Dozens of free web tools and ideas that can pack a technology integration punch and kick those lessons up a notch
Are you tired of delivering the same old lectures on the same subjects year after year? Are you using the same lesson materials over and over and wishing you could make learning in your classroom more interactive?
While lectures and lessons can be informative and even “edutaining” when delivered with passion and good materials by knowledgeable experts, sadly many traditional lectures and lessons are boring, and even worse often ineffective. The good news is that the Web is loaded with great free tools that can enable teachers to bring a sense of fun and engagement to their lessons.
Of course, you do need devices with Internet access to give these tools a try. Even if you don’t have computers or tablets available in your classroom, the fact that an increasing number of High School and college students have smartphones is making it easier than ever to leverage technology to create engaging, active lessons students enjoy working on. For younger grades, if you don’t have access to devices with Web access, perhaps you can access a computer lab by request, or use devices in your library.
Here’s a whole bunch of ideas for leveraging technology to kick those lessons up a notch!
1. Incorporate Student Input & Gather Feedback
There are many applications that allow students to provide live feedback. A lot of them can be used from smartphones. You can also gather feedback by creating a “back channel” using Twitter.
- Quick, easy Polling Applications: PollDaddy and PollEverywhere are two of many applications that make it quick and easy to create simple polls that can let you gather feedback from students – determine if they are struggling with a topic, if they know the correct answers to questions you ask, and so on. They can often participate in these polls using a smartphone.
- Take it up a notch with Socrative: Socrative is a powerful free app that lets you go well beyond simple polls to more elaborate quizzes, or just use it to gather quick and easy feedback. Learn more here.
- Plickers: This is a pretty cool lo-tech approach to collecting student responses during class that doesn’t require students to use technology. Learn more here.
- Twitter: Twitter is a great way to gather input by creating an easy to use ‘backchannel’. This is great for students with smartphones (they will need the Twitter app and an account). Simply create a unique hashtag and have students post feedback to Twitter using that hashtag.
2. Gamify It
Leveraging gaming mechanics that can make learning more fun is probably easier than you think. Any time you bring competition or levels of achievement to a classroom exercise, you’re adding an element of ‘gamification'. For a simple example, in one recent assignment in my classroom, I had students search through an interactive computer history timeline for specific facts. The first student to correctly identify a fact (like “what was the first computer bug?”) that I had them seek out “won” for that question! Of course, gamification can be leveraged in much richer ways.
Here’s a variety of resources and ideas for using gaming in the classroom:
- 4 Ways To Bring Gamification of Education To Your Classroom
- 10 Specific Ideas To Gamify Your Classroom
- Make your own Jeopardy game
- Check out these posts and resources for using Minecraft and World of Warcraft in the classroom.
3. Let Students Create
There are so many fun free tools and apps available today that can let students create all kinds of awesome digital content. Below is diversified set of different article and resources that share different tools and ideas for students (and teachers) to create digital content – presentations, interactive digital posters, eBooks, videos, and more. In the spirit of creating in the classroom, we also included an article introducing the burgeoning Makerspace Movement in education.
- PowToon – a Powerful Free Tool for Creating Awesome Animated Presentations
- Unleashing Creativity with iBooks Author (Video) (note: this is specific to the Mac).
- This article discusses student uses of tools including Prezi, PowToon, and Powerpoint in a class I taught last Fall.
- Getting to Know the Makerspace Movement in Education
4. Get Interactive
Many teachers enjoy using interactive tools with their students. Here’s a few tools and ideas to consider.
- Online Interactive White Boards: Did you know that there are several good free interactive whiteboards available online? If you have a computer and a projector, you can make them work a lot like a “smart board”. Some of these applications even allow students to log on online and collaboratively edit content. Check out these 6 Online IWBs to explore this idea further.
- Bounceapp (bounceapp.com): You can review, notate, and share any web page with Bounceapp. Just paste a web page address into the “app” and it turns it into an interactive screenshot where students can jot ideas.
- Interactive apps that work with Smartphones: Many of the tools in this article work on smartphones!
- If you happen to have a physical white board in your classroom, get more out of it with these creative ideas.
- Explore additional tool and ideas in this popular article that we published earlier this year.
5. Have Students Collaborate
Getting students to work together as partners, in small groups, or maybe even as one large group, teaches them about team work. Collaborative work can be fun. It is even possible to collaborate with students across the world thanks to many of today’s technologies.
Here are a number of tools and techniques for classroom collaborations.
- Share writing and encourage feedback with NewsActivist: NewsActivist is a free tool that lets teachers set up their students with a private area where they can write about selected subjects. You can enables them to share what their write with just their classmates, or with the larger audience of students from across the world using NewsActivist. Students can then provide feedback on other students’ writings. Learn more in this brief article.
- Collaborative Document Editing with Google Drive (drive.google.com): Google Drive lets you share and collaboratively edit Google Docs with anyone else who has a Google account, for free. This is a powerful capability.
- Collaborative Mind Mapping with MindMeister (mindmeister.com): This applications lets users easily create mind maps that can be edited collaboratively.
- Collaborative Research: Working in pairs or small groups to find, assess, summarize, and present content in specific topic areas make for a great learning experience and assignment.
6. Project Based Learning
When students apply what they are learning to projects that they undertake, the topics they are learning about can take on a much deeper meaning. Not only does the activity and the increased sensory exposure of project work help to stimulate the mind, the extended time often required of project work, and the visible, tangible results further reinforce learning.
Here are two excellent, rich resources for further exploration of PBL from TeachThought.com:
Simulations can be a powerful addition to the classroom. Since they tend to be somewhat complicated, they are typically suited towards high school, college, or post-graduate or professional studies. Here are some examples of simulations being used in education:
- Economics: This site, Economic-Games.com, offers free online classroom games for teaching economics.
- Marketing: Have you ever wished you could give your Marketing students the chance to practice different e-marketing skills and techniques? Check out Simbound.
- Medical: Simulations have been a significant teaching and learning tool in the medical field for many years. Harvard Medical School has even created a web site focused on their use of Simulations.
- Business: Business Simulation Games are a great way to bring active, applied learning into Business courses.
8. Bring in a Guest or Two
With the power of video conferencing apps like Skype, Google Hangout, Facetime, and others, our ability to connect with people all across the world has never been better or less costly. Teachers have been using Skype and similar tools to being guest lecturers, experts, students, and others into the classroom for years. Nothing breaks up the monotony of “same old thing” like an enthusiastic subject matter expert from another county or a room full of students from another continent!
- The Skype in the classroom showcase
- Find a Teacher or Other Expert to Skype with
- Google Hangouts Guide for Teachers
Check out this great video about Skype in the Classroom. This is a perfect way to wrap up this post about leveraging tech in the classroom to make lessons captivating, fun, and exciting!
Be sure to tell us about some of your favorite ways to make lessons more fun with the help of today's powerful instructional technologies!
Related Posts (if the above topic is of interest, you might want to check these out):
10 Pretty Awesome Things You Can do With PowerPoint
Add Voice Over to PowerPoint Presentations in 5 Easy Steps
20 Fun Free Tools for Interactive Classroom Collaboration