Terrific Tools

Like most people who write a blog, there is never enough time to write about all the wonderful and interesting tools that are constantly evolving.  To keep this post manageable, I’m mentioning a few of the fabulous tools that I have come across in the past weeks  via the various networks that I attempt to keep up with.

Networking

StumbleUpon, a social media site that enbles users to discover and rate webpages, photos, videos, and news articles, has become a favourite plugin on my toolbar. If you haven’t tried it out, I’d encourage you to do so.  Like most networks or tools, StumbleUpon’s features are best experienced than described.  Briefly, you can identify the topics/areas you are interested in, then when you click the Stumble! button on your toolbar, it will present a site based on your selected interests.  You can then give it the thumbs up or down to refine your preferences.   Once you start using the tool, you see its wonders (and its addictiveness).  Since using it, I’ve come across some fabulous tutorials which I may not have otherwise found.   It can be used as a marketing tool, or in the case of educators, networking with other users to gain interesting and useful information.  Here are 5 power tips to get the most out of using StumbleUpon.

Information Organiser

The Personal Brain is a free downloadable visua information organiser that sits on your desktop and facilitiates keeping track of projects.  Great for a visual overview of what is going on either at work or home.  You can have as many ‘brain’ projects as you wish, or you can divide one ‘brain’ into different projects.  So it can be used for work/home.  Keep all your work related projects together and same with personal.  Notes can be added, web links, even files and images and there’s also a calendar.   It has potential in the classroom for brainstorming projects, project planning and even as a revision tool. Here’s a Youtube review of Personal Brain.

After using this tool now for several weeks, I’m quite impressed with its functioning.  It is intuitively easy to use, adding a new project is as simple as clicking on ‘Thought’ from the drop down menu > Parent Thought.  Add a sub-thought to this > Child Thought.  For a completely new brain > File > New Brain.  A paid version is available, obviously with more features. The free version has enough options to make it very usable and worthwhile.

Educational Videos

Teachers TV is certainly one of my favourites places to go when I want videos for the classroom, classroom management and personal development. Although I joined earlier this year, a mention of Teachers TV on Paul Hamilton’s site prompted me to go and take a deeper look.  As mentioned in Paul’s post, there is an incredibly rich supply of resources available on this site. What makes the site even more usable is that vidoes can be downloaded or watched directly via Quicktime or Windows medial player.  This overcomes the buffering problem that happens with watching online videos.  If you haven’t been acquainted with Teachers TV, I’d certainly encourage you to do so.

WatchKnow is an emerging  non-profit, online community that encourages everyone to collect, create, and share free, innovative, educational videos. Although not yet officially launched, it is available for beta-testing.  You just need to sign up (username and password is all that is required) to add videos.  The library is still building up.

Presentation Tools

Flowgram is Larry Ferlazzo’s No.1 site for Best Web 2.0 Applications for Education 2008. This is a great tool for presentations, tutorials, web and photo sharing; audio can be added and comments made by viewers. 

Magshow is a slide show creator alternative to my favourite slideshow creator, Smilebox (which requires a download and this proves difficult on different computers in a school setting).  Magshow enables the creating slideshows, panoramas or make your own map.

Rock You is a great new slideshow sharing site I came across via Larry Ferlazzo’s Best Web 2.0 Applications for Education 2008, rated No. 11by Larry.

Automotivator is a poster site I came across via Paul Hamilton’s site.  Create a motivational poster by uploading your own image or choosing a random image, add a quote and title, save to your computer or upload to a site.  This is an alternative to Bige Huge Labs which also has a poster feature.

Extranormal is another great tool that has potential in the classroom for students across the curriculum and across the grades.   It’s new animation tool that is so easy to use.   It claims if you can type you can create a movie.  It could be used for story making, explaining facts or concepts (either the teacher creating or students displaying their knowledge), revision topics, language students and so on.  I came across this via Paul Hamilton’s site.

ICT Tutorials

I came across ICT Teach via Patricia Donaghy’s site and it has been a minefield of wonderful free tutorials. Not only for school use but for my own personal learning.   For example, I have never found easy to understand tutorials for Photoshop and gave up on mastering its workings.  ICT teach has great simplified vidoes which enabled me to finally grasp the program.  ICT teach is aligned to UK syllabuses, nevertheless  all tutorials have universal value.  I’m continually going back there to check the resources, lesson ideas and just-in-time learning.  There is also what appears to be just about a whole syllabus set of resources on the European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL) which is an internationally recognised qualification which covers the key concepts of computing.  I got really excited about the prospect of this availablility in schools in my country.  It probably won’t happen, but isn’t it a wonderful concept that we could be teaching kids skills that would have universal recognition?

Image by macropolous

Filling the Global Achievement Gap

I listened today to Tony Wagner’s presentation (based on his book: The Global Achievement Gap) about the essential skills required for young people to enter the workforce today.  The seven surivival skills he identified are:

  1. critical thinking and problem solving including asking good questions and engaging in good
    discussion
  2. ability to collaborate across networks and the ability to lead by influence
  3. adaptability and agility
  4. initiative and sense of entrepreneurship
  5. communication skills: oral and written skills
  6. access and analysing information (information literacy skills)
  7. curiousity and imagination

In his presentation, Tony identifies the disparity that exists between what schools are teaching and what is required by employers. After interviewing a considerable number of employers and observing classes including those in high-performing schools, his observations include passive learning environments preparing students for memorisation tests to meet assessment criteria and little evidence of critical and creative thinking opportunities and effective communications.

For many educators who try to induce change, this is not new information.  Schools are overburdened with assessment criteria to show successful outcomes.  As Tony says, this is at the expense of  kids being prepared for the 21st century of work.  The more we hear about change and what is needed the better!  Only today I was wondering why some schools have a policy that no ipods are allowed – what about the potential of these tools for learning?  Kids are using them out of school, why not utilise their use in school?

Tony has written the Global Achievement Gap: Why Our Kids Don’t Have the Skills They Need for College, Careers, and Citizenship–and What We Can Do About It, to motivate all those interested in education to help young people succeed in the 21st century.  The book includes chapters on The New World of Work, The Old World of School,  Testing, Reinventing Educatioon, Motivating Students: Closing The Gap,

Teachers are discussing the book’s contents at  Classroom 2.0 social network for anyone interested.