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Technology in the Classroom: 5 Tools for the New Year

Jacqui Murray

One thing we can all agree on is that there are so many free and enriching tech tools available that it’s difficult to keep up.

Throughout the year, I belong to several Tech Teacher forums, FB groups, Google+ Communities, and every day I find more great technology in the classroom tools I can't wait to use in my classroom. And from the tons of professional development conferences (ISTE, Teachers Pay Teachers, WordPress, and Summer PD to name a few), I’ve collected enough to last me a lifetime.

With school just around the corner, I needed to figure out which tools should be immediately integrated into my teaching. This was difficult, but I sorted, shook, noodled, sifted, and whittled my list down based on tools that differentiate for student needs, simplify the teacher's job, and entice students to use technology in the classroom. Here are my top five:

Technology in the Classroom: Newsela

This is a useful tool for rewording news stories to fit up to five different reading levels. The “max” level is the original article, while the next four are adapted to lower student Lexile levels. The purpose: To encourage students to read the non-fiction writing that prepares them for college and career. It reminds me of the Suzuki music method, where famous classical pieces were placed within reach of beginning musicians by simple rewrites to the more basic level. As a result, many children who might not have been excited about music changed their minds.

Newsela is free and ad-free. Teacher “Pro” accounts are available so educators can track student reading, assign articles, and offer quizzes.

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How it blends into the classroom: Newsela develops student interest in non-fiction, deep reading, and inquiry with focused articles written to their reading level.

Online-utility.org

This site assists students in analyzing their reading at multiple levels. Using its tools, students can:

  • Analyze words, sentences, structure or style of any text.
  • Learn, teach, or research English language.
  • Write easily readable texts in English.
  • Perform math calculations (from simple to complex).
  • Convert various measurement units.
  • Convert images from one format into another.
  • Get keyword suggestions for English language websites.
  • Perform various backlink (inlink, inbound link) analysis.
  • Perform Internet searches of best websites, or of best websites in specific categories.

How teachers can use this: Ask students to input their own work to see at which level they are writing.

Songza

I love this one. With just a few clicks of the mouse, I can play music in my classroom. I can pick between genre, mood, era—or another category that suits the activity—and easily play music that soothes, motivates, excites, or calms. Like Newsela, it’s also free and ad-free.

Plus, the more you use it, the better it gets at predicting your interest. It’s very much like Pandora, but Songza curates its playlist via real people (DJs, Rolling Stone writers, etc.).

Admittedly, it isn't built for classrooms, but with Songza's Concierge service, you can create a personalized playlist of music that fits your student group. It has options like SFW—Safe for Work—and “No Lyrics” mode that might be well suited to your classroom environment.

EdTechTV did a great review of Songza here—check it out.

How you can use it in your classroom: It’s a great way to quiet down a noisy group, calm students during stressful quiz times, and shake up student attitudes.

Frolyc

In a world where mashed lesson plans and flipped classrooms are becoming de rigeur, Frolyc stands out. You can create lesson plans from scratch, differentiate them to varied student needs, make them available via iPad to specific students in your classroom, and even search their database for existing lesson plans close to your need. Teachers build the lessons in their dashboard and push them out to students on the iPad-based Activity Spot. These two launchpads are synched, providing teachers with constant updates on student progress. I've tried a few others like this, but this is the most intuitive I've used. It helps that the creators provide video assistance every step of the way.

How to use it in the classroom: I especially like it for the flipped classroom. You can push videos to students differentiated for their unique needs, share quick assessments to determine understanding, and ask students to provide evidence of their understanding—a lot of depth for a free tool.

Lunapic

BigHugeLabs has long been my favorite online image editor. It offers many easy-to-use and clever ways to use pictures. Lunapic changed my mind. Its photo editing options include reflection, snow, hearts, rainbows, and more. You can also quickly add borders, filters, effects, and lots of other treatments by simply uploading your image and applying the changes. While not as intuitive as BigHugeLabs, once the system is opened, it's easy enough for 2nd graders to use.

How you can use it in the classroom: With the growth of blogs, student wikis, and class websites, image editing tools make it easy to create a picture perfectly suited to a topic. And fun.

Since I wrote this article, I've already found five more that I can't wait to try. Check back--I'll share them with you.


Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-8 technology for 15 years. She is the editor of a K-8 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum, and creator of dozens of technology training books that integrate technology into education. She is webmaster for six blogs, CSG Master Teacher, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, CAEP reviewer, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on tech ed topics, a tech ed columnist for Examiner.com, and a weekly contributor to TeachHUB.