2014 Top Tools for Learning

As 2014 draws to a close I thought I would check Jane Hart’s annual list of the Top 100 Tools for Learning which is always of interest; I use many of these sites.

Jane Hart, Founder of the Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies  compiled the list from the votes of over 1038 learning professionals from 61 countries worldwide. See the C4LPT site for further details including an analysis of the list. The site includes a ranked list with links to all the tools mentioned and commentaries on each.

I thought it would be interesting to see where my own favourite learning tools are in the list – and also see if any of my personal favourites are missing! Note that Jane defines a learning tool as follows “A learning tool is a tool for your own personal or professional learning or one you use for teaching or training.”
My own favourites have been favourites for quite some time, I have detailed these below with their position in The Top 100 Tools List.

Evernote (8) – an outstanding note-taking tool and something I use every day. I have a notebook for each of my classes to which I upload any resources I want for that class; I also jot down any ideas I have for each class. I can use it on any PC or my tablet or my phone. It is also a good way to share for example a list of websites with students – using a shared notebook. (Blog post on Evernote).

WordPress (6) – obviously – you are reading a WordPress blog right now! I have several other blogs, GamesStarters and for students I have created Mathematics for Students and something I am very pleased with is a blog I use to give the details of homework for each of my classes. I created ‘What was that homework?’ as a result of a survey of students across several schools where many students said that they would like homework details online. No student can ever say to me that they didn’t know what their homework was! I also have blogs on useful tools for students and teachers generally. (The very first post on this WordPress blog – which includes some useful WordPress links).

Twitter (1) – great for professional development – I have contacts in education all over the globe and have been led to many useful resources by my virtual colleagues! (Blog post on Twitter).

YouTube (3) – there are numerous videos useful for Mathematics teachers – perhaps to show in class or for students to use at home, for example the Math Centre videos or those from Khan Academy. (Videos page with many sources of Maths Videos).

Google Docs (2)– I have used Google docs to collaborate on documents such as presentations with other teachers. Using Google Forms provides an excellent  way to get feedback from a group of people, their responses are all returned to a single spreadsheet. A comprehensive manual can be downloaded here.
For an examples of  forms see this one used to collect student self-assessments of their PLTS skills development in Mathematics and this to collect student feedback on their Mathematics experience at the end of their first year with us.
I’ll sneak in the fact here that I also use Google Search (5) and Google Drive (2) all the time!

Moodle (12) – I have a Moodle course for each year group in school; each course has links to any websites that we use in class so students can investigate further themselves if they wish. VLEs are sometimes criticised for being no more than ‘filing cabinets’; I would argue what useful filing cabinets they are – containing resources chosen by teachers for their students all in one organised place. For example prior to a recent GCSE Mathematics module the relevant Moodle course received hundreds of hits as everything students needed was available, not only syllabus information and papers but worked examples that we had uploaded. It is also of course possible to use forums and quizzes on a VLE. (Digital Tools blog page on Moodle).

Slideshare (15) – it is very easy to upload presentations to this (free) presentation sharing site; the two shows above are examples. PowerPoints for students could be uploaded for example. I’ll use this category to mention that I use PowerPoint (4) all the time and that I’m pleased to see that it is still so popular; whilst Prezi (13) makes a change, it’s the content that matters, not the tools.

Diigo (20) – I have saved many hundreds of bookmarks using this social bookmarking / annotation tool; I can even find them again! There are numerous examples of Diigo lists on this site – see this on Statistics and Probability for example;  (Digital Tools blog page on bookmarking). I think it is because I find Diigo so easy to use that I still like it. Always liking the idea of a backup plan – all my Diigo bookmarks are sent automatically to Evernote (8) via ifttt (67 – a new entry in 2014). I also have Diigo set up to send the bookmarks to Delicious (76)!

Excel (43) is something I use everyday in my job to present data to staff; I also use many spreadsheets for teaching. Of all the applications in the Office suite this stands out for me, the changes from Excel 2003 to 2007 with the massive improvements to conditional formatting for example make this one outstanding application. There are also many Excel spreadsheets out there too to help in Maths lessons – see Maths Files for example.

Screenr (gone from list) – when trying to type Mathematical text is too slow, a quick scribble on some kind of screencasting tool can be the answer (graphics tablet essential). (Blog post on Online Whiteboards – consistently one of the most popular posts here).

So that’s 10 mentioned (the survey asked for 10 favourites) and it is not enough to mention sites I use all the time. Now obviously the list is not about specialist sites for various subjects (The Top >10 Mathematics Websites is another story) but for me the missing site on this list has to be WolframAlpha.  WolframAlpha is not just all about Maths, it covers so many subjects and even though they would love us to pay for WolframAlpha pro, the free model still offers unlimited queries everyday!
Top Tools

Desmos on Android

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A happy day! Desmos comes to Android and I now have the best handheld graphing calculator I have ever had! As you would expect of Desmos, it just works! Get it on Google play here. (Desmos iOS apps have been available for some time). I will certainly be asking students with Android phones to get the app.

You will find a series of Desmos Slideshows here, (these have been written with students in mind) and more on Desmos on this series of pages.

Photos by David Young


Scratch Mathematics Projects

My personal favourite use of Scratch is to demonstrate relationships between angles and polygons which I have written on before.

Investigating more projects on Scratch I found What’s My Number? which could make an interesting starter problem. Why can one always guess in 7 tries or less?

What's My Number project by GyroscopeBill

What’s My Number project by GyroscopeBill

(See Guess My Number (Birmingham Grid for Learning) – an alternative version of the game.)

Perhaps try Divisibility Dash from  jgordon510 and practise your knowledge of divisibility.

Quadratic Equation solverFor those who wish to learn more about Scratch syntax then looking at the code for a project such as this quadratic equation solver by proanimator is helpful. Select See Inside to see the code. If you create an account (free) you can save a copy to your own account. This code could easily be adapted as it offers the means to input some variables, perform calculations and display the results. Looking at code already written can be a great way to learn syntax – it’s certainly something I have done when learning to write Excel macros.

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Coding Christmas

From Google check their Made With Code initiative. Note that Google’s Blockly is being used for the code.

See also: More projects 

I agree with Simon Singh’s sentiments that Coding / Computing should be a separate and optional GCSE; I think using resources such as Scratch we can illustrate some concepts well and help students understand them; polygons and angles is a particularly good example of this and one I have written on before.

For some rather more advanced coding, there’s a rather nice Christmas tree generator here; select Auto Generate and sit back and admire the tree! Note that for any Scratch project you can ‘look inside’ and see the coding – a good way to learn more syntax.

Scratch project by vidarfw02

Scratch project by vidarfw02