Last year I began my journey with digital choiceboards. After two years of testing, making many mistakes and having the odd lightbulb moment, I thought I should finally make some time to share the process and products with the world!
What are Choiceboards?
Physical choiceboards are often used in special education to help kids with speech, language and communication disorders choose activities or request things. In mainstream teaching, the term choiceboard is sometimes applied to activities where students are given a choice from a range of activities that work towards the same outcome. Sometimes this are in the form of a Pirozzo Grid or Tic Tac Toe activity strategy.
A digital choiceboard is essentially a digital variation on these themes. I have been experimenting with digital choiceboards for different purposes – simple cause and effect choiceboards through to student-directed learning choiceboards – but essentially they have the same goal: to provide students with choice, in a digital format.
Last year I taught a student with Autism who was highly sensory seeking. He started the year with no independent activities, visual discrimination difficulties, and was unable to sit and attend to things for any longer than a few minutes.
I noticed he attended more to computer activities, particularly some flash games we used that he seemed to get a visual and auditory fix from.
While refining the choiceboards for this student, I found other ways that I could use them in my classroom for all students. This included allowing student direction in their literacy and numeracy learning, and making theme-related song choiceboards. I also created a few special interest boards for a student with Autism, to act as a motivator/reward/chill out time.
Uses Beyond Special Education
Since then I’ve been thinking about how I would have used them as a mainstream teacher.
They’re useful for early years tech skills, supporting students with special needs in a mainstream room and extending G&T students. You could also create a digital version of a Pirozzo Grid or a traditional Tic Tac Toe choiceboard. This idea, developed as a digital choiceboard, would be a great way to integrate ICT into the curriculum and support 21st century learning. Or why not make a digital choiceboard as a way to give students choice in homework tasks?
Regardless of your purpose, a digital choiceboard allows for student direction, and depending on how you design the choiceboard, it has the potential to involve numerous other QTF elements.
How to: SMART Notebook
This was the initial approach I took, as I needed to introduce the concept using modelled and guided instruction on the IWB.
I used Priory Woods flash games as they motivated the student. Basically I took a screen grab, pasted it onto the Notebook page, added a link to the Flash file and locked all the elements in place. My computer at the time didn’t have Snipping Tool on it, which would have made life much easier, but it was still easy enough to do a screen grab using the PrintScreen-Paste-Crop method.
Below is a clip of my student using his SMART Notebook choiceboard. By this point, he was independently locating the file icon on the desktop, choosing a visual on the choiceboard, using the escape key to minimise, click on the red close button on a window and he’d worked out how to switch between windows. It took about 3 weeks of daily teaching (about a 15 minute session a day) to get him to this level of independence and another 3 or so weeks to start teaching him problem-solving strategies beginning with getting a communication partner to ask for help and then explicitly teaching him strategies to solve common problems he was encountering.
Pros : Easy to create; doesn’t neccesarily require net connection if you link to files on your computer/server.
Cons : Lots of editing tools on display for kidlets to mess around with once they are able to use it independently; Even when used in full screen mode, kids can figure out how to minimise/muck around with tools; my student somehow kept finding the ‘add text’ tool which stopped him from being able to click on the links, causing frustration; to escape the full screen flash video, the student needed to be explicitly taught a key/click sequence of Esc/close window which he picked up really quickly but would be challenging for other students with motor/coordination difficulties.
How to: Video Lightbox for YouTube Choiceboards
You can access some examples of these song choiceboards here. Please note: although the link to them is house on a wiki, they are actually housed on my own server space.
Video Lightbox is a free downloadable program that allows you to embed a range of online videos as thumbnails on a webpage. It is particularly good for special interest choiceboards, e.g. the Wiggles. When students click on a thumbnail, it launches a larger window to play the video, and the window closes again when the video has finished. You’ll need to have some server space to upload the files. I tried to embed it on a wiki but it wouldn’t work.
Pros: Customisable number and size of choices; Quick and easy to add videos and upload files to server; Confined choiceboard – rare for students to click beyond page; Excellent for special interest choiceboards.
Cons: Requires net access to use; Requires server space to upload; Passive pedagogy due to video-only content – good for early learners to develop computer skills or special ed kids for choice/reward, but for mainstream students, it’s just babysitting, unless you attached a decent task to it, e.g. providing a range of video texts for students to compare and contrast; Clips can sometimes take a while to download, depending on net connection; If you’re a NSW DEC teacher, your kids won’t be able to access them using their own accounts as YouTube/Vimeo etc is banned and Video Lightbox doesn’t support TeacherTube.
How to: 3×3 Links
The 3×3 Links website allows you to make 3×3 grids with visual links to chosen sites. You simply type in the website address, give the button a name, choose a picture and click OK to add a link. Too easy! I have used these to allow for student direction in literacy and numeracy learning. E.g. I have a phonics board where all the choices are links to simple phonics activities that all students can complete independently, and students are given the freedom to choose the one that appeals the most when it’s their turn on the computer.
Pros: Limited number of choices – great for littlies/special ed; Minimal distractions on page – reduces misclicks/distraction clicks; Large picture links – easy to click for those with poor mouse control.
Cons: Requires net access to use; Clicking takes you to external page – difficult to navigate back to choiceboard for some students; Not able to fully customise visuals used on buttons, so it can be confusing for students.
How to: Symbaloo
Like 3×3 links, Symbaloo provides a visual grid of links, called tiles. Except this time it’s a HUGE grid. It requires a similar process to 3×3 links to add links – paste the website address, give it a title, customise the image. I used to use this more for storing my own links or to share links with colleagues, but this year I tried using it as a quick and easy way of making individualised maths choiceboards for students in my upper primary IO/Autism class. It was pretty successful. As they can be embedded in our wiki, it was easy for the kids to navigate back when the wikispace was added to the Bookmarks Toolbar in the web browser. Many of the kids now request sites that we use as a class be added to their wiki board so they can do them at home. For older, mainstream students these could be easily used as choiceboards relating to a unit of work, or for creating a digital Pirozzo Grid.
Every day it seems like there are new visual bookmarking tools coming out (like Symbaloo). Some of these include Pinterest, Sqworl, Wonderpage, Delicious Stacks or Zootool. You could even use something like LiveBinders. And I am sure that there are others out there that I just haven’t stumbled across yet. They all have their strengths and limitations, though I’ve found Symbaloo at this point to have the most “pros” (though Wonderpage, which is currently in beta form, could potentially be a better option further down the track).
Pros: Lots of choices – great for G&T students and mainstream classes; Able to personalise and colour code the visuals on the tiles – easier identification; Easy to add links.
Cons: Requires net access to use; Lots of choices – not so good for those students who need fewer distractions/choices.
How to: Wikispace Choiceboard
Check out some examples on our class wiki.
1.Create a page using a wiki.
2.Insert a table with the number of rows/columns that relate to your number of choices.
3.Take a screen grab of each activity you want to include in your choiceboard and use an image editor to make them all have the same dimensions.
4.Insert one image into each table cell.
5.Add a link to each image to the matching activity using the external link/open in new window option.
For younger kids, I used these mainly for whole class activities as the sidebar was too distracting and clickable. For my older class this year, however, I’ve been able to set up links relating to their IEPs which gives them more control over their learning. They are mostly pretty good with staying on task, and parents comment about how the kids love accessing the wiki at home.
Pros: Can customise number of choices/size of pictures etc.; Can link videos, online activities, songs etc.; Quick and easy to do once you have wiki and know the process; Being a wiki – many hands make light work! Get lots of people contributing and you’ll have a whole lot of digital choiceboard resources.
Cons: Requires net access to use; The links down the side of the page can be distracting to some kids, or result in accidental clicks; If you’re a NSW DEC teacher you’ll need to check that all the links are accessible to kids using the DEC Web Filter Check (check out my how-to guide here).
Although I haven’t tried it, you could also create simple choiceboards in PowerPoint or Word. You can link flash files or videos, or web sites. May be a good way to begin if you’re familiar with these two pieces of software. If you set your PowerPoint to run in kiosk mode, it will take up the full screen and students won’t be able to click out of it (unless they hit the escape key or click to a weblink). You’ll need to be careful that any files you attach are on the machine you’ve got the choiceboard on. You’ll also need to ensure that your computer has net access if you’re linking any websites.
The Final Word
Ultimately, the format that you choose for your digital choiceboards comes down to your familiarity with technology, your workflow, your student’s needs and skills and environment in which they will be deployed. There is no “best” option, just “best options for a particular set of circumstances”.
But there’s no doubting that digital choiceboards are an effective teaching tool for both school and home. They utilise technology, which is highly engaging for most students, and above all, they allow for student choice. This latter feature is incredibly important, particularly in special education where our students all too often have choices made for them by other people.
So be brave, and give it a go! If you have any questions, you can email me – I’m happy to help out. Or if you are using digital choiceboards and have another way of creating them, I’d love to hear about that, too! (except if you make them with Boardmaker, because everyone knows my opinion of Boardmaker!). But if you ARE a Boardmaker (or Clicker6) fan, you may find Charlene Cullen’s blog post over at Spectronics another option for you.