Top Education Technology Tools - Q2 2012

Top Education Technology Tools - Q2 2012

Here are the edtech tools that readers checked out most frequently this past year.

By Leonard Medlock     Dec 19, 2012

Top Education Technology Tools - Q2 2012

BEST OF S'COOL TOOLS Q2 2012: In ES-Instruct Edition 044, we took a look at the most fascinating s'cool tools featured in the newsletter throughout the first quarter of 2012 -- those tools that had you clicking and sharing away. It's the same drill this week. Below we've included those extra s'cool tools from the second quarter that are worthy of another mention. The alphabetized list, categorized by price, is considerably longer -- remember we barely had any skin in the game last February! Stay tuned for the Q3 2012 review as well as a comprehensive guide to all 2012 s'cool tools coming in the New Year!


101 QUESTIONS: Math teacher-turned PhD student Dan Meyer debuts an "alpha" site, 101questions, where you can post enigmatic pictures and see what kind of questions (particularly mathematical ones) the images provoke. "Great questions for great classrooms" is the unofficial tagline, Mr. Meyer says. Math classes are heavy on a lot of things, but perplexing questions isn't generally one of them. The top 10 page shows the most perplexing photos and videos currently uploaded. If you show students any of those, there are good odds they'll wonder a question, one that will require some math to answer. That's the math teacher's cue.

ANIMATESTAR: A simple animation tool offered by, which makes educational games and apps for students in grades K-5. Students can make up to 40 separate drawings, each representing a single frame. Young animators have 33 colors and 6 pen tools, with the option to carry drawings over from frame to frame. Completed animations can be saved as a .gif file for sharing or embedding on blogs and websites. This site is a solo effort by a former teacher, who calls it a "perpetual beta"

CASSIOPEIA PROJECT: Named for the distant Milky Way constellation, Cassiopeia provides high definition science education videos covering General Science, Chemistry, Physics, and Biology. The videos, produced in 2008, are fairly old by today's tech proliferation standards but free to use and available in several formats. Produced in the context of building a time machine (Back to the Future, anyone?), the videos are created under the belief that "if you can visualize it, then understanding is not far behind." Science educators might want to take in the series over the summer and adapt the content for September classes -- the creators have provided full license to edit videos as you see fit!

DIY.ORG: Zach Klein, the founder of Vimeo (that nifty alternative to YouTube) has launched his next big thing and it’s close to our heart: DIY. It aims to be a (free) online community for kids who are part of the Maker movement. It encourages them to share pictures what they’ve made, earn “stickers” or badges for the work, and still gives parents a bit of oversight. All free and it features pretty kid-slick graphics. Aimed at the elementary school set.

MIDDLE SCHOOL CHEMISTRY: The next time a student tries the "dog ate my homework" excuse, use it as a teachable moment! Thanks to the folks from the American Chemical Society, you can now explain what happens when a dog eats homework, and in not so flattering terms, why they should be able to recover it. The ChemMatters publications are a drop in the bucket however, compared to Middle School Chemistry. The ACS-powered web site offers inquiry-based lesson plans for grades 6-8 Chemistry. Each lesson plans is accompanied by flash-based multimedia to help illustrate the concepts within. If authorship by the ACS isn't enough to satisfy the assessment trolls, educators can also search by state and grade level to see which state and national science standards align to a particular lesson.

CRASH COURSE: Move over, Sal Khan. The goofy Green brothers (John and Hank) are mapping history and biology (respectively) in a series they call Crash Course. When we first wrote about Crash Course, the Green brothers had already delivered 11 of the 40 engaging 10-minute videos they originally promised. Fast forward 6 months later and the YouTube channel sports a hair under 100 videos and millions of views (six have been added in the last two weeks). Also good: this is part of YouTube’s education channel. A little backstory here from GigaOm.

DIFFERENTIATOR: A free tool for creating differentiated learning goals. Users can construct explicit goals by choosing a thinking skill (from Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy), type of content, resources required, product outcome, and number of collaborators. Created for teachers by a teacher, Mr. Ian Byrd, who also moonlights as computer programmer.

EDUCREATIONS: Educreations aims to bring out the Sal Khan in anyone by helping them record a whiteboard-based presentations. The click and shoot interface is straightforward: choose a color, load an image, make notes, and change slides. Coming up with engaging discussion points, a-la Mr. Khan, is left up to you. Video creation is easiest on the touchscreen iPad though a lower-cost USB writing tablet and flash-enabled browser does the trick, too. Users can make their videos public and embed them in external websites, or invite their students to see them directly via the Educreation site (or iPad app).

OCEAN EXPLORER: Live webcam feeds from a 56-day exploration of deep-sea habitats in the northern part of the Gulf of Mexico, thanks to the Ocean Explorer from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

GAPMINDER: If you’re unfamiliar, with Mr. Hans Rosling and his ability to explain complex subjects brilliantly with data visualization, make a pit stop for this TED talk. Hooked? Now mosey over to Gapminder World, created by a nonprofit Stockholm foundation, and explore how to bring fact-based learning to your classroom. The sheer amount and type of data to explore is staggering but fear not: here’s a handy resource page for teachers.

HACKPAD: What do you get when you combine the collaboration capability of Google Docs, a to-do list, calendar, and digital bulletin board? Well we imagine that's a little different for everyone but chances are it would look something like hackpad.

HISTORYPIN: An interesting mixin of Pinterest and history brought to you by not-for-profit, We Are What We Do, in partnership with Google. Users are invited to explore existing history pins -- geotagged photos described in historical context -- create their own, or create collections and tours of multiple history pins. A great way for history teachers to bring history lessons alive, or students to explore their own local history through inquiry-based learning.

KERPOOF: Aside from the über-cool name, Kerpoof offers a suite of digital media and literacy tools to tell stories, make movies and pictures, or describe images. The award-winning website also provides lesson plans appropriate for grades K-8. Administrators may especially appreciate the mappings for state and national standards.

NUMBERPHILE: We confess that this one is a simple and guilty pleasure: no assessments, no data--just a charming and quirky collection of videos about numbers. One of our favs: the legendary “Graham’s number.” Who knew?

OPEN LECTURES:On the heels of Khan Academy, Coursera, Udacity, MITx, and TED-Ed, OpenLectures is taking to a slightly different approach to free online education. Each of the 300 videos is offered under the CreativeCommons BY-ND 3.0 license, encouraging full use of the videos for almost any endeavor. Even more unique is the team behind it all. Move over Sal Khan, Anant Agrawal, and Sebastian Thrun. OpenLectures is run almost completely by high schoolers and college freshman and sophomores. Of course, there's also generous support from the Singapore Economic Development Board and other national organizations. We imagine that a similar initiative could arise in the U.S. from the 20 under 20 Thiel Fellowship--except most of the remarkable youngsters on team Singapore are headed to college.

P2PU SCHOOL OF ED: A half dozen programs, all free for the taking, are part of this pilot program. The program writes: “It's about connecting, collaborating, and creating, not just reading or studying. All courses in this school are free, open-licensed (CC BY), and online. You can use the content in them for any purpose you like as long as you cite the source.” Among the collaborators for one literacy program: the National Writing Project.

PTable: Bookmark this one for next year's chemistry syllabus. The interactive periodic table neatly splices in Wikipedia descriptions of the chemicals and their properties (including the most recently rechristened element, number 116, Livermorium.) Betsy concedes she has her own favorite periodic table site, Theo Gray's magnificent pictorial collection of the elements. (You can also pay up for a copy of the hardback book, the richly featured ipad edition, or a sturdy set of placemats!)

REFRACTION: A free online game for teaching fractions. It isn’t obviously about fractions but students absorb the concepts as they play the game. It runs in a browser (using Adobe Flash), lets teachers and students “analyze play data” and has slick graphics. Refraction is a development effort led by professor Zoran Popovic at the University of Washington and last year took top prize from Japan’s Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology for the best work in the primary school category. Keep an eye on this one!

REAL WORLD MATH: A comprehensive, practical guide from Mr. Thomas J. Petra on using Google Earth to teach and demonstrate mathematical concepts in the real world. Includes lesson suggestions and technology tutorials.

SCRATCH: Developed at the MIT Media Lab to help younger students understand and create simple applications, the now venerable programming language boasts 950K registered users and 2M+ projects since its inception in 2006. Projects typically include interactive stories, animations, games, music, and art that can be shared on the web, but resources and lesson plan sites have formed throughout the interwebs to make it applicable for any subject. The visual nature of the language makes it easy for students to practice design and problem-solving skills, creative thinking, systems thinking, and collaboration.

SHOWME: ShowMe is an online learning community for user-generated whiteboard mini-lectures. Lessons are created with the free ShowMe iPad app, which allows users to embed text and images in addition to whiteboarding. You can then share them, as thousands have, making ShowMe a trove of free lessons in math, science, language arts, foreign languages and social studies. The ShowMe blog offers use cases and tutorials to bring lesson producers up to speed. Users (say, students) can watch your lessons, or add friends (say, other teachers or even students) and subscribe to their newly viewed or created videos. Many of the sites lessons are created in the classroom by students and posted to their teacher's account as a reference for other students (and celebration of quality work!).

TIMBUKTU LABS: Best Design at Microsoft LAUNCH EDU. An iPad magazine for kids--a lovely, lithe collection of stories, art and activities for kids, beautifully displayed on the iPad. It bills itself as stories that kids can share with their parents. But if your school has iPads, Timbuktu has marvelous content for story time. Aimed at the elementary school set.

VISCOSITY EXPLORER: Our friends at LateNite Labs will surely get a kick out of this flash-based game that allows players to explore viscosity of liquids through the time-tested ball drop experiment. For the two beakers, choose different liquids and/or different temperatures, press drop, and let gravity do the rest. A great way to introduce the concept and allow students to experiment without the setup and cleanup.

VOCABGRABBER: Straight from the source: “Vocabgrabber analyzes any text you're interested in, generating lists of the most useful vocabulary words and showing you how those words are used in context.” Great for grokking articles, fiction pieces, and technical papers.


BIBLIONASIUM: Created by the mother of two elementary school students, Biblionasium is a private social network for children under age 13 to explore, review, and share reading recommendations with peers. Described as "part kids social network, part parent's guide, and part teacher's tool," Biblionasium's goal is to create an engaging space for students to develop "discipline, practice, goal setting, and rewards in achieving success" with reading competency and understanding. Teachers and parents can sign up here.

EXIT TICKET: From Leadership Public Schools and Full Circle Fund, ExitTicket is a classroom and feedback system designed to work on any smartphone or tablet that enables students and teachers to get real-time feedback any time during class. Teachers can select questions from a database or choose their own as the basis for quizzes and polls. ExitTicket really shines as a pulse-test of whether most students understood the core of a lesson--before they walk out the door. ExitTicket is currently being beta-tested in two Leadership Public Schools, and is slated to come online at a third in Oakland.

LEARNSTREET: Best Technology at Microsoft LAUNCH EDU. A program aimed at helping people learn to code. This isn't exactly elementary school stuff; it's more likely something that older students should try after school. There are also other applications that encourage novice coders (Treehouse, CodeHero and Codecademy spring to mind). But LearnStreet, which is just beginning to open up to beta-testers, impressed the judges with a smooth interface and thoughtful exercises to work on coding skills.

NEARPOD: This tool is in beta but promises an intriguing opportunity for teachers working with iPads in 1:1 classrooms. How it works: Nearpod lets teachers using iPads create materials that they want to share with students; share the content with students, who can respond or interact with it. As the students work, the teacher can monitor what they are doing on their individual iPads and keep track of their progress. EdTech Digest picked this as its top collaboration tool.

PATHBRITE: A resume is so 20th century -- or at least that’s what the folks at San Francisco-based Pathbrite contend. This beta site lets students to build comprehensive online portfolios that document their achievements and build pathways that offer recommendations, goal-tracking and benchmarking services. Students can use these pathways to differentiate themselves and their accomplishments; admissions officers and employers can use these portfolios for a more holistic view of candidates. A great way to document those 21st century skills that don’t show up on standardized tests!

SNAPIFY: Lovers of Google’s Chrome browser should add this plug-in, asap. Snapify provides on-demand search on words and phrases on Web pages, returning links, definitions, video, tweets, and opening up a window to chat about the subject. Potentially this is a great tool for challenging students to be more than blind consumers of online content--but it can also set them off on delightful excursions.

SPARKFUN DOE: Colorado-based SparkFun Electronics, which claims to be the “largest manufacturer of Open Source Hardware in the world,” and so provides cool gadgetry to hardcore engineers and DIYers alike, recently unveiled its very own Department of Education. The current highlight of the site is the growing list of free curriculum materials. We imagine this stuff will have Physics teachers drooling. Serious DIYers should also find it helpful, too. There are plans for tutorials and classes to help newbies get up to speed. And nice know: educators can enjoy 20% off SparkFun products (over $50) for the classroom.

THEMEEFY: Centered around the concept of knowledge objects, Themeefy allows users to curate content from Google, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, and Facebook into an e-magazine. Think Tumblr meets Pinterest with a little more structure. Curated creations can then be shared via social networks or embedded in blogs. If you're already over-curating, be sure to check out the Themeefy library for a number of e-magazines covering STEM, Humanities, Arts, and Foreign Language.

THREERING: A tool that lets teachers and students create digital portfolios using cell phones and iPads. A nifty tool if you're looking for alternative assessment strategies, too. A good review of ThreeRing by Ms. Audrey Watters here.


EDISTORM: A cross between Thomas Edison and brainstorm according to the site, Edistorm provides a canvas for users to brainstorm and collaborate via sticky notes. Some advanced features include the ability to vote on ideas and sort by votes. Admins (read: teachers) also have the ability to delete notes. You can take part in public discussions for free; an educator’s subscription is available, too. Mr. Mark Brumley (@markbrumley) provides a nice tutorial here on how to brainstorm a writing assignment for To Kill a Mockingbird.

GRADECAM: Finally, one additional company that left the teachers in the room swooning: GradeCam. The freemium software turns just about any camera (including the one on your iPad) into a device that captures the scribbled (and bubbled) results from a quiz in machine readable data. We call that a paper killer!

TREEHOUSE: Treehouse's mission is to make it easy for anyone in the world to teach web design and development. The site includes over 700 training videos providing instruction in web development (HTML, CSS, Javascript) and iOS development (iOS4, iOS5, Xcode, Objective-C). Each unit includes one or two free videos. For $25, you get access to the entire library; fork over another $25 and you get access to project videos -- start to finish tutorials on creating real-world applications.

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