Thursday, June 30, 2011

Top Ten Free Educational Technology Applications I Learned (More) About at #ISTE11

By Tzvi Pittinsky

The following posting is cross-posted on

Top Ten lists are always a fun but challenging exercise. It is fun to collect and share new ideas, Web 2.0 applications, resources etc. That is what I use Twitter for all the time. (As an aside, I have started using Twitter for all my social bookmarking instead of sites like Delicious. With a web app called all my tweets with links are fully archived and searchable.) The challenge of Top Ten lists is limiting yourself to ten resources. For this posting, I will limit my list to new resources I learned about at the ISTE 2011 Conference or innovative applications of resources that I already use. Here it goes in descending order.

10. Avatar Creator: This is a cute web app for creating avatars that looks exactly like the Miis from the Nintendo Wii. I learned about this from Tammy Worcester in her excellent presentation on Tammy's Top Twenty Favorite Web Tools. I have already used this to change my Twitter profile pic. I showed it to my kids and they loved it too.

  • Applications for education: You might want to have students create avatars for various characters in the book their reading or in a story from Tanach. My daughter pointed out that you can't change the avatar's clothes or background so you might want to have the students save their avatar as a JPG with a transparent background and then put it into a PowerPoint or Google Presentation slide complete with a setting from the story.

9. U.R.L. Shorteners: and Anyone who uses Twitter knows about U.R.L. or website shorteners designed to shorten longer website so you can fit them into the 140 character limit of twitter. However, these two are different. They allow you to shorten a number of websites into one website address.

  •, which I also learned about from Tammy Worcester, lets you navigate with an arrow on the top of the page between each site. 
  •,  which I learned about from fellow Avi Chai ISTE participant and technogenius Adam Simon, gives you all the URLs in a list. Please note that Bitly requires you to login to create a bundle of shortened links. 
  • For this posting, I have shortened all of the links on this Top Ten in and in Bitly Bundles: After using both apps, I would say that is more user friendly for the student accessing the links due to the top navigation bar while Bitly Bundles is more reliable in creating links. My Bitly bundle worked the first time while I had to play with a number of times to get all of the links to work.
  • Applications for education: Both these tools are perfect for online research assignments or WebQuests. All you need to give the students is one easy link and they can access all your sites. This is also a necessity when creating QR codes which I discuss below. QR codes require a short website address in order to simplify the code and scan more reliably. Either of these sites would be great to shorten links before converting them into the QR code for scanning.

8. QR Code Generator: This is a simple QR code generator. You paste the website address (which you have already shortened using the tools above) or a phone number, text, or SMS message. This site then coverts it into a QR code graphic that can be scanned with a number of free apps available for various smartphones. For a basic tutorial of QR codes, you can look at this QR Code Implementation Guide from Vicki Davis.

  • Applications for Education: Adam Simon told me about a wonderful project that he made using QR Codes with his Jewish History students. Students in grades 9-12 populating a giant timeline from the Jewish Year 0 through 5771 based on the time period they were learning. Instead of posting physical artifacts on the timeline which would have been way too cluttered and impossible to manage, they posted QR Codes. These codes could link to rich muli-media content the students created online. Whenever students scanned each QR code with their smartphone, they learned more about each time period. This is an awesome idea and proved to me that QR codes in education are not just a new shtick but can truly be used to do innovative things that cannot be easily accomplished any other way. I am looking forward to thinking up and hearing about more examples of utilizing QR codes in Jewish education. 

7. Sketching: This is an app to make sketches online. What sets this app apart, besides the fact that it's free and very easy to use, is that you can embed it on any wiki or blog and play back these sketch back to watch how it was drawn. Here is an example created by my 10 year old daughter right after I showed her the app upon returning from the conference.

  • Applications for Education: For an art class, this tool is invaluable. The teacher or her students can draw with a mouse or with their fingers on a Smart Board or on individual iPads. They can then demonstrate to others how they created the sketch so everyone can study the technique used. This would also be great for projects in Tanach where students are asked to create a sketch illustrating a specific story, event, or verse.

6. Real-time Student Response: This real-time student response system is very similar to Poll Everywhere which I was already familiar with and have utilized to great effect with my classes. (For more information, see my blog posting on Poll Everywhere in Techrav.) What sets Wiffiti apart is that the student responses, which are generated using text messaging on their cell phone, are displayed as notes on a wall with a background of your choosing. You can see an example here from the workshop that I went on
7 Free Mobile Participation Tools for Classrooms given by Michael Dreyfus.

  • Applications for Education: This would be great as a student response tool especially when you do not want student responses threaded based on time of response as they are in Poll Everywhere. Every response is always on the page and you merely need to navigate to it to zoom in on it. This would be great for brainstorming ideas or answering open ended questions in real-time.

5. Online Graphing Calculator: What sets this apart besides the fact that it's web based so students don't have to worry about forgetting their TI calculators is the beauty of the graphs that are created. Links to these graphs can also be easily shared and embedded. Here is an example of the graph of a circle with a radius of 4.

  • Applications for Education: This can be used for teacher or student created graphs to share in an online course management system, wiki, or Google site.

4. Google Trips: and I am sure that many of you have already used Google Maps and Google Earth both for personal and educational use. These two websites contain ideas for creating educational trips using these tools. One can use My Places in Google Maps to easily add placemarkers which can also be embedded with rich multi-media including text, pictures, Youtube videos, and links. Dr. Alice Christie who created the Google Treks recommends using Google Maps over Google Earth since it is much less taxing on network resources, totally browser based, and can be launched in Google Earth anyways.

  • Applications for Education: This would be great for student projects in Tanach, history, science, or English, where students created maps with placemarkers describing the various significant places appearing in the unit studied. Both websites referenced above contain many examples of this.

3. Notetaking: This site allows you to save notes anywhere complete with text, files, pictures, and even snapshots of websites. These notes can be accessed on your PC or Mac, smartphone, or on the web and whenever you change a note in one place it immediately syncs to all your other devices. As Tammy Worcester says, you can use Dropbox to organize your files and Evernote to organize your life.

  • Applications for Education: To help our teachers and students get organized and never miss an idea again. Students can use this for notetaking in school with or without wireless connectivity, putting notes in folders based on subject, and notes will automatically sync everywhere the next time they are connected to the Internet.

2. Global Communications: I know that this is a tool that most of us, including myself, already know about and use extensively. What I saw in a presentation by Alan November was how to use this as a global learning tool. A school in Boston, Massachusetts partnered with a school in England for an eighth grade engineering class. They had four different Skype sessions going on simultaneously as different teams learned together in real-time how to solve problems like creating more efficient wind turbines. The students in England were more advanced in their scientific knowledge so they tutored the students from the United States. Students from Boston commented that they learned more from their peers across the ocean than they would have ever learned from their teachers since they were kids and spoke the same language.

  • Applications for Education: This presentation was a real eye opener for me on the potential for global communications. We already have partnerships in my school with a number of Israeli high schools but I would like to expand and deepen these relationships into more real-time collaboration and create partnerships with other Jewish day schools throughout the Diaspora.

1. Screen and Videosharing: If you do not already use Jing, you must give it a try. It is a free PC or Mac app to take a screenshot with visual explanations. An example appears below. What I did not know before Tammy Worcester's presentation is that you can also record videocasts of everything you are doing on your screen with audio explanations. I cannot wait to start using this with my teachers.

  • Applications for Education: This is a great way to show your students "exactly what you are seeing" on the page to give step by step instructions or to create step-by-step video instructions as well. Students can also create instructions for their peers on how to certain tasks since the best way to truly learn something is to go through the steps in order to teach it to someone else.
This ends my Top Ten List from the ISTE Conference 2011. I welcome you to add some of your favorite free educational applications by commenting to this posting! 

I would like to take this opportunity to publicly thank the Avi Chai foundation for sponsoring my trip to ISTE. It was an eye opening experience. The chance to share this experience with my peers in Jewish Educational Technology through the Avi Chai cohort greatly deepened and enriched my learning and thinking. Hopefully we can get together in the future for similar experiences.


Rivky said...

TR - thanks for this practical summary. It is a great resource for furthering the conversation.

BubbyT said...

Thank you so much. It brings back memories of an awesome conference!!