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.
Zapzapmath 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 Zapzapmap 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 Zapzpmath 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 Zapzapmath.
- The Education account includes a student report card so all stakeholders can track student progress.
- Zapzapmath 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:
The popularity of standards-based grading and instruction is growing. Why? It’s because the one-size-fits-all concept of a single grade representing the fullness of the students’ work is flawed. Today, teachers want to call out student strengths and weaknesses, accomplishments and areas of improvement, as aligned with the standards that their school mission is built on. That requires a detailed picture of what students have learned.
The problem is: This is time-consuming. Teachers must itemize tasks and work, attach them to relevant standards, monitor each student’s progress toward the goal of achieving the standards, and remediate when they need help. For many teachers, this is overwhelming. The ideal would be to have all assignments, assessment, and submittals for each student curated in one spot that automatically updates as the year progresses–and provides actionable reports.
Happily, there is such a program. It’s called Kiddom.
Kiddom is a free standards-based platform designed to help teachers curate individual learning experiences. Its pages are visual and easy-to-understand, enabling teachers to quickly determine how students are doing and where remediation is needed–all without spending a lot of time analyzing data. Many of the details are linked, allowing you to dig deeper on any subject from a variety of pages rather than one specific spot.
Here are details you’ll like:
I read recently that 70% of millennials get their news from Facebook. Really? Isn’t Facebook a place to share personal information, stay in touch with friends and families, post pictures of weddings and birthdays? So why do students turn to it for news? And then, not two days later, I heard Twitter has reclassified their app as a news purveyor rather than a social media device. Once again: Who gets news from Twitter? Apparently a lot of adults. No surprise news shows are littered with references to listener’s tweets and presidential candidates break stories via their Twitter stream.
One more stat — which may explain the whole social-media-as-news-trend — and then I’ll connect these dots: 60% of people don’t trust traditional news sources. That’s newspapers, evening news, and anything considered ‘mainstream media’. They prefer blogs, Twitter, and Facebook.
So when it comes to research, are you still directing kids toward your grandmother’s resources — encyclopedias, reference books, and museums? No doubt, these are excellent sources, but if students aren’t motivated by them, they won’t get a lot out of them. I have a list of eight research sites that walk the line between stodgy (textbooks) and out-there (Twitter and Facebook), designed by their developers with an eye toward enticing students in and then keeping their interest. It’s notable that most are free, but include advertising. The exception is BrainPOP — there are no ads, but it requires a hefty annual fee:
- Brain Pop Learn about Money
- Cash Out
- Coin Counting
- Coin games—from US Mint
- Count Money
- Counting Money
- Face on money
- Face on money–from Lunapic; lots of options
- Make change
- Money Flashcards–APlus Math
- Mr. Bouncy’s Money collection–lots of websites
- US Mint virtual tour (a slideshow)
If you have iPads, here are two you’ll love: