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Graphite, from Common Sense Media, previews its Top Tools of 2014 list

tech-toolsSome of the year’s top ed-tech tools include a free slideshow creator, a reading tool with embedded assessments, and an adaptive math practice game. How many of 2014’s top tools have you used?

During an edWeb webinar, Ruth Okoye, a Common Sense Graphite Certified Educator, offered insight on five of the top ed-tech tools from Graphite, a free service from Common Sense Education that helps educators choose tools and resources for students.

Okoye also is the Communications Chair for the ISTE Ed Tech Coaches Professional Learning Network and is a technology resource teacher for Portsmouth Public Schools in Virginia.

“The idea of finding apps is sometimes like finding a needle in a haystack–there are lots and lots of them,” Okoye said.

1. Shadow Puppet is a free video slideshow creator for elementary school students. It’s available for iPad, iPhone, and iPad Touch.

“Digital storytelling is something a lot of people are doing,” Okoye said.

The app uses photos from a user’s camera roll to tell a story.

“The EDU version comes with a host of ideas and ways in which educators might be able to use the app,” she said. Students are able to search the Library of Congress, museums, and landmarks, which lets them use those pictures in a personal story or in a history project.

It’s also ideal for appsmashing–combining two apps in a project or lesson.

(Next page: Four more top apps and tools)

2. Prodigy is an adaptive math practice game and role-playing adventure for elementary school students, available for Linux, Mac, and Windows.

“Prodigy is a great math tool,” Okoye said. “It’s got a little bit of everything, so you’ll be able to use it no matter what kind of device you have in your classroom.”

The role-playing game injects fantasy aspects with adaptive math challenges. Practice levels go up as students are successful, and the math tools are similar to those used in standardized assessments.

The game also can be used for differentiated instruction. Teachers can create assignments for individual students or for smaller groups of students during instructional time.

3. Newsela connects middle and high school students to engaging news targeted to their reading levels.

“It is really an awesome tool,” she said. “The idea here is that you can add your students as a classroom and then assign them different pieces to read, depending upon chosen topics and Lexile levels.”

Students also can analyze photos and compare them to news articles to build media literacy skills.

4. eduCanon is a website for middle school and high school students, and it adds interactive components and formative assessments to videos.

“This is easy to use and is very, very powerful,” Okoye said. “The premise here is that you can find a video on almost any of the regular video services, add it into eduCanon, and then decide where in the video you’d like to do a spot-check for comprehension.”

The tool has potential for professional development purposes, too.

5. Curriculet is a reading tool that uses embedded assessments to boost comprehension.

“When I saw this, I fell in love. Curriculet is a really great tool for you to use,” Okoye said.

Educators can upload their own text, or can use a website, and then add annotations or questions to gauge students’ understanding.

A paid option lets users rent texts and embed questions, which Okoye said is useful for close reading.

“I think it’s a really cool way to do close reading, and students have the opportunity to work at their own pace, which I think is important as well,” she said.

These five tools are included in Graphite’s Top Tools of 2014 list, which is available here.

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