The Teachers’ Applications Space Race

It’s amazing to me how many sites, widgets, platforms, and many other resources are available to teachers in the realm of curriculum planning, assessment, and general activities.  Taking a look at some of the big hitters I’ve provided my $.02 below.

Hot Potatoes

This is a pretty neat engine that’s actually freeware available for download.  I came across this while browsing the MERLOT site for world language lessons.  It generates templates varying from cloze activities, multiple choice, quizzes, and more.  Simply put, Hot Potatoes is a fun and quick way to assess students but may also be used for lengthier, more formative assessments.  In my attempt to create a quick, top-of-the-hour matching activity I found the approach to be slightly confusing.  The graphics on the Java interface were tiny and required a cursor scroll-over to identify its function.  It was neat to be able to add graphics to the activity but I’m not sure it’s worth extensively investing much time for the purpose of creating assessments.  One could also add a reading portion to the assessment as well as audio files and Flash images.  To download the engine is free and tutorials are available.  There is no way to track data of students because one does not input any registration, therefore the simplest way to keep track is to print the files and distribute (or have students print their results).  Hot Potatoes is something I’ll return to from time to time.

Quizstar

I’ve never visited this site so far but I’m very happy I did.  It differs from Hot Potatoes in that the user interface is much more friendly, although I have to say, it’s quite verbose.  My eyes were jumping all over the page trying to figure out where to start and what the result would look like.  The process of creating an account was very simple and the best thing was the ability to add students to my classes on my own.  It will save me a TON of time getting them started on this site because they take forever to come up with usernames and passwords.  Even so, I typically have one or two that misspell their own information, therefore doing it myself puts it all on my shoulders and that makes me hypersensitive to mistakes!  The first thing I did after creating a class was to add five questions to a quiz, which was an easy process with an eye-appealing layout at the end.  The student view of the quiz looked clean, simple, and modern.  There was an option to add media to the questions but that will come at a later date.  For now I’m going to enjoy watching the students track their progress and get immediate feedback once they click for their results.  This seems like a no-brainer to replace Hot Potatoes for a quick assessment and even a formative assessment.

Quizbox

I’m not entirely convinced Quizbox would be something for my classroom, or any, for that matter.  It’s geared more towards personality tests, compatibility calculators, match making, and the like.  In the brief exploration I completed on the site it looked like something I’l return to visit at another time outside of the classroom.

YourFreePoll

Not just an ordinary poll site, YourFreePoll seems to have the security on lock down.  The writers caution  you from creating polls that encourage racism, political bias, and other maladies, but also written into the script of the program is anti-bot language.  Basically, a robot could not harvest the information in the survey and produce many of the same (or different) results to skew the data.  There was no obvious place to insert any type of media file, but it’s still an interesting site just the same.  I could definitely use this in my classroom as a means to question my students about current events going on and it’s great that the site doesn’t force user registration upon anyone.

Teach-nology & Rubistar

Unfortunately, this site seems to want me to fork over $29 for a year’s access to their data.  The rubric section has some amazing finds from all content areas to general processes, even a participation rubric!  When I clicked through a few of the Language Arts examples I was prompted to choose a small clip art image that was placed at the top of the table.  The layout of the pre-formatted rubric was simple to read, not too wordy, and supplied sufficient criteria for students to follow.  Unless I was willing to pay the membership fee I didn’t see how I could add my own images or even create my own.  It’s a great site worth exploring but it’s not up for piloting in my classroom just yet.

Rubistar is a site I’ve used a few times and like it.  The generator can be simple to use but may also be time consuming if the project requires in-depth analysis.  There have been some example rubrics I’ve found on that site where the rubric itself is a thesis paper!  The cool thing about this application, however, is that a search for practically anything under the sun will yield some sort of evaluation tool to be used against it.  There is no fee to join and no limit to the rubrics one uses or creates, but certainly one has to be specific in the rubric search to whittle down the choices.  Somewhat boring in layout Rubistar doesn’t have a lot of options for a color scheme or media files being added.  Then again, who really needs all that on a rubric?

Easy Test Maker

Again, for a price ladder starting at $20 I can create tests that may be published to the Internet for a year.  To get basic formatting privileges like bold, italics, or underline, I’d have to upgrade my status.  To me this does not sound enticing at all.  I can easily use the test builder provided by my textbook publisher and use that, although it doesn’t support media files.  The free version of EasyTestMaker also limits the amount of tests I make a year, which doesn’t seem like a sell to me.

There are so many sites for teachers nowadays there needs to be a university degree program for their analysis!  In all seriousness,  however, I’m glad the teaching industry has become more about sharing and collaborating rather than harboring and conserving one’s own thoughts and ideas.

Advertisements

Web 2.0.1?

I included a little bit of humor in my title as a nod to the ever-changing planes of technology.  The use of blogs have exploded and become much more than an asynchronous means of communication.  When the term “blog” was conceived I remember hearing it’s full proper name used often – web log – as if people had to say it, read it, write it, and hear it in its full form to digest what this meant for communication.  Ever pick up an object so peculiar that you keep turning it over and over in your hand, like, say for example, a clock with digitally projected numbers instead of analog?  Ok, you get my point: when we encounter something so fresh, new, and intriguing it’s all we can do to break away for a split second and forget about it.

That’s kind of been the trend with blogs as long as I can remember.  Soon after the expression became the buzzword on everyone’s lips the baby blogs sprouted up in pockets online.  In their infancy they looked unstructured, disheveled, and blatantly experimental.  There was a sense of vulnerability in the publishing of one’s blog.  People could actually, like, read your real thoughts and stuff.  Who’d’a thought?

Flash forward a mere decade (or less?!) and blogs have become an entity of their own.  There are blogs that teach us how to make things, expose us to the darker side of life, enlighten us with the innocence we too often dismiss as frivolous, allow us to peek into celebrity lifestyles, or how to be a better mom.  Blogs nowadays even have subscribers, and full-time heavy hitters go as far as daily/weekly/whenever giveaways with price tags none to scoff at!  It’s putting the steering column of syllabic freedom into the hands of anyone: the naive, the seasoned, the messenger…

But what does that mean for our students?  Frankly, that they can be exposed to inaccurate, let alone inappropriate, content, is the reason to be dubious to allow such a thing in my classroom.  Deciphering blogs (which includes their content and their author’s credibility) has come a long way thanks to the educators who saw the vision unfurl before their eyes.  Thanks to these educators, consultants, and just plain students education is able to join in on the trajectory of the blogosphere and even steer its course.  Do I use blogs in my classroom yet?  No, but that doesn’t mean I’m not searching for the right vehicle.

In my tenure at my current school, which is just a few years shy of a decade, the students that have appeared on my roll sheet haven’t had much experience with changing technology.  Sure, they can tell you all the features of the new HTC Envy smart phone or that their cousin can jail break an iPhone, but they have had no clue of the power of Web 2.0.  Up until recently I’ve been too apprehensive to show them, either.  Because of their lack of resources I have held back on presenting applications like Dropbox, Edmodo, Schoology, and the like.  It wasn’t until the comfort level I needed to feel was reached that piloting a few sites seemed like a good idea.  Thankfully, although I’m not sure if the chicken (my knowledge) or the egg (a good batch of students) came along first, piloting proved successful and turned into full-on implementation.

This year we’re stumbling our way through the aforementioned sites.  Stumbling is the appropriate word because there will forever be pitfalls with the network, someone forgetting their password, a fire drill in the middle of class, and many other things, but we’re getting by.  It’s exciting to me to see the students brag that they put Edmodo on their smart phone, or Quizlet, as if to say, “School is cool since I can ‘play’ it on my phone.”  It’s asking a lot to prepare them to be digital citizens and to embrace the technological onslaught of proficiency standards they should be at, but I’m going to make it my mission to do my best.  

Along the way I’l share my anecdotes, successes, epic fails, and whatever happens in between.  Enjoy the ride!

Tapes

Image

 

There’s a soundtrack for everything: the delirium of the morning, the hurried panic while tidying the house, listening to the calm tick-tock in a still house…

What happens when the tape runs out?  My mind seems to have an endless supply of background music and it secures it with a vice grip, which is torture if the song is something ridiculous (like a commercial jingle!).  I’m working on clearing my mind so that the silence can be just that, but the juxtaposition is the volume of my thoughts.  They start as a whisper and build into full-blown orchestras if I don’t pay them mind.  

Maybe I should work on applying a “pause” button?