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Page history last edited by Mallory Burton 13 years, 4 months ago

Skill Toolbelts for Students


This wiki is designed to document what the resource teacher and I are doing at CHSS to assist a group of students in discovering tools and skills that will help them succeed in high school.  Every effort will be made to:

  • focus on tools for areas of need identified by students and teachers
  • focus only on tools that are widely available at CHSS or entirely free
  • focus on tools that require very little time to install and learn
  • communicate the information individually or in very small groups rather than workshops
  • go very slowly so we have time to evaluate these tools in genuine learning situations 


Some General Considerations


flickr cc photo 

Acquiring Toolbelts

Ira Socol, a University of Michigan educator who is a strong advocate of educational change, has blogged extensively about student toolbelts.  He believes that students should be involved in the selection of their tools, learning to determine what works best for them, so they can become advocates for their own lifelong learning.  You might be interested in reading Ira's post about Technology Toolbelts as a School Policy.

Blue Marble NASA photo 

Universally Designing the Environment

In order to be truly effective, these supports should be available "just-in-time" for any student who needs to use them, whether at home, on their own computers, on any of the computers in your classrooms or learning centre.  Students should not have to go to a different room to use these tools.  If we find tools that work for students, we can come up with a list that could eventually be incorporated into a standard computer image.  Tim is interested in a list of free tools that could become part of the district image.


Exploring the Tools



Student Portfolios/USB Drives/Earbuds

Students are going to keep "Who am I as a Learner" portfolios.  These will include a section on learning style and preferences, tool evaluations including comments on which tools worked and didn't work, and examples of work completed with those tools.  Students will also have their own USB drives and earbuds.

Tools for Determining/Expressing Learning Styles

The resource teacher has started to help students understand their learning styles.   She started with a simple online quiz of 9 questions at About.com.  The students also made collages of pictures that expressed their interests using a free online tool called ShapeCollage.  The learning style/preferences evaluation is not going to be a one-time activity but a theme she returns to several times during the year.

We are also going to take a look at Karen Hume's book Start Where They Are which contains an overview of student learning preferences and interests in Chapter 4.  The CD that comes with the book contains a number of printable learning style and preference inventories to use with students.  There are several copies of this book available in the district, and Karen is coming here to present in April! 

Tools Available at CHSS

The resource teacher has spent most of September making sure the students know where to find and how to sign into several online tools the school has purchased.  These include:

BC Science 8 Home Version


World Book (easy sign-in through our SD 52 website, lower rh corner) 

The strategies included taping cards with sign-in information to computers used by students and getting students to record sign-in information in their agendas for home use.

The next step is making sure students know how to access and use the information/features at each site.  For example, many students (and teachers) are unaware that the Student World Book has text-to-speech for some articles and the ability to save articles to an online account or download as .pdfs.

Evaluating the Tools

Anne has designed a way for kids to keep track of their evaluation of the tools using checklists...we're also thinking about using Flip video camera interviews.  The students do not have to complete the evaluations all at once...it's a year-long process that can be revisited.


Text-to-Speech Tools

Many of our students require support for reading and writing.  Often, a human reader such as a teaching assistant, parent, or peer is unavailable.  Digital Text-to-speech readers lack the nuances of human vocal expression but allow students to work more independently in both reading and editing text. 

Our district has recently purchased additional copies of the powerful Kurzweil 3000 screenreading software and several students have this software provided by SET-BC.  However, if Kurzweil is not available for your students, or if they need a text-to-speech tool for home use, you may want to explore free alternatives. 

The TTS tool we'll focus on first is:

That's a priority because students can use Adobe's free .pdf reader to access BC Science 8 without having to install anything. 

There are many free text-to-speech tools, so we can add other screen readers as they're needed.  The others we are likely to introduce right away are:

  • NaturalReader for reading in various Microsoft applications, .pdf, .txt, and on the internet
  • WordTalk for use with MS Word and .txt files

Dictionary Tools

Some students have already asked for help in defining difficult key vocabulary they are encountering in their classes. 

Most of the major dictionary companies offer free online dictionaries but often these have too many ads and/or a confusing format.  Some students can get a better sense of a word by viewing photos associated with the word.

So, the two dictionary tools we are introducing right away are:

If students need help reading these definitions online, we'll introduce NaturalReader right away.  Otherwise, as soon as these are in place we'll move on to some Firefox dictionary tools.

Easier Access to the Tools

It's the end of September and already we have half a dozen or so websites to keep track of.  I've made up a sqworl page that has thumbnails of all the websites so students can find them more easily.  Maybe it's not an issue but we'll try this and find out.  It's ridiculously easy to create and edit these pages, so we could create different collections for break time or for different subject areas.  Better yet, if students like the idea maybe they can create their own selection of tools.


Firefox Dictionary and Reference Tools

Google Dictionary and Shahi are great for looking up a list of words (the students definitely prefer Shahi).  However the Firefox Browser has several free dictionary add-ons that students may find useful for quick lookup without having to leave the internet page they're on. 

WikiLook allows you to see the definition of a word just by hovering the mouse over the word or using Ctrl plus a right mouse click to open the link to Wikipedia.  Wikilook does not work with Natural Reader, but if the student doesn't need reading support it's a great choice. 

HyperWords does everything!   Selecting a word and pointing to an icon (or simply right-clicking) brings up a menu of choices which includes looking up the definition, opening wikipedia, searching on Google, converting (e.g. from miles to kilometers), translating to a variety of languages, and sharing by email or to a variety of social networks.

Converting Files to mp3 for Use on iPods

At PRSS, I had a request for information on converting files to mp3 format so students could listen to them on their istuff.  Some mp3 files are available on ARC-BC.  You can convert any Kurzweil file to an mp3 by going to the File Menu and choosing Create audio.  It's also possible to convert files to mp3 using the free Zamzar online converter.  For example, this could be used to convert downloaded .pdfs of BC Science 8 or World Book Student Edition articles. 



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