Category Archives: Apps

20 Online Tools to Make Learning Fun

by Karen Schweitzer

Looking for a great way to engage and stimulate students in even the most tedious subjects? There are many online tools, games, activities, learning aids, and even web apps designed to make learning fun. Here is a list of 20 sites to try when the new school year begins:

Games and Activities

History Detective Kids – Based on PBS’ History Detective television show, this site encourages children between the ages of 8 and 12 to use critical thinking, problem solving, and dramatic play while digging through the past.

Funbrain – Funbrain hosts dozens of interactive educational games for children. This site covers most subjects and features web books, comics, and movies.

Math Is Fun – Math Is Fun is intended to make studying geometry, algebra, data, money, and measurements more enjoyable. This site also offers puzzles, games, and worksheets.

Brain POP – This interactive educational site offers games for a wide variety of subjects and grades. Brain POP also offers entertaining and creative way to explain difficult subjects to students.

Kerpoof – Kerpoof is an educational game site provided by the Walt Disney Corporation. This interactive site was created to help kids discover, learn, and be creative.

Discovery Dinosaur – This Discovery Channel site offers several interactive learning games, including the Dino Viewer. This handy interactive tool allows you to view facts and descriptions and watch movement.

Geography Action – Geography Action from National Geographic offers several interactive mapping games that allow children to view and map the world.

NASA – This NASA educational site offers a wide range of interactive games and activities for math, engineering, science, and technology.

Funschool – Funschool provides games primarily for elementary children. Games are interactive and cover an assortment of subjects.

PlayKidsGames.com – This site provides fun, interactive games for K-6 graders. Games cover math, vocabulary, spelling, computer, and other problem solving skills.

Learning Aids

Shmoop – Shmoop is a study guide site for U.S. history, literature, poetry, and writing. The site tries to make literature and other subjects more enjoyable by providing easy-to-read study guides and book summaries.

FREE – This teaching resource site from the federal government offers an array of educational resources, including animations, primary documents, photos, and videos.

Sparknotes – Although this site was created primarily for seniors and college students, Sparknotes does provide a wide range of resources for younger students. The most useful resources include study and literature guides, test prep materials, and a grammar guide.

The Stacks – This Scholastic site encourages children to read with book clubs, book chats, games, quizzes, and much more.

Slideshare – Slideshare makes it easy to upload presentations and documents to the web. This site is a great place to find information or just have students share ideas and connect with others.

Web Apps

Empressr – Empressr is a free multimedia tool for creating presentations. This app allows you to add music, video, pictures, and audio to each presentation.

Mindomo – This free brainstorming app stimulates creative thinking. Mindomo also makes it easy to organize your wild ideas into streamlined mind maps.

Altas – Altas is a great Twitter app that maps tweeters around the globe. This is a fun, interactive way to encourage students to learn geography and culture.

Whiteboard – This writing web app allows students to collaborate with others in real time. Whiteboard makes it easy to write, collaborate, and share work.

OuTwit Me – Outwit Me is a Twitter app with fun, challenging games, including storyteller, crack the code, and guess word.

This is a guest post from education writer Karen Schweitzer. Karen is the author of the About.com Guide to Business School. She also writes about accredited online colleges for OnlineCollege.org.

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A Teacher’s Guide to Twitter

Twitter is apart of my life almost every day because:
–    It’s a great source of news.
–    There are rich conversations among educators and edtech people.
–    People post entertaining, interesting, and very useful links.
–    I enjoy the easy interaction with others from around the world.

Most people start off in a rocky relationship with Twitter.  It doesn’t seem to be as easy or as useful as everyone has said, it takes awhile before you find your niche, and there is an overwhelming amount of information to deal with.  But, just hang on – it’ll be worth it!!!  This is a guide to help teachers, or anyone for that matter, have a smoother and more enjoyable experience.  It is, by no means, the most comprehensive list of tips but hopefully it’ll be helpful.  If you need a little more convincing that Twitter is amazing, check out Mark Marshall‘s post “Twitter – What is it and Why Would I Use it?”

Getting Started

  • Your picture: you should definitely have some sort of picture – people seem to respond better to actual photos, but avatars, cartoons, or logos are fine, too.
  • Your bio: it is very helpful to include keywords here because often, when someone is deciding whether to follow you or not, this is where they’ll get their “first impression” of you.  And, Twitter Grader scans bios for keywords for their ‘search’ feature.
  • Your URL: this is important! People will want to know more about you than your bio and what you tweet.  Even if you don’t have a blog or website, you could post a link to your school’s website or another account you have, such as LinkedIn, Facebook, or Classroom2.0.

Managing your Life on Twitter

Finding People to Follow

This can be the biggest challenge at first.  Not anymore!  Here are some great ways to do it:

Not Getting Overwhelmed

You’ll hear people talking about the Twitter “stream”.  This is derived from a beautiful metaphor in which the tweets people send out can be considered drops of water in a stream.  You’re standing on the bank, enjoying the stream as it passes, but you can’t worry about enjoyoing every drop of water that’s there.  Don’t worry about the tweets you missed – I promise that there are always, currently, very interesting things to read.  But – it is nice to catch up sometimes by browsing old tweets on peoples’ profile pages.

Tweeting

You’re limited to 140 characters, but this seems to do the trick.  Here are a couple of links to help with your tweets:

  • TinyURL – if you want to tweet a link, but it’s very long, this will shorten it to 25 characters.
  • Bit.ly – this also shortens a link, and it allows you to specify part of the new URL.  If you sign up for an account, you can track how many clicks your shortened URLs get.
  • TwitterSymbols – fun symbols you can insert into your tweets.

Other Ins and Outs

@replies

If you start a tweet with @(username), this will automatically land in that person’s “@replies” folder.  You’ll notice that if you reply to something someone said, your message will automatically start with this “address”.  These tweets will show up in your friends’ tweet-streams only if they have chosen to see @replies – you can change the settings for this.

DM

This stands for Direct Messages.  These are private messages that most people choose to use to introduce themselves or to bring an elongated “@reply conversation” over to a more appropriate venue.  You can DM someone from your DM folder or from the sidebar of their profile page, but only if they are following you.

RT

This stands for ReTweet.  If you want to share what someone else tweeted, it is only polite to give them credit by including “RT @(username)” somewhere in your message.

“Following” Etiquette [more on this topic in the ‘comments’!]

Some people say that it is polite to follow anyone who follows you, others choose to follow very small, select groups.   I have found a happy balance by following *most* people, but having select groups of people that I really don’t want to miss out on in my Tweetdeck.   There are probably only two types of people that I avoid following:

•   Those who only write mundane, one line messages, like “This coffee is good”.  I want to be able to  have conversations with people.
•    Marketers – there are a ton of marketers on Twitter.   Be wary of someone who’s following 5,000 but only has 18 followers.  Sometimes they’re worth following because they are actually interesting, but do not feel obligated to follow them if they are not.  I find it’s best not to clog up my Tweet-stream with advertisements.

My Favorite Twitter-related Tools

*note: some of these require you to enter your Twitter username and password – I cannot guarantee their security, but I’ll say that I’ve used all of these and have never had any problems (yet…)

  • Searching Twitter: Tweetscan – & Twitter Search
  • What’s hot on Twitter: Twitscoop
  • Who’s hot on Twitter:  Retweetist
  • Cool Stats about your account: TweetStats & Twitter Counter
  • Who’s following you compared to who you’re following: Twitter Karma & Friend or Follow
  • Make a poll to tweet: TwtPoll
  • Tweetdeck –  This is a free download that gives you a separate window (your Tweetdeck) that has multiple columns to display tweets concurrently – with a live-feed, too!.  You can choose their content – personalized groups, an entire column just for your DM’s or @replies.  I like to keep it in the background of my computer-work all day.
  • Twistori – live-feed for tweets that include “love”, “hate”, “think”, “feel”, “believe”, or “wish” – the result could be called art.
  • TwitterMosaic – Create a mosaic with pics of all of your Twitter friends – put it on your blog, or a coffee mug, or a t-shirt.

Useful Links regarding Twitter

Christine Morris put Twitter to use in her class for some real-time research and shares the experience and great tips here.

Here is an extensive and helpful list of ‘100 Tips, Apps and Resources for Teachers on Twitter’.

Twitter for Academia

**21 (and counting) Interesting Ways to use Twitter in the Classroom**

Nine Reasons to Twitter in Schools

Twitdom –  a Twitter application database, with over 300 tools to play with!
TwitTip –  a blog bursting with Twitter tips
Twitter’s Blog – enough said

@butwait has a ‘Twitter for Newbies’ page here, with TONS of resources.

If you’d like to follow me, click here.

And, if you’d rather read this guide in Portuguese, see Rodrigo Vieira Ribeiro’s blog!

Happy Tweeting!

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Using Weebly to build your Classroom Website

Here’s a follow-up to an earlier Weebly post:

There have been increasing numbers of educators who find that a classroom website is a good way to stay organized.  Here are some basic, very useful functions:

  • Announcements
  • Class Calendar
  • Homework Assignments
  • Supply Lists
  • Pictures
  • Post Student Work
  • Parent Involvement/Volunteer Opportunities
  • Classroom Rules and Policies
  • Links
  • Your Bio and Contact Info

A website is more informative, while a blog, ning or wiki is more interactive because they allow students to contribute.  I actually suggest having both.  But because blogs, nings and wikis require constant maintenance, it’s nice to have a website that is super-easy to build and edit.

I suggest using Weebly for this.  It’s free and extremely user-friendly.

Weebly_Ed

Here are some classroom websites built on Weebly:

If you have a Weebly website, or plan to get one, please share your URL in the comments!

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Daily Toolbox – for Educators or anyone

toolbox1

I read a recent post by Claire Thompson called “Tools and Sites I Use – One Year Later“.  I really like what she did – last January, she blogged about the tools that she used regularly, and now she’s gone back and reviewed and updated that list.  Sounds like a fun way to reflect.

Here’s my list of tools/sites that I use just about every day:

  • twitter – probably my favorite tool now, the center of my PLN (personal learning network)
  • gmail – one personal account and one work account
  • Facebook – keep in touch with old friends and former students
  • Netvibes – my RSS reader, how I keep up with my favorite blogs (or try to, at least)
  • Firefox – just curious if I’ll still be using it next year, or a different browser like Chrome
  • WordPress – where I house this blog, and read many others
  • Lighthouse – more for my company; great, free application that enables teamwork and good project management
  • Yammer – microblogging, within an organization – basically there are about 8 of us at Inigral, Inc. that keep up with each other this way.
  • diigo – social bookmarking site where I keep my favorites and love following the daily links that I get via e-mail, through the Classroom 2.0 group.
  • Jing – slick image/video capture and sharing tool
  • Youtube – I end up watching something on here every day.  Will it hold its own against the competition this year?
  • Microsoft Office – (threw this one on here to see if I’m still using Word and Excel next year….I’m actually rooting for Google Docs!)

Tools I hope to use more:

  • Classroom 2.0 – an outstanding Ning with great discussions and many interesting educators to connect with
  • LinkdIn – professional networking site – you can find very unique skill sets here
  • Evernote – keeps track of life, in general, with to-do lists, pictures, voice notes, and more
  • Backtype – how I keep track of commenting on blogs – need to figure out how to tap into its full potential
  • Younoodle – a startup networking site
  • Flickr – I hope to start posting more pics
  • Any iPhone app, period – hope to get one soon!

Now….hopefully I’ll remember this next January 🙂

What do you use that’s not on my list?

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Web 2.0 and Education 3.0 links

I’ve gotten to that point where my list of “interesting links” is so huge, I’d better start picking out my favorites to focus on. Here are some of them:

A Directory of Learning Professionals on Twitter Jane Hart first put out a list of 101people to follow if you’re interested in education and web 2.0, but the list quickly grew into this – 330 and counting!

Soundsnap is a library of sound effects – so cool!  Can be downloaded and added to presentations, etc.

Jing is a tool that allows you to capture any part of your screen – images and even screencasts.  Very helpful for capturing diagrams and graphs to insert into handouts and presentations.

Make Belief Comix might be the easiest and most accessible cartoon-strip creator to use, even for young students.

EasyBib turns information about a source into a formal, MLA bibliography citation!  Even websites!

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Weebly Rocks! Build a classroom website, or one for each student!

While visiting San Francisco, I had the pleasure of attending a spontaneous party – we were celebrating Weebly‘s 1,000,000th user!

A proud moment in the Weebly office

A proud moment in the Weebly office

Not only is this a quality website-building tool that everyone can enjoy but, specifically, many teachers have found that it offers a very easy and streamlined solution for organizing their classrooms. Here are some examples:

A high school math site called Mrs. Tentoni’s Algebra II

A P.E. teacher’s site

A kindergarten teacher’s site, Mrs. Boggess’s Kindergarten Web Page


A friend of mine set up a Weebly page for her son’s class – the teacher and the other parents loved it so much, Camille made a screencast about classroom Weebly’s so that others could tap in to the power of this tool.

Check it out:

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Part 4: Action! Let’s get Web 2.0 into our classrooms!

As a former teacher, I know how hesitant we can all be when trying new things in the classroom. There’s always someone telling you why (shiny new object) is going to “improve” things even when, 9 times out of 10, those new things ended up creating more problems than they solved.

Not in the case of Web 2.0.

The power that certain tools like wikis, social networking sites, and group presentation software can give to teachers and their students is still unknown. Up until now, applications have already been created for ease-of-use, so some of them might *actually* make your life easier.

Here are some ideas for integrating some specific tools to promote collaboration, and some links to others who have good ideas or have even tried this integration already:

  • Using a wiki: this can serve as a good ‘homepage’ for a course, but it can do so much more, too! I suggest creating assignments that will require students to add and review others’ work. The highest level of Bloom’s taxonomy is evaluation, and this is a very easy way to hit that mark and get students to think more deeply and broadly about what they’re learning.
  • Using YouTube: have students post videos – skits, conversations, creative representaions of the material that they’re synthesizing, as well as post response videos and comments.
  • Using Facebook: go beyond just creating a group for your class if it’s available; use a community-building application such as Courses or Schools.
  • Yammer is a great tool for keeping members of a smaller group up-to-date on the progress of projects. Students can use this to delegate roles and ask each other question as they go.
  • There are hundreds, if not thousands, of free tools out there – find what YOU feel comfortable using.

Here are some links to….um….links:

  1. – Larry Ferlazzo’s “101 Free Learning Tools”
  2. Vicky Davis is finding new, cool things almost daily.
  3. – Rober Byrne’s Free Technology for Teachers blog

And here are some teachers who are reporting on their results:

– check out Fred Stutzman’s manuscript on how the ‘integration’ went in his class

– Dean Groom offers some tips for teachers who are ready to ‘jump in’ and reports on how integrating on-line tools helped the collaborative efforts for a group project.

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