I’m often asked about the resources I use in the computer lab. Students and parents want to use them at home, and fellow teachers are always looking for more tools. Here’s a short list of some of the resources I use most often with students. In general I try to stick to free, and hopefully open-source, software. Proprietary software is usually overpriced (read out of the question for many schools). I especially like how open-source software allows anyone with coding knowledge to contribute and improve it. I could go on, but here’s my list (in no order).
All of these resources are free to use and/or download.
1. Tux Paint, Tux Type, and Tux Math – download -When the students cheer for software that focuses on math facts you know you have a winner. The Tux programs are a simple but effective. In K-5 I start each class with typing or math practice.
- Tux Paint – Similar to KidPix. A simple drawing program with brushes, stamps, and magic tools. I use this with K-6, and sometimes higher.
- Tux Type – Typing Practice. I recently looked into purchasing typing software for my 25-computer lab. It was going to be about $800. No thanks. Tux Type is suitable for K-8 but geared more to the little ones.
- Tux Math – Math facts. This program is the same as Tux Type but instead of letters falling from the sky it’s math facts. Type the correct answer before they hit the ground. K-8. Some of the higher levels require knowledge of the Order of Operations. (A little secret for parents/teachers: 30 minutes on Tux Math can cover well over 100 facts).
2) Google Documents – online – If you have not used Google Documents yet it will be well worth the 30 minutes it takes to test it out. Basically, with a Google account (gMail) you can create anything you would be able to in Microsoft Office and more (online forms/surveys). Here’s how I use it:
- Word processing
- Presentations (like Powerpoint)
- Online surveys – I use this a lot. Create surveys for parents or quizzes for students. The responses are automatically entered into a spreadsheet for sorting and analysis. Makes things easy to grade
3) Aviary.com – online – Middle Schoolers like this program. Basically, it’s a Photoshop clone that won’t cost you the >$500 (no joke). Of course you won’t have all of the functionality of PS but it does it’s job. There are other sites that do the same thing but Aviary is great if you want to learn/teach about using layers in graphics.
Side note: Some people have wondered about why I teach students Photoshop skills instead of something simpler that allows faster creation of content. In a nut shell, I think it’s important to at least expose students to different types of software they will likely encounter in high school or in the work place. Graphics skills are increasingly in demand. Plus, it’s fun.
4) Fontstruct.com – online – I love this tool. Create your own font, easily. Download it and use it. I have used this for two years now with 8th graders and, predictably, the results were mixed. Some students got really into the fine details of typography while others moaned after learning they still had all the capital letters to go. Fontstruct uses a simple interface that relies on tiles to construct individual letters.
5) Prezi.com – online – Prezi is new to me but I like where it’s going. At a recent conference a presenter mentioned slideshows being really, really, old school. Think about it. When was the last time you saw a slideshow that wasn’t on the computer? Haven’t we moved beyond that? Prezi does and in a really cool way. Create awesome interactive presentations that flow like no other you’ve seen. It takes some getting used to, but it’s worth the time if you regularly present. Prezi offers free educator accounts.
6) Edmodo.com – online – Edmodo has been such an awesome addition to my classes. Edmodo is a completely FREE social network service for schools. You can create private classroom communities that you control where students can interact with each other in a safe and closed environment. Teachers can post assignments or simply ask questions to check for understanding in any lesson. I have found Edmodo a perfect tool for teaching and modeling safe and appropriate online behavior and the students actually cheer when I say we’re going to use it. The interface is very simple. Edmodo is like a Facebook for your classroom. Invite parents too!
Side note: Just as an example, I have used Edmodo recently to collect question responses after my 4th Graders watched a NetSmartz video. This was a really efficient way for me to check for understanding. Previously, the same class riffed on online safety rules. With only a simple question by me they went to town listing ways to be safe. How’s that for student led instruction!
7) Google Earth – download – If you’re not using Google Earth in any grade you’re just being silly. Geography, global awareness, ecology, science, history, math…They can all be done through Google Earth. How’s this? 3rd Graders traveling the globe, making and listing observations, and taking screen shots of their travels. Did it!
Side note: One student, when using Google Earth, recently exclaimed, “That’s where the grumpy old man lives!”
If you’ve read this far I’d love to read your feedback on anything I’ve written or how you have used these (or other) tools in your classroom.