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With Larry Ferlazzo

In this EdWeek blog, an experiment in knowledge-gathering, Ferlazzo will address readers’ questions on classroom management, ELL instruction, lesson planning, and other issues facing teachers. Send your questions to lferlazzo@epe.org. Read more from this blog.

Teaching Opinion

Response: Educators’ Favorite Tech Tools

By Larry Ferlazzo — December 03, 2016 16 min read
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(This is the first post in a three-part series)

The new “question-of-the-week” is:

What is your favorite web tool or app for helping students learn?

There are so many online tools and apps that have learning potential, but how are teachers supposed to separte the wheat from the chaff?

This series will offer some suggestions on how we educators can navigate through the ed tech jungle.

Today’s contributors are Anna Bartosik, Jared Covili, Sam Patterson, Anabel Gonzalez, Richard Byrne, and Russel Tarr. You can listen to a ten-minute conversation I had with Anna, Jared and Sam on my BAM! Radio Show. You can also find a list of, and links to, previous shows here.

In my teaching, I have found Edublogs to be an incredibly helpful tool. I set-up blogs for all my English, History and IB Theory of Knowledge classes (you can see them all here) and place resources for all lessons there. Students can access them, leave comments, and respond to their classmates’ work.

For student content creation, ClassTools.net is my favorite. This free site has numerous tools that students can easily use to create just about anything without having to register. The site’s creator, Russel Tarr, writes more about it in today’s post.

In addition, readers might want to explore Using Tech In The Classroom, a compilation of previous ed tech posts appearing in this blog, as well as these other resource lists:

The “All-Time” Best Web 2.0 Applications For Education

The Fifty Best Web 2.0 Applications For Education In 2016

The “All-Time” Best 2.0 Tools For Beginning English Language Learners

“All-Time” Best Web Tools For English Language Learners

Response From Anna Bartosik

Anna Bartosik is an ESL professor from Canada. She is a teacher/facilitator with an extensive background in ESL/ELT education. Her current interests include instructional design, assessment and rubrics, storytelling, motivation’s role in memory, and thoughtful incorporation of educational technology in the classroom.You can follow her on Twitter at @ambartosik:

Love of new technology is akin to young love: intense at first, then becoming quickly fickle as a new object of interest arrives on the scene.

My love of edtech tools can be fickle, too, but I have an enduring affection for VoiceThread that has not faded. There are younger and more attractive tools, to be sure, but VoiceThread offers students the chance to learn first from me, then from themselves, and then finally, from others.

VoiceThread is a fabulous tool for creating a living artifact of learning. It is an audio recording tool easily used on a computer. You can upload a PowerPoint presentation, or individual images, and add a recording, music, or typed words to appear on each image. The VoiceThread moves automatically to the next image, in time with the posted comments. You don’t have a microphone or are experiencing a lousy audio connection? There is a telephone option: type in your phone number and VoiceThread will call you so that you can record yourself on a particular page. Each audio addition appears chronologically. You can even use the pen feature to draw attention to part of an image on the screen. The pen marks eventually fade, leaving the image clean for the next contributor.

I have created VoiceThreads for students as an introductory activity. On the first day, they built Lego structures to represent their interests. I took photos and uploaded them into a VoiceThread. They selected their respective images and recorded an audio introduction for their Lego creations. Other class members viewed the Thread and left comments on images. The original poster responded to those comments. VoiceThread creates an asynchronous conversation in a lasting environment. The combination of audio, text, script, and images reinforces learning by providing four rich layers of content, not all created by the instructor.

I teach English to second language learners, but I can see how using VoiceThread for different subjects is possible, even desirable. It moves the lesson and the conversation beyond the classroom. Students themselves can be the creators of a Thread, initiating a conversation and inspiring other students with their ideas.

Things you need to remember:

  • A VoiceThread can be public or private; you can share a link that is copiable, or only viewable. You can also embed one in your LMS.
  • Only a teacher account is needed if you want students to view, not contribute, to a Thread.
  • If you would like students to contribute to a Thread, they must create an account.
  • The only limit is your imagination.

Go to www.voicethread.com to view others’ Threads and to create a free account. May you have develop the same long-lasting relationship that I have had.

Response From Jared Covili

Jared Covili has been a trainer at Utah Education Network (UEN) for 13 years. He specializes in teaching strategies for classroom integration of technology such as Google Apps for Education, geospatial learning, social media strategies, and digital devices. Previously, Jared was a Language Arts teacher at the secondary level. Jared is also an adjunct faculty member of the College of Education at the University of Utah, where he teaches technology integration classes to undergraduate students. In 2012, Cowrin Press published his first book, Going Google: Powerful Tools for 21st Century Learning. His second book, Classroom in the Cloud: Innovative Ideas for Higher Level Learning, was released in November 2015:

Google Earth is my favorite learning tool. It is a great educational tool on so many levels and students of all ages can benefit from exploring concepts using Earth for real-world learning. Imagine this: on a basic level Google Earth can help our youngest students explore the world around them. In many K-12 standards, children are asked to make connections with their local communities. Google Earth is a fantastic way to have kids visit local destinations like libraries, police stations, city hall, or even the local supermarket.

As students get older you can take them around the world. Turning on different Layers can provide learners with a variety of information. They can learn about countries as they explore their geographic borders. You can use the Oceans layer to have student explore life below the seas and have students learn about Solar System using Google Sky. Imagine being able to see everything from basic constellations and planets, to viewing the far reaching galaxies beyond our own.

Finally, Google Earth allows us to take real time data and make inferences about the future of our world. Using features such as historical imagery, students can see how communities change over time. The measurement tool provides students with the ability to calculate the size and scope of world around them. Using the Placemarks feature students are able to create virtual tours of places near and far.

Whether you’re using the mobile app or exploring Google Earth on your computer, this tool provides students with so much incredible information about our world. This tool expands with your students and is just as powerful for our earlier learners as it is with your experienced high schoolers. If it’s been awhile since you’ve explored Google Earth, it’s time to look again.

Response From Sam Patterson

Sam Patterson, Ed.D., is author of Programming in the Primary Grades: Beyond the Hour of Code (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016). Sam is a Makerspace coordinator for Echo Horizon a pre-K-6th grade school in Culver City. Sam blogs about teaching and learning in the Makerspace at My Paperless Classroom:

ScratchJr is an awesome tool for storytelling and programming with PreK-2nd grade students. This app brings all of the creative power of Scratch programming into a mobile platform designed to support pre-literate users, featuring almost no language in the interface and instructions, although there are many opportunities to add words, labels, and dialogue to the scenes. A powerful and flexible tool, ScratchJr is a great first digital platform for creative self-expression.

In my classes we use ScartchJr to learn:

For teachers, ScratchJr can provide a studio to design and share digital learning experiences. The work that we have traditionally run off (spelling activities, word ladders, and matching games), can all be built within ScratchJr. Moreover, all of the students have the tools within ScratchJr to build these activities, so when students are doing well you can challenge them to design the next challenge or activities.

For students, the app can be very empowering. ScratchJr is designed to help users discover how to do things. When teachers step back and allow students the time and space to make these discoveries it can transform class culture through student agency. When a student figures something out and shares that knowledge with another student, the relationship between those two students changes. When my classes are running well, this happens all the time in ScratchJr. I have learned to under-instruct and let the students discover how and share that with each other.

ScratchJr is a great way to extend almost any lesson. Using the camera-import tool, students can bring their desk work into the virtual environment. In the simplest form, it could be a cat giving the audience a tour of a math problem and how it was solved. It could be a photo of the student’s face, with labels that appear for the eyes and nose. The stories we ask students to tell in class are often stories of developing understanding, or stories where they get to apply and play with the information we have been discussing in class.

In Writer’s Workshop the first grade class wrote All About Me stories in a four-panel storyboard format. With that storyboard in hand, they created their story in ScratchJr. The stories they composed in ScratchJr had much more detail and development than the storyboards they had developed. The students were very engaged in building their stories and they were empowered by the platform to a more complete level of expression. They were not limited by their ability to written language; they were emboldened by their ability to create in this digital platform.

Once the students completed their texts, they wanted to share them, and then they wanted to revise them. I repeat they wanted to revise them. These texts mattered to the students, and it was important to them that everything was made correctly. Before I had the pleasure of teaching technology, I was a middle and high school writing teacher. Never was I so lucky as to have a room full of students eager to revise their stories!

For those new to teaching with ScratchJr, here is a teacher’s guide to getting started with ScratchJr. ScratchJr is available on Android, in the ChromeStore, in the iOs App Store, and in the Amazon App Store. All links can be found at Scratchjr.org

Response From Anabel Gonzalez

Anabel Gonzalez is a Secondary ESL Teacher with the Mooresville Graded School District in North Carolina. She teaches students in grades 7-12 of various backgrounds, languages, and English proficiency levels. She has been a member of the Center for Teaching Quality Collaboratory since 2014. Follow her on Twitter @amgonza:

There are many tools in my edtech arsenal that enhance my students’ learning, but there is one “oldie but goodie” that has become a staple in my classroom. And after recently adding a collaborative-gaming feature, it quickly become my favorite tool.

Quizlet is an online learning tool that enables users to create digital flashcards and engage in various types of study modes including tests and games. Learners are able to listen to audio, as well as, add images to every flashcard. It is a cross-platform application and can be used on a desktop, tablet or smartphone.

I use Quizlet at the start of a unit or lesson for pre-teaching new words and phrases. This a common strategy for teaching English learners; yet, it can be tremendously beneficial to any student population when introducing new terminology or concepts. Once new terms are introduced, students review using the various study modes. While I generally create our Quizlet collections, students are able to create their own flashcards. In fact, many of my colleagues encourage students to take ownership of their learning and make their own study sets for reinforcing and reviewing vocabulary.

Last April, Quizlet launched Quizlet Live, transforming flashcards into an exciting, collaborative review game. Teachers can start Quizlet Live from any study set and quickly create a game. Students simply go to quizlet.live from any device and enter a unique code to join in. Teams are randomly generated with a minimum of six students and game results provide valuable, formative assessment data.

Quizlet works for any curriculum, teacher or student. It is fun, simple and best of all, free, although a premium version exists. Quizlet Plus allows users to personalize flashcards by uploading their own images, recording their own voice and removing ads. While some educators may find the premium version worth the additional cost, the free version is more than adequate in most cases and is a nice complement to any unit of study.

Response From Richard Byrne

Richard Byrne is a former high school social studies teacher best known for developing the award-winning blog Free Technology for Teachers. He has been invited to speak at events on six continents and would gladly go to Antarctica. Richard’s work is focused on sharing free resources that educators can use to enhance their students’ learning experiences:

This is a bit of a trick question because a web tool or app cannot replace the instruction and coaching of a good teacher who knows what his/her students really need in order to be successful. There are companies producing tools that take students’ responses to a series of questions and base recommendations for instruction on students’ responses. Knowing what kind of question a student needs to practice more often is just scratching the surface of what a teacher needs to know in order to provide the best instruction and coaching for a student. Those automated recommendation tools don’t account for human aspects of teaching like knowing that your students come from homes in which food is scarce or a parent is ill or any number of other things that can distract from focusing in the classroom.

Response From Russel Tarr

Russel Tarr is head of history at the International School of Toulouse in France. He is also the author of www.activehistory.co.uk and www.classtools.net and organises the Practical Pedagogies Conference:

Today, there is a bewildering and increasing array of fantastic web tools available for teachers and students. However, what I have noticed in the fifteen years that I have been using them is that very few teachers are producers as well as consumers of these tools: instead, there is often a gap between what software developers produce, and what teachers actually need. It was out of this frustration that I taught myself how to program and then launched a free site packed with lots of tools I have personally developed for my own students and which are now used by schools all over the world. What follows are some examples of the most popular resources freely available on the site.

Some of the most popular resources on the site provide students with the opportunity to channel their enthusiasm for social media into an educational context. “Twister” gives classes the chance to summarise the viewpoints of fictional or historical characters as 140-character illustrated tweets, whilst the “SMS Generator” goes further by enabling them to construct simulated mobile phone text conversations. Most popular of all is “Fakebook”, through which full-blown social media profiles can be created for people, themes or objects being studied. Although the applications of this for English Literature and History are obvious, some of the most creative profiles have been in subjects such as science: for example, different chemical elements outlining their discovery and practical applications, complete with ‘friends list’ reflecting what they bond with.

I developed other tools to help with general classroom management. The “Random Name Picker” allows me to cut and paste a class list into an interface which then generates a “Wheel of Fortune” on the screen. A quick click spins the wheel and selects a random name. I use this daily when deciding who should answer questions and how groups should be allocated. The students find it both fun and fair in equal measure. I have also developed an online multi-timer: unlike other online timers, which only allow the teacher to set a single timeframe, this one allows for several timers to be set up which can run simultaneously, or in sequence: great for an activity which is broken into key segments.

Another category of tools provide engaging methods of summative assessment as an alternative to a straightforward factual test. Indeed, the “Arcade Game Generator” simply requires the teacher to copy and paste a list of questions and answers, click a button and then immediately get half a dozen interactive games - complete with a leaderboard which effectively serves as a mark book - which students can play in class. At present these games include Manic Miner (a platform game - leap on the correct answers!), Asteroids (shoot the correct answers!) and Pacman (answer a question or gain a life after being captured by the ghosts!). I often tell my students in advance of the lesson that the quiz will be taking place in this format so that they can play the game at home for revision. In the lesson, they are then given fifteen minutes to play the game, and then I simply use the leaderboard to determine the highest score gained by each student and place this into the markbook!

Thanks to Anna, Jared, Sam, Anabel, Richard, and Russel for their contributions!

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