Exploring New Tools

 

Much of my time as a blended learning teacher is spent looking for the next great app we will use.  I want to keep my students engaged and guessing!  Using the same app over and over again means it becomes familiar, too familiar, to my students and I sometimes see an accompanying dip in their effort.  

One of the wonderful things about running my blended classroom is that things change – that works for me.  Being flexible about which apps I use to address different learning goals and student styles is important and there are new apps being build every day.  The hard part is finding the time to explore all of them.  My PLN has been a huge help with finding strong apps for classroom use and their reviews of them help me sort out which ones are worth my time and which aren’t. 

We definitely have our go to apps that we use repeatedly.  We have found these to be reliable, easy to use, they produce nice finished products, and they have useful features:

  • Google Apps for Education – we are a GAFE school so this is where I started.  Students were already familiar with Microsoft Office so the transition was relatively painless.  The biggest problem I have with using these is the lack of practice some students have had with how to use an application like Google Docs to format.  We’re working on it!
  • BlendSpace – FREE – This is a great way to deliver self-paced content to students.  Their search feature is a great time saver and putting together a collection of content you want your students to view is quick and easy.  It gets a bit more complex to add interactive materials you have created elsewhere, but once you get the hang of it, this is also a fairly speedy process.   You can design your BlendSpace to be viewed in a particular order, in any order, or as a place to hold information that students will reference over and over again.  Students can also make their own as a way to present their learning.  This one’s a keeper!
  • Glogster  – PAID – There is an edu version of this one and that is what I use with my students.

http://edu.glogster.com//glog/37753564

I can use Glogster to create assignments that are a little more fun to work with than usual!  Students love using this tool to express their creativity and to present their knowledge.

http://edu.glogster.com//glog/49088137

  • Padlet –  FREE – This tool has created a way for my students to go public with their thinking without having to raise their hand and speak in front of the class.  Although this can get silly when they all decide to post ridiculous pictures instead of addressing the prompt, it can also be a very easy way to get a snapshot of student understanding.  You can project it or not, your choice.  That could be one way to manage the behavior!
  • ReadWorks & NewsELA – FREE – Two great resources for high quality, leveled informational text.  If you want an article with questions to assign to your students to check their reading comprehension or close reading skills, these are great apps to use as resources.  I know some teachers that use these every week.  I primarily use them for current events articles for my Geography classes.  I know the content is high quality and that they are at a level I can expect my students to be able to attain.

Recently, I have found some newer apps – or at least newer to me.

  • DocentEdu – PAID – This was an amazing find!  You can turn any webpage or document published as a web page into an interactive assignment for your students.  It is a Chrome add on and you simply find the webpage you want to use, click on the app symbol up on your Chrome bar, and you are ready to create.  I have classes created and as the students work, I can see their answers.  It is very easy to look at every students’ answer for one question or one student’s answers for all questions.  I love it and the students have responded very well to working with it.  Our principal bought a small number of trial licenses for our faculty so we can try to use it in a cross-curricular way.
  • Wizer.me – FREE – This one is fun!  This is a simple interface that allows you to make online worksheets and interactive lessons that can contain a whole list of different types of questions and even videos.  My students labeled a map, matched vocabulary words with their definitions, and answer a multiple choice question.  It was simple to set up and a nice rest from textbook based work.  My first attempt was pretty basic and I am looking forward to making something more interactive.  Best of all, it grades the work for you!  Hallelujiah!  A great way to check to see who is getting the content!
  • Cram – FREE – This site has precreated vocabulary lists – tons of them.  Or you can make your own set of flashcards.  Students can download this onto their phones and use it to practice for tests.  My students loved the games on Cram for reviewing their vocabulary.  I saw real improvement in their retention of content specific vocabulary terms after using it.  They were asking for class time to play – you can’t ask for more than that!

I’m sure you have many other apps you can think of to suggest I try.  Please share!  The hunt for great apps is a time consuming activity and I would love the hints and tips.

 

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