Friday, 28 August 2009

25 Free Technology Tools for Teachers

Finding free technology tools and teaching aids is a great way for teachers to engage students in learning while keeping their class within budget. The Internet has tons of hi-tech resources for teachers of language arts, history, math, science, art, and music. Here are 25 tools and sites to explore before the beginning of the new school year:

Language Arts

Cast UDL Book Builder - The Cast UDL Book Builder makes it easier for teachers to build reading skills in students. The site provides tools to create, read, and share digital books.

Shmoop - Shmoop is a unique study guide site designed to help students appreciate and understand literature, history, and poetry. This site is a way for older students to hone and improve literary analysis and writing skills.

Academic Skill Builders - This site is loaded with free online video games for learning language arts, vocabulary, and mathematics. The goal of Academic Skill Builders is to make classroom learning as effective as possible.

TumbleBook Library - This reading site can be used with interactive whiteboards in the elementary classroom. TumbleBook resources include a collection of free animated books.

VisualWords - This online graphic dictionary is a great literary tool for building K-12 vocabulary and language comprehension. With VisualWords, students can see an illustration of how words relate to one another through "word webs."


DoHistory - DoHistory provides an interactive way for students to understand the skills and techniques needed for interpreting history. This site, which can be used on interactive whiteboards, is based on the 200 year old diary of Martha Ballard.

Race for the Superbomb - Complete with a teacher's guide, PBS' Race for the Superbomb takes an in-depth look into the creation and use of nuclear weapons. Throughout this virtual experience, teachers will find films, timelines, maps, and special features.

History Podcast Network - The History Podcast Network offers links to a wide variety of history-based podcasts. Teachers can use the site to find podcasts on the military, U.S. history, British history, periods in history, and much more.

History Classroom - The History Classroom from offers a wide variety of interactive games, learning materials, and tools that teachers can use in the classroom to create a fun, engaging history experience. Resources include study guides, videos and speeches, and lesson plans.

Library of Congress - The Library of Congress offers media-rich tools and interactive opportunities that teachers can use in the exploration of history. This site also features activities, lesson plans, and themed resources.

Math and Science

The Blobz Guide To Electric Circuits - This interactive guide teaches groups of students about the intricate networks of circuits. The Blobz guide is a good interactive teaching aid for math and science classes.

Volcano Explorer - The Discovery Channel's Volcano Explorer can be used to teach students about volcanoes. With this interactive exploration, students will get an up-close look at this beautiful yet deadly force of nature.

OceanNow - This interactive expedition into the ocean is a wonderful teaching aid for exploring the science of nature. OceanNow allows you to view video, track maps, and get instant updates.

NumberNut - NumberNut is a free elementary math teaching aid. NumberNut covers everything from shapes and colors to ratios and money math.

Mathgrad - This site is a free mathematics podcast that teachers can use as part of their curriculum. Mathgrad offers practical mathematic information in terms that everyday people can understand.

Art and Music

Renaissance Connection - The Renaissance Connection can be used to teach students about Renaissance art history. This site connects students with the past through in-depth looks at artworks, innovations, and other visual learning tools.

Artopia - Artopia is a comprehensive art experience for middle school children. This site allows students to examine and learn about styles, principles, and processes in dance, media arts, music, painting, sculpture, and theatre. Teachers can also find a how to guide for incorporating Artopia into their classroom.

ArtsEdge - This interactive website provides teachers with tools and technology for exploring and understanding art. Throughout ArtsEdge, teachers will find resources for teaching, connecting, and exploring several different art forms.

Essentials of Music - This site for music teachers provides materials on eras of music, composers, and a glossary with examples. By using this excellent teaching aid, teachers can provide a vast amount of information on composers and eras through MP3 formatted examples.

ArtPad - ArtPad is a creative and mess-free way for students to express their creative side. Once students are done creating art, the works can be printed or emailed.


GeoEdu - GeoEdu is a free game and interactive atlas for learning worldwide geography. This software is designed for teaching children of all ages. - This site offers a 360 degree virtual tour of historical and geographical sites. is an interactive alternative to images in books or slide shows.

BrainPop - BrainPop is a fun teaching aid for all subjects. This interactive site uses games and activities to engage students in subjects ranging from art to social studies.

ARKive - This site allows students to explore life on earth through videos, images, and facts. ARKive offers an extensive collection on thousands of species around the world.

The Periodic Table of Videos - The Periodic Table of Videos is a nice teaching aid for illustrating the periodic table. This site utilizes webcast for a visual demonstration of each element.

Guest post from education writer Karen Schweitzer. Karen is the Guide to Business School. She also writes for, an online college resource.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Your Technology Magna Carta

It is the first day of class, students arrive and technology is present. Your students salivate at the idea of using a laptop, a smart board and a digital camera. They become attentive and are leaning in on your every word, hoping the next sentence is, “You may now get your laptops!” Students rush the COW and in the matter of minutes there is a dropped laptop, a ‘Z’ key missing and an entire laptop has mysteriously gone off the grid.


It’s easy, you allowed students to use technology without a technology magna carta. Along with your classroom management rules, that you designed somewhere in your student teaching practicum, the technology classroom rules are just as critical. Here are a few ideas that you can incorporate on the first day of class. Not the second day, or the day after you find broke laptops, but the FIRST DAY OF CLASS!

Laptops = Responsibility

When you give each student their laptop for the year, make sure they are all numbered. Before you allow any of your students to get their grimy paws on a computer, give them a number. As soon as you get your class lists, give each student a number that corresponds with a laptop. The first time you use the laptops take the entire class back to the COW (or where ever you house your computers) and explain to them the procedures for holding, walking with and what to do when they get to their desk. Also, explain that you MUST plug in your laptop when you put it back and if you are a neat freak like me, make sure they are all facing in the same direction. When your students return to their seats, call their names out one by one and allow them to go get their laptop. Monitor their retrieval and have students point out any flaws. Finally, remind students this routine must take place daily or laptop usage will be suspended or revoked. Also remind them that any damage to the computer will come back to them.

Smart Board is NOT a White Board

If you have a smart board mounted in your room or even if you have one stationed somewhere in your room, make sure you keep it clean! Keep all dry erase markers away from it and if you use a special stylus pointer, make sure you keep it in your desk or somewhere safe.

If you are going to be absent and your smart board will be in your room, make sure you have specific substitute plans. The worst experience I have had with this is a colleague in my department getting told that his sub wrote the entire days plan on the smart board. Even worse, the sub used a sharpie marker because she could not find a dry erase marker. It was an awful cleanup! From that day forward our technology czar gave every smart board user a sign to display when we were absent. The sign said:




Cameras and Video Equipment

Time management! If you give students a camera to use for a project, make sure you include a column in the rubric that accounts for time. I have observed teachers using camera and video equipment for a lesson and just allowing students to run off with the equipment and take two to three weeks to shoot and edit a video. Ummm…no.

Have students sign out this equipment as well, monitor their time and enforce this rule! Don’t allow them to go over the time and make sure you keep consistent with this.

Acceptable Browsing

This rule should be primarily enforced by your network administrator, however, there are loopholes. Students are more technology advanced than most of us. When you say no facebook, no chatting and no non-academic browsing to a student, they think, “ha, I can get around this.” And they can! How? It’s called a proxy server. If this is an unfamiliar term to you, click the link and read. This proxy server allows students to access most sites that a schools network has blocked. I caught many students using facebook and various chat applications throughout the class. This needs to be a zero tolerance policy. Obviously you cannot see the screens for all of your students (until I patent the double sided laptop screen), but when you do catch them quickly minimizing a window containing facebook, enforce your policy and send them back to the 20th century classroom. Give them a pencil and paper and require them to complete the same project with tools of days gone by.

These are four simple ways to protect your equipment and maintain an efficient working environment in your classroom. With great power, comes great responsibility. Make sure your students understand this power and respect the classroom tools.