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Reviews

How to Prepare for the SAT

SAT testTaking the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) has become a right-of-passage for high school students as they leave formal education and enter the next phase of learning. Over seven million will take SAT tests in 2018 in January, March/April, May, June, October, November, or December. Some will take it for the first time; some for the umpteenth time. For many, it represents a last desperate attempt to qualify for the college of their dreams.

In an earlier article, I focused on preparation for the essay portion of the SAT. This time, I’ll discuss some of the great online sites that help students prepare for the math and reading portions. I’ve based my selections on the following criteria:

  • ease of use — accounts are easy to set up with access to both the site and materials quick and intuitive
  • well-rounded — nicely differentiated tools that address varied student learning styles
  • quantity and quality of available prep materials — materials are both in-depth and in a variety of formats (written, online, video, live/chat) with explanations of answers
  • cost vs. value — free is nice but if students get good value for fee-based resources, that’s just as important
  • time commitment — students can spend as much or little time as they have on any given day

Here are eleven options for SAT preparation, from my Top Five choices to six Honorable Mentions. All are easy to use, differentiated, up-to-date on the recent changes to the SAT, and represent a good investment of both time and money:

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Categories: Reviews | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Quick Review of 7 Popular Math Programs

America’s student math scores continue to drop. Headlines such as “Less than half of Maryland students pass English, math assessments” and “Internationally, U.S. Students Are Falling” have become so common, we are almost immune to the message. The knee-jerk reaction “That’s not my school; that’s someone else’s” has become the excuse for fighting efforts to fix kids’ math aptitude when those fixes are outside the box or difficult.

The problem is, tomorrow’s adults must be math proficient which means our kids must be. A preponderance of jobs today’s kids will get when they join the working world will require technology — and with that, the critical thinking developed by math. It’s no surprise conscientious schools are looking for more effective and reliable ways to teach that math.

If your school has decided that what’s always worked doesn’t and will be evaluating math programs to find one that provides a real solution to the math aptitude problem, here are seven of the most popular you want to include:

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Categories: Math, Reviews | Tags: | 4 Comments

5 Ways to Use JotForm Cards With Your Classes

One of the fastest growing technologies in education is forms–to gather information, curate data, test students, and much more. There are lots of platforms available but for many, JotForm is the gold standard whether on PCs, Macs, or mobile devices. JotForm offers what seems to be an endless supply of professional-looking templates that can be used to sign up volunteers, get feedback on events, enroll students into classes, ask for donations, collect payments, and much more. Its drag-and-drop interface makes building forms intuitive, quick, and easy.  New questions can be dependent upon the user’s response to prior questions and completed forms are shared via a link, social media, or integrated into DropBox, Google Docs, and other popular platforms. It is free with a pro version that offers expanded options. For more, here’s my review.

Now, JotForm just got better with JotForm Cards-“the friendly way to ask”. JotForm Cards are engaging and easy to use which means a greatly improved response rate. Here’s what’s different about JotForm Cards from traditional forms:

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Categories: Reviews, Web Tools | Tags: | 3 Comments

Cikumas–an LMS that’s easy to understand

learning management systemSwiss-based Cikumas makes the creation and implementation of virtual classrooms quick, intuitive, and without the steep learning curve that so often accompanies LMSs (Learning Management Systems). The minimalist nature of this ecosystem makes it easy for students to complete their work and teachers to engage with them. In the crowded field of K-16 LMSs, Cikumas offers a refreshing philosophy that online learning is about engagement between participants facilitated by the automation of assignments, scheduling, and classwork submittal.  It encourages teachers to place themselves at the heart of the learning, using its tools to make that a reality.

How to get started

It’s easy to get started with Cikumas:

  • Sign up for a free account.
  • Import your classes from Google Classroom, enter students by hand, or invite students via a class code.
  • Upload lesson plans and assignments with drag-and-drop ease from your local drive or Google Drive. These appear on your Calendar and your Dashboard (color-coded to differentiate between Assignments and ToDo items).
  • Develop your ToDo list which also shows on your Dashboard. Notice it appears on the Calendar (also on the Dashboard).
  • Group Assignments into Collections for ease of use.

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Categories: Classroom management, Reviews | Tags: | 3 Comments

Best-in-Class Resources–You Decide

top teched toolsEvery year, I review a large number of websites, apps, and resources that help educators blend technology into their classrooms. I get lots of feedback from readers sharing their experiences, asking questions, and clicking through to see if a particular tool will serve their needs.

But, I often don’t hear how the product worked in the fullness of time.

Starting last year, I sought out your opinions:

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Categories: Awards, Reviews, Teacher resources | 2 Comments

Empatico-Build Global Awareness in Students

Every day it seems, the world gets smaller. Studies show that 244 million people worldwide live in a country other than their birthplace. Doesn’t sound like a lot? In fact, it’s a 44% increase from the year 2000. Where it used to be sufficient to teach students how to thrive in their home country, that falls woefully short in a world where the internet reaches everyone, anywhere, where geopolitical borders have little effect on international activities, where the customs and culture of a country have a significant impact on student learning. Today’s challenge is to teach kids how to accept other worlds without judging, preaching, or rejecting.

I’ve been on the hunt–for a long time–for resources that help students develop global awareness and perspective-taking while learning to reject the judgmental attitudes that seem to fester unchecked among those who don’t know the truth. Enter Empatico, an initiative of The KIND Foundation, with a goal of connecting 1 million students in twenty-five countries from disparate socio-economic backgrounds.

Their thinking is that the more empathetic children become, the more in tune they can be with the needs of their peers, the more they will collaborate and find creative solutions to global problems. Developed by teachers and using a free online learning tool, students broaden their worldview through meaningful interactions with peers across the globe. Teachers are provided everything necessary–lesson plans, materials lists, a video conferencing platform, and more–to make this happen. Activities range from 2-3 hours, spread over multiple meetings (called ‘Short Spark Activities’) to 8-12 hours (called ‘Longer Fire Activities’).

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Categories: Digital Citizenship, International, Reviews | Leave a comment

Zapzapmath adds multiplayer option and more to their popular app

zapzapmathZapzapmath is a free gamified ecosystem that teaches math skills aligned with many national and international standards.  Its format is engaging, music lively, and layout colorful. The over 180 games spanning 900 difficulty levels are fast-paced and interactive and cover over 180 math topics. Zapzapmath has been awarded a plethora of education accolades and is ranked in the top 10 of the education category in 58 countries including the US and China.No surprise when you look at all the topics included in this robust app:
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– Addition
– Angles
– Coordinates
– Fractions
– Geometry
– Measurements
– Multiplication
– Pre-school Math
– Ratio
– Subtraction
– Time

Now, Zapzapmath has made the experience even better with a long list of enhancements, in-game improvements, and an even greater variety of features.  These are designed for all types of players from those who play at school to students who log on at a homeschool or through a family account. This is perfect for the many different ways students learn math, the wide variety of digital devices being used, and gives a nod toward the lifelong learner who is as likely to play math games because they love learning as that it’s part of teacher-directed activities.

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Categories: Homeschool, Math, Parents, Reviews, Web Tools | Tags: | 1 Comment

What is Standards-based Grading?

How many times have you experienced teachers who based report card grades on how well students complete classwork, homework, and quizzes? They mistakenly conflate these exemplars with learning. For example, a book report may require a certain number of written (or typed) pages or paragraphs rather than evidence that the student drew conclusions and summarized knowledge.

That’s changing. Today, many educators want to not only evaluate progress at a point in time but optimize that against the ongoing standards their school mission is built on such as Common Core, International Baccalaureate, NGSE, or TEKS.

What is Standards-based Grading

To accomplish this, many schools and Districts have turned to Standards-based Grading. According to Tomlinson and McTighe, standards-based grading (SBG) “measures student proficiency on well-defined course objectives.”  This means students have clear guidelines for how to define success over time, making it easy for all stakeholders in a student’s learning to determine if they are accomplishing what must be done for college and career. It de-emphasizes subjectivity by providing an objective delineation of requirements.

Here’s a good four-minute video overview of SBG:

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Categories: Education reform, Reviews | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

10 Great PowerPoint Changes You Probably Don’t Know About

PowerPoint is the iconic leader in slideshow-type digital tools. It’s considered the most feature-rich, flexible, and diverse of all presentation tools and where everyone goes first (or wants to go first) to create presentations. Though the alternatives are loud and boisterous, over 500 million users choose PowerPoint, 6 million of them teachers.

For years, new iterations of PowerPoint included tweaks and extensions of what already was there, but Office 365 changed that. In a nod toward the reality that lots of people use PowerPoint for much (much) more than presentations, they’ve made it easier to use for a wide variety of new purposes such as screencasting, lesson planning, and the design of marketing materials. Here are ten of my favorites:

Add-ins

This isn’t new to PowerPoint 2016, but if you haven’t upgraded in a while or simply didn’t know add-ins are available to Microsoft Office, you’ll love these. They are like the add-ins you download to your browser but work within PowerPoint. The first time I ran into these was with a link checker called AbleBits.com to find dead links in my tech ed books. For a small fee, the AbleBits add-in became a tab on my menu bar that I could use anytime to check whether the hundreds of links I had were still working.

Now, the add-ins available has exploded. Here’s a link with dozens of them that let you use popular programs within PowerPoint. This includes DropBox, Google Drive, Poll Everywhere, Camtasia, and Adobe Stock. Depending upon the add-in, it will require some or no installation. Some are mini-programs that work within the slide while others are robust added functionality. I’ve called out a few in this list (like Khan Academy and Mix) because they are exceptional. You won’t want to miss them. Most of them, you’ll find in the MS Store. Simply click Add and it’ll download to the program.

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Categories: Reviews, Slideshows | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Adobe Spark — All-purpose Desktop Publishing Tool for the Classroom

Adobe Spark is a free graphic design app that allows students and teachers with no design experience to create impactful graphics, web stories, and animated videos. With a goal of encouraging creativity and meaningful communication without requiring a degree in graphic design, Adobe Spark allows users to integrate text, photos, original fonts, video, audio, professional themes, and icons into simple but professional projects that communicate ideas cohesively and quickly. Project templates include social memes, mini websites, narrated tutorials, presentations, reports, posters, how-to videos, and more. You can access files in Dropbox, Google Photos, YouTube, Vimeo, or upload them from your local computer.

Spark, Adobe’s replacement for Adobe Slate and Adobe Voice, is actually three apps in one — Spark Page, Post, and Video — providing three ways to tell a story. Just pick the one best suited to your communication style. The desktop app gives access to all three in one spot while a mobile device requires the download of three different free apps. It works equally well on your desktop, laptop, Chromebook, Mac, iOS device, and mobile device and syncs between all with ease. That means, you can start a project at school, work on it while waiting for a sibling (or a child) at soccer practice, and finish it at home. Projects can require as little or much typing as you want, making this app perfect for youngers as well as high schoolers. Because it plays well with the many other Adobe products (once you log into your universal Adobe account), you can access your personal collections in applications such as Creative Cloud, Photoshop, and Lightroom.

If you’re struggling to move away from Microsoft Publisher because of cost or accessibility, this may be exactly what you’re looking for.

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Categories: Publisher/ DTP, Reviews, Videos, Web Tools | Tags: | 1 Comment