Confession: I was a late tech adopter.
I didn’t own a computer until I was in college. I couldn’t record on the VCR, and I didn’t have a smartphone until about 2009. As a new teacher, I felt comfortable with PowerPoint and Word, yet I rarely explored any other tech tools.
I felt out of my league when it came to tech, and chalked it up as something the younger, more tech-savvy members of the staff would do. My mindset changed as the number of devices available in our school grew, as well as my observations of the ease with which my students could navigate and create with their laptops. They inspired me to try more tech.
Several years later, as I teach my global studies course and my students explore the world in real time through their devices, I couldn’t imagine not being a to take advantage of this technology. There are free tools that are easy to use—even for the tech novice.
Here are my picks for the top 10 tech tools and websites every teacher should know about!
- Rewordify: This user-friendly website allows you to adjust the reading level of a text. All you need to do is copy the webpage URL of the text you want to adjust and paste it into the yellow box at the top of the site, then click “Rewordify text.” Rewordify will simplify the text to the reading level you selected in the settings. If you don’t want the whole page to be Rewordified, you can copy, paste, and Rewordify text excerpts as well. You also can change how the text is displayed. My favorite part of the tool is to have simpler words displayed next to the challenging words that were in the original text. Finally, if you click on the “Print/Learning Activities” page, Rewordify will create vocabulary lists with definitions from the text, generate vocabulary quizzes for the text, and create close activities for the text. With this website, you can make more challenging texts accessible to all students.
- SMMRY: This is a handy website that summarizes any text or webpage to the exact number of sentences you want. Like Rewordify, all you need to do is copy the text you want summarized and paste it into the box on the page, set the number of sentences you want, then hit the summarize button. You can also paste in URLs to summarize an entire webpage or upload files to summarize. What makes this tool even more user-friendly is you can drag the bookmark widget to your toolbar so that when you are on a website you want summarized, all you have to do his hit the SMMRY widget and it will summarize the page without even going to their website. I learned about this great tool via Eric Curts’ (@ericcurts) amazing blog, which every teacher should bookmark!
- Viewpure: I use videos every day in my classroom. Most of these videos I access via YouTube. This can be a scary proposition for most teachers, as you never know what type of ads, comments, or suggested videos will show up. Viewpure takes the fear out of opening up YouTube in your class. All you need to do is copy the video URL and paste it into the box at the top and then click the purify button. The site then generates a new URL with all the clutter removed. Like SMMRY, Viewpure also has a toolbar widget. Just drag the purify button up to your toolbar. Then the next time you are on YouTube and want to use a video, just click the Purify button and it will remove all the page clutter without you having to go to the Viewpure homepage.
- 360 Cities: One of the greatest aspects of being 1-to-1 in a global studies class is that I can show almost instantaneously the places that we are studying via their laptops. One of the websites that I use frequently to do this is 360 Cities. I’ve found nothing fascinates students more lately than 360-degree imagery, and 360 Cities has 360-degree images from across the globe. Type the location you want in the search bar and I bet they have that location. I haven’t been shut out yet. 360 Cities has also recently added ambient noise to many of their newer panoramas. Finally, if you have VR sets, there is a VR setting that you can click so students can view through their VR devices.
- Google Earth: I like nothing better to take my students to the location we are studying via their Chromebooks, and the relaunch of the new and improved Google Earth evolved what was once an underutilized resource into one of my most frequently used websites. What is awesome about Google Earth is that by clicking the pegman you can explore the location via Street View. We were studying Lagos, Nigeria, a couple weeks ago, and my initial activity was to have my students go to the city and traverse the city streets. As they did, they recorded what they saw as well as what questions they had. Their observations and questions launched our inquiry into the challenges Lagos is facing. Another cool feature of Google Earth is the Voyager tool. These tools are tours that give detailed information and stories about spots on the tour. We just used “Finding Home” in my class. This Voyager story describes the journey of Nourelhuda Altallaa, who fled her home in Syria due to the civil war. “Finding Home” includes text, photos, and video that document Nourelhuda’s dangerous trip from Syria to Verl, Germany. Google Earth is adding new Voyager tools all the time and they are an incredible resource for any Social Studies teacher.
- Google Tour Builder: This is a tool that I just started using. It allows students to create tours very similar to the ones in Google Earth Voyager. Students just click the “add location” button and they will add a pin to Google Earth at that location. Students can add text to describe that location’s significance as well as photos and videos. They can change the order of the tour by moving the slides. If you are looking for samples of what tours could look like, check out the gallery on the Tour Builder website.
- Pear Deck Flash Card Factory: I’ve never seen a game in which studying vocabulary was so much fun. For this game, students are paired with a partner. They must create flashcards for a list of words that you have uploaded. One student writes a sentence showing the meaning of the word while the other uses their laptop to draw an illustration of that word. Once they are both done, they submit their word for quality control. You review the completed cards with your class and determine which ones should be added to your flash card pack. If their card is selected, the team is awarded points. For an added bonus, you can upload these completed decks to be played using Quizlet Live. The directions to get started with Pear Deck Flash Card Factory can be found here. I learned about Pear Deck Flash Card Factory from Steve Wick’s (@WickedEdTech) outstanding edtech blog http://rechargelearning.blogspot.com/.
- TodaysMeet: I was an introvert when I was in junior high. I hated to speak in class. I wish we had TodaysMeet. This is a backchannel tool that can enhance conversations in your classroom. I most frequently use TodaysMeet for Socratic Seminars. Instead of those in the outer circle taking notes about what was said, they to can participate in the discussion by typing their reactions to what the inner circle was saying, posing questions they have to the inner circle participants or include links to stories that either support or refute their claims. You don’t need to have a Socratic Seminar to use TodaysMeet, though; it can be used during classroom presentations, or you could split your screen as you show a video and have students react as they watch. Another great feature of TodaysMeet is you can print a transcript of the chat so you can review exactly what each student said.
- Edpuzzle: This website allows you to make videos you are already using interactive. You can also turn them into formative assessments. Just upload a video you want to use or search their gallery of countless Edpuzzle videos that other teachers have already created. Once you upload your video, you can clip the video to only include portions of the video. You can also add audio narration or comments to the video. The coolest feature, though, is you can embed both multiple-choice and open-ended questions as well.
- Listenwise: I am a huge fan of text sets, and I often want my text sets to include items that are not just articles or photos. Listenwise allows me to add great audio components. Listenwise has aggregated public radio broadcasts on a wide variety of subject areas. You can browse their collections to find relevant stories for your topic. Then just click the share button to get a link to take the students to this audio recording. Listenwise also provides discussion questions for each story as well as pre-made Socrative quizzes.
*11. Bonus Resource: GeoGuessr: If my closure activity ends early and I have a couple of free minutes before the end of the period, my go-to website is GeoGuessr. This website drops you in a location on Google Street View. You have to look around and observe clues in your surroundings before you try to guess where in the world you are. Then you drop a pin of your guess on the map in the lower right-hand corner of the screen. The closer you are to the location the more points you get. In addition to the default world game, you can choose other games about famous places or individual countries.
What tools and websites do you use most frequently? I’m always looking to add another resource to enhance my practice. I can also safely say that this late adopter no longer fears technology and definitely has witnessed first hand the countless benefits of its use in my classroom.
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