2012 has been an amazing year for my growth as a professional. The main catalyst of this growth was when I started engaging with like-minded educationalists around the world on Twitter in January of this year. In particular, I learnt about new methodologies like brain-based learning, flipping the classroom and a variety of technology-based teaching aids.
The area I explored most fervently was the bewildering array of educational software and apps for learning. In what follows, I would like to offer a round-up firstly of the apps I found particularly useful, as well as those which disappointed and annoyed me. I will finish by listing some of the most promising apps I would like to trial next year.
Keep in mind that these are applications I have actually used, and my analysis is based on my own experience in applying these in my own classroom context. I have no hidden agendas and personal stake in any of the products below. But I have used them, and I think you should too!
Ready? Let’s get started…
THE COOLEST APPS FOR SCHOOL
Edmodo is a safe and secure social networking platform for students, teachers and parents. With Edmodo, you can:
- Fill classes automatically as students log in with a special code.
- Easily edit settings, view classes and individuals.
- Create a sub-domain for your school quickly as easily.
- Easily moderate student comments, as well as provide individualised feedback and general alerts.
- Set revision and or pre-lesson quizzes and polls.
- Share links and resources with Google Drive.
- Subscribe the class to RSS feeds.
- Compile and perform basic analyses of quiz grades automatically.
- Interact and share with other teachers around the world.
- Form and join groups.
- Get assistance quickly from the friendly support team.
But the best thing about Edmodo is the ability it gives you to create and award badges to students for doing great things. Now they can get rewarded for offering creative solutions, for demonstrating critical thinking and even for helping one another. Interaction becomes more personalized; students love earning badges and teachers can encourage the acquisition of important skills. The number of Edmodo users around the world has doubled in the short time I have been using it, and it is sure to continue growing.
I like Pinterest mainly for how effortlessly I can create of boards and add pins even on an iPad. It’s curation on the fly. If you want to win teachers over, ease and speed of use are vital. Most of us haven’t got the time or the patience to sit and fiddle needlessly. (Setting up a bookmarklet on iOS Safari does require a bit of wangling. Check out www.iosbookmarklets.com for the java code, and for a few other cool bookmarklets to use with Safari on an iPad. Also check out my boards at www.pinterest.com/seanhc/.) I have used my boards to collect resources for my Grade 10 Geography class, and they seem to have loved this ‘flipped’ section. I want to create a whole lot more next year.
Scoop.it is also very useful, and slightly more functional, but the free version is limited to 5 topics and the upgrade involves monthly payments. Why pay, when I can use Pinterest for nothing? The only thing that doesn’t work for me about Pinterest are the rare occasions where the software cannot find any images to pin, and you seem not to be able to add this content.
Dropbox allows you to share files with students and colleagues quickly, securely and easily. As an added bonus, being a teacher, it is easy to get more and more space as your students join! Dropbox is ideal for storing lessons, and for those times when you need to come up with a fun lesson filler, or post past papers. Dropbox has a relatively good iPad app so that I can literally share files as I need to.
Just when everyone is starting to think about buying hand-held ‘clickers’ to encourage feedback and just-in-time modification of lessons, along comes Socrative and makes clickers all but redundant. All that is required is that students have smartphones and access to the internet. As with so many of these apps, I cannot believe that Socrative is free. Quizzes come in multiple formats, and are dead easy to set up. (You can even set up your quizzes off-line using the Excel templates Socrative provides, which you then import into the programme in seconds.) Socrative works across all ‘phones and platforms, and provides the teacher with live feedback as students complete quizzes. Results are emailed quickly and easily.
Socrative is intentionally low bandwidth, and thus students can even devote some of their own data towards answering quizzes when the school network is down. Finally, teachers can share quizzes with one another on the forum. I cannot recommend Socrative highly enough!
5. Khan Academy
As a Geography teacher, I use the Khan Academy Earth Science videos, to enhance my own knowledge, and recommend my students to particular videos for revision and enrichment. I am still amazed that all of what Mr Khan does is entirely free of charge. All of the accolades he has earned are entirely deserved. Oh, and there’s a pretty cool iPad app too!
Goodwill Community Foundation. Just the name of this organisation lifts my spirits! Like the Khan Academy, everything is free to use. I used GCF LearnFree to teach my ICT classes how to use Excel… or rather they taught themselves, at their own pace. Materials include text, videos and application activities. With the students engaged with their on-line tutors, I was free to walk around and provide guidance. I downloaded the .pdf versions of the lessons in case of an internet outage, and for the students to work on at home, if they wished to. One day, all learning will be this easy. Please go along and support their work! (GCF also has free iOS apps for some of its learning areas.)
7. ZITE & FLIPBOARD
I have included Zite and Flipboard simply because I feel it is imperative for the twenty-first century teacher to learn more about their own subjects, about advances in neuroscience, as well as the latest advances in pedagogy… and why not stay current on the other things you find interesting at the same time? Teachers are seldom exclusively interested in only their own subjects. Why not encourage a bit of life-long learning in our students by setting the example and finding out more about what interest you?
Both of these newsfeed programmes have very cool iOS apps, which allow you to customise feeds according to your interests and tastes. You can also share to Twitter, Google+, Facebook and a few others. Zite goes one step further than Flipboard, though, as it allows you to ‘thumbs-up’ or ‘thumbs-down’ content, learning what you like and showing you more and more content you would find interesting, and less that you wouldn’t. Flipboard allows you to add your Twitter home feed (which is a very cool way of reading it), as well as any other Twitter, Tumblr and Flickr accounts.
While we’re on the topic of self-edification, if you enjoy using these platforms, why not try downloading a few audio or video podcasts from iTunes or iTunesU? There are some absolutely incredible minds out there, sharing what they know absolutely free of charge!
StumbleUpon must be the most underrated Web 2.0 service of them all. I love the concept of serendipitous learning, and all it entails. With StumbleUpon, I have found all manner of interesting things – both for use in the classroom, and just for my own interest. I am an addict!
9. OUR CHOICE
I have included Our Choice simply because it is so amazing. It will not be directly useful to all subjects, and it is a paid iPad app. But it is worth looking at just because it is so rich and well-crafted. My feeling is that this app was the reason Apple moved to create iBooks (and then intentionally sabotaged Push Pop Press). Unfortunately, I haven’t seen a single iBook published that is of quite the same calibre as this stand-alone app.
Al Gore’s sequel to ‘An Inconvenient Truth’, Our Choice is a fantastically written and awesomely interactive app, and shows what educational publishers should be putting on the market. I aim to use this app to teach an entire section to my Grade 11 students next year.
Unfortunately, Push Pop Press will not be releasing any other titles now that they have been acquired by Facebook. What a very great pity!
I found Wallwisher quite by accident (using StumbleUpon). It is a very simple platform allowing you to create a ‘wall’, post the unique hyperlink, and encourage students to add their own messages to the wall. To my thinking, Wallwisher could be used for follow-up discussions and for the more introverted students who don’t feel confident enough to ask a question or view an opinion in class. Granted, you could do a similar thing on Twitter by creating a hashtag, but Wallwisher puts it all on one page and confines the ability to post to just those who have the url. Overall, this a nicely designed, simple, and easy to use app.
1. Google Sites
Want to teach students to create their own websites? Avoid Google Sites. It is far too cumbersome for students to work with. The whole interface is too tricky for kids used to more intuitive programmes. Why not have them use WordPress? (I know a blog is not quite the same thing as a web-site, but for teaching purposes, the WordPress interface is easy to use, and quick to learn. It has a range of cool widgets and customisation options, and it looks like a proper site. That said, Blogger may be an equally attractive alternative.)
I was very excited when Learnist was announced earlier this year, and even signed on to the Beta programme. Unfortunately, to date, this great promise has not materialised. And it is difficult to say exactly why. I battled to remove learning categories, and had great difficulty creating a bookmarklet (Learnist was unwilling to help me create one). I by far prefer Pinterest as it is cleaner and easier to use. I don’t have the time to struggle with a programme that doesn’t do what I want it to.
Twitter bought Posterous to strip it of its innovative workforce, and left behind the bare husk. Such a pity. You can still use it, and I do, but you never know when it’s going to curl up and die for good. Of all the lost causes, this one is the saddest, and the one I most hope will still resurrect itself and prove me wrong.
As with most things Apple, iBooks are way too ‘nichy’ and difficult to share for me to ever consider using it. If this app allowed me to create interactive digital content on the platform of my choice, and save it in some kind of cross-platform format, I would be jumping to use it. But it doesn’t, so I won’t.
There was great excitement when the interactive whiteboard giant announced that it finally had an app for the iPad. But wow, how expensive it is… for not very much in return. In a classroom where you can use all of the apps mentioned previously, in a few years, you may well not need a Smart board at all. Someone at the Smart head-offices in Canada needs to wake up and offer teachers a better deal. Otherwise, there looms a ‘Kodak moment’ for Smart in the not too distant future… and not the good kind.
6. Google Docs
As much as I love Google, when I am on-line, I often work with an iPad. I have yet to find a good app in which I can actually edit my documents on an iPad. The fault may well be with Apple, I acknowledge, and their on-going feud with Google. But still, if I cannot easily use an app, it becomes a dead-end for me.
Meh. That is all. I prefer Twitter. Wake me up when something new happens.
I cannot wait to start using Nearpod next year! All I am waiting for is for improved internet connectivity at my school and the onset of our BOYD programme. I am confident that within the next few months, Nearpod will shift to the top of my most awesome educational apps list.
My students came across Quizlet while searching for revision resources. According to them, it is extremely cool! I must look into this programme next year.
3. Class Dojo
I’ve set up Class Dojo, but I haven’t yet used it consistently. It may be aimed at the younger students, but depending on the ‘behaviours’ you specify, I’m sure it can be used with at least some high school classes.
Everybody talks about it, but I haven’t tried yet.
With all the others app I have been using, I have not had the time to try Educreations. It looks good, though.