Ed World column on gadgets -- free online tools that make teaching easier, better, or just more fun. But new gadgets pop up online every day, and we like to keep up with the best of them. So, this year, we asked members of the Education World Tech Team to share their favorites. This is what they said.
Your Favorite Gadgets
Do you have a favorite gadget -- -- a free online tool that makes teaching or living -- easier, better, or just more fun? Share it with your colleagues on our Facebook page. "I love tools that are simple and do one thing really well," Doug Johnson, director of media and technology in Mankato Minnesota, told Education World. "I call them 'tools for people who have better things to do than mess with tools.' " If I can get my elementary teachers excited about a program, I know it meets the criteria. Here are a couple that do...
"One of my most-used tools is Motivator, which allows "One of my most-used tools is Motivator, which allows users to create a motivational-style poster in about three minutes. Upload a photo, supply a headline and short text, and -- badda-bing-badda-boom -- you get an inspirational poster. I've used the posters in handouts, in multimedia presentations, and as blog-entry illustrations. They can be part of a very simple activity for students as well."
"My favorite gadget would have to be Wordle," said Cossondra George, a 7th grade math and social studies teacher in Newberry, Michigan. To use Wordle, simply choose any text or series of words, and paste them into a box at the Web site. A graphic display of the words is then created, with the size of each individual word being determined by its frequency in the original word set. The possibilities for this tool are exciting! I use it to display my classroom rules uniquely, as well as to display grade level content expectations for my classes. Students can use the tool to create unique book reports, social studies notes, or even to analyze their writing for overused words. Wordle's many options make it fun to use over and over again. The displays also can be added to projects or posters to enhance the presentations.
Another fun tool I like is Let Me Google That for You. It seems students (or teachers!) often have trouble finding information on their own. Use this gadget to help them learn how easily Google can suggest appropriate sites. For example: Student X simply cannot find information about the population of Russia. Go to Let Me Google That for You and let it lead the way. Students, especially middle schoolers, love the humor of the tool and quickly learn to use it to "help" others find information.
Guy and Shelly Whitman, both middle-school teachers in Fremont, Nebraska, collaborated to recommend the following gadgets: Zap Reader is an online application that allows users to copy and paste text into a text box and then "zap it." Essentially, what the program does is foster quicker reading speeds, increasing a student's wpm reading pace. As research has shown, increasing the pace at which a student can read text silently fosters increased comprehension over time. Students can start out at whatever pace is most comfortable for them and work their way up as their speed increases. We've used this tool in the classroom as a fluency-building device, having students read the same passage multiple times, increasing their speed when they feel comfortable. Asking students to read aloud fosters reading expression as well, improving oral reading fluency at the same time. Students like that the words come across one-at-a-time, which is less daunting for less skilled readers. This is not an application I would use over a long period of time, but it's great for remediation, to build fluency through pacing.
Blogger is one of the most user-friendly Web site builders we've ever encountered. We both use it as a communication springboard with our students, and families have found wonderful success in building...
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