Oftentimes I get emails from app developers and digital curriculum companies asking me to check out their products. While I’m honored to be considered as someone who could weigh in or have influence on these products, more often than not I pass on the offer. One main reason is time - I need to spend my days in classrooms and don’t have a lot of extra time to dig through dozens of new edtech products. The other reason is that I see so many versions of the same thing. “Adaptive” programs that modulate question difficulty based on student progress (i.e., glorified “smart” worksheets), data mining programs that turn my flesh-and-blood students into a series of analytics for my administration to pore through and judge, another instructional media curation website.
What makes me stop and listen - or read - are apps and programs that offer new opportunities for my students. Tools that amplify students’ ideas, thinking, or access to the global learning community. I also perk up at tools that work collaboratively with other great tools. Open APIs, shared platforms or a willingness to adapt to support multiple systems are incredibly helpful as a teacher who needs to think about reconciling multiple apps, operating systems and workflow systems. So with this in mind, here are a seven of my favorite new (and not so new) apps, tools and programs that have me digging in deeper:
Schoology. Learning Management Systems are a dime a dozen these days. From Blackboard to D2L to Canvas to Edmodo, they all are fighting for a slice of the same pie. So what should you think about when selecting one? For me, it’s three things cost, user interface and features. These may seem obvious, but oftentimes simply being the most popular kid on the block wins for many district. While Schoology may not be homecoming queen of the LMS-land, she certainly wins in the other three departments. From tons of free features, to a simple and intuitive user-interface, to being available in full-app-glory on both Android and iOS (and any web browser), this LMS surely has my vote.
Ask3. This is a bitter-sweet mention. Ask3 has been my go-to app for all new tablet implementations. The reason is its clean and simple design and collaborative functionality that makes it so much more than a screencasting app. Students are able to create their own screencast - creating a video that shows both their writing and records their narration in real-time. However, after they’ve created a screencast, other students can pop in and create their own alternate versions of these screencasts, sharing how they would have solved a problem differently, adding varied viewpoints or asking questions about a particular point the original student made. With Ask3 Metacognition is a group activity. (Sad note: TechSmith is retiring Ask3. Many teachers are lobbying to keep it around. Add your voice to the mix by tweeting TechSmith!)
Trello. This is a great example of an app that is both helpful to teachers and students. Trello is a project management system with so many bells and whistles it’s hard to cover in a single workshop. Embedded task calendars, linked Google Drive access and adaptive task lists are just a few of the many features Trello has to offer. We use this with our project-based learning students as well as our kids who are simply working on a writer’s workshop story. Teachers collaborate on this site to write unit plans, set up field days or field trips. Hard to believe it’s free!
ST Math. Normally I’m somewhat anti-content apps. However, ST Math is one of the exceptions to this rule. Totally wordless, this visual math program helps students understand math concepts through animations. For example, ever have trouble understand fractions on a numberline? The hero of this program, Jiji the penguin rides a unicycle down a segmented street. However, his unicycle only has ¾ of a wheel. By riding down the street, students can see how many ¾ it takes to get to 2 ½ on a number line. While this explanation may or may not have peaked your interest, ST Math, being all about is visual representations, must be seen to be totally understood. Trust me - our students love it... and as a math teacher, so do I.
Curriculet & SubText. The other exception to the no-content app rule is SubText and Curriculet. These are two programs that do very similar things - make reading a team sport. Instead of reading novels or guided reading texts independently then slog through a packet of questions, students can interact with the text - and each other - through these programs. From text-embedded discussions to mini-quizzes and even supplementary media content, Curriculet and SubText move beyond simple watch-a-video on main idea and then take a quiz reading programs.
Synergyse. Has your school or district migrated to Google Apps for Education? Are you or some of your colleagues getting tripped up with Gmail, Calendar or some of the more advanced features of Google Sheets? No need to sign up for a workshop, Synergyse is here to help! This program installs directly into your Google Apps account and lives beyond all of your Google Apps. When you hit a roadblock, simply click on your Synergyse icon and a training overlay pops up right onto your live screen. It guides you on where to click and what to do next - just like a magic elf living in your computer. Not a video screencast or even a set of directions, this program actually points you where click and what to type as if it was standing over your shoulder. Amazing.
Hapara Dashboard. Speaking of standing over your shoulder, ever wish you could see what your students were up to behind those glowing screens in your 1:1 classroom? Or wish there was an easier way to send them feedback or share Google docs with their accounts? Hapara solves these issues and many more. From full student screen transparency to opening and closing tabs remotely from a teacher computer, this system truly has it all!
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