The Best K-12 Freeware
Are you anxious to teach with technology, but find yourself short of computer resources? Did all your district's technology funds go to hardware -- leaving little money left over for educational software? Are you tempted to try the free software you find online, but aren't sure which programs to trust? Discover the variety of quality freeware available online -- and learn which ones the Education World Tech Team voted as their favorite finds for the K-12 classroom! Included: Links to 19 of the Web's best freeware programs for K-12 teachers, as well as to sites where you can find your own favorites.
Hundreds of free educational software programs are available online. Those freeware programs run the gamut from math games for kids, to help with report card comments, to spyware -- and beyond!
So, how do you choose from the myriad freeware programs available? Education World asked members of its Tech Team to help by sharing their favorite freeware finds -- and the response was overwhelming! Read on and discover new tech tools you can use tomorrow without breaking -- or even shaking -- the bank!
AND THE WINNER IS...
Almost half the responding Tech Team members voted IrfanView as their top pick. Available for Windows only, IrfanView is used to edit, view, and resave photos and other graphics.
Robb Ponton, computer teacher at Rawls Byrd Elementary School in Williamsburg, Virginia, calls the program "totally awesome! In addition to allowing you to resize, crop, rotate, and brighten images, its many other useful features include the ability to convert image files from one format to another -- from .bmp to .jpg, for example."
Sandy Kennedy, lower division technology coordinator at Berkeley Preparatory School in Tampa, Florida, agrees, noting that she has her students use IrfanView for classroom photo editing.
Pairing up this freeware program with MSPaint, which also is free and available on most Windows machines, has proven cost effective and instructionally sound for Ken Barton, school-based technology specialist at Westbriar Elementary School in Vienna, Virginia. Barton cites three advantages to using IrfanView:
An equally robust and free graphic program exists for Mac users, according to Fred Bartels, director of information technology at Rye Country Day School in Rye, New York. Bartels calls Graphic Converter, which can retrieve, edit and save graphics -- even some that other programs can't -- a "Swiss army knife tool for dealing with images."
SOFTWARE FOR LEARNING
Gail Braddock, elementary technology coordinator for Briarcrest Christian School in Memphis, Tennessee, voted for Sebran, with its easy-to-use math and language arts games for the K-2 classroom, as her favorite. Sebran -- "zebra" in Swedish -- is a Windows-only program that has been translated into 17 languages. Sandy Kennedy notes that the Spanish teacher at her school uses Sebran for lesson review.
Kennedy also recommends Seterra, freeware by the same programmer. Seterra is an engaging geography quiz program covering flags, capitals (both U.S. states and world capitals), countries and more! Seterra also is for Windows only.
Mac users also have some great freeware options. Elizabeth Sky-McIlvain, literacy teacher at Freeport Middle School in Freeport, Maine, has her students take notes and complete research assignments with MacJournal. (Editor's note: Older versions of MacJournal, a note-taking product, are available as freeware, but the newest version is not free.)
How does MacJournal work? Sky-McIlvain explains: "It serves the purposes of collection, organization and display. Journal entries can be exported to WordPress, Moveable Type, Blogger and LiveJournal blogs (those are built in). Anything that students can 'collect' digitally can be placed in a MacJournal entry. Entries are gathered into journals. Formatting can be changed easily. Spell check is a snap. URL's and other links are made with a simple link editor. MacJournal can be locked (for student notes and grades, for example), linked (entry to entry), and searched. Keywords can be assigned to individual entries. Radial checkboxes can be added to entries (so students can complete a 'To-Do' list, for example). Best of all, MacJournal saves automatically -- no lost work!
To provide students with some fun while they polish up their math skills, Lucy Gray, a middle-school computer science teacher at the University of Chicago (Illinois) Lab School, suggests Grid X, a fast and fun mental math game for Mac.
In Grid X, students see a grid of numbers and are given three more numbers. They then shade in any number in the grid that could be obtained by adding, subtracting, multiplying, or dividing the three other numbers. The game is timed, and can be both challenging and addictive. Gray adds, "Grid X encourages students to problem solve and to think algebraically."
Want to save your brain at report card time? Check out Teachers Report Assistant , a Windows freeware program. According to Gail Braddock, "I found this last year when my daughter was spending hours and hours writing report card comments for her 80 students. She wanted to write personal comments, but sometimes the brain runs out of words and you really are covering the same topics every time. So, she uses this program, then copies the comments into the template the school requires."
Want to begin online discussions among your students? Cindy Salkeld, director of educational technology at Girls Preparatory School in Chattanooga, Tennessee, recommends Snitz Forums 2000. The discussion boards give students and teachers the opportunity to continue the conversation after class has ended, and Salkeld notes, "We found them to be especially heavily used by our English, history, and science bioethics classes."
Crossword puzzles are an engaging and effective way to review terms and concepts in a variety of grades and content areas. Salkeld also recommends EclipseCrossword, a program that allows users to make crossword puzzles in seconds. All you need are your terms and clues (or definitions) and the program does the rest!
While managing your classroom, why not download a tool that will make classroom materials readable for almost any student and parent using almost any computer? PDF Creator translates Windows files into PDF format. Tom Haynes says that staff members at Culver Academies install PDF Creator on all laptops; it's particularly helpful in the math classroom.
FOR THE "GEEKS" AMONG US
Looking for something a bit meatier? Check out the following freeware programs.
Linux. "I administer three Linux servers on campus," says Haynes, "and it's hard to beat the return on investment. One server handles student user folders; each student has a user directory Web page, which allows for student Web projects. Some of us are working with digital portfolios."
Moodle. Haynes also is a fan of this program, noting, "I use it for online quizzing, submission of student work, peer evaluation, and online collaboration. I post assignments via Moodle, and the assignments are automatically entered in my grade book. Students can check current grades at any time. We also have a 'faculty only' section for announcements, posting minutes, and so on.
NVU. Pronounced "New View," this is a Web-authoring program for Windows and Linux machines. Mike Silverton, grade 6 teacher at Cilaire Elementary in Nanaimo, British Columbia, finds its ease-of-use and robust features invaluable.
ArcSet. This program allows users to change the read-only attributes on files you've burned to CDs. Mike McMullin, resource teacher at Dromore National School in Killygordon, County Donegal, Ireland, writes, "I use ArcSet when I've backed up files using a CD writer, then copied them to the hard disc of another machine. On Win 98 machines, that makes them read-only files, which can cause various problems. Changing that attribute on each individual file is impossibly tedious, so I used ArcSet to do it on a full batch."
SOFTWARE FOR WHAT AILS YOU
Spyware, spam, and other nefarious beasts of the digital world can make a grown teacher break down and cry. Fight back with a few time-tested free programs like:
Are you inspired to try freeware, but didn't see exactly what you're looking for here? Be sure to check out the article sidebar for sites offering hundreds of freeware programs!
Article by Lorrie Jackson
Copyright © 2005 Education World