Ten Technology Tools for the Elementary Classroom

(Last week I participated in a professional development day at one of our local school districts. These are the notes from the sessions held in the morning.)

I know that there are many teachers that want to integrate technology, but don't. Whether you are not because you are intimidated by it, don't feel like you have to time to learn about it, just plain aren't sure where to start, or maybe you just are looking for something new to implement into your habits or classroom... this is a session for you. I'm going to overview ten websites and/or tools you could easily implement in your classroom tomorrow.

The ten tools I've picked are a variety: some are for productivity, some for communication, and some for creativity. My hope is everyone will walk away with at the minimal one, but hopefully two or three tools you will use beyond today.

Tool #1: iTunes U

Download Required: iTunes
iTunes U is an area within the iTunes Store. It is on this list as (unlike other areas of the iTunes Store) everything there is FREE. iTunes U was first developed with a few colleges & universities, and eventually evolved to also include K12 education. Visitors to the area can either select individual episodes of a series, or choose to subscribe to entire podcast series. Many of the collections include additional materials beyond the podcast episodes, such as problem sets and answer keys.

Tool #2: Bubbl.us (hands-on)

Link: http://Bubbl.us
Bubbl.us is a quick and easy to use graphic organizer. Two key features that put it on this list are that it is free AND it does not require an account for use. It has some flexibility (drag and drop items; colors of boxes; labeling lines...), but is simplistic enough for any user to pick up with about 5 minutes of time.

Tool #3: Zamzar

Link: http://Zamzar.com
Zamzar is a file conversion site. Two key features that put it on this list are that it is free AND it does not require and account for us. The user simply follow the steps of selecting the file they what to convert, selecting the file type they want to convert it to, entering in an email address and then confirming what they selected. The length of time between submitting and getting the email with the download link depends on the current site use. One word of warning: don't get click happy as the first link is always to go create an account!

Tool #4: Google Calendar
Link: http://google.com (requires a Google account)
Google calendar is an online calendar. It is free, but does require a Google account. Google Calendar is both a productivity and communication tool. The power in it (beyond not having to carry around a paper calendar) is in the ability to have multiple calendars and share selected ones with others. Since it is online and Google or other third-parties have created apps for just about every device out there, it can be accessed in a variety of ways. As a teacher, you can share a calendar with students or parents that instantly updates to changes you make via a link or by embedding it on a website.

Tool #5: Picnik (hands-on)

Link: http://www.picnik.com
Picnik is an online photo editing site. It is free AND you can use it without creating an account. Beyond the basic editing functions, you can add text, borders, stickers and special effects to your pictures, and then download them for instant use. Simply select a picture to upload to begin using it!

Tool #6: Creative Commons

Links: http://www.creativecommons.org
Creative Commons is actually licensing that bridges the huge divide between copyright and public domain. It allows the creator of material to designate how others can use the work created upfront without the users having to contact the creator. It is on this list for two reasons. First, teachers (being the collaborative lot that we are) should consider creating a cc license for their own work. Second, by searching for cc licensed materials teachers have access to all kinds of material they can use legally and legitimately. (Here's my soapbox moment) It is hard to have conversations about integrity and plagiarism with your students if they know or suspect you are pilfering images (or other material) from the web. As educators we need to model appropriate ways to use other people's work.

Tool #7: Tagxedo (hands-on)

Link: http://www.tagxedo.com
Tagxedo is a word cloud generator with some fun features. It is both free AND does not require an account to use. You can either upload a document or type in text to use. The fun features are that you can select a shape (or upload one of your own pictures) for the words to be displayed in; change the colors or themes of colors used; and play with the font and other settings to really customize it.

Tool #8: Skype
Download link: Skype
Skype is a communication tool, allowing for instant messaging, audio calling or video calling. It is free, but does require both a download and an account. Skype can provide a free way to set up video connections to bring the outside world to your classroom. You can use a handheld video camera connected to your computer for a web cam that can display your entire class. It can be a great way to do a virtual field trip, interview an author, or connect with another classroom. Make sure to find out your building or district policies about this!

Tool #9: Rubistar (hands-on)

Link: http://Rubistar.4teachers.org
Rubistar is a site for finding and creating rubrics. It is free to use, and does not require an account. The time-saving feature of rubrics built in Rubistar include that when you select categories and sub-categories it fills in the rubric with suggested guidelines for grading.  These are editable areas, however, so they can be customized or changed as wanted.

Tool #10: Diigo

Links: http://www.Diigo.com
Diigo is a social bookmarking site. It is free to use, but does require an account if you wish to bookmark your own sites. Diigo allows you to tag sites you bookmark, making all your bookmarks searchable by topic(s). It also lets you highlight and and sticky note comments to site you mark. An additional feature of Diigo that I particularly like is the groups. Even without an account you can view the sites a particular group has bookmarked as being relevant to their subject.

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