Ten Awesome Webtools to Use in the Classroom

This is the third installment in a three-part series in which I am going to “tinker” with and review some webtools to enhance and transform your classroom experience! Please feel free to shoot me any questions about any of these tools, and I will answer them (or point you to the person who can answer them). 🙂

I decided to use Prezi, a multimedia presentation tool, to present my final three (well…four if you count Prezi) webtools. Enjoy!

http://prezi.com/kyfzhhls6huh/three-best-webtools-for-bringing-classic-literature-to-life/?utm_campaign=share&utm_medium=copy

Webtools discussed in this presentation:

7. Prezi

8. Instagram

9. Tagxedo

10. Popplet

Ten Awesome Webtools to Use in the Classroom (Part 2)

This is the second installment in a three-part series in which I am going to “tinker” with and review some webtools to enhance and transform your classroom experience! Please feel free to shoot me any questions about any of these tools, and I will answer them (or point you to the person who can answer them). 🙂

4. Poll Everywhere: You’ve seen those cases full of “clickers” (otherwise known as classroom response systems) that allow students to interactively engage with their teachers’ lessons–however, they are just too expensive for you to afford. Poll Everywhere may be your solution! This is a website that allows you to come up with any question in any format (multiple choice, true/false, or open-ended) and allows your audience to reply to the question in real time by texting their response. In multiple choice format, this looks like a series of codes (one assigned to each response) for your students to type in and text to a certain number, and each participant is only allowed one response. You may think, “Big deal! I could have them text my personal cell phone number and achieve the same goal.” However, the site also creates a giant bar graph for you to display on your projector or smart board. As the students text their responses, they are added to the graph in real time. It ends up looking something like this:

poll

Perhaps if I had chosen a more interesting poll topic, I would have gotten more participation? Womp womp. :-/

There are a few issues that I have with this website. For one thing, I can’t tell who is responding with which answers, or whether all of my students have responded. This is frustrating if the students are responding to knowledge-based questions, because if someone out there is getting consistently wrong answers, I won’t know who it is–and that makes Poll Everywhere kind of a worthless assessment tool. However, if I’m asking feeling-based questions or opinion questions, the anonymity might be a good thing, because it might give students the confidence they need to say what they really think without worrying about their peers’ reactions. A nice thing about Poll Everywhere is that I am able to just casually try it out without creating an account and giving out my information. However, if I decide that I really like the site and I want to use it often, I can create an account and start saving a file for my quizzes and polls. I did not have the opportunity to use this website with real students; however, I have spoken to a few teachers who have used it successfully with their kids. Of course, the biggest hang-up is that all of your students need to have cell phones with texting capabilities. In today’s classroom, this is likely, but not guaranteed. This website, though it can be used for educational purposes, clearly isn’t geared specifically toward education. It could be used during any public presentation or business meeting. After talking about Poll Everywhere with some of my teacher friends, they recommended similar sites that were more educator friendly, such as Socrative and Kahoot!. Those will have to go on my “too-be-tinkered-with” list.

5. Audacity: Audicity is free software available on the internet that allows the user to record and manipulate audio tracks. At its simplest, you can hit the record button and speak into the microphone on your computer to create “voice-overs” to use in multimedia presentations or to publish as podcasts. However, Audacity is capable of much more than that–there are many different ways to manipulate your recording. You can amplify it or clarify it (diminishing any background noise), slow it down and speed it up, change the pitch, and of course, edit out any long spaces of silence (either manually or automatically). The great thing about Audacity is that, even though it is a pretty complex program, it is inherently differentiated. I am not a “techie” by any means, so I was pretty intimidated the first time I took a look at the Audacity interface:

audacity

Screen shot of Audacity

However, I know how to push “record” and how to push “stop,” and the first time I used it, that’s all I really needed to know. However, as I tinkered with it more, I started to figure out how to edit my recording and make it sound so much better. And, if I continue to tinker with it even more, I’ll eventually figure out Audacity’s most advanced features (splicing and mixing tracks together–so I could do voice-overs on top of music or even insert myself into audio clips with famous historical figures to conduct mock interviews, importing and manipulating sound files, converting cassette tapes and records into digital files, removing the voice from hip hop tracks so that my students can create and record their own unique lyrics, etc.). The software requires downloading, which may be an issue in very restrictive school districts. However, it is reliable software that will not add any malware to your computer, and it’s completely free–which is pretty incredible considering all of the features and possibilities!

6. Weebly: This is a jack-of-all-trades kind of site that allows users to create their own websites (using user-friendly templates and add-ons rather than starting from scratch with HTML coding) and host their own blogs. This site is completely free (to an extent–it can support use by up to 40 students before a reasonable subscription fee is required to “Go Pro”). Weebly has a division devoted specifically to education, which I really like. Weebly for Education has all kinds of great features, like allowing me to make a website or blog that is password protected, so that only my students (who I would provide with the password) and students’ parents could access the site. They also give me the option of hosting my students’ blogs from my website, which I think is really cool. On just about any other blogging site, my students would have to create their own blogs and they would just be floating out there in cyberspace for anyone to read (which many parents may not like). However, with Weebly, I can create a class website, and then have unique links on the website that work as portals to those student blogs (as in, the ONLY way to reach those blogs), and I could choose to make those password protected as well. However, I like the idea of creating a site with one general password to get in, and then allowing the students to be able to freely read one another’s blogs and connect with each other online password free. I could also task my students with creating completely public websites that educate visitors about a certain topic or social cause. It would be a great way to let my students know that they have knowledge and opinions worth sharing with the world!

A screen shot of Weebly's admin page, where the teacher can edit and add student accounts

A screen shot of Weebly’s admin page, where the teacher can edit and add student accounts

Weebly also supports a variety of multimedia, so I or my students can upload pictures, videos, documents, interactive maps, or even audio players and entire photo galleries! That means that some of the amazing webtools that I’ve been reviewing on my blog can be used in conjunction with Weebly–I can show live polls and poll results from Poll Everywhere, upload audio files from Audacity, animated videos created on GoAnimate, etc. This is one of those sites that is hard to truly tinker with when I don’t have a full class to participate, but I am really excited about the implications that Weebly could have on transforming my instruction. We could take everything that we create in the classroom online, and also learn things online that carry over into the physical classroom! 🙂

An example of a teacher website in edit mode

An example of a teacher website in edit mode

Ten Awesome Webtools to Use in the Classroom (Part 1)

This is the first installment in a three-part series in which I am going to “tinker” with and review some webtools to enhance and transform your classroom experience! Please feel free to shoot me any questions about any of these tools, and I will answer them (or point you to the person who can answer them). 🙂

1. GoAnimate for Schools: This webtool allows you (and your students) to make your own video animations! It comes with high quality background templates and character choices. It also gives students the option of typing in their own dialogue (to be read by a computer voice) or record their own dialogue, making the on-screen characters like puppets. The facial expressions of the on-screen characters can also be manipulated, though the choices are pretty limited (happy, sad, angry, or crying). Teachers can use these videos to record virtual lessons for students to view at home (which may be especially helpful for students who are absent, students with special needs, or ESL students). Students can also create video projects for a wide range of topics and share them with their classmates in person or online. There is a free demo available on the site, but a paid subscription is going to cost at least $99 a year (depending on how many students are using it). It may be worth it to purchase a group package and share the subscription with the other teachers at your school–especially if you can get the school district to foot the bill! Though it is pricey, this app is definitely worth the cost!

Screen shot of my GoAnimate! video. Abe Lincoln is about to seriously school these students on how it all REALLY went down...

Screen shot of my GoAnimate! video. Abe Lincoln is about to seriously school these students on how it all REALLY went down…

2. Edmodo: This is a social network made exclusively for use within the classroom. The interface looks strikingly similar to Facebook and it is incredibly user friendly. The teacher acts as a facilitator and adds student users into groups that she manages, and she can even invite parents to join. (So, for organizational purposes, I could have a ninth grade group and a tenth grade group….or I could even organize by first period, second period, third period, etc.) The teacher can upload assignments or polls, and post alerts or notes that the students can read and comment on. Again, the main page looks like a Facebook news feed, with the most recent posts floating near the top of the page and older posts getting pushed to the bottom. The teacher also has the ability to add apps to Edmodo (both free apps and apps that cost a small fee are available) for the students in her group to use. It’s difficult to truly “tinker” with this site right now, since I don’t have a classroom and I can’t practice interacting with real students–but I am very excited about this app! The potential for socially constructed learning, online collaboration, and community (parent) involvement is incredible!

Screen shot of my Edmodo homepage

Screen shot of my Edmodo homepage

3. Class Dojo: I grappled with whether or not to include this webtool, because it doesn’t directly relate to literacy–it is more of a classroom management tool. However, when it comes to classroom management, I need all the help I can get! And it makes sense to utilize technology on this front to make my life a little easier. Class Dojo is a tool that I saw several third grade teachers using during my recent internship at an elementary school. My immediate thought (just from observing) was that teachers are the only ones who really engage with this app. However, after “tinkering” around on the website and watching some of the tutorials, I discovered that the students are invited to play an active role as well. One of the most interesting things they get to do is have a hand in creating an avatar to represent themselves throughout the school year (all avatars are made to look like various monsters/creatures). After the students create their avatars, the teacher is able to create seating charts, award points for positive behavior, randomize who gets to answer questions during class or take a turn being the line leader, etc. Students are able to use the site to view their behavioral status, create goals for themselves, and reflect on poor behavior. Parents can get in on Class Dojo too, receiving automated behavior reports at the end of each day (the teacher doesn’t even have to think about it!). The site also vaguely mentions that students can use the Dojo to connect with each other. Because I created a teacher account and not a student account, I’m not sure exactly what this means. It also seems like a tool that is most effective with younger students (elementary aged and possibly middle school aged); however, I have read some testimonials on the site of high school teachers using this as a motivational tool (for participation) with their high school students (they recommend ditching the juvenile avatars and allowing students to upload real profile pics instead).

Screenshot of my class dojo

Screenshot of my class dojo

Give Millennials a Chance!

Are you familiar with the term “millennial”? It refers to the young, upcoming generation–loosely defined as anyone born between 1982-2000–who have grown up in the midst of new technology. Millennials are accustomed to having computers, cell phones, and internet at their constant disposal, and therefore can be mocked by the older generations as unable to function without electricity. If you are a middle school or high school teacher, it’s likely that you are teaching a classroom full of millennials, so it’s important to understand them and how they operate.

If you want to know how “millennial” you are (which isn’t necessarily contingent upon age), you can check out this quiz created by the Pew Research Center.

One of the biggest things to keep in mind when you’re teaching millennials is that there is a lot of technology out there competing for our students’ attention–during school time and in the evenings during homework time. With so many easy distractions and so much to keep our kids awake all night (unlike my dad’s generation who, according to him, used to watch the television test pattern once the programs were finished for the day), it’s no wonder that it’s more difficult for Millennials to be focused and successful. I think we need to keep this in mind when we’re planning lessons (and assigning homework), and use technology in our instruction and delivery rather than trying to compete with technology.

Just think of all of the websites and social networks out there that could creatively be incorporated into our instruction to help our students further their thinking and learning. Even a video sharing site like YouTube could be used to enhance instruction. It has become very trendy to post (and watch!) how-to videos on YouTube, and they are becoming more and more prolific. It seems that there is a how-to video available for just about any topic imaginable! I think that we could be utilizing videos like these for tricky concepts in the classroom to help students who “can’t remember the steps” when they get home. If there isn’t a video available for the topic that we need, it would just take twenty or thirty minutes after the school day ends to film a how-to video for the math concept taught that day or a review of the history lesson that was packed full of facts. We could also get our students involved in producing videos like these! How exciting would it be to have a YouTube channel devoted specifically to our classroom (with written parental permission to get our students on video and publish it to the internet, of course)! I think creating an ongoing class project like that would harken back to what Alan November was saying about having students identify a problem, create a solution, and publish their work to benefit not just their classroom, but the world. It would certainly be a great motivator and a great way to engage students in their class work!

I also think that we need to be forgiving of our students’ attitudes—and perhaps lack of ambition. According to Kelly Williams Brown (author of the bestselling satire Adulting: How to Become an Adult in 468 Easyish Steps) we need to stop “collectively wringing our hands over young people acting young,” and try to remember what our thoughts and dreams were when we were that age. I have included an excellent TED Talks lecture from Kelly Williams Brown (also satirically titled)–“Millennials: Why Are They The Worst?” She is funny, but she also gives her audience a lot of great insight and reasons to appreciate millennials for their unique awesomeness. 🙂