Throughout the school year, I often reflect on the changes I have made with regard to instructional strategies. This year has been biggie for utilizing web tools and software in and out of the classroom. As a consequence, I have been more connected to student’s real learning needs. I have also been able to effectively handle the massive ‘data pile’ of student work and assessments more efficiently.
1- FIREFOX WEB BROWSER AND PLUG-INS
Why: Firefox is so feature-rich it’s impossible to capture why it’s indispensable as a web browser. The fact that CTRL-N loads a new page automatically, the fact that with one glance I can see what’s up with the weather (plug-in), and that I can read RSS feeds in SAGE (add-on) without leaving the browser are three important reasons why I love it.
2- GMAIL and GOOGLE WEB DOCS
Why: G-mail tracks Emails as ‘conversations’ this is extremely helpful. It’s labeling feature is primo which reduces the possibility of losing that important Email. Spam is kept way down, too.
Web Docs is the best thing that could have happened to me. Now, I do much of my spreadsheet and database management online. No need to transport files from computer to computer.
Why: Makemusic, Inc. has cornered the music education market. It’s Impact grade-keeping system should become standard for all music program assessments before long. With thousands of exercises and music files to practice along with Smartmusic is serious stuff. And, oh yeah, students can Email their assessment data from home!!
4- CANON LIDE SCANNER
Why: I promised myself that when the digital age was apparent that I would ‘digitize everything’!! This was about 8 years ago when scanners were way slower than they are now and when 8 MB was a tremendous amount of space. This is, of course, no longer the case. Scanning documents (student work, for example) takes seconds instead of minutes now and takes up considerably less space. Also, Finale Notation software (which I also use) allows importing of scanned music.
5- PDF CREATOR
Why: It creates a PDF of any file you have. For free. End of story.
Get PDF Creator
6- FOXIT READER
Why: It reads the PDF documents I have created using PDF CREATOR (scanned student work, for example again) and it takes up considerably less space on my hard drive than Adobe Reader. It’s also less intrusive.
7- BLOGGER 2
Why: Once Blogger Beta was released, blogging became so much more user-friendly which meant that kids could handle it. I use blogger as an informational resource for parents and students. Links include calendar of events, student assignment blogs and general information about our program. Students keep blogs as alternatives to practice plans. They answer specific music-based questions via their blogs and are free to comment on my blog and their classmate’s blogs. This has given students ownership of their work for which they seem grateful.
8- RSS READERS: SAGE READER, BLOGLINES and NETVIBES
Why: XML files rule. RSS has allowed me to scan news, education and music tech headlines quickly and easily, keeping me in the know. I also subscribe to my student’s blogs via RSS Readers such as Sage Reader (available for use with Firefox), Bloglines, Google Reader and Netvibes. As soon as students post a new item to their blogs I receive it in the Reader in real time.
9- i-TUNES AND MEDIA MONKEY
Why: iTunes- Excellent and quick importing and burning of CD’s.
Media Monkey- Extremely easy editing of ID-3 data and exporting of music lists. Supports flexible organization of any music collection and allows quick file conversion. Lifetime upgrade costs $35. Well worth it.
10- DIGITAL RECORDER-OLYMPUS-VN-3100PC
Why: Do you ever have a million ideas in your head after teaching a class or reading something compelling but you don’t really have the time to get it down? This is where a handheld digital recorder comes into play. In my case, I would speak into it after each class. I would record what we did, issues that came up and what the homework assignment was and what the follow up should be next class complete with resources I might want to consider. I’d be able to accomplish this before the next class arrived. Later that day or week, during free time, I could listen back and organize my follow up lessons.
Another excellent use is to record your performing ensembles on the fly. Then plug it into a nearby stereo for instant class-assessment. There's is nothing better at capturing music student's attention than a performance of what they REALLY sound like. My mantra is Digital Recorders Don't Lie.
So there you are: The top ten web/tech tools that transformed my teaching this year. Go have a great summer.