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Word Dynamo: Vocabulary made fun

What it is:  Word Dynamo is a superb site from Dictionary.com.  Word Dynamo makes learning new words a whole lot of fun. Here is how it works: 1.  Answer 10 questions and Word Dynamo will calculate how many words a student knows. This is your word score. The word score adjusts as you learn new words, Word Dynamo helps give students study “shortcuts” to learn new words faster. 2.  Word Challenge- in word challenge students are offered a custom 20-level game designed especially for their skill level.  As students master meanings, they unlock the next threshold of difficulty. 3.  The Word Dynamo Library- here students can browse and search for things they need to learn.  Students can choose to practice by schooling level, SAT prep, subject or popular word lists. 4.  Play Games- students can practice vocabulary by matching terms and definitions, listening to the word and definition, spell a word out in a crossword puzzle, etc. New challenges are unlocked as students succeed! 5.  Create a Word List- this one is my favorite, I love that students can create their own lists based on what they need to work on. How to integrate Word Dynamo into the classroom:  Word Dynamo is an easy fit into any classroom k-12.  This is a great addition to your language arts, math, economics, science, history, (ANY) classroom.  Word Dynamo gives students the keys to their own learning by working with them at their own level.  It would be wonderful to use Word Dynamo throughout the year to keep kids playing with words.  Students will love watching their own “estimated words you know” score creep up and up over the course of the school year.  Vocabulary is one of those things that students don’t always realize that they are learning throughout the school day.  Then *bam* they wake up one day and suddenly know a whole LOT of words. The games and practice items on Word Dynamo make for a great vocabulary center on classroom computers during language arts.  But, as I mentioned before, my very favorite part is the ability for students to create their own lists.  At Anastasis, we have  students constantly adding to their own spelling/vocabulary list as they come across new words they want to learn.  I like that Word Dynamo give them a place to keep, practice and play with these words.  Students have ownership over their own learning and aren’t stuck practicing and testing on the words they already know. Do you assign spelling and vocabulary words each week?  Let students enter those words in their custom list to practice! Because Word Dynamo is constantly utilizing the feedback it gets from students, it is constantly challenging them and urging them on to a new personal best.  Students can watch their score go up, engage in challenges, and choose fun games that keep them learning. In other words, this is a site you are going to want to have handy for your students! Don’t have the opportunity for students to use Word Dynamo on their own account/computer?  Put up a challenge on the interactive whiteboard or projector-connected computer.  As students enter the classroom, they can each answer a question on the way to their seats.  Keep track of the number of words that the whole class knows. Tips: The Quick Tour will lead you through all the Word Dynamo goodies and have you ready to use it with your students in no time!  Word Dynamo looks and works well on the iPad and iPod Touch browser…great for vocabulary practice anywhere. Please leave a comment and share how you are using Word Dynamo in  your classroom!

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Acting on hindsight #edchat

Posted by admin | Posted in Anastasis Academy, Classroom Management, professional development | Posted on 13-01-2014

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I hate that we have to do trainings like this.  I really do. It breaks my heart that within 15 minutes of Anastasis 3 major school shootings have taken place.  I hate that I know what it is like to wait on the outside. That I know intimately how it breaks families when their child is the one.  That I also know what it is like to worry about kids I’ve known since they were 5. It doesn’t get easier.

I also hate that we have to do fire drills. The reality of why we have to do those drills makes me sad. That a fire drill exists because there were some who died in a fire is equally sad. Yet we do them regularly.  I can’t remember a time when I actually heard of a child dying in a school fire, but I’m sure it has happened.  So we run drills. 6 times every year.  We practice getting out of the building safe so that, heaven forbid, if a fire ever happened, evacuating would feel second nature.  We would all know what to do.

No matter how many times we train, when tragedy strikes it feels different. Time slows down and, at the same time, goes impossibly fast. Decisions matter. This is when we fall back on all of the training and hope that our muscles remember what their job is. We work hard to be calm for kids.  We know implicitly that we will do anything to keep our kids safe.

I was in a neighboring high school during the Columbine school shooting. This was the first time that I remember ever being in “Lock down.”  My algebra 2 teacher quickly locked the classroom door.  We turned out the lights.  We stayed out of site from the door and were asked to be totally silent.  Later we would turn on the TV (cable in the classroom was new), and watch as friends poured out of the high school down the street.  We would keep lists of those we saw so that we could tell each other who we knew was accounted for.  Afterward I would hear stories from those inside about how it went. Some hid in closets. Some under tables. All waited. In some cases that waiting led to friends dying under the neighboring table. Hindsight is always 20/20.  Now we know how quickly it was all over inside the school. Now we look at the number of law enforcement on the outside of the school with all of their armor and weapons and wonder why they sat and waited SO long on the outside. Now we wonder why those who could evacuate stayed where they were and waited…even knowing that there was a gunman in the building. Hindsight is hard. There is so much to do differently.

But we don’t really.  15 years later and little has changed about how we respond to danger. A shooter in the building and we tell teachers and students to stay put and wait.

Now I have my own school.  Anastasis Academy.  It is incumbent on me to use that hindsight to prepare differently.  I know how this goes. I still hate that it is necessary. It still gives me that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach that somehow by preparing, we would be inviting trouble. I guess this is the same reason people don’t like writing wills.  That superstition that if they don’t do it- nothing can happen because they won’t be ready.  The real world doesn’t wait for us to be ready.

Social Media has done a lot of great things for me professionally.  It pushed me to start a school.  Most recently, a connection I first made online, led to a friendship.  @laurascheer isn’t an educator.  We started talking on Twitter because she has kids of her own. She is interested in education as a parent. Then we realized we live within 5 minutes of each other and met.  Laura introduced me to a client of hers, @taconeconsulting.  I had no idea a company like Tac One existed.

Being in charge of a school is hard. It is hard to balance what you know about kids, with what you know about the world, and what you know about liability.  But I’ve seen school shootings up close. I know how they go.  I had a hard time doing lock down the way that every other school does lock down. I guess I was waiting for permission to trust my instincts.  After the Arapahoe shooting, Laura messaged me and asked if we would be interested in having Tac One Consulting come out and train us.
I immediately accepted (despite the irrational “jinx” alarm in my mind).  On Saturday all Anastasis staff went through Tac One’s Beyond Lockdown Training. I’m so glad that we did!  Joe helped us see that this is no different from preparing for a fire. The hope is always that all the training will go without a test. But, in the instance that you need it, you have it.

The team teaches what I’ve always suspected should be the case: if your students are able to get out of the building (where all the law enforcement is…or will soon be…hanging out) do it. Evacuation is the best case scenario, NOT sitting and waiting the way many of us have been told to do for 15 years. Tac One even taught us how to evacuate so that we do so in a safe, smart way.

If for some reason we can’t get out of the building, we were taught how to secure our classrooms.  Joe walked us through each room and helped us think through what could be used to do this. Visualizing what is available puts your mind at ease. You have a plan, you aren’t left sitting in the dark. We also learned about various guns. What they look like, how they work, what the bullets and magazines look like. If you come upon a hallway with discarded magazines, you now have a better idea of what you are dealing with. Knowledge is power. We were taught how to disarm a shooter in a “safe” manner (not sure this is ever safe).  We took turns practicing this on Tac One’s bad guy, John.  We learned how to more safely navigate halls, how to fight back if it all goes poorly, etc.

I’ll say it again, I pray that I will NEVER need any of this knowledge. But I also hope I will never need fire drill knowledge. I also hope I will never have to put our tornado drill to the test.  I will continue to run our staff through ALL of these drills and trainings because I haven’t figured out how to predict the future or how to prevent bad things from happening.

I am beyond thankful for Tac One’s training not only from a tactical standpoint, but also for the reminder of the truly incredible people I’ve surrounded myself with. This was a great reminder of the trust that I have in my staff. If I ever need someone to have my back, I’m glad that they are around!

capitalizing on hindsight

School administrators- I encourage you to take a good look at your lock down procedures. Are you doing the same things that have been done for the past 15 years? Even with all we know about how this goes?

Teachers- You are the first line of defense. Protecting kids falls on your shoulders. If your school has a tired lock down policy, encourage them to look at a training like Tac One offers.

Parents- Know what your child’s school does to keep your kids safe. If there is room to grow, push. This is important. Pray that it never happens, but don’t make assumptions that it won’t ever happen to your child’s school.

It is up to us to protect that which is most precious. I want to know that I’ve taken every possible measure to do that.  Before Laura pointed me to Joe at Tac One, I didn’t know such a training was available to schools. It is.  Check it out.

Thank you Joe at @taconeconsulting and @laurascheer very much appreciated!

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