Louisa Mellor reveals ten free online tools that might change your teaching for the better
If you can recall a time when using software in lessons meant spending a lunch break installing CD-ROMs in the computer suite, then the prospect of being a browser away from a huge selection of easy-to-use, exciting tools should put a smile on your face.
What’s more, with ICT budgets being squeezed ever tighter, the fact that many quality on line teaching and learning tools are available for free will no doubt make that smile a little wider. Consider the potential for active, collaborative and personalised learning that these on line tools facilitate, and there’s even more reason to be cheerful.
To the tech-savvy youngsters in our classrooms, the use of online applications is second nature. All we, as teachers and ICT coordinators, need do is introduce them to the on line apps that can help unlock their creativity and collaborative skills- and aid their study, revision and organisation.
The key is knowing which free online tools transcend the novelty factor and add real value. That’s where this guide can help. Read on to discover ten online tools you can use straight away, without needing to raise a purchase order or barter for budget allocation.
At first glance, online noticeboard tool Wallwisher may seem limited in application, but give it a go and you’ll soon discover that it’s more than a digital replacement for Post-it notes.
Wallwisher allows users to build virtual classroom Walls, in the sense you might be familiar with from Facebook, onto which 160-character messages, web links, images, videos and audio may be posted. Individuals can use it to mind-map, keep notes, or bookmark useful websites – but the real power of Wallwisher is in its potential for collaborative activities.
By sharing your wall URL with a class, whole year group, or even an entire school, anybody you choose is able to view and contribute to it. Wallwisher’s security settings allow teachers to use what its designers have cheekily titled “The Idiot Filter” to approve entries before they’re posted.
Ideas for use: Students can mind-map, build mood boards for creative projects, or create research walls on a given topic. Plenary discussions can be initiated by topic walls made collaboratively, or by teachers. For instance, a Key Stage 4 Media Studies teacher could create a wall ofYouTube film trailers to initiate a discussion on genre, classification or censorship.
How about having students post links to their own work, then using Wallwisher as a peer assessment tool? Teachers can also use the tool to gather feedback, anonymously if they so choose, on pupil confidence in specific curriculum areas.
Alternative: PrimaryWall is designed for primary schools, offering a user-friendly, text-only service with which to introduce Key Stage 1 and 2 pupils to group projects and collaborative storytelling.
A presentation tool, Prezi provides users with a large canvas upon which to pin text slides, video clips and images. So far, so PowerPoint, you might say.
Quite the opposite, in fact. Prezi’s selling point is its creation of a spatial narrative, meaning users can flow around presentation elements in the same non-linear way one might use an iPad: scrolling, enlarging, sliding and zooming in while always being able to return to the wider context. The trick is in learning to master these elements- not only in using Prezi to swoop between old linear PowerPoint-style slides.
Prezi is a sure-fire way to cure your classroom of PowerPoint fatigue. The finished product is leaps and bounds ahead of PowerPoint in terms of style, engaging the attention of pupils who groan with over-familiarity at seeing cheesy slide transitions on the whiteboard. it’s one example of a free on line tool where novelty adds value.
One weakness is that Prezi doesn’t yet support a master account to create student logins, so each pupil will need to apply for a separate EDU Enjoy account. lf your school allocates pupil email addresses (only educational addresses are accepted), this should be an easy hurdle to vault. If not, it still remains useful for teacher-led presentations.
Ideas for use: Whenever you or your pupils would use Microsoft PowerPoint, Prezi provides a more dynamic, engaging and visually attractive option. Innovative Science and Maths teachers of all key stages are already using Prezi to explain key concepts to pupils around the world.
Alternative: Ahead.com is a similar tool that’s particularly useful for showcasing student portfolios as well as making presentations. Student projects are granted free educational licences.
3. Study Blue
StudyBlue is a revision and assessment tools for the over 13s, which allows teachers and pupils to create sets of digital flashcards, then generate online tests based on them. StudyBlue tracks learner performance based on these tests. Students can use the tool for self-directed study or with peers from the same class. They can even work with others preparing for the same exam across the country.
Why are StudyBlue digital flash cards preferable to the real deal? First, sound and images can be uploaded to the cards, engaging audio-visual learners, and providing more memorable triggers for key terms and concepts students may need to recall.
Second, the digital cards are available anywhere the student is on line. With free Android and iPhone StudyBlue apps available, pupils surgically attached to their smartphones will never be without their revision tools. Depending on your school mobile phone policy, brave teachers may even wish to invite pupils to use their phones to brush up during class time.
Ideas for use: A Year 10 GCSE English Literature student can create a card on the term “simile” by adding their own voice-recording of the line “I wandered lonely as a cloud” alongside a colourful cloud image to accompany the written definition. These quick-to-make, personalised, audio-visual revision aids get more synapses firing than generic text-only definitions.
StudyBlue is well-suited to Modem Foreign Language teachers, who may wish to build vocabulary and expression cards to share with pupils, including audio recordings of pronunciations.
Alternative: For the same age group, Headmagnet also includes a feature that remembers the cards that users have had trouble learning, building them more frequently into study activities.
Animoto is a video-creation tool that teachers and pupils can use to make dynamic videos, either for the classroom, VLE or for special school events such as parents’ evenings and open days. Upload images, text, video and music, and Animoto will automatically composite your ingredients, creating a fluid video presentation in minutes.
While presentations are slick- and pupils will no doubt enjoy how easy it is to make professional-looking videos using their own images and clips- it should be noted that once made, the presentations are click-and-play, rather than interactive.
Teachers are able to apply for an educator’s code, giving free access to an Animoto Plus account and allowing teachers and pupils to make videos of any length. Teachers may also set up unlimited student accounts without the need for pupils to enter personal email addresses, allowing individual student activity to be monitored.
Ideas for use: The Animoto education website gives numerous examples for use in primary Oazzy alphabet presentations) and secondary (function notation explained to a funky electro beat) education. lt can also be used to chronicle class projects or field trips, and for showcasing work- particularly in Art, Design and Technology subjects.
Alternative: Stupeflix may not allow music as Animoto does, but it gives users more autonomy over the animation and transitions used in their presentations. Educators can currently sign up for free, unlimited usage as a beta tester.
10 free online tools for teaching and learning
Posted on 18 Feb 2012 at 23:16
Wordle is another of those tools that may have begun life as an online novelty, but which canny teachers have since co-opted for use in the classroom. You’ll no doubt have encountered Wordle clouds before; those intriguing little bundles of various-sized words visually showing which terms are the most frequently used in a section of text.
Ideas for use: How about this as a fresh way to kick-start a Citizenship, Politics, Sociology or General Studies lesson? You can create Wordles in seconds by pasting the text from on line newspaper articles, then use them as a springboard for discussion. Key Stage 4 and 5 Media Studies and English Language students could make a series of Wordles using articles from different news outlets that cover the same story to instigate a discussion on register, diction and media bias.
Wordle can also be used to carry out snapshot classroom polls, making lists of useful terms, or as an icebreaking activity for new pupils: they can make Wordles from lists of their favourite things.
Key Stage 4 and 5 Language and Literature teachers can paste chapters of copyright-free novels into Wordle to create lexis clouds that demonstrate the diction chosen by a particular novelist, playwright or poet. The text of political speeches can be similarly uploaded for lessons on persuasive writing and the power of repetition.
Alternative Tagxedo is a tool with the same basic idea, and the added option of making your word clouds in various shapes (perfect for grouping together themed Modern Foreign Languages vocabulary and making attractive wall displays).
Storybird is a gorgeous tool, with a range of practical applications from Key Stage 1 and 2 Literacy, to Key Stage 3 lCT, Key Stage 5 Modem Foreign Languages and beyond. lt makes available hundreds of high-quality artist illustrations in a range of styles, which pupils can use to illustrate their own ebook.
Creative, descriptive, and persuasive writing activities can be set for pupils, who can work collaboratively or individually, then “publish” their finished work to a small group, the whole class, or even to the on line public. It’s the teacher’s choice.
Although some may view the ready-made illustrations as limiting for pupils, it means learners are able to focus on writing and storytelling techniques, and their finished work is guaranteed to look professional.
Teachers may register and add learners to a virtual class, enabling them to monitor pupil activity. One great feature of Storybird is that learners aren’t required to register via an email address, making it particularly user-friendly for younger year groups.
Ideas for use: The illustrations make an effective springboard for younger learners who can develop their use of adjectives in simple, descriptive tasks. Older pupils can create narratives based on the images provided, increasing their grasp of narrative, dialogue and written expression.
At Key Stage 3 and higher, Modern Foreign Language teachers could set students simple descriptive tasks in the target language to embed correct syntax and adjectival use.
Alternative: Little Bird Tales allows users to create and upload their own images as well as embedding multimedia clips in their ebooks
Popplet has three main functions, two of which (digital bulletin board and presentation tool) overlap with the uses we’ve already discussed for Wallwisher and Prezi. As a result, we’ll focus on its primary application: mind-mapping.
Popplet’s usability is its major trump card. Its interface couldn’t be more intuitive, so it’s adaptable for use with a range of age groups. Mind-maps featuring video clips and images can be constructed as a whole class on an interactive whiteboard, or students can work on their own, in pairs or in small groups.
Popplet’s simplicity should, in theory, mean ifs suitable for primary school students, but the sticking point is that each user has to register with an individual email address to participate on the site; something you’re unlikely to encourage at Key Stage 1 and 2.
Ideas for use: Anywhere information needs to be organised, Popplet can be used as an effective, interactive mind-map tool. Numerous elements of the Key Stage 3 to 5 Science curriculum can be supported using mind-maps and flow charts, to summarise key concepts during learning as well as for revision. Levels of organisation in the human body, for instance, from organ to tissue to cell, may all be illustrated and annotated on such a mind-map.
Popplets may also be created to scaffold essay-writing homework activities, with essay titles cascading down to structure student responses.
Alternative: Bubbl.us is a simple, effective text-only online mind-map creator that doesn’t require registration before use, although you’ll need to register to save any mind-maps created.
8. Google Docs
Google’s cloud-based office suite, Google Docs, offers an on line word processing, spreadsheet creation and presentation package. Without wishing
to sound giddy, in theory it sounds the death-knell for coursework excuses of the “I’ve lost my USB stick”, “my hard drive crashed”, or “my notes are at home” variety.
How does it do it? If your pupils use Google Docs forward processing, for example, their work is accessible from any computer connected to the internet. Better still, when they add their teacher as a collaborator to a document, not only can teachers add real-time comments to pupils’ work, but they can monitor every revision made by a pupil or group.
We say group, because one of Google Docs’ chief functions is collaboration. By inviting fellow collaborators (all of whom will need email addresses), pupils can co-edit a document in real-time; it tracks their individual inputs, making clear exactly who’s done what. Each student’s revisions show up in a different colour, so teachers can see at-a-glance whether the balance of input is equally spread.
Ideas for use: Once you start to use it, it’s clear that collaborative cloud computing using Google Docs isn’t just a boon for monitoring how your students are getting on in their Key Stage 4-5 coursework essays. Peer editing and evaluation, collaborative research and writing assignments, as well as group spreadsheet and presentation making are all made possible by Google Docs.
Alternative: Its real-time collaboration may not be as slick as Google Docs, but many cite Zoho’s wider range of applications and features as a reason to switch. Both tools are available as free smartphone apps.
Dipity is an interactive timeline tool that allows students to plot text and images, as well as video and audio clips, onto a linear timeline. Timelines can be published online, and URLs submitted to your school’s VLE.
Ideas for use: History is the subject that leaps to mind. While there’s no end of applications for making interactive timelines to support History learning at Key Stage 2 to 5, any topic requiring knowledge of context can benefit from Dipity’s research activities.
Science and ICT teachers can also use it to have their pupils track the spread of a phenomenon – from the H1N1 virus to the development of email -around the world using Dipity’s global map view to plot events. Literature students can visualise key plot elements in, say, Pride and Prejudice, or list turning points for the novel’s protagonists.
Alternative: Capzies is another interactive timeline tool that provides more design options than Dipity, although it could prove a double-edged sword for pupils that find tweaking an irresistible distraction.
Storify is a content aggregator that pulls in social media elements from sites such as Rickr, You Tube and Twitter, to create illustrated multimedia “stories” about current and world events. Because of its use of social networks, Storify is best used with Key Stage 4 and 5 pupils – and only then if your school’s internet security options allow access to the sites from which it draws material.
It’s remarkably user-friendly, with easy-to-use search options producing lists of relevant tweets, photos and video clips relating to your topic. Pupils can drag and drop elements into their “story”, annotating their choices as they go. As a research tool, it’s a great aggregator for web links, and an effective visual way to organise information.
Ideas for use: A quick search on the “London riots” by AS-level Critical Thinking students produced a list of tweets from journalists with links to full articles, photographs and YouTube clips.
The inclusion of social media not only aids pupils in their “understanding of current and emerging technologies and their social and commercial impact” – one of the learning aims for ICT – but inevitably leads to evaluation of the reliability of a range of sources.
Alternative: Storyful is a similar tool to Storify, also popular as a news portal for student research into current affairs incorporating new media.
Author: Louisa Mellor