A student screencast showing how the Alice language teaches programming concepts using simple menus. Both Alice and StoryTelling Alice are freeware programs. (This video is captioned.)
Even the most tech savvy teachers face challenges when it comes to selecting and implementing the right tools to enhance instruction. One of the biggest: Engaging students in rigorous and relevant learning using tools they’re already accustomed to amidst the ocean of potential distractions provided by the web. Overcoming this obstacle requires developing fresh and exciting projects that utilize these tools.
Of course the biggest roadblock most of us face is funding. For many teachers, tight budgets don’t allow us access to everything on our classroom or computer lab wish list. Simple solutions exist, however, that allow educators to engage students in exciting experiences using technology without breaking the bank. Here we’ll explore ten free tech tools that promote student engagement and critical and creative thinking across several subject areas.
1. iTalc. A free lab management solution, iTalc allows instructors to monitor what students are viewing on their monitors and limit access to potential distractions. This software also provides the teacher with the ability to access student stations remotely or to share their screen with the class. There are several benefits to using iTalc in a computer lab classroom including the promotion of safe web surfing, directing student focus toward learning goals by eliminating distractions, and enhancing instruction by enabling students to view lessons and demos on their own screen."
2. Gimp. One of the most robust freeware graphics and photo editing programs, Gimp includes most of the standard features found in Adobe Photoshop including layers, brushes, filters, and more making it an excellent choice for projects ranging from graphic design and photo-manipulation to animation. This alternative to expensive graphics suites is equally as effective as a platform for teaching valuable technical and design related skills.
3. SketchUp. This 3-D modeling program has potential applications in a variety of disciplines and is available both in a full-featured “Pro” version as well as a free “Basic” version. While the SketchUp Pro includes advanced features, the basic version provides all the features needed for most classroom uses. The intuitive interface and simple tools enable basic users to construct complex structures in a matter of minutes. Students no longer need craft supplies and shoe boxes to create dioramas as they can easily reconstruct scenes from a book or historical events right in the program. Besides the built-in tools for creating models, the software also provides access to the 3-D Warehouse, a huge collection of free models ranging from famous landmarks to furniture. SketchUp could also be used to create models of molecules or cells for a science class or to help explain geometric concepts for a math class. What’s more? SketchUp offers teachers free licenses for the pro version of their product.
4. StoryTelling Alice. Create interactive 3-D animations using simple programming with this free storytelling tool. Students pick a scene and characters from a diverse library and develop an action-packed script along with dialog using speech bubbles. Students can also set characters to perform specific actions when clicked and move the camera’s point of view using the cursor keys. Applications of StoryTelling Alice range from creating comic strips to constructing complex interactive games. This program is an instant hit with students and is an excellent tool for teaching students about story elements as well as fundamentals of programming.