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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:
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.
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.
Type Dojo is a new free comprehensive approach to learning keyboarding. The ad- and distraction-free interface provides not only practice drills but quick links to grade-appropriate keyboarding games (including the popular ones from DanceMat Typing). It’s easy to get started and just as easy to use making it the perfect tool for busy teachers and students who have lots to do besides keyboarding.
But in the crowded field of online keyboarding, Type Dojo will become your favorite for one other simple reason: It multitasks. It has tons of wordlists for many subjects so students learn while practicing keyboarding. For example, if you’re working on geography, students can keyboard with the Geography word list or Marzano Science. If you’re studying literacy, use wordlists for Dolch/Fry/Sight words, Compound Words, or Phrases. Activities present as a timed test (between one and five minutes) that are selected by grade and topic. When completed, students get a certificate that can be printed or simply saved in their personal file.
Nothing turns data into information like a spreadsheet. We as teachers understand that, which is why spreadsheets are a fundamental tool to critically analyze any data that includes numbers. There are many options (Numbers, Excel, and Open Office to name just a few), but arguably the most popular is Google Sheets. If you’re using Google Classroom or G Suite, you already have it. That means there’s no separate log-in required, no unique password for students to forget, and no special install required to push it out to students. It’s right there, as part of the education package.
Most spreadsheet programs have similar options, so what characteristics make Google Sheets stand out? Read on.
The most common positives mentioned by users are:
- You can collaborate with friends and colleagues.
- You can share the spreadsheet as an embed, either with viewing privileges or editing ones.
- It can be synced across all devices, whether at home or school.
- It works on all digital devices whether it’s a Mac, Windows, Chromebook, or iPad.
- It provides a revision history, allowing you to scroll back to a better version of your work and/or track the contributions of collaborators.
- It includes a chat window where collaborators can discuss their work before changing the spreadsheet.
- Because Sheets is part of Google, it easily imports data from other Google Apps. It also exports nicely to the increasingly broad group of partners who work with Google Apps.
One more that I list as a Pro, but could be a Con: Sheets is easier to learn (that’s the Pro). The reason is there’s less to learn (that’s the Con). It focuses on the most popular functions, not the depth of need. If you’re a lite user of spreadsheets, this will serve you well, but if you are moderate to advanced, you may struggle to find the tool you were used to in Excel — if you can find it at all. For example, pivot tables are strictly an Excel tool.
Thinkster Math is an iPad based math tutorial program for K-8, aligned with Common Core and based on well-known international math programs such as Singapore Math. Offered in thirty countries and used by thousands of students, it teaches via digital worksheets, video tutorials, feedback from real (human) coaches, and a long-term plan developed with the student that encourages students to learn at their own pace, wherever they are, on a device (the iPad) that they love.
That last item is important — learn at their own pace. Research shows that often students succeed better when their learning is self-directed and self-paced. With Thinkster, students complete their math assignments wherever, whenever, and however it best fits their needs. They receive feedback from a personal tutor, badges for completed activities, game options to keep learning fresh, and prizes for achieving agreed-upon goals.
Lately, when I join technology education forums, one of the most talked-about webtools is Microsoft Sway. Though fairly new, Sway has taken over classroom production of visual presentations because the result is visually appealing while minimizing the amount of time students spend formatting a project, giving them lots more time to research and write.
What is Sway
Sway is part of Office 365 Education and is the newest alternative to its popular PowerPoint slideshow program. Using the Sway canvas, students select a theme and then add their notes and research. Sway organizes the content, suggests images and even data, and then helps students to quickly arrange everything into a comprehensive and fully-fleshed project. If the selected theme doesn’t work, students simply click “remix” and get a different look. More advanced users can edit the pieces to fit particular colors and interests. When everything’s perfect, it can be shared, embedded, and published.
Sway accepts almost any file format, including videos, PDFs, text, audio, images, native camera pictures, charts, audio clips, audio recordings, and links. A completed project can be embedded into any Office app (such as Excel, PowerPoint, or Word) and automatically updates with the original. Sway works in Windows, on iPads, iPhones, and desktops.
It is best-suited for Middle School and older, though I’ve seen lots of youngers successfully create engaging presentations.
It used to be, every class I taught started with students scrambling for notepaper and sharpening their pencils. Everyone took notes and used those to study for exams. If students wanted to share notes, they had to find a copy machine.
Many schools still do this, but there’s a better way: Digital notetaking. Students can use whatever computing device they have — including a smartphone — to record notes that can then be filed, shared, multimedia’d, and collaborated on. There are many options (Notability and Google Keep come to mind), but the most versatile, all-encompassing app I’ve seen is Microsoft’s OneNote. If you think you know OneNote but haven’t looked at the most current edition, take another look. You’ll be surprised at the changes.
Part of the free Office 365 for Education (and the fee-based Microsoft Office 365), OneNote opens quickly and allows students to take notes with a keyboard, stylus, or finger. Notes can be text, images, drawings, pictures, audio recordings, videos, PDFs, even captured webpages. OneNote can even tape lectures and then search the recording for keywords. If students get a handout or worksheet, they can add it to a note page by snapping its picture with the free add-on Office Lens, saving it as both an image and text.
Zap Zap Math is a free gamified way to teach math skills that’s tied to many national and international standards (like Common Core). Its format is colorful and engaging, music lively, and layout intuitive. The over 150 games are fast-paced and interactive, and cover over 180 math topics. Students direct their learning with a unique space-themed avatar (called a ‘mathling’) that identifies their work and keeps them engaged.
My favorite characteristics of Zap Zap Math include:
- Math topics are delivered in a module-oriented manner. Topics include:
– Pre-school Math
- Each math topic is divided into four skills: Training, Accuracy, Speed and Mission, with appropriate games to support each goal.
- Games advance as the child progresses.
- Games are more than rote drills, intended to train critical thinking, problem-solving, and promote logic in decisions.
- Games can be played offline, in multiple languages (with more planned before the end of the year).
- Teachers can add quizzes that assess student math knowledge by selecting the grade, the topic, one of the suggested Zap Zap Math games, and the duration.
- Teachers (or homeschooling parents) can track the progress of up to thirty students organized into a class where they are able to gauge learning outcomes via a web-based Learning Analytics Dashboard. Each child’s progress can be viewed remotely as they play Zap Zap Math.
- The Education account includes a student report card so all stakeholders can track student progress.
- Zap Zap Math can be played as an app or on a PC via a download.
Origo Education’s award-winning Stepping Stones 2.0 K-6 math program (with a separate program for pre-K) is versatile, easy-to-use, and nicely differentiated for varied learning and teaching strategies. It is available in English and Spanish with versions aligned with Common Core Standards or the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills. Its unique system of scaffolding lesson-to-lesson and circling back on important concepts not only reinforces learning but enhances student higher order thinking skills. Teaching materials include an abundance of resources, professional development, videos, and help. Lesson plans are delivered via a granular combination of rigorous critical thinking activities, real-world problems, and interactive digital games that make implementing the program easy and flexible for any type of classroom and fully supportive of a schoolwide goal of college and career readiness.
How to use Stepping Stones
Moodle is an open source free cloud-based learning platform used by over 96 million people to create over 11 million courses. These can be a simple activity or a fully-featured course. The platform offers a plethora of tools to customize courses as pretty much whatever teachers need, including:
- Upload video, audio, and links
- Engage students in a discussion forum or a survey
- Create, conduct and grade quizzes
- Assign, collect, review and grade assignments
The problem with Moodle and what stops many educators from using it has nothing to do with its flexible and scalable platform. It’s just not intuitive enough. Australia-based VerveEd’s goal is to fix that. Using an experiential, self-paced environment, VerveEd walks teachers through all the steps needed to create and use the Moodle platform in a clear, organized fashion and then provides nine hands-on ‘challenges’ that users complete to assess their knowledge in a real-world (albeit sandbox) Moodle environment. Challenges include topics such as: