Bernie Poole shares his favorite free online teacher tools.
Information, like the air we breathe, should be free. That's why we have public libraries. That's why we have a right to a free public education.
And now we have the Web, which is slowly but surely becoming the fountainhead of education resources -- and most of it is free. There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of Web sites, such as Education World, that are devoted exclusively to helping teachers teach and students learn.
Many of those sites also include a number of tools teachers can use to enhance their teaching. This article will describe a few of my favorite online teacher tools and provide the links to even more.
Conscientious teachers prepare rubrics for their students as a guide to what is expected of them for a class assignment or project. That can be a time-consuming -- even challenging -- task. RubiStar, a product of 4Teachers.org, makes creating such rubrics a snap. RubiStar provides generic rubrics that can be used for many typical projects and research assignments. The neat thing about RubiStar is that these generic rubrics can be customized by teachers to fit any particular project.
4Teachers.org is maintained out of the University of Kansas under the auspices of ALTEC, the Advanced Learning Technologies in Education Consortia. Besides RubiStar, ALTEC has a selection of other free tools for online lesson-planning, including TrackStar, QuizStar for test and quiz generation, and NoteStar, to help students with research papers. There's even a tool to help teachers design the layout of their classroom -- Classroom Architect!
Lucas Carlson's Web Collaborator is a free, Web-based, collaboration tool designed to help students work together on group projects. As Lucas Carlson explains, without Web Collaborator or a similar online tool, collaborating on a project involves passing papers back and forth, hours of painstaking corrections, hundreds of wasted pieces of paper, headaches -- and plenty of coffee! Web Collaborator coordinates collaborations, keeping backups of every revision made to a project, and letting students see who made the changes. That allows them to concentrate on the work at hand, rather than on the technicalities.
Each collaboration has three components -- the discussion, in which students plan their project; the project itself, in which students work together online to build their ideas; and the history component, which keeps a backup of every revision made. It's all digital -- no paper is involved until the final version is ready to go to press. Students work side-by-side at the computer, or they work from wherever they happen to be at any time of the day or night. Getting together is as simple as being online at the same time.
Talking about collaboration, blogging (short for "Web logging") is a great way for teachers and students to interact in the online world. A growing number of teachers are coming to appreciate the educational value of using blogs to promote student writing.
BlogMeister is the brainchild of David Warlick's Landmark for Schools Project, where you will find other online tools, such as Rubric Machine, and Citation Machine, a tool to help students correctly cite sources.
BlogMeister provides an easily-managed online environment where teachers and students can write, edit, and publish material related to course work. Assignments are submitted to the teacher first, who reviews the work online before approving it and publishing it to the blog. Writing is a powerful way to learn, especially when the writing is guided by the teacher in the context of a course-relevant blog.
Need to create and manage online surveys suitable for Internet-based oral history projects, course evaluations, and other activities that involve collecting feedback? Survey Builder, from The Center for History and New Media at George Mason University, is the online tool for you.
After you create your survey using its built-in editor, Survey Builder generates a unique Web page (hosted on the Center for History and New Media site) that displays the survey for people to fill out and submit online.
The Web sites highlighted above are but the tip of the iceberg when it comes to free online teacher tools. There are two ways to find other tools. The first is to network with other teachers by joining such online discussion groups as EDTECH, where you'll find thousands of teachers like yourself who exchange ideas, share resources, provide answers to questions, and, in general share their expertise.
The second way is to become proficient at searching the Web. To paraphrase the words of William Shakespeare: The Web is your education world; make it your oyster. Talking about Shakespeare, you'll find his complete works -- for free -- at Amanda Mabillard's Shakespeare Online!
Article by Bernie Poole
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