nearly impossible to search the web. Becky and Arvind envisioned making the Internet a better experience for everyone, where it’s easy to organize and curate collections of searchable links, documents and more in one convenient place. Their ultimate goal was to create a connected community curated by real people like you, not a computer. The word “crowdsourcing” wasn’t coined until 2005, but the concept describes their early vision perfectly!

It wasn’t until 2013 that they were able to put together a team to bring MrOwl to life, and it’s taken the team several years to build and test the site. During that time, they’ve added new features that make MrOwl more interactive and easier to personalize. MrOwl began as a web-based platform, but a convenient mobile app was just released so that you can access MrOwl right from your phone or tablet.

Reaching Out to Educators

Now that MrOwl is available to the public, Becky and Arvind are eager to spread the word so that others can benefit from this free tool. They’re especially excited about MrOwl’s potential for classroom use, which is why they reached out to me. They initially just asked me to review the site and offer feedback about how to make it even more useful for teachers. After I spent time on MrOwl, I realized that it’s far more powerful than it appears at first glance, and I knew that I had to share it with others! I was also impressed with Becky and Arvind’s sincere desire to make MrOwl even more useful for teachers and more appropriate for students. They’ve already started working on some new features, such as templates teachers can use to create free class websites, and they’re open to your feedback and suggestions as well.

Join the MrOwl Educators Facebook Group

I’ve also created a Facebook group called MrOwl Educators where teachers can learn about new features and get early access to them. Group members can also ask questions and share their ideas for using MrOwl in the classroom. A third function of the Facebook group will be to seek feedback about how to make MrOwl even better for educators, and this information will be shared with Becky and Arvind. If you’d like to join the MrOwl Educators Facebook group, fill out this Google Doc form and follow the directions on that page to request access.



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Episode 4: I Wish My Teacher Knew



Episode 4 Summary

“I Wish My Teacher Knew” is a simple activity developed by 3rd grade teacher Kyle Schwartz that transformed her classroom. In this episode, I share how this simple strategy has helped thousands of teachers build relationships with their students, including the story of a 4th grade teacher who put a unique spin on the activity to make it even more effective. I wrap up by sharing tips for using this strategy in your own classroom and offering ways to adapt it to meet the needs of your students.

Listen to the Episode 4 Podcast

Click the play button to listen now, or listen to this episode on Apple Podcasts or Google Play.

Episode 4 Resources and Links

Join the Conversation on Facebook

If you’d like to discuss this episode, head over to the Inspired Teaching Podcast Conversations group on Facebook and click on Unit 4 to find the discussion questions post. If you haven’t joined the group yet, be sure to answer all three questions that pop up when you make your request.



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Interactive Teaching with Plickers (Free Webinar)



Click HERE to Register for the Webinar Replay

Do you use Plickers in your classroom? If not, it’s definitely worth taking time to check it out!

Plickers is an amazing FREE formative assessment tool that works like handheld response clicker programs, but it’s far cheaper because it doesn’t require expensive clicking devices.

If you’ve heard about Plickers, you might be wondering why everyone is so excited about it, especially if you tried to figure out how to use it on your own. Because Plickers can be a little confusing at first, the best way to learn how it works is to have someone walk you through the set up and explain how to use the program’s features.

If you don’t know anyone who uses Plickers, I’m here to help! I developed a free webinar to show you exactly how to get started and how to use the program to actively engage your students. The live webinar is over, but you can sign up to watch a free replay of Interactive Teaching with Plickers.

One reason I love Plickers, besides the fact that it’s FREE, is that it doesn’t require expensive clicker devices. Instead, this innovative program uses “paper clickers” that you can print for free from the Plickers website. You only need one card per student, and each card has a unique pattern that can be scanned like a QR code with just about any mobile device.

When you’re ready to use Plickers with your students, you’ll display multiple choice questions for the class one at a time. Your students will respond to each question by holding up and turning their cards in one of 4 directions. Next, you’ll scan all the student response cards from the front of the room by pointing your mobile device camera at the class and “sweeping” it around the room. Within moments, data will appear on your device to show who answered the problem correctly and who still needs help. That same data will also be captured in your online Plickers account to review and analyze later. Being able to capture assessment data quickly and easily means you can teach interactively and adapt your instruction to the needs of individual students without having to take home stacks of papers to grade each night!

I learned about Plickers over a year ago, and I loved it right away! I couldn’t believe that something so amazing was FREE! I started sharing information about it on my Teaching Resources page, and every time I did, the post went viral. Dozens of teachers commented on those posts to tell me how much they loved Plickers and about all the interesting things they were doing with the program.

Free Plickers Facebook Group

I was so intrigued by the program that I set up a Facebook group where teachers who were using Plickers can share ideas or get help with the features of the program. Plickers can be used with just about any grade from Kindergarten through college and in almost any subject area, but it was clear from comments on Facebook that elementary teachers use it a bit differently than teachers of older students. As a former elementary teacher, I wanted to know more about how Plickers is being used with K-5 students, so I decided to make those grades the focus of the Facebook group. If you’re interested in joining this group, click over to the K-5 Plickers Facebook group application form, read the details, follow the directions, and sign up.

 

Free Webinar: Interactive Teaching with Plickers

The more I learned about Plickers, the more I loved it. In fact, I’ve already written two other posts about Plickers to share how it can be used. Plickers 101: Digital Exit Tickets and More was the first post, and I followed that with Plickers 102: Innovative Ways to Use Plickers.

The only problem is that Plickers can be a bit tricky to set up and use, and it’s hard to explain exactly what to do in a blog post. That kind of information is easier to share in a webinar, and that’s why I presented Interactive Teaching with Plickers in February. It’s jam-packed with information including how to set up your account to using innovative strategies to use Plickers interactively.

To get a sneak peek at the webinar content, you can download the free handouts below from my TpT store. These handouts provide an outline to follow during the webinar that many attendees find to be helpful, especially if they want to use the webinar for professional development.

I hope you enjoy the webinar replay. I know you and your students will LOVE Plickers just as much as I do!



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