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Freebee Friday: Early Warning Radar for Drop-Outs

Mind shine white paperThe ultimate expression of failure for a school and its staff is a kid who drops out, but it doesn’t have to happen. MindShine Technologies has a white paper on identifying those at risk and keeping them in school until graduation day. “From Early Warning to Professional Development: Streamlining the Process and Expanding the Scope of Dropout Prevention” looks at all the risk factors and the warning signs so teachers and staff can concentrate their attention where it will have the biggest effect.



Summertime, and the Learning is Easy

The months of July and August don’t have to be a dead zone for learning because there’s a multitude of online educational activities that can keep kids from forgetting their math facts or backsliding on grammar. Most subjects are included and many of the items are structured like games, so they’re not painful to play with.


Free world uTo start, Free World U has a basic curriculum that’s free, although the online school has packages that cost up to $90 a month that add things like exams and accreditation. The basic package is flashcard based and is delivered over the Internet to just about any recent computer. The program can take a child from colors and numbers to algebra, and along the way the program has progress chart, tutorials and classical music selections.

Pbs learningmediaPBS LearningMedia has a summer full of learning potential with its Got Game library of 35,000 online educational activities. From Hip Hop (musical theory) and Fizzy’s Lunch Lab (farming) to the Mission US (marine studies), there’s sure to be something for every age and area of interest.

Smithsonian questsMeanwhile, the Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access has several online summer Quests that can enrich a student’s the time away from the classroom. There will be more than 100 programs available that range from exploring the implications of climate change to a look at the Civil Rights movement. Along the way, kids can earn badges ranging from Arthropod Agent to Tree Hugger.

Knowledge adventureIf you’re looking for a little bit of everything for summer enrichment, KnowledgeAdventure.com has an excellent assortment of educational games for grade 1 through high-schoolers. There’re games for English, math, social studies, spelling and science that’s categorized by age, subject and grade. My favorite is Drum Beats that gets kids to think about patterns by repeating a drumming sequence.   

Common sense mediaFinally, Common Sense Media has put together a guide to summer education. The items work on a variety of hardware platforms and cover the gamut of educational subjects, from geography to math. Each item is rated with stars based on its educational content and the apps are arranged by age group.

ISTE FREEBEE: Software Try Out

Corel free softwareCorel and Kivuto are giving away a slew of software to teachers so they can have the latest tools to work and teach with. Called Teacher-Try-It Program at ISTE 2014, the program allows them to download a variety of software, including Corel’s PaintShop Pro, CorelDraw and others. They are fully functional and licensed version for teachers to use at school, at home and in-between. All told, it’s $400 worth of useful software, all free.

Freebee Friday: Where Science Meets Art

Sciart juneMost teachers fail at one thing: teaching kids that the details of science can be beautiful. Whether it’s stop-action photography of the way a cheetah runs or sculpture made from cast-off electronics, there is subtle beauty in how our world works. That’s the idea behind SciArt in America, a bimonthly online publication that revels in these extraordinary images. Each story is lavishly illustrated and has explanatory text that can go a long way to creating a lesson plan. SciArt America should be required reading for any science teacher and available to any student. It’s a freebee, but they need donations to survive.

Freebee Friday: Education’s Future

Sttelcase white paperWe all know that technology is changing the way we teach and learn, but how far can it go and what can we do to help it along a little. Steelcase has surveyed students and teachers at 16 schools in the U.S., 10 of which were high schools, and found that many were creating their own digital content. Most classrooms are today a mix of high- and low-tech and that won’t change anytime soon. As a result, tomorrow’s classroom needs to accommodate both methods with flexible space management rather than a rigid grid of desks. You can read the company’s white paper “Technology-Empowered Learning: Six Spatial Insights.”

Mix it Up

Mix bPowerPoint is the tool of choice in the classroom for teachers and students to boil down complex ideas into a simple sequence of slides. It now enters the era of interactive learning with Microsoft’s Mix add-on that lets you do everything from adding voice-over narration and a video window of a teacher explaining a lesson to on-the-spot quizzes.  The best part is that a Mix lesson can not only run in PowerPoint, but students can play it on a wide variety of devices.

If your school’s computers already have Office, getting started with Mix is the easy part. Mix is a free download add-on for PowerPoint that leaves a ribbon toolbar behind. At 3.5MB, the download is small and it takes just a few minutes to get and install. At the moment it is a beta app that works with Office 2013 and Microsoft’s online Office 365 set ups on the PC platform; unfortunately, there’s no Mac equivalent. The software will undergo continual updates over the next few months.

The beauty of Mix is that it lets you work in the familiar PowerPoint environment and not have to learn how to use a new program while giving you the power to use a variety of interactive elements.  In a real sense, it picks up where the traditional program leaves off, adding lots of new potential, but the new items can crowd the emerging presentation into about 60-percent of the screen’s area. It was just enough room on a 10.6-inch Surface Pro system, but might be too crowded on a smaller screen.

Mix aWhile you can bring in existing presentations done in PowerPoint, anything older than an Office 2013 file will have to be saved in the new format before you can use it in Mix. It’s no big deal and takes less than a minute for all but the most media-heavy slide shows.

After clicking on the Mix tab, you can start creating your lesson or adding interactive elements. The biggest change for education is the ability to add assessments. At any time, you can slip in a quiz on its own page. There are formats for free response and multiple choice. The items are extremely well integrated into the program.

After typing the question into the box and kind of answer or possible responses, it’s ready to be used in class or even for a student who is remotely connected. This makes it perfect for keeping a student who is sick or missed class for a school event from falling behind. The teacher can add hints and set the assessment up for multiple attempts.

How about adding a talking head on-screen? Mix lets you record your own selfies for the class to see in a window. It’s best to use the system’s Web cam, and the video looks good on-screen. Alternatively, you can add a screen shot from the Web, an app or just about anything, including – for technophobes among us – a photo of a chalked-up blackboard. Alternatively, some lessons just need a voice-over, explaining what’s going on.

Anything within Mix can be marked up and annotated in your choice of 10 colors and a variety of pen styles, including several different colored highlighting, creating a virtual whiteboard. But, this works best with a pen-enabled computer. I used a Surface Pro to create two simple Mix lessons over a three week period with video, audio, images, assessments and video.

Mix cA hidden bonus is that Mix can use existing curriculum material from places like Khan Academy, CK12 and – my favorite – University of Colorado’s PHET science and math simulations. Look for GeoGebra’s math content to be added soon. It’s ambitious, but Microsoft is trying to create an educational ecosystem that will make Mix a powerful teaching tool with the ability to grab music, maps, artwork, labs and embedded interactive apps. At the moment, it is more promise than reality, but time will tell as the company adds more partners and content.

When everything’s done, you can leave it as a PowerPoint presentation to give to students or post on a school site for them to download. But, the world does not live by Office alone, so Mix projects can be streamed to any system with a recent Web browser or saved as an MP4 video. The only requirements to play Mix shows is that the system can handle HTML 5 and Java Script.

Teachers can share Mix lessons, so they don’t have to reinvent the wheel every day at school. At the moment, there are several intriguing shows available, including ones on grammar, statistics and physics, that demonstrate the potential. They are generally between about 15- and 200-megabytes for a 15 to 20 minute presentation, so they can take a minute or so to download.

Overall, Mix is an interesting and innovative half-step forward in the state of the art for teaching, but Microsoft will need to add a variety of content before Mix will start to be truly useful in the classroom. From curriculum to multimedia providers, Mix’s potential can only be fulfilled if the app is fleshed out with more content. Only then, will it become a must-have in the classroom. By contrast, Adobe’s Voice, which only allows authoring on an iPad, includes art, music and a huge library of clip art, but lacks the connection to curriculum and the ability to add assessments.

The program has several online how-to videos to help ease the transition to a Mix classroom. There are several samples available that hint at the potential of this powerful new multimedia tool. Over time, I hope Mix grows broad and deep enough to help teachers teach.


Mix logo

Microsoft Mix


+ Free add-on to PowerPoint

+ Adds interactive elements and assessments

+ Can add lively curriculum elements

+ Small download

+ Can share lessons

+ Export as video


- Need current PowerPoint

- Short on content



Freebee Friday: Summer Learning

Open ed get ready mathWhy let kids stand still or forget what they learned during the school year over summer? OpenEd’s Get Ready series has put together a summertime curriculum for pre-K through 5th grade students that cover items like commonly confused words, how vaccines are made and manipulating money. The lessons, which come from PBS, the Khan Academy, uClass and others, can be run on just about any computer and whenever the student wants to.


First Grade 

Second Grade 

Third Grade 

Fourth Grade 

Fifth Grade 

Freebee Friday: On Deck

Haiku deckSadly, using slides to teach is an art that few teachers have mastered. Haiku Deck makes it easier by automatically formatting a presentation and keeping you from trying to squeeze in more words than students are likely to be able to digest. The program has access to 40-million pieces of art to illustrate your ideas and you can share the show in a variety of programs. The iPad app is a freebee and Haiku can be used online.

Freebee Friday: The World, a Stat at a Time

Stat planetA great way to teach about geography, population trends and statistics is to fire up StatPlanet’s free application. It presents a map of the world and lets you pick and choose regions or countries and examine their demographic trends, including population, growth and urban growth. It not only presents the raw numbers and graphs them, but the program can go back in time with more than 100 years of data.



Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in Tech Tools are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.