Free Technology for Teachers (www.freetech4teachers.com) is a must-see for teachers interested in integrating technology into their classroom practice. The blog by Richard Byrnes, a Maine social studies teacher, is chock full of the latest and greatest Internet tools for teachers. He explores obvious Web services from National Geographic and Google to less-known sites such as Starfall where younger readers can participate in free interactive activities that can help them improve their reading proficiency.
Besides all the professional development resources listed on the site, Byrnes provides links to Web-based tools that teachers can integrate into their lessons or Web resources that can enrich the topics they teach. For instance, in teaching about hurricanes, you can access information that will help students track storms with Google Earth or on the National Hurricane Center (www.nhc.noaa.gov), or the students can watch videos from National Geographic called “Forces of Nature” (www.nationalgeographic.com/forcesofnature) or learn about “Ten Freaky Forces of Nature” from National Geographic Kids (http://kids.nationalgeographic.com/kids).
For students who have some knowledge of earth science and geography concepts, Byrnes recommends a game called “Stop Disasters” (www.stopdisastersgame.org) from the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction. In this game, students confront natural disaster situations and come up with plans to mitigate the damage and prevent loss of life.
Teachers of younger students are not neglected either. For instance, type “reading” in the search box at the top of the page and limit the search to the blog. The results show that Byrne has reviewed hundreds of websites that help students with reading. Try Starfall (www.starfall.com) for younger students as it allows them to listen to animated characters tell stories and practice reading short stories in the “I’m Reading” section. If they are stuck on a word, students can click on it and hear it pronounced. Another site is Guys Read (www.guysread.com) dedicated to promoting reading and literacy in young boys who are reluctant readers.
Byrne also found another useful site that helps determine the readability of material found on the Internet. Twurdy (www.twurdy.com) is a search tool that helps determine the basic readability of your search results. There are three types of Twurdy searches: Just Twurdy, Simple Twurdy and Twurdy with Pop. Twurdy with Pop is the most thorough but slower search algorithm, which teachers can use to match the reading level of their students to the difficulty level of their search results.
Many school servers usually block access to YouTube, so Byrne came up with “47 Alternatives to Using YouTube in the Classroom.” Just go to his “Favorite Resources” at the top of the page. His choices include School Tube (www.schooltube.com) where students and teachers can share videos online. Teacher Tube (www.teachertube.com) provides teacher-created videos as resources for other teachers. Vista (www.nextvista.org) is a non-profit website that contains videos that teach you to do something or explain a concept. How Stuff Works (www.howstuffworks.com) is filled with excellent educational content on almost every subject.
“My Fake Wall” (www.myfakewall.com) is a fake Facebook page where teachers can ask students to create fake profile pages for historical figures or characters in a book. You can upload images, write wall posts, add comments and “likes” and “dislikes.”
If you click on the link to Free Downloads, you’ll find “How to Do 11 Techy Things in the New School Year.” This is a free primer for teachers who want to try using more technology in the classroom but aren’t sure where and how to start.
If you want to keep abreast of the new material that Byrnes finds, you can friend him on Facebook, follow him on Twitter (twitter.com/#!/rmbyrne) or sign up on his website for updates via email and RSS feed.
This and more articles can be found on the UFT website.