Summer 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:
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:
Finding webtools for high school classes requires a different set of metrics than those that apply to lower and middle school searches. Teachers who specialize in preparing students for college and career instinctively want tools that extend learning, support lesson plans, and simplify concepts taught in the curriculum. Of course they do! By high school, the pressure to prepare students for their future is immense. This is the final chance to provide students with the knowledge they require to succeed in the game called life.
Let me put that in pedagogic terms. If you’re familiar with the SAMR Model, you know it refers to the way technology tools can be used to enrich classrooms. This starts at a basic level of replacing traditional tools (like an atlas) and ends where technology provides experiences students couldn’t get without technology. Here’s how it works:
S (Substitution) — use technology in place of a traditional tool. For example, take notes digitally rather than with paper and pencil
A (Augmentation) — technology functionally improves the traditional learning approach. For example, notetaking may include audio and images as well as text
M (Modification) — use technology to enhance learning in ways that weren’t possible before. For example, students can share their notes and comments with each other creating a collaborative and energized learning environment
R (redefinition) — students use tech tools to accomplish learning that wasn’t possible with the traditional approach. For example, students use interactive maps to explore a geographic environment as though they were there.
The high school teachers I know want tools that contribute significantly to a student-centered learning ecosystem and that enrich learning with experiences they couldn’t have without the technology (modification and redefinition). They aren’t interested in replacing the usual tools or facilitating rote drills. Time is too short and the consequences too significant. To that end, here are six worthy websites and digital tools that will make high school classes more engaging, more effective, and more student-centered than ever:
Knowledge is meant to be shared. That’s what writing is about–taking what you know and putting it out there for all to see. When students hear the word “writing”, most think paper-and-pencil, maybe word processing, but that’s the vehicle, not the goal. According to state and national standards (even international), writing is expected to “provide evidence in support of opinions”, “examine complex ideas and information clearly and accurately”, and/or “communicate in a way that is appropriate to task, audience, and purpose”. Nowhere do standards dictate a specific tool be used to accomplish the goals.
In fact, the tool students select to share knowledge will depend upon their specific learning style. Imagine if you–the artist who never got beyond stick figures–had to draw a picture that explained the nobility inherent in the Civil War. Would you feel stifled? Would you give up? Now put yourself in the shoes of the student who is dyslexic or challenged by prose as they try to share their knowledge.
When you first bring this up in your class, don’t be surprised if kids have no idea what you’re talking about. Many students think learning starts with the teacher talking and ends with a quiz. Have them take the following surveys:
Both are based on the Theory of Multiple Intelligences, Harold Gardner’s iconic model for mapping out learning modalities such as linguistic, hands-on, kinesthetic, math, verbal, and art. Understanding how they learn explains why they remember more when they write something down or read their notes rather than listening to a lecture. If they learn logically (math), a spreadsheet is a good idea. If they are spatial (art) learners, a drawing program is a better choice.
Ask a Tech Teacher routinely shares favorite websites and apps that make a difference in the classroom. Over the last month, readers voted on which tools had the greatest impact on readers. To award this Best in Category badge, we asked them to look for the uncommon resources (meaning: not the ones everyone knows about), the ones that made them say Wow and rush to share with colleagues everywhere.
Then we looked for the following qualities:
- how dependable is it
- how versatile is it for time-strapped teachers
- does it differentiate for the varied needs of students and teacher
- do educators like it (fairly subjective, but there you have it)
- how did it work when exposed to your students
- was it easy to use and intuitive to learn
- did it fulfill promises and expectations
- has it become a beloved tool in your classes or a failed experiment
Here are the 2017 Best-in-Category and Honorable Mentions for the following Categories: (more…)
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:
Collecting class data, asking for feedback on activities, and pushing out quizzes used to be laboriously accomplished by passing out paper documents, collecting them as they dribbled in, and then collating the data into a spreadsheet where you could sort and shake to come up with the useful information.
These days, all of those tasks are accomplished much more easily with one of the many free/fee webtools designed to create and curate information. Uses include but are not limited to:
- volunteer sign ups
- feedback on events
- class enrollments
- donations and payments
- consent forms for school activities
- polls and surveys on upcoming or past events
- data on parents and students
- collection of student projects
- sign-ups for student class presentations
- signups for afterschool activities or summer classes
- registrations for a Professional Development workshop
- quizzes that are automatically evaluated providing students with their score and you with metrics
Besides the ease of use and their digital nature, students love forms because they are anonymous. This means when forms are used to collect feedback, input, and projects, students can participate at their own pace, as quietly as they’d like, with only the teacher being aware of their identity.
mysimpleshow, digital tool of choice in the explainer video market, has done it again. They’ve come out with a great change that will make their explainer videos even easier to use in a classroom. mysimpleshow “Classroom” offers the full variety of design functions with a focus on collaborative learning: Up to 50 students can create joint video projects that promote their creativity and teamwork. Previously, a price tag was attached but the creators of simpleshow have decided to make the “Classroom” free of charge, in addition to the free basic account.
Here’s an explainer video about the mysimpleshow Classroom:
About simpleshow: simpleshow is the market leader for professional explainer video production and so far has produced several thousand clips in more than 50 languages worldwide. With offices in Luxembourg, Berlin, Stuttgart, London, Zurich, Miami, Singapore, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur and Tokyo, more than 150 employees serve customers around the globe. simpleshows explain complex topics in short, entertaining, and easy-to-understand videos; and its methodology is trusted by major blue-chip corporations worldwide. Today, the company offers a variety of formats, from simple online videos to innovative and interactive online courses, and its online video maker mysimpleshow.
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Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-18 technology for 18 years. She is the editor/author of over a hundred tech ed resources including a K-8 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum. She is an adjunct professor in tech ed, Master Teacher, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice, CAEP reviewer, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on tech ed topics, and a weekly contributor to TeachHUB. You can find her resources at Structured Learning. She is also the author of the tech-thriller series, To Hunt a Sub and Twenty-four Days.
Every year in December, Hour of Code inspires thousands — tens of thousands — of students to fall in love with problem-solving, coding, and programming. Like a favorite web-based game, students are presented with a problem (for example, get your bot to say On vacation!) and are challenged to use the tools available to solve it. There are endless examples, from games to robots to programming. No teacher can fail to find one exactly right for their students.
A good option that introduces coding at its most basic level is QR Codes. QR (standing for ‘Quick Response’) Codes are one of those snazzy tech tools that grabbed the imagination years ago of students and just won’t let go. I’m not sold on them. They take too long to set up, require a whole separate app to read, and tell the same information that can be communicated in more common ways. But students like them which is why I want to use them.
But students like them which is why I want to use them.