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Reviews

Gamechanger: Type to Learn is Now in the Cloud!

When I started teaching a decade ago, Type to Learn was the MS Word of typing programs–everyone used it. The game-based keyboarding program was fun, engaging, and actually worked. Students graduated from the thirty-forty lessons (that took about a year to get through) with the skills they needed to become fast and accurate typists who could use the keyboard as an effective tool in both classwork and homework.

At some point in the past, busy teachers moved away from a committed program that teaches typing to solutions that promised to automate the process with rote drills and games. With most of these freemium online programs, students log in and get started. No installation, no set-up, often little supervision, just typing. The problem is, they don’t work very well. With the push to move assessments online, students need good keyboarding skills. That means:

…fast accurate typing as a tool for writing and test-taking, not a distraction

If you’re one of the many who realize your students’ typing skills aren’t up to this standard, you’ll love Type to Learn’s game-changing update: It’s now in the cloud. No more software downloads. No more inability to sync between home and school. No more “runs only on desktops and laptops”.

Let me back up and describe Type to Learn Cloud. It’s a comprehensive typing program that teaches not just the basics but advanced skills necessary to become fast and accurate touch typists. It does this through a process of review, demonstration, practice, and assessment. Using avatar-like animation, engaging sounds, and colorful graphics, rolled out in a space-themed story, students progress through thirty-six lessons, five games per lesson, and seven assessments to complete the interactive missions that will save their world.  It operates in the cloud, works on most digital devices (including Chromebooks and iPads with an external keyboard), and plays well with all browsers. Students can work from home or school and their progress syncs between the two.

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

5 Favorite Apps for Summer Learning

summer learningSummer has a reputation for being nonstop relaxation, never-ending play, and a time when students stay as far from “learning” as they can get. For educators, those long empty weeks result in a phenomenon known as “Summer Slide” — where students start the next academic year behind where they ended the last.

“…on average, students’ achievement scores declined over summer vacation by one month’s worth of school-year learning…” (Brookings)

This doesn’t have to happen. Think about what students don’t like about school. Often, it revolves around repetitive schedules, assigned grades, and/or being forced to take subjects they don’t enjoy. In summer, we can meet students where they want to learn with topics they like by offering a menu of ungraded activities that are self-paced, exciting, energizing, and nothing like school learning. We talk about life-long learners (see my article on life-long learners). This summer, model it by offering educational activities students will choose over watching TV, playing video games, or whatever else they fall into when there’s nothing to do.

Here are favorites that my students love:

Read more on TeachHUB

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Look what’s new at Zapzapmath

You’ve probably read my reviews of Zapzapmath and Zap Zap Kindergarten Math, as well as the constant updates they make to their free (and freemium) app. This gamified math ecosystem is popular with students because it’s fun and teachers because it ties into many national and international standards (like Common Core).  Its format is colorful and engaging, music lively, and layout intuitive.

Now, Zapzapmath has introduced a new option called Zapzapmath Home. These free grade-level apps for iOS and Android are aimed directly at home use to support students who want to learn math at home with fun games, enticing videos, and the same clever interface they experience in school. By gamifying math in a way that wraps personalized learning with real grade-level tools, Zapzapmath helps students change the way they think about math from an activity that occurs within the walls of the schoolhouse to one that can happen anywhere.

Zapzapmath Home includes a scaffolded system of seven apps, one for each grade level from K-6. Each app is free to download and comes with a couple of free games that provide a solid preview of how Zapzapmath teaches math, letting you decide whether it’s right for your child.

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

Kiddom’s Content Library Makes Differentiation Faster Than Ever

A stand-out webtool among standards-based grading platforms is a free online program called Kiddom (click for my review). Kiddom is designed to help teachers curate individual learning experiences with pages that are visual and easy-to-understand, and enable teachers to quickly determine student progress and where remediation is needed.

While it offers many appealing pieces (homework assignment and grading, easy communication, and built-in metrics), one unique to Kiddom is their robust K-12 content library. Designed to offer lessons, videos, lectures, quizzes, and more that differentiate for individual students, its real power is making the resources of the most respected names in edtech available with one click. This includes:

  • ABCYa.com
  • CK-12
  • Desmos
  • Everfi
  • Flocabulary
  • IXL Learning
  • Khan Academy
  • Learn Zillion
  • Newsela
  • PBS Learning Media
  • Quill.org
  • Rocket Lit

The library is searchable by topic with preview features for selections.

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Categories: Classroom management, Reviews | 1 Comment

Study.com Makes the College Dream a Reality for Lots of Students

study.comIn a world where college fees go up every year, where the cost of campus-based classes invariably includes expensive extras, where the time commitment to complete college classes often can’t be balanced with work and family needs, Study.com stands out. These web-based classes offer motivated students a self-paced, self-directed path to achieving their college dreams in an affordable, flexible, quality ecosystem that prepares them for future careers in fields they love.

Study.com (formerly called Education-Portal) is a distance learning portal that provides over 70,000 lessons in fifteen subjects (including algebra, calculus, physics, chemistry, macro- and microeconomics, and more) aligned with popular textbooks. The engaging video summaries of textbook material provide access to more than a thousand full-length college courses.

Students sign up for a Study.com membership (there are three options) and take as many classes as they’d like each month. Depending upon the level of service subscribed to, students can view videos, take practice quizzes and exams, and get credit for classes passed through a proctored exam. All they need is an internet connection and a webcam (for proctored exams). Each course has about a hundred videos, each 5-10 minutes in length. In the College Accelerator membership, subscribers earn college credits that can be transferred to any one of over two thousand participating colleges and universities.

Study.com also offers a special (fee-based) Teacher Edition where educators can set up five virtual classrooms with up to 50 students in each, share class-themed videos, assign lessons and quizzes as homework, grade student work, print out worksheets, and get detailed reports on student progress.  Lessons can be pushed out to the entire class or specific students. They can be uploaded to Google Classroom, Schoology, Blackboard, and a selection of other LMSs. Students join with a free Study.com account that can be accessed with mobile apps (with the exception of proctored exams).

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Clutch Prep: When You Need Help With a Class You Must Pass

clutch prepClutch Prep calls themselves “the video version of textbooks” but really, that doesn’t give you the full flavor of what they offer. Their academic how-to videos are textbook-specific so you pick the ones used in your classes, even by your teacher. Videos cover each chapter and can be used as a preview or review. Practice questions monitor understanding to see if you’re ready for summative tests. Answers include an explanation of how to reach the correct answer. Every student is assigned a tutor who is available to answer questions if needed.

So, yes, it’s academic video tutorials–Plus.

Clutch Prep was founded on the idea that students would prefer to re-learn a concept from scratch rather than patch the holes in their knowledge. Geared for college-level classes, this also works well for high school AP classes. With over 348,000 students answering 14,5000 discrete practice problems, 90% of whom improve their grades, it seems like a no-brainer. You can sign up for free to watch a limited number of videos. The full program requires a fee that varies depending on how many classes you take and how you pay.

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5 Great Websites to Make Spring Sparkle

Last year was a boom year for edtech web tools. There were so many, I couldn’t keep up. I would discover what seemed to be a fantastic tool (most likely discovered in FreeTech4Teachers, Alice Keeler, or one of the other tech ed blogs I follow), give it about five minutes to prove itself, and then, depending upon that quick review, either dig deeper or move on. If it was recommended by a colleague in my professional learning network, I gave the site about twice as long but still, that’s harsh. I certainly couldn’t prove my worth if given only five minutes!

Nevertheless, that’s how it is because there are too many options. Here’s what I wanted to find out in the five minutes:

  • Is the creator someone I know and trust (add-ons by Alice Keeler always fit that requirement)?
  • Is it easy to access? Meaning, does it open and load quickly without the logins I always forget?
  • Is it easy to use? Meaning, are links to the most important functions on the start page? For example, in Canva, I can create a flier for my class in under five minutes because the interface is excellent.
  • For more complicated tools, how steep is the learning curve? Does the site offer clear assistance in the form of videos, online training, or a helpline?
  • Is the content age-appropriate for the grades I teach?
  • Is it free or freemium, and if the latter, can I get a lot out of it without paying a lot? I don’t like sites that give me “a few” uses for free and then charge for more. Plus, free is important to my students who may not be able to use it at home unless there’s no cost attached.
  • Is there advertising? Yes, I understand “free” probably infers ads so let me amend that to: Is it non-distracting from the purpose of the webtool?
  • How current is it? Does it reflect the latest updates in standards, pedagogy, and hardware?
  • Does it fulfill its intended purpose?
  • Has it received awards/citations from tech ed groups I admire?

After all that, here are five websites that I discovered last year, loved, and will use to brighten the Spring months:

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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: , , , | 3 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