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Freebee Friday: Sentence Helpers

GrammarWe all need a refresher class in grammar and reducing our reliance on sentence fragments. Hartford’s Capital Community College Foundation has a great interactive page that can help. It has everything from guides that explain the parts of a sentence to quizzes and lessons on how to use a dictionary. If you don’t have 45 minutes to use it in a class, feel free to tell your students about it as a reference page for when they’re (their) not sure which (witch) word to use.


Fake News, No

MyonmyON News is for classes that want to explore news and current events while skipping the attention-grabbing fake variety. Under the surface, MyON News uses the News-O-Matic platform for assembling stories and presenting the material in a digital format for K-through-8th grade students and teachers to read and discuss. Each article is reviewed by a psychologist and is available in three reading levels in English as well as in Spanish; a Teacher’s Guide can help the news to fit into the school’s curriculum.

The ABCs of Phonics

IXL_Learning_Analytics_Trouble_Spots_ScreenshotIXL Learning’s pre-K Language Arts program has been updated and expanded with a greater emphasis on phonics as the building blocks of reading and literacy. The curriculum focuses on adaptive learning that adjusts to the student’s needs so that everybody learns at their optimum pace. Its teacher-based IXL Analytics can not only track where each student stands next to expectations and the rest of the class but identify those in need of extra help.


Planting a New Bulb

Bulb cropFace it, the traditional report card with its series of letter or numeric grades hides as much as it reveals to principals, students and parents alike. Bulb attempts to change that dynamic with the ability to bring together a variety of documents, video and images to create a better picture of each student’s time at school and more.

Equally good for letting parents know of their child’s success, problems and progress, the Bulb portfolio can be shared with a variety of third parties, from guidance counselors to college admissions officials. Best of all, it’s quick, easy and can be free to use.

To get started, there’s a free trial, which includes 1GB of storage space. While this might be good for a year’s worth of schoolwork, it limits you to a single group, like one class, extracurricular activity or sports team.

The upgrade Bulb plan costs $9 a year and includes 9GB of storage space, probably enough for a student’s time at primary or secondary school. It allows users to join up to 9 groups, can embed Web pages and there’s a cool presentation mode for showing off a project.

Most important to schools and districts, Bulb has discounts and special features for educational institutions. It not only allows the use of Google log in but you can grab items from a Google Drive account. Best of all, the school package lets students and teachers set up an unlimited number of groups, so that you can create ad hoc groups for things like field trips, homework assignments or graduation.

Getting started couldn’t be easier with a slew of online resources, tips and samples to get you and the class up to speed. Once you have material to arrange, it takes a minute to create your first pages. In a fresh page, type in a title and explanation of what its contents are, both of which can be corrected and updated later.

Bulb three itemsStart adding anything from images and video to documents and Web address into the emerging portfolio. Items can reside in an Asset Library or on GoogleDrive, but not Box or DropBox. They need to be selected one at a time, which can be tedious for filling out a page with artwork or photos.

The system’s response was good with minimal lag time and seemed more like a local app that one that’s composed in the cloud. It works with a range of file types and anything on the portfolio page can be arranged as left- or right-justified or centered. Images can be cropped and resized as well as have captions below. It took about three minutes to make a competent portfolio with dozens of items, much quicker than PowerPoint could have accomplished the task.

Bulb is great at arranging and showing items, but lacks tools for creating or altering content. For instance, there’s nothing for marking up an item or adding a frame around a video or image. It lacks an audio recorder for creating voice notes to explain or elaborate on items. 

When you’re ready, click on Preview to see what you’ve created, then click on Presentation to show it to others full screen. You can also share the material through a variety of social media outlets or by emailing it. You can’t export the Bulb portfolio, though, to send someone a flash drive or DVD or to archive.

Bulb shareThe school edition allows teachers to view and monitor a class’s portfolios. There’s also an innovative box at the bottom of the screen that lets anyone viewing a page to type questions directly to the author.

Rather than having to load apps and keep them updated, the beauty is that Bulb is 100-percent Web-based and works with popular browsers and a variety of platforms. It works equally well on an iPad or PC as it does on a Chromebook or Mac.

That said, Bulb takes some getting used to. For instance, there’s no Save button. A big step forward is that nothing can ever be unintentionally lost because Bulb stores everything put into its interface. Everything is securely stored online in Bulb’s Asset Library.

From videos of the spring concert to a programming project, Bulb makes it incredibly easy to accumulate everything digital that a student accomplishes. By the time graduation day comes around, it’s a great way to show a student’s range of achievements and skills or just keep a class on the same page.


Bulb present


$9/year (9GB limit); district pricing available

+ Free trial

+ Easy to add items

+ Shareable content

+ Can consolidate a variety of material

+ Large storage potential


- Can’t export portfolio

- Lacks creation tools

3, 2, 1 BLAST-OFF

Vhs space stationaNot many of us could expect to hitch a ride on a rocket to the International Space Station, but the Virtual High School has something that’s nearly as good. VHS’s 15-week Space Station Academy Course is a middle-school science curriculum that simulates a trip to low earth orbit with a variety of lessons that are thinly disguised as missions. Each class has a variety of videos, interviews with astronauts and interactive elements to help students feel they really are in the space station.

It all starts with pre-flight training that has the class go over the design of the orbiting structure, learn its scientific objectives and get trained on how orbits, rockets and weightless life works. It culminates in a simulated Soyuz launch to the ISS.

Vhs space stationbOnce the preliminaries are out of the way, the next few lessons concern the actual daily activities on the space station as well as learning about the zero-g environment and what happens to the body in space. Other activities include fixing the station’s solar array and making a robotic arm.

Finally, it’s time to go home and the post-visit phase includes lessons on reentry and the heat that builds up on the spaceships hull from friction with the atmosphere. The sequence ends with a review of all the concepts learned on this mission and the creation of a report that summarizes the activities.


Freebee Friday: Toontastic, Take 2

ToontasticAppIconPlayThe latest in teaching story telling (and listening) is Google’s Toontastic 3D, an app that can turn anyone into an animator. Just draw a few figures, link them with a story and narrate the content and the app does the rest. Available for Android and iOS phones and tablets, Toontastic 3D lets kids move characters and objects on the screen while adding music and a voice over. It’s perfect for everything from creative writing projects to a replacement for the onerous “what I did over the vacation essay”.

Freebee Friday: Online Algebra (and Calculus too)

DmozLooking for an online way to augment your math classroom? DMOZ has a slew of digital math classes that range from an animated look at the Telegraph equation to how to use the FOIL technique (you know: First, Outside, Inside, Last) to distribute a complex equation. Because DMOZ aggregates the content of others, the actual lessons range from incredible good to so-so.


Best of ISTE: itslearning Gets Smart

Its learningAs if the itslearning platform wasn’t good enough, the designers have gone back to the drawing board and revamped it with a new look that makes learning easier and more fluid. The interface has a sharper look that resembles an actual classroom and getting around it is simpler. Plus, so that nobody’s left out, it now includes an internal instant messaging portal for sending updates and questions back and forth. The service now works with just about any mobile device that a teacher, student or school can provide.


Best of ISTE: Instant Lessons

PivotedIn addition to Capstone’s extensive library of K-12 ebooks and digital curriculum, the company’s pivotEd now has 500 lessons for grades three-through-six. It doesn’t matter if your school uses PCs, iPads or Androids because the Capstone lessons and content can be delivered across the board. The first batch emphasizes collaborative learning with lessons like Classifying Mammals and Oceans Under Threat. Booth 1728.

Freebee Friday: Meaningful Minutes

Science in 60The Science in 60 series from the Los Alamos National Lab is an excellent way to introduce complex ideas to a class in a short period. There are episodes on mini satellites, explosives, influenza and arctic meteorites. All are told from the perspective of the scientists involved and give students a rare look into what a career as a scientist might be like while giving them valuable information and concepts. They are all just over a minute long and live on Youtube.


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