April 24, 2014

Follow the Conference Hashtag: My 10 Favorite Tech Tools for Educators

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snacktoolsCROP

After I gave a presentation recently, an audience member asked me how I keep up with new technology. I didn’t have a great answer. I generally keep up by osmosis. When I attend conferences, including the American Association of School Librarians National Conference (AASL) last month, the most valuable aspect is often learning about how librarians are taking advantage of tech tools to enhance their programs. Notably, many of these resources don’t come from sessions themselves—but from following the conference hashtag on Twitter and watching resources stream by. Here are my top 10 picks at the moment, thanks to presenters and tweeting librarians.

    1. Buffer Schedules tweets and updates, which allows you to spread out updates instead of sharing items infrequently in short bursts. Scheduling updates also allows libraries to turn over the social media reigns to teens without worrying about what information is being shared. Side note: If you trust your teens to tweet, you probably shouldn’t be paranoid about it. At the very least, it can help you stay organized when you have multiple authors.
    2. squorlSqworl Embeds visual links to other websites. Great for linking to student projects in a way that allows them to easily identify their own work, as opposed to a list of text-only links. You can also use it to share recommended websites. Sqworl has a bookmarklet that makes it easy to quickly grab sites.
    3. Snacktools This suite of Web tools includes slideshows, audio players, video players and playlists, polls, flipbooks, and more. Students can use SlideSnack to create how-to tutorials by recording their voices over a slideshow, and FlipSnack turns any PDF into a flipbook. Bot tools allow students to become the instructors, and both types of end products can be shared on your library website, aiding in flipping your library program.
    4. Blendspace This tool gives you numerous options for sharing library resources and instruction online, allowing you to turn library time over to exploration instead of lecturing. Once you create a Blendspace on a particular topic, you can populate it with content from Flickr, OpenEd, Educreations, Dropbox, YouTube Google Drive, and more. These spaces then become launch pads for lessons, assignments, and projects. Embed quizzes to measure understanding or pre-assess student knowledge.
    5. playficPlayfic Students can play and create interactive fiction, which are text-based games. The tutorial, itself interactive fiction, allows students to learn the basics of gameplay, and cheat sheets guide students through the process of writing a game. Students must write in a code native to the site, and they must determine the narrative threads of their story before they dive in, requiring loads of critical thinking and creative skills. The payoff is that they get to play each other’s games.
    6. Shareourbooks Not so much a tool as a program, Share Our Books is powered by a group of children’s book authors who support school-wide reading programs. The authors donate a personal set of books to a school for a six-week period. The entire school, including teachers and staff members, reads the books and then mails the collection of books off to the next school. The school chooses how to celebrate the book, either through opening and closing ceremonies, reading activities, and communicating with the authors. As the website says, this activity can “sustain interest, build community, and integrate the book with other parts of the curriculum.”
    7. DoInk This app for iOS devices allows users to create animations using vector drawing tools and either flipbook- or keyframe-style animation, depending on the user’s skill level. These animations can then be exported directly to iTunes. The iPad app, which offers more features, is $4.99; the iPhone app, DoInk Express, is $1.99.
    8. Popcorn Video Maker Mozilla’s video tool, part of its Webmaker suite, lets users remix web video, audio, and images into new videos that can be embedded on other websites. You can start a project from scratch or remix existing ones. Users may import videos directly from YouTube using either a direct link or the app’s native search, and then clip the video to any length. Text, popups, Google maps, images, pauses, and more can be added to the timeline.
    9. Tour builderTour Builder Using Google Earth, users can create tours of anywhere in the world. The Google Earth plugin and a Google account (both free) are required. Students can use Tour Builder to share and reflect on literary journeys, historical events, personal travel, social history, and more. The tours include text, images, and, of course, Google Earth. As users move through the tour, they fly to each new location. Users can also browse a growing gallery of existing tours.
    10. Clipping Magic This simple and brilliant tool easily strips the background from images. All the user has to do is to upload an image and mark the foreground image with a green line and the background with a red line. You see a live preview of the results, which allows you to pinpoint the exact boundaries of the image. The stripped-down visual can then be downloaded. This tool is exceptionally helpful to students who use images in any capacity.

Sarah Ludwig is dean of digital and library services at the Ethel Walker School in Simsbury, CT. Her current passions include weaving technology into reading programs, gaming in the classroom, and flipped school libraries.

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