The Best Free Web Tools for Engaging Students in 1:1 Classrooms

This week, I had the opportunity to present at the Iowa 1:1 Institute. It is always a great event, and has long been known for having some of Iowa’s brightest and best educators in attendance. I did two presentations – Choose Your Own (Google) Adventure Stories, and the one you can see below.

I believe that every educator should have their own web toolbox of sites that they can turn to when they are looking to engage students in their classrooms. You can’t rely on the same one to do what you need in all scenarios, and your students will probably appreciate some variety from time to time, so I wanted to share some of my favorites and hopefully introduce a few new ones for teachers to take back to their classrooms.

However, it is important to note that these tools won’t change teaching and learning in your classroom. After all, they are just tools. They still need the right context, and without proper implementation within your classroom curriculum, they will do very little to invoke change by themselves.

The slides from the session are below. If you see something you like, feel free to share it with someone else who might benefit from using some of these great web tools in their classroom!

 

The Best Free Interactive Presentation Tools

There are lots of great presentation tools for the classroom and these days they are being used by both students and teachers. So, in this post I have decided to round up a few of my favorites from the last few months in the hope that you find something new to use in your classroom the next time you want to engage your students with something a little different.

1. Nearpod – iPad teachers know that Nearpod is synonymous with engaging, interactive presentations. In fact, some would say they wrote the book on it. However, it is no longer just for the iPad because you can use it on Android, Nooks, Chromebooks and Macs or PCs via the web. Top features include the ability to add quiz tools, videos, photo slideshows, drawing tools, a PDF viewer and even a live Twitter stream.

nearpod

2. EverySlide – Building on the success of apps like Nearpod, EverySlide has some other unique features that make it a great tool for the classroom. As the presenter moves through the slides on their device, the audience slides move at the same time. However, you can build in interactive elements like polls. You can also create quizzes based on interactive hotspots that you add to your slides. Everytime the audience clicks (or taps) on an area of your slide it is recorded for you to view later. Oh, and its web-based and works on any device!

everyslide

3. Movenote – With an eye on the flipped classroom fans, Movenote lets you add interactivity to your presentations via a webcam video of yourself! You upload your presentation to movenote.com, authorize your webcam, and flip through your slides like a screencast as you record a live video feed of yourself at the same time. If you prefer you can record your video ahead of time, then use movenote to sync the slides to the video. Still not convinced? It integrates with Google Drive, so you can pull over your favorite Google Presentations and use those too.

movenote

4. Swipe.to – It may officially be in beta, but Swipe is still a polished performer. Simply upload your presentation as a PDF and/or add some image files are you are good to go. There are no limits on the number of files you upload, or the size of the files you add. YouTube and Vimeo videos can be added with just a URL, and all your decks are private until you are ready to share them. When you are ready to present, share the presentation URL so your audience can follow along on their devices in real time. There are no limits on the number of people you can present to at one time, so if you happen to get called to give an ISTE keynote, this might be a tool worth considering! :) You can even give your students a coding challenge and get them to write their slides in Markup.

swipe

 

5. ClassFlow – Promethean made their name with interactive whiteboards, but when they launched ClassFlow you can see that they are now starting to look beyond the board. The teacher creates interactive lessons like they would for a SMART or Promethean whiteboard, except students interact with it via a mobile app or the web. Videos, websites, documents and more can be added and they are all stored in your cloud account so they are accessible on any device you want to use. Polling tools give teachers instant feedback and the data is stored for future planning.

classflow

6. Slideidea – I have blogged about Slideidea before, but it remains a great presentation tool for iPad teachers. It lets you create and present your slideshow and includes a variety of interesting features to make your presentation stand out. There is a digital whiteboard for drawing up some ideas, an interactive polling tool, and even the ability to record your presentation as a screencast. So, if you you are looking for a change from Keynote or Haiku Deck, give it a try. You won’t regret it! Read more about Slideidea here.

SlideIdea iPad Presentation Templates

Which is your favorite interactive presentation tool for the classroom? Is it listed above? If not, feel free to add it to the comments below to share with others!

Plickers: Classroom Clickers without the Clicking

If you taught for a while, you have probably at least seen a classroom set of clickers somewhere on your travels. These student response systems were all the rage for a while. They looked like TV remote controls and were designed as a way that students could respond to a quiz or oral question by pressing a button to indicate the answer that they chose. Each clicker was unique to that student so that the teacher could see who answered what and when.

plickers

Fast forward a few years and today you can experience the future of classroom clickers – a free tool called Plickers. Now, if you are imagining a high-tech handset with an HD touchscreen, WiFi and a built-in camera, you would be wrong. Plickers uses paper. Yes, you heard that right, paper! Oh, and your students don’t need any electronic devices to take part in your assessment.

plicker code

So, how does it work? Each student is given a card with a unique visual code. The code has 4 sides, each lettered A, B, C, and D. The student holds the card so that the letter they choose to answer the question with is at the top of their card. The teacher uses the iOS or Android app on their smartphone to slowly scan the room. The app recognizes the cards, records who the teacher assigned them to, and captures the answer that the student chose. The app will only record each student’s answer once, so you need not worry about a second scan skewing your data.

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Puffin Academy: A Flash Browser for iPad Schools

puffin flash browser for iPad

For a while, Rover used to be a default app on school iPads because it was a Flash browser for the iPad, and many curricular resources that were still being used in schools were reliant on Adobe’s Flash Player. Rover still exists, albeit in a different format, but it now has some competition in the form of Puffin Academy.

The Puffin app is already a well-known and reliable Flash browser that has been available for the iPad for some time now, but the Academy version is relatively recent. It is a filtered, educational browser and only specifically approved content is accessible through the app. Anyone who wants to have their content featured on Puffin Academy has to apply and be vetted before they are accepted as a content partner.

Curious as to what has already been approved? Check out the Puffin Academy Portal. Here you will find a selection of K-12 websites sorted by curricular subjects. This is essentially the home page of the browser itself, but it can be accessed via the link above to let you know what kinds of content is available.

puffin portal: ipad flash browser for schools

Puffin Academy whitelists sites, so only the websites that are specifically approved can be accessed from the browser. Any attempts to navigate to Google, Facebook, YouTube or other non-approved sites will result in a “Website Blocked” message for the user. This means that your students will be safe while using this app.

After a while, you will doubtless wish that this website or that was part of the Puffin Academy. Unfortunately, you can’t just add a website by emailing Puffin. They have a strict process for content providers who have to apply to have their content added. So, email your favorite educational Flash website providers and tell them about Puffin to see if they are willing to apply for their free listing on the Puffin Academy app.

Other advantages of Puffin Academy? Well, even though it is a Flash browser for iPads, Puffin Academy is rated suitable for 4+. Almost all other browsers in the App Store – Chrome, Dolphin, Mercury, Photon etc. – are actually rated as 17+ apps because they have the ability to access all available content on the web.

So, if you haven’t tried Puffin Academy yet, and you need a Flash browser for your classroom iPads, you should definitely take a look. It is free app, and the developers are committed to supporting educators with approved content in the classroom. Is it limiting? In some ways yes, but it can be a great introduction to the web while you are still working on developing digital citizenship skills with your students.

Helpful Links:

Access the Google Drive Template Gallery on an iPad

Recently, I was asked if it was possible to access the Google Drive Template Gallery on the iPad. The Template Gallery is a great repository of ready made Google templates for Docs, Presentations, Spreadsheets, Drawings and Forms. Teachers can add documents to the Template Gallery for students to use and adapt for their own assignments.

I had never tried it on the iPad before, so I had no reason to doubt that it wouldn’t work, but I was wrong. If you open Safari and navigate to http://drive.google.com/templates you are immediately greeted with a 404 error. The Template Gallery will not load.

404 Template Gallery Error

So, here’s how to fix it. Instead of using Safari, download and open the Chrome iOS browser. If you navigate to http://drive.google.com/templates in Chrome, and you will find the same 404 error. However, the fix is not far away. Tap the Settings icon in the top right-hand corner, and select Request Desktop Site.

request desktop site

The site will then reload and display the Google Drive Templates Gallery just like it does on a laptop or desktop computer. Better still, if you pick a Docs or Spreadsheet template, Chrome will automatically switch you over to the Drive app (if you have it installed) and you can then edit, save and share your new document.

Drive templates in Chrome

Just be aware that if you select a Document template that has tables in it, this type of document will not display properly in the Google Drive iPad app because the Google Drive iPad app does not currently support tables. I hope this changes in the near future!

Still, if you have trouble accessing the Google Drive Template Gallery on the iPad, try this quick trick with the Chrome iOS app to access the files you, or your students, need.

How to Teach Coding in the Classroom: Resources for Teachers

teach coding in the classroom

You’ve probably heard the buzz about coding in the classroom, and you may even have thought about integrating it into your classroom, but just where do you begin? In this post I will run through a few of the most popular online services that are designed to help you and your students get up and coding in no time at all.

1. Scratch and Tynker – One of the best introductions to coding can be had with either Scratch or Tynker. Both are free. Both give you the building blocks of creating code in a visual, sandbox environment. Scratch is a project that came from MIT. It used to be a program you had to download to use, but it can now be utilized completely online. Tynker is an offshoot of Scratch. It looks and works in a very similar way, but has a few more teacher management controls. Use Scratch or Tynker with elementary students and beyond.

2. Codecademy – I love Codecademy. It takes things one step beyond the basics and has you writing some actual code, but it is also a one-stop shop for all your coding needs. It has a variety of stepped tutorials that walk you through the programming language of your choice based on no previous experience. Javascript, Python, HTML, PHP and Ruby are among your choices for your first coding expedition.

codecademy

3. Code Avengers – This is a great site for middle school and above. If Codecademy lacks a little personality for you, try Code Avengers. It has a superhero-esque theme with a built-in gamification element that awards points, badges and games to keep the learning fun and addictive. HTML/CSS and Javascript are the main focus of this site.

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Why the Folder Gadget Beats Attachments in Google Sites

There are a number of ways that you can add file attachments to a Google Site. For instance, you can add files to the bottom of a page in the attachments area. You can also add a File Cabinet page. However, my favorite, by far, is the Folder gadget.

The folder gadget lets you display the contents of a Google Drive Folder on a Google Site. You add your folder by editing a page and going to Insert > Drive > Folder. Then you select the folder from your Google Drive that you want to add to your Google Site.

insert folder in google sites

For me, the Folder gadget has a number of advantages over page attachments or a file cabinet page. Here are a few of the important differences:

1. Updates: The problem with attachments and file cabinet pages is that every time you update a document, you need to remove the one you had from a Google Site and upload the latest version. If you use Google Docs, Spreadsheets or Presentations, you can log in to your Drive account, and edit the document. Because the file is in a folder that is embedded on your Google Site, the latest version of the file is automatically pushed to your website. This is great for teachers who update a syllabus or other class documents.

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