Monday, December 14, 2015

H&R Block Budget Challenge: Get your class involved!

I first posted back in July about the H&R Block Budget Challenge and included links to financial literacy sites to use in the classroom. There is still time to enroll your high school or high-school age homeschool class in this great contest which helps students learn and, more importantly, practice personal financial literacy, as well as offering teachers and students a chance to win grants and scholarships!  

The H&R Block Budget Challenge immerses high-school students in the life of a recent college graduate who has been working for six months. Each participant receives a virtual salary and must make smart budgeting decisions regarding expenses, such as rent, utilities, car payments and more. Students are challenged to balance current and future financial needs and demonstrate resourcefulness, understanding and practical application of financial concepts

There are six rounds of the H&R Block Budget Challenge, and there are still three rounds left to participate in, so sign your class up today! The closing dates for registration for the remaining three simulations are January 7, January 21, or February 4, 2016.

The H&R Block Budget Challenge encourages students to learn personal finance in a fun, engaging way while competing against other classrooms and students for $3 million in classroom grants and student scholarships. These awards include 60 chances for classroom grants up to $5000, 132 chances of student scholarships of $20,000, and a grand prize student scholarship of $100,000!

Since I believe financial literacy is one of the important literacies our students should attain before they graduate high school, I have blogged about ideas to enhance this across the curriculum, and I consider financial literacy one of the thirteen essential literacies. 

The H&R Block Web site also includes Budget Challenge lesson plans and student activities educators can use in the classroom. The H&R Block Budget Challenge and these lesson plans target Common Core standards for English language arts and mathematics, as well as personal finance benchmarks established by the Council for Economic Education (CEE) and the Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy


Once students have completed the H&R Budget Challenge, you can continue the financial literacy instruction by the use of infographics. After participating in the H&R Block Budget Challenge, the students will have the knowledge base to determine the usefulness, validity, and information included in these types of infographics. In addition, you can have students re-create the infographics by including new data, a different focus, or research data they have collected. (Additional information on how to use infographics in the classroom may be found on my Web page here.)

Here are some infographics and Google search links to get students started.

Sign your class up today for the H&R Block Budget Challenge

This is a sponsored post on behalf of We Are Teachers and H&R Block
I received compensation for this post, however all opinions stated are my own.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The National Education Technology Plan 2016

The new National Education Technology Plan was launched today. Having worked on the 2000 version of the plan, I was anxious to read the document entitled "Future Ready Learning: Reimagining the Role of Technology in Education".


The #NETP16 provides a current look at successful technology practices in schools across the country and includes five major categories -- learning, teaching, leadership, assessment, and infrastructure. There were no real surprises for me in the document, and I know of many schools who have already met many of the goals and recommendations outlined in the document.


However, for those schools and districts who are still working on embedding technology more meaningfully into teaching, learning, and leadership, the NETP includes short vignettes that can help continue the conversation around technology in their schools. And, with a robust bibliography of resources and people consulted for these overviews, the NETP will allow those who are in the planning stage to contact the subjects of the vignettes and ask questions (or read their blog) to find out more about the steps they took to move ahead in this area.


The NETP document is arranged in a fashion that make it easy for all members of the education community to understand what the current best practices are in the use of technology to support teaching and learning. Higher education faculty can use the NETP to plan their instruction for pre-service teachers. Pre-service teachers can use ideas from one of the vignettes and conduct an action research project. School and district leaders can use the NETP to help board members, parents, and community members to better understand what works in today's classroom. Teachers can take each chapter of the NETP and turn it into a PLC to discuss what is best for their school, grade level, and classroom.


There were a few items that jumped out at me, probably because they were ideas and thoughts that I am passionate about. The first was a new phrase to me-- "the digital use divide". The student use of technology for creation rather than consumption is something that is near and dear to my heart, and that is what this phrase is all about.



The second was found in the chapter on assessment. The overview of next generation digital assessments becoming more project-based and meaningful for the student is exciting! With more powerful back-end hardware and software and robust infrastructure in schools, I believe the time is finally here that this will become a reality.

School districts should consider combining the study of The National Education Technology Plan 2016 and the New Media Consortium's K-12 Horizon Report, which provides a five-year out look into innovations in technology that can impact teaching and learning. By combining best practices with exciting new ideas, I believe the use of technology in the classroom to support teaching and learning in a meaningful and innovative way will become the norm and and help our students get ready for whatever awaits them in the future!


Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Presentation tips and tricks

This article originally appeared in the Discovery Education blog "Kathy Schrock's Katch of the Month" in December 2015 and is re-posted here with permission.

Discovery Education Streaming includes tons of resources that can be used by teachers and students for projects and presentations. In addition to editable videos, there are images, clipart, and songs, sound effects and other audio clips. To make a presentation get noticed and stand out, there are some basic methodologies you should think about.
Background colors you pick to use in your presentation can negate your message or make it difficult for your viewers to learn from your information. Lynell Burmark, in her book entitled “Visual Literacy: Learn to See, See to Learn“, provides the research behind the use of color and its impact on the viewer. Here is a quick chart of this research.
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Remember to think carefully about the background colors you pick for your presentations, highlight colors you pick for for your videos, or colors you include in an infographic!

One of my favorite videos, from the Teaching Channel site, includes information about basic video camera use in the classroom to improve practice. You can watch the five-minute video to learn more, but following is an overview of the great tips that are shared and apply to use of a video camera in any situation!
  1. Use a tripod or hold the camera close to your body.
  2. Don’t shoot towards a window. Either move the camera or move the subject.
  3. Don’t forget to press the record button!
  4. If you are not using an external microphone, get the camera as close as you can to the subject for the best audio.
  5. Always hold your camera in landscape mode for video or photos you are going to use in a video.
  6. Don’t pan too fast and be judicious with the use of zoom.
  7. Remember to back-up your raw footage to a computer or external drive.

There are many different recommendations for the number of words per line, lines per slide, and the size of the font on a slide or a slide inserted into a video. These are just basic suggestions, but always remember to think about the distance between the back of the room, the screen size, and the size of the projected image.
Dave Paradi, of, interpolated the size of the the text on US road signs, and came up with the following two charts with suggestions for the comfortable viewing distance based on the sizes of the screen and font. And, of course, if you know the size of the screen and the distance already, you can use the chart to determine your font size, too.
Created by Dave Paradi of
Screen Shot 2015-11-25 at 1.34.07 PM
As far as the number of words per line and lines per slide, the current trend is to use short phrases with an image to help the audience remember the content. However, the standard rule of thumb is either five lines per slide with no more than five words each (5×5 rule) or six lines with no more than six words per line (6×6 rule).
The default templates that come with slide presentation programs don’t always adhere to best practices in slide design. For instance, many of the slide templates center the title and left-align the body text. I think it looks better to have only one alignment. Either left-align the title or center the body text, but don’t mix two text alignments on the same slide.
Instead of using bullet points, think about creating a bit more space between each point on your slide. This makes it obvious where one idea starts and stops. Numbering each point, however, may be necessary if you are including instructions or steps in a procedure.

Make sure the images in your presentation look professional. Clipart is nice when presenting to younger students, but there are plenty of Creative Commons-licensed images that allow editing which can be used in a presentation to illustrate your point or expand upon the content. I suggest taking a look at the Photos For Class site. This site searches for images that include the ability to edit without giving that same license to any variation you create and the images can only be used non-commercially. Remember, students and you can use the Flickr search, Google Images search, or Bing search to limit your searches to Creative Commons licenses and just get images you want to use as-is, which are left out of the Photos For Class searchers.. However, the Photos for Class images include a great feature– the citation for the image is downloaded with the image itself! This makes if very easy for students to cite the images they use in a project. The image below illustrates what a download looks like.

There are a few major players in the video creation field. Apple’s iMovie for Mac and Adobe’s Premiere Elements for Mac and Windows are two common stand-alone programs used in schools. And, WeVideo is an often-used Web 2.0 video creation tool. Each one includes the ability to import images onto the video timeline and then apply effects to these images. One common one, called the “Ken Burns Effect” in iMovie, the “Pan and Zoom” in Adobe Premiere Elements, and “Animation” in WeVideo, allows animating of these imported images. This can help focus the viewers attention on a certain area of the image. Students should learn how to adjust the Ken Burns Effect, the Pan and Zoom Effect, and the Animation Effect to meet the needs of their intended audience. In addition, judicious use of the pan and zoom effect is recommended. Too many images zooming in and out can make a viewer dizzy!