Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Review: The Thing About Jellyfish

The Thing About Jellyfish The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

12 year old Suzy just knows that things don't happen for no reason. When her "former" best friend, Franny, dies in a tragic accident, Suzy refuses to believe that it just happened, and she sets off to prove her theory. This story of grief, loss, and life in our universe is a must read for all ages!

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Monday, September 18, 2017

Goodbye Revision History | Hello Version History

Google Revision History for Docs, Slides, and Sheets, was a great feature for teachers to see student work as it progressed through a document. Now, Google has updated this feature to Version History. With this change, users can now name the various versions of the file so they can easily track changes at specific points. For example, users could name their versions Draft 1, Draft 2, Post-Peer Editing, Final Draft, etc. so that it's easy to see progress and quickly return to a specific version of a file.

Check out this short tutorial on Version History:

Bonus: Do you ever need some quick text to fill a document for sample reasons? Check out the text generator Cupcake Ipsum for a quick way to auto-generate text with a little flair!

Friday, September 15, 2017

Review: As I Descended

As I Descended As I Descended by Robin Talley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Throw together a bunch of fairly privileged teens at an elite southern prep school located on an old "haunted" plantation, and the stage is set for your average teenage tale of friendship, secret love, backstabbing...blah, blah, blah. But when Maria and Lily, roommates and secret lovers, open a door to the spirit world through an ancient Ouija board, enter the spirits who have plans of their own. This modern retelling of Macbeth is a creepy and sinister tale that blurs the lines between murder and madness.

I probably would have given this 4 stars, but after listening to the horrible voices on the audio version I'm fairly certain that influenced my overall rating. Most teens will love to hate these totally flawed characters.

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Monday, September 11, 2017

Text to Speech Chrome Extensions

I'm often asked what resources are available to students that will read text to them on the Internet. Since our school is a G Suite school and utilizes Chromebooks as a primary tech tool, I always turn to Chrome Extensions. Below you'll find a few of the text to speech extensions I've used. There are pros and cons to each extension, so try them out and decide for yourselves which one would work best for you and your students.

Highlight the text and either right click to select Read Aloud or click on the icon. The text will begin reading aloud. Once the reading has begun, clicking on the icon will bring up a screen where the text is highlighted as it is read. From here you can pause, go forward, or go back. Right click on the icon to customize voice, speed, volume, etc. Worked on all web pages and applications tested.
Not the most natural speech pattern, but overall easy to listen to.

Speak It!
Highlight the text and right click on the selected text then choose “SpeakIt!”. The text will be read aloud in whatever voice you have chosen. To customize the voice, speed, volume, etc. simply click on the icon in the Chrome navigation bar.
Does not work consistently with all web pages or applications. Customizations are fairly limited.

When you are on a web page and click the Announcify extension, the web page will reload in a simpler, cleaner format. Ads, comments, and such will be removed, leaving just the core content and images. You are not able to highlight the text you want, it always starts at the top and reads completely to the bottom. You can click on the forward and backward buttons (hidden menu on left side of screen) if you want it to skip ahead. The extension also blurs out all of the text except for the paragraph it is currently reading. You can right click on its icon and choose “Options” to adjust the speed, pitch, and voice (male, female, multiple nationalities).
Inability to select portions of text to be read (all or skip ahead), and does not work consistently with all web pages or applications.

Aside from the typical use for text to speech applications - reading assistance - consider the following ideas for classroom support.

  1. Improved listening fluency - many students who are proficient in reading do not have the same proficiency while listening. Practicing listening, in addition to reading the visual words, can enhance understanding via non-visual methods. 
  2. Non-English fluency - since many applications have voices that read in multiple languages and dialects, students can select text in the language they are studying and have it read to them to help with pronunciation, etc.
  3. Writing editing - teachers have long asked students to read their work aloud. Rather than having the student read the work (and self-correct errors without even realizing it), try having them use a text to speech tool to read their written work. It is more likely that students will hear errors when they are not the person reading the text.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Review: Lilac Girls

Lilac Girls Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The stories of three very different women are woven together to illuminate the bravery, cruelty, and camaraderie that so many women faced during World War II. Caroline, a former Broadway star, New York socialite, and liaison to the French Consulate finds the course of life dramatically changed when the Nazis begin their assault on Eastern Europe. A world away, Kasia, a Polish teen, is pulled into the Polish underground after Nazis invade Poland and her carefree world is ripped apart. While in Germany, Herta, a woman doctor in a man's world takes a job for the German government as the only female doctor at Ravensbruck - soon to become one of the most notorious Nazi concentration camps.

These women's lives intersect when Kasia finds herself sent to Ravensbruck and she becomes a human pawn for Nazi medical experimentation. Inspired by actual events, Lilac Girls is a heart-breaking story, but one that illustrates the power of compassion.

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Friday, July 28, 2017

Review: A Psalm for Lost Girls

A Psalm for Lost Girls A Psalm for Lost Girls by Katie Bayerl
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Tess de Costa was 17 when she died of an hidden heart condition, she was also considered a Saint by many. No just an amazingly great young lady, a literal Saint. When Tess started hearing voices that guided her to very specific knowledge, her Catholic community paid close attention. The lives of Tess, her mother, and her younger sister, Callie, became caught up in mystery and spirituality. Yet when a neighbor girl, Anna, disappears, Tess's gift cannot help finder her before the stress takes its toll.

Callie's quest to disprove the Saint status, along with her deep grief, leads her to investigate the mysterious reappearance of Anna, and along the way come to terms with how to live without her sister.

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Review: Grendel's Guide to Love and War

Grendel's Guide to Love and War Grendel's Guide to Love and War by A.E. Kaplan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A fun romp through one summer of misfit teen, Tom Grendel's, crazy life. Filled with a little love, a lot of war, and total absurdity, readers will fly through this YA tale.

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