Next Week in Cleveland: XPRIZE & CLE-BEE

Adult literacy providers and supporters in the Cleveland area have two exciting opportunities next week to network and learn:

$1 Million Adult Literacy XPRIZE Communities Competition Info Session

Want to revolutionze adult literacy by testing out the newest, research-based adult literacy mobile apps? Willing to compete for a chance at $1 million by motivating the most adult learners to utilize mobile learning? Register for free lunch and more information at 1pm on September 12th at Cleveland Public Library, Main Branch.

XPRIZE representative Haneen Khalef will also be hosting information sessions in Columbus on September 10th and in Akron on September 14th.

Not in Ohio? Find out more about the Communities Competition here.

One Night Only: 3rd Annual CLE-BEE

Many years ago, Christine Lee trained me as a volunteer adult literacy tutor, opening my eyes to the depth of the issue and inspiring my future career path.

More recently, Christine continues to inspire awareness and involvement with the crazy, fun idea to host a corporate spelling bee fundraiser to benefit adult literacy.

The whole team at The Literacy Cooperative of Greater Cleveland has worked to make this fun idea a reality. On September 13th, CLE-BEE will celebrate its 3rd year with high energy, local celebrities… and of course some good food and drink.

Individual tickets are $30.

Hope to see you there!

As Promised: Quick (Unofficial) 2017 GED® Test Update

Hi friends! I had a lot of fun last week at The Literacy Cooperative’s training “2017 GED® Test Update” in Independence, Ohio. Teachers shared about their program’s practices, challenges, and had lots of hands-on exploration with free online resources.

As promised, I am making the workshop content available online for those who couldn’t make the session in person!

Check out Quick (Unofficial) 2017 GED Test Update today

Save yourself the time searching and sorting and spend more time exploring! Check out my curated list of the BEST resources that GED® Test Prep instructors NEED TO KNOW for 2017.

For just $5, access my recommendations and descriptions with links. Post in the comments section to network and share ideas. Discuss the landscape of College Ready Plus Credit and WIOA. Strategize to become an advocate for GED® Test prep students and passers in your region.

Join now!

GED® is a registered trademark of the American Council on Education (ACE) and administered exclusively by GED Testing Service LLC under license. Any content on this website is not endorsed or approved by these trademark holders.

COMING SOON!

In addition to the planned workshop content, participants also had a lot of questions about the upcoming changes here in Ohio.  The state is taking steps to evaluate adding the HiSET and TASC Tests as options to earn a high school equivalency diploma. While I gave folks in the session a quick overview of the alternatives, this topic deserves its own full workshop.

I have already helped programs in states like Texas, New Jersey, and California navigate the territory of multiple High School Equivalency exams and options. Once we get an announcement from the state of Ohio, I will be providing a FREE live workshop through The Literacy Cooperative. Look for that date and get your questions answered on whichever HSE test option(s) the state decides.

Your Early Holiday Gift: A Sneak Peak at Mustard Seed Teaching

Hi friends! SHHHHH! I have been working on something, and I can’t keep it a secret any more! But don’t tell everyone just yet…

I’m not ready to shout it to the WHOLE world, but just couldn’t wait to give you a sneak peak into an exciting new project I’m planning to launch in early 2017. I really look forward to your feedback!

fb-profilepicYou may notice I’ve been updating my social media profiles and testing out a redesign to my website, which will still be around at Farrellink.com

While I’m keeping the website, I closed Farrell Ink LLC as an organization last year. In 2017, I will be building a new social enterprise called Mustard Seed Teaching, which will work closely with the existing non-profit Mustard Seed Books.

Check out our first two FREE courses!

You know how much I love sharing FREE study materials! Dr Rick Chan Frey and his team at Mustard Seed Books developed a series of 1st grade level readers that anyone can view, download or print for free. That’s TWENTY FREE BOOKS for 1st graders! Having a first grader myself, I decided I had to tell the world about these cool books.

But sharing the books is just the beginning…

Mustard Seed Books has the potential to go way beyond the existing original series. We want to develop a community of authors so that teachers, parents, and even kids can write their own Mustard Seed Books to share with the world. It’s not rocket science to write a 1st grade book, after all, and turns out to be quite a bit of fun!

screenshot_20161013-074005
Little Lizard

With my background in adult literacy, I instantly saw these elementary school books as adaptable for adult beginning readers as well.

Mustard Seed Books has the potential to address a major crisis in our field: we don’t have enough high-interest, beginning-level readers for adults, nor do we have many high-quality mobile apps for that demographic. Sure, there are some really awesome book series available on the market, and some great desktop-based software that has converted to mobile friendly.

But adult literacy publishers and programs alike are struggling to keep their doors open. The financial pinch means open source content is taking over. Mustard Seed Books offers a simple, engaging method to make that movement relevant to beginning adult readers. AND make reading materials easily accessible on any device, online OR offline!

“We don’t have enough high-interest, low level readers for adults.”

So I started daydreaming, as I often do…..

WHAT IF…

instead of writing books FOR adult educators, we wrote them WITH adult educators?

WHAT IF…

instead of writing books for a NATIONAL audience, we wrote them for LOCAL contexts?

WHAT IF…

instead of writing separate science, social studies, language arts, and math courses, we COMBINED them in a series of short and fun-to-read books?

WHAT IF…

we encouraged readers and parents and teachers to write and share their OWN stories?

WHAT IF…

high-demand entry level jobs had short, easy-to-follow training manuals?

That’s just a first glimpse at my vision for Mustard Seed Teaching. I hope you’re getting as excited as I am!

Starting in the spring, I will be offering a LIMITED NUMBER of online and face-to-face workshops to bring Mustard Seed Books to the world of adult literacy and workforce development. The workshops are not quite ready for prime time yet, but I wanted to share these FREE materials with you first, my most loyal readers.

PLEASE TELL ME WHAT YOU THINK!

I’m very open to improvements, and eager to talk with you about possibilities to get involved. Please feel free to comment, email, or schedule a call. But most importantly…

Enroll in the first two FREE courses today!

Think of it as an early holiday gift from me to you. Hope you enjoy!

Blended Learning and Final Lesson Plans

It’s time to break out the ping pong paddles and nunchucks! I chose a high interest session for Tuesday afternoon to get us pumped up with ideas and resources: blended learning.

We’ll alternate again between the computer lab and the classroom, providing time for groups to further research and type up their lessons plans. I hope it’s enough time to really polish these plans so they are fully prepared for use in the classroom!

And Moody Blues has just the right tune to send us off:

Tuesday afternoon / I’m just beginning to see / Now I’m on my way

 

Bigger, Better Writing on the GED Test

This afternoon in DC, we’ll divide into two groups, then switch mid-afternoon. Educators will have the chance to get on GED Academy and respond to both an RLA Extended Response and a Science Short Answer item. Directions:

Folks in the classroom will practice using rubrics and samples to improve writing instruction. And hopefully improve scores on the GED Test!

How are your students doing on the writing portion of the GED Test? Let me know in the comments!

Adult Educators’ Recommendations for Best Free Resources

It was a delight to work with adult educators to share and evaluate a smattering of the free content available out there for adult education and GED Test Prep. Participants at The Literacy Cooperative’s training organized into groups to become the Adult Education Resource Evaluation Team (AERET). After introducing 25 free websites available for Ohio adult educators (18 of those sites are free to a national audience), I sent the teams on a webquest.  They have shared their recommendations with you:

Low Level English Proficiency Learners

Our first group were professionals who serve a variety of literacy levels. Their overall finding was that there is not much out there that is intuitive and well paced for low level English readers or speakers. Almost everything requires instructional intervention.

Parameters for evaluation:

  1. Accessibility
  2. Site navigation
  3. General app look and feel
  4. Tech requirements

USAlearns.org

  1. Accessibility : Need to sign in which requires a username and Need to have an email address in order to enter the site. Need to answer a series of questions in order to enter the site.
  2. Site Navigation: The site is difficult to navigate; it doesn’t allow you to return to the previous page.
  3. Applications : The speaking part of the testing is too fast for low level learners. There are multiple ads on the page which makes it confusing for low level English.
  4. Tech Reqs: Need to have speakers on the computer to do the testing.

Gcflearnfree.org (non profit)

  1. Accessibility : No sign in for this site ; no email address needed.
  2. Site Navigation: No ads on the site but you need to have a higher level English level to understand the choices.
  3. Applications : Navigate in multiple languages to understand what to choose but there is a lot of narrative (content). There are many applications but they are scattered and difficult to navigate by technology.
  4. Tech Reqs: No special technology requirements.

Khanacademy.org

  1. Accessibility : Need to sign in (register) and requires an email. You need to enter a birth date which is a personal security issue.
  2. Site Navigation: Requires that you go to your email and click a link to sign up. Once you go to the email you then have to enter additional information which is confusing.
  3. Applications : Requires you to select an avatar which is confusing and then does not allow you to move to the next level.
  4. Tech Reqs: Speakers would be nice for interaction of sound but not necessary; necessary for video component. Adobe flash needed for video component.

LearnAmericanEnglishOnline.com

  1. Accessibility: No sign in required ; no security issues or email address needed.
  2. Site Navigation: The site has too many ads that could be confusing to the low level English learner.
  3. Applications: The quality of the videos is very low; not ESOL teachers on the video which allows for the use of confusing English for low level learners.
  4. Tech Reqs: Speakers and Adobe flash for video component.

NEO Literacy Corps

The next group was a team of AmeriCorps Members serving for a year in adult literacy and workforce development contexts.

We evaluated four different sites for GED preparation. It was our goal to find sites to use in our classrooms, with students ages 17-22 as well as adult learners (22+).  All sites evaluated require internet access and access to a computer with a functioning keyboard, mouse or track pad, and monitor. We analyzed the sites based on Usability and Instructional Quality. In the conclusion, we covered Cost Analysis.

Tri-C’s Math MOOC

Usability:

  • the students need to know how to navigate the Blackboard Course system.
  • Accessing the system requires login
  • Facilitators would need to have taken the course themselves, as there is no instructor companion material.

Instructional Quality:

  • Student & adult learners can use website
  • Math, English, GED readiness
  • Learners use without instructor guiding

McGraw Hill Online Learning Center

[Farrell Ink’s note: Aligned to the 2002 GED Test Prep Series from Contemporary/McGraw Hill.] Websites:

Usability:

  • Has a teachers guide
  • Does not require auxiliary equipment
  • Simple, logical layout and structure
  • Language arts focus on writing, but not reading comprehension.

Instructional Quality:

  • Both instructors and students can use site for language arts, math, various refreshers for GED readiness
  • Instructors can assist students with curriculum
  • Does not have to be instructor lead

GEDforfree.com

Usability

  • Unappealing set up: small print, antiquated look.
  • We don’t know if signing up grants you access to automatic grading for question responses.

Instructional Quality:

  • Student based
  • This site does not give process updates, this is not instructor based

Readtheory.org

Usability:

  • This site was one of the only places we could find for Reading Comprehension, which is one of the major components of the GED and one that many sites (including Khan Academy) did not specifically target.
  • Sleek, appealing layout and appearance.

Instructional Quality:

  • Reading comprehension, language arts, reading development
  • Student based but they can track their progress

Conclusion

With respect to analyzing cost, start-up fees are associated with any computer lab or computer based program including location (renting or maintaining available space, as well as associated utilities).  Classroom instruction fees could be incurred as well.  Maintaining the computers will require IT personnel, which may be volunteers but it is more likely that programs will pay for these services.  All of the online programs we analyzed were free to access.

Workforce Development

The final group’s target population were low-income, low-literacy un-employed or under employed adults with limited labor market attachment; individuals who need to advance towards self-sufficiency.

Costs:  Headphones for computers (if needed), paper, pens, printer

Criteria:

  • Low-cost/free resources for low-income and low-computer literacy users
  • Materials written at around a 6th grade level; visually appealing as well to keep users engaged
  • Sites able to blend smoothly into the job search process AND support career retention and advancement

Recommended Resources and Process:

  1. DigitalLiteracyAssessment.org
    • We will start off with an assessment of each individual’s existing computer literacy level
    • Students will be instructed on how to improve their skills, as most resume and job search is done online
    • This website has different modules that individuals can take on their own; they are scored and instruction can be tailored to the lacking skills
  2. DOL.gov’s Soft Skills to Pay the Bills
    • This site uses role play and interactive classroom-based activities
    • These can keep students engaged while teaching valuable job skills that are needed to gain and retain employment
    • The materials on the site are written at an appropriate literacy level and the printable worksheets are visually appealing
  3. TheBeehive.org
    • This site offers an excellent section on jobs
      • Includes online career coach, resume tips/examples, interviewing basics, how to dress for success, and how to find a job with a criminal background, amongst others
      • The site is well-written at an appropriate literacy level, and again is visually appealing
  4. OhioMeansJobs.com
    • At this point, we envision students registering on the website, uploading the resume, and beginning to search for jobs online
    • They can also perform WorkKeys testing, if they want to brush up on their skills
  5. The Beehive (again)
    • After obtaining employment, students can be referred back to the Beehive.com for additional supportive services
  6. Tri-C’s Math MOOC
    • Students who are interested in career pathways and advancing their education and career will be referred to Tri-C for MOOC and other classes

Thanks again to all the awesome AERET groups for their recommendations! Happy teaching, and Happy New Year!

Top 18 FREE Websites for Workforce and GED® Test Prep

Warning: Once you start clicking these links, you may be amazed at what you find!

This list is not offered in any particular order of importance or quality, and without comment. I offer it to you as a starting point to the many free resources available on the web for self-motivated adult learners, and tech savvy adult education instructors.

  1. MikeRoweWORKS Tool Shed
  2. WorkKeys Practice Tests at OhioMeansJobs
  3. The Beehive
  4. My Job Scout
  5. USA Learns
  6. National College Transition Network Publications
  7. Tri-C’s Dev Ed Math MOOC
  8. Women Employed Resources
  9. Free Test Prep GED Practice Tests
  10. TV411
  11. Khan Academy
  12. Federal Student Aid
  13. Guiding Ohio Online Training
  14. Sense-Lang
  15. GED Testing Service
  16. Digital Literacy Assessment
  17. Occupational Outlook Handbook
  18. Soft Skills to Pay the Bills

Fun Ways to Equip Students for Critical Thinking on the GED® Test

Our morning session tackled standards-based instruction and interdisciplinary activities. This afternoon, we will probe deeper into sample GED Test items to increase depth of knowledge and offline ways to prepare students for computer-based testing. In-person participants will also receive a sampler including instructional activities from Teaching Adults: A 2014 GED® Test Resource Book.

If you want to view sample questions and item types for the 2014 GED® Test from your computer, there are three free options from GED Testing Service:

Chromebook for Education? Home?

Is Chromebook a worthwhile purchase for schools, parents, and educators? Let me know what you think in the comments.

Last night at PTO, we discussed purchasing a laptop for the group’s use, particularly to store documents centrally and to print from the school instead of using home printers (and not everyone has one).

Then they mentioned that all the seventh graders in our school district had been sent home this year with Chromebooks. I volunteered to research whether the Chromebook would be a good option to purchase for PTO. For fellow educators, I’m also going to review its potential use for education and for home offices.

Teacher in classroom with middle school kids and Chromebooks
Photo source: “Chromebooks Rollout – Gibson” by flickr user Kevin Jarrett

PTO REVIEW

Our criteria were:

  1. Store files in a central location,
  2. Purchase only one version of software (particularly for accounting), and
  3. Print to the school printers instead of home printers.

Chromebook fails all three tests.

First of all, it has very minimal storage. You have to use Google Drive to store files used on Chromebook.

We could either not use Google Drive and use a flash drive, or start using Google Drive to store all files without having to purchase the Chromebook hardware.

The lack of storage also causes its failure on the second point, as you have to run apps, not software. There is not even a disk drive if you wanted to install a CD. That said, accounting software like Quickbooks now often offer web-based versions, and much software is now downloaded from the web. But there are serious security issues with using web-based apps and cloud storage for sensitive data.

Third, Chromebook is notorious for NOT being able to print to what Google calls “classic printers.” In other words, you can’t just plug in a cord or search for a printer on the server and download the driver. Again, Chromebook doesn’t have the storage. You have to use apps like Google Cloud Print or HP ePrint. If your printer isn’t compatible with Cloud Print, too bad.

Then again, printers tend to be just glorified ink cartridge holders, so it doesn’t cost a ton to upgrade the printer itself for home or single office use (says the woman who refused to buy a new printer for five years). But we can’t expect the school to upgrade all its printers to cloud print compatible just for PTO.

So I’m going to report that Chromebook is not a good fit for PTO. However, I will explain the process for converting files to Google Docs so at least everyone can use the same format without purchasing the latest Microsoft Office Suite.

MIDDLE SCHOOL REVIEW

Chromebook seems to be JUST RIGHT for the middle school kids and teachers in our district.

Chromebooks are typically priced under $400 with way more functionality than netbooks a few years ago. It might be an adjustment, especially for teachers, because the app-based system operates similar to tablets.

For schools with tight budgets, most versions of Chromebook are much cheaper than the iPad. Chromebooks actually have a keyboard, which is very important for student writing, and a USB port, unlike iPad. On top of that, apps in Google Play tend to be less expensive or free compared to the Apple App Store.

The trick is to purchase a Chromebook with enough battery life. The cheapest Chromebooks from Samsung and Acer have as little as 3.5 hours battery life to start. You don’t want the computer to shut down in the middle of the lesson, or force all students to sit near an outlet. There is even a high-end Chromebook that comes with significant storage, but in that price range you might as well purchase a laptop.

Chromebook keyboard
Photo source: “Samsung 4G Chromebook by YES 4G 182” by flickr user Vernon Chan

I was very excited for netbooks a few years ago, and then later tablets, but felt neither lived up to their promise. They were too lightweight to use all day in a classroom. I know many programs have had success particularly with iPad, but I’m actually not a big fan of touchscreens (or touchpads, for that matter).

Our students need keyboarding skills. Full QWERTY keyboards have persisted for a reason, and I think the Chromebook signals the marriage of app-based OS to old school five-fingered word processing.

In summary: Chromebook is cheaper than iPad with cheaper apps, and still has a keyboard and USB port. Yay.

If you have experience using either Chromebook or iPad in classrooms, please comment with your thoughts.

WORKING FROM HOME REVIEW

After my research, particularly this review on Living with Chromebook, I am consider purchasing a Chromebook to work from home.

Here’s something you should know about me: I’m both geeky and cheap about new technology. For example, right now I’m doing all my work on a three year old desktop with no plans to upgrade. I had the same smartphone for almost four years. My last printer lasted five years and the only reason I got rid of it was because it wouldn’t work with Windows 8 (worst OS ever!).

I like to know what’s new on the edtech market, but I am very hesitant to purchase. I did splurge on a Nexus 7 tablet a year or two ago, and found it absolutely useless for work. I thought it would be perfect for conferences and meetings, but I haven’t found an external keyboard that works. Okay, actually I only found one that didn’t work, and I refused to buy another one because I’m cheap.

Despite being Android OS, using Google Docs offline and syncing was a total challenge. And when I’ve tried to play Angry Birds or Simpsons Tapped Out, it regularly crashes the system. So I basically use it to browse Facebook or watch YouTube videos and that’s all.

However, I live out of Google Apps and HP ePrint. Because I’m already “in the cloud,” Chromebook would let me get away from my desktop more often without plunking down the full price of a laptop.

I still don’t think purchasing a laptop is worthwhile, as need my heavy-duty desktop to use educational publishing software like the newly-released Articulate Storyline 2. Even though I can theoretically use my tablet for products like Adobe Creative Cloud or to write blog posts here at WordPress.com, I prefer the desktop set up with the big screen, mouse, and detached keyboard for creative projects.

Did I mention touchpads drive me crazy?

I think Chromebook might be a worthwhile purchase, but what about you? Is it worth it for working from home? What about the classroom? Please chime in and let me know your thoughts.

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