Friday, August 30, 2013

Great apps search tool - and a free app review!

**Update 11/26: Balefire now has a 2 day free trial!!! 

**Update 9/3: Balefire is now posting a free app review each month to give people a sense for their offerings. Here's this month's free review on Wet-Dry-Try - "Handwriting without Tears." **

We've written about searching for quality apps before, and have also done a few reviews/how to's about some specific apps.. I think you'll agree that it's frustrating and time consuming to search various online apps stores, blogs, etc. looking for apps that will actually assist in educating children (can you say 'needle in a haystack?'). Relying on the number of stars that an app has seems a really ineffective way to judge an apps EDUCATIONAL value (may be a great babysitting tool, though!).  I've found a really good source to help find quality apps. Balefire Labs has over 1300 apps reviewed (vast majority right now are iOS, but they are adding more for Android, too). The apps list grows monthly...

Balefire evaluates apps based upon a research-based, structured methodology. I think their ratings give a more refined answer to the educator's question "how do I know (or at least have an inkling) that app XXX will in fact support student learning?" Apps are rated overall, and the details (rating of several different criteria, like error and correct response feedback, performance reports, etc.) are available to view, too. Read more about their criteria here. Their user interface allows for search by several different criteria (age, subject, and so on).

I really like the fact that Balefire takes no money from advertisers. There a small subscription fee - less than $36 for an annual subscription. 

I stumbled across Karen Mahon's blog a while back. She's the company founder, and her blog was how I found about Balefire. After chatting with Karen over several weeks, she asked me to be a part of Balefire's Educator Advisory Board (full disclosure!). No, I am not compensated for my advice to them. I think it's great that she's pulled together several educators with varied backgrounds to help provide a 'user voice.'

Please share your thoughts about evaluating educational apps (successes, frustrations...).  I think there is a need to help educators quickly find quality educational apps, without having to design a selection methodology on their own. I know that Balefire is not the only choice as an app review repository, but it does seem that the crew of this startup has some great ideas and the right passion. Balefire could be an important part of our arsenal to quickly cut to the chase on the apps our students need to help them learn.  What do you think?

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Planning a Successful Student Laptop Roll-out

The room was overflowing with excitement as we rolled out new laptops to our thirty-four 6th graders. Our school has been an Apple 1:1 school for 12 years now, and each year we devote a couple hours to meet with students and their parents, immersing them in aspects of the school’s technology program.

If you are looking to create or revise your 1:1 program, here are some strategies that we use to built confidence and support from parents. Prepare to discuss the following:

  • Educational Benefits – Make sure parents understand the value of their investment by discussing how the laptop will be used in the classroom to help students reach higher levels of learning. Share applications, online safety concerns, and digital citizenship learning opportunities. Show outcomes of previous student-centered learning units. 
  • School Technology Plan – Disclose to parents the history behind the school’s technology plan so they understand the commitment to educational technology. Be sure they understand firewalls, wireless, adding of peripherals, etc. 
  • Parental Controls – Students go to another room and we help parents set their password, then walk them through how to set parameters for at-home use. We show them how teachers monitor students through the use of Remote Desktop, with the understanding that we prefer students establish sound habits as opposed to receiving consequences. 
  • Care and Feeding – Share with families how they can keep their laptop running at top performance, including storage, cleaning, transportation, and warranted service. 

Both students and parents sign a Laptop Agreement that acknowledges the specifics of the equipment they purchased. Students may not take receipt of the laptop until both parent and student sign this document. This is not the Technology Use Agreement. That comes later in the week.

Present at the event are members of the school's administration, a teacher, the IT team, and a member of the Technology advisory board.  Again, a united front builds confidence!

Having parents and their children at the same presentation accomplishes a number of our goals. Everyone hears the same information, a broad number of questions can be answered, parents learn how they can best support school policies, and we better understand how we can support parents. Parents also develop confidence in the school’s educational technology program. A win-win for all.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Touchcast Video App for iPad

We hope the school year is off to a successful start!  Our students are back this week (hence the lack of posts in recent days), and we are excited to be back in our classrooms with them.  The new school year gives us an opportunity to try new tools, and I already found a new favorite – Touchcast for iPad.

Touchcast allows the user to produce professional quality videos and share them with a public audience.  I use it to produce daily announcements to send out to our classrooms each morning.  Because I use the “Latest News” template, my video looks a slick newscast with a banner and a CNN news crawl.  Once recorded, I simply email the link to my teachers (or post on social media if I chose).

V-Apps can be added into the video that will allow the user to pull in maps, videos, images and links.  Your viewers can then touch the image to open a link, refresh a Twitter feed, manipulate a map, play a video or annotate a document.  Its interactive features can be very engaging for your students who are ready to produce work that bring their learning to the transformative levels. Think how your students can use Touchcast in your classroom. It’s ideal for flipped and peer teaching opportunities as well. 

On the Touchcast site users will find rules as to what cannot be posted, so you have some assurance that your students will not view explicit material as they use the site. As always, copyright regulations apply.  Use caution though, it is not COPPA compliant.  It is free and available through iTunes.  An Android release is in the works, watch for release information.

Please share with us how you use video production in your classrooms!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Fotobabble - easy peasy image 'voice over' tool

Just found Fotobabble and it's a fun, easy to use tool that enables many types of student learning. Low 'start up' time - simply select a user name, add a password and valid email address, and I was ready to go. Alas, no Google sign in, but it was easy anyway...

I entered a url for an image, to which I then wanted to add a voice-over. Fotobabble also allows image uploads from the desktop. I added a little 'background' spruce it up, and the image was all set.

Here's the page for adding a voice-over after completing the image upload.


After fiddling a bit with the flash settings to get my external microphone working right (could have been me having the issue...), fotobabble is a snap to use. I clicked the "Record" button, provided some pithy information, and then pressed Stop. I listened to my recording, re-recorded once because I didn't like it, then clicked Save. All done!

I was then able to choose from several sharing options located right on that page. EASY!

There's also an iOS app (cool!), but, alas, apparently no Android counterpart (sigh...).

Here's the end result. I used the HTML5 version, which means 'no flash required'....nice.




Fotobabble provides an easy way to take an image (hopefully, one the student or teacher has taken themselves...) and then voice-over a description, explanation, analysis, compare and contrast or just about any level of Blooms Taxonomy one would want.

I highly recommend you give fotobabble a try. The tool also supports many of Common Core's goals of students growing research, creativity, collaboration, etc. skills.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Federal Registry for Educational Excellence - FREE OER

The Federal Registry for Educational Excellence (FREE) is a collection of digital teaching and learning resources created and maintained by the federal government and public and private organizations.  If you are looking for lesson suggestions or resources to spruce up existing ones, check FREE.

FREE offers resources in language arts, math, science, social studies and health/PE.  The site also allows searching by standard for Common Core math, geography and science.  Teachers can limit the search by clicking the Federal Resources Only box, but that eliminates the vast majority of quality results. 

FREE was launched in 1997, and the new version is currently in Beta.  It is powered by the Learning Registry, which collects and shares learning resources that are available online (including OER Commons and Annenberg Media).  It also accesses information from over 100 federal agencies including the Holocaust Memorial Museum, the House of Representatives, the Census Bureau, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the National Park Service. Remember that any resource provided by a government agencey is copyright-friendly (except that "security related" stuff) as long as it's properly cited.

A search on the Holocaust came up with 72 results, only five of which contained significant material.  Those were from the Holocaust Memorial Museum and Library of Congress.  The good news is that the information provided in the search results was sufficient to determine what site was good and what may be a mere mention of the search term.
Be sure to click About Free at the bottom of the home page.  You will see the list of federal agencies connected to the site.  Be aware though, clicking on, say, the National Gallery of Art, will not bring you to that site or to resources provided by that site.  It does show you the vast, eclectic mix of resources available that may be associated with art (astronomy to jazz to deserts).  Fun to check out!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Key Tech Terms in the CCSS

We were interested to see how often "tech-related" and 21st Century Skills terms appeared in California's ELA and Math Common Core Standards.  Below is a selection of terms, and the number of occurrences in both ELA and Math.  We've noticed a few interesting things, and will share those thoughts down the road a bit.  What do you think? Does anything surprise you? What other terms should we search for? 




Source: Ca. Common Core State Standards, March 2013 ed.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Using OERs to Create or Refresh Lessons

One of the most underutilized resources on the web are OERs (Open Educational Resources). OERs are documents and media, usually a collection of lesson plans, that are open-licensed for teachers to use.

Many employ a group of professionals who review and grade the material based on established criteria determined by the site. These sites are great places to start when creating new units or refreshing old ones. Likewise, if you have a dynamic lesson to share, consider posting it on one of these sites.

In an earlier post we discussed the depth of resources in OER Commons.  We consider this an ourstanding site.  In addition, the table below is a short list of our other favorites.  Please share with us others that you use.


SiteGrade LevelsSubjectsCCSS AlignedSupport MaterialCostGoogle Log-in AvailableComments
CurrikiK - 12AllYesYesFreeYeseTextbooks
LearnZillion3rd - 12Math, ELAYesYesFreeYesVideo lessons; student access
National Science Digital LibraryK - 12STEMYesYesFreeNo Log-in requiredAlso tied to NGSS
Lesson PlanetK - 12AllYesYes$58/yrYes10 day free trial
Opus4th - 8 MathYesNAFreeNo Log-in requiredMath problems sorted by standard
Digital Public Library of AmericaNANANANAFreeNo Log-in requiredCollection of work from America’s libraries, archives, and museums
Discovery EducationK - 12Science, Math, ELA, Social StudiesNoYesFreeNo Log-in requiredThis area of Discovery Education is available free to teachers
ThinkFinityPreK - 12AllYesYesFreeNoLessons pulled from Smithsonian, ReadWriteThink, National Geographic, and more.
NA: Not Applicable
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