Sunday, February 10, 2019

8 Sweet Free Tech Tools You Can Start Using Tomorrow

I had the privilege of attending the Future of Education Technology Conference (FETC) in Orlando at the end of January and let me tell you, as a tech conference newb, my mind was blown! I dissected a dolphin using zSpace. I made a margarita by pedaling a stationary bike. I was the fastest and most accurate typist of the day at the Learning Without Tears booth. I learned about Novel Engineering on a makerspace bus. I got to tinker with some LEGO robotics. There were so many big name vendors on the floor showing off their amazing gadgets and services, but I was just as impressed with the immediate takeaways from the event. I was able to grab a ton of new tech tools and ideas that can be implemented immediately! Today I'm sharing with you eight of the sweet free tech tools I found at FETC that you can start using tomorrow!


You guys, I am seriously in love with Wakelet. Wakelet is a curation tool that allows you to create collections of web addresses, tweets, YouTube videos, images, PDFs, and textboxes. The process of adding to the collection is incredibly simple, and reorganizing the items in the collection is very easy. There are three viewing modes, all with different pros. Media view allows for videos to play within the Wakelet collection, compact view shows tiles and descriptions only for links, and grid view is organized into blocks. You can add collaborators to the Wakelet collection and sharing is simple. I'm currently using Wakelet to create a tech toolbox for our teachers, organized by tool utility (assessment, interactive learning, publishing, audiovisual, etc.). The simplicity of this tool is what makes it so awesome.


Symbaloo is another very cool curation tool, but with the added benefit of having a free educator pro account that allows you to create learning paths! Not only can you curate content and create Symbaloo landing pages for students (imagine a world where every website your kids need is on one single page, neatly organized in a highly-visual tiles layout, so they don't have to try to type in a URL or find it in your Google Classroom stream somewhere), but you can design interactive lessons AND it will track student performance! I'm just getting started with Symbaloo but I can see the possibilities being endless with this powerful tool.

Adobe Spark

I knew a little about Adobe Spark before going to FETC thanks to a few students who had used it for video creation, but I had no idea of its true capabilities. Kasey Bell (Shake Up Learning) and Holly Clark (The Technology Infused Classroom) presented together, and they showed us the power of the Spark Page. My mind was blown! They presented this great idea of taking a traditional writing assignment and "shaking it up" by having them publish their writing as a Spark Page. I love this idea! Let's teach our essay genres and formatting as we need to, but then let's kick it up a notch by adding in this creative element. I can't wait to show my students what this tool can really do!


At first, I thought this tool was kind of a cutesy, "oh that's pretty fun" kind of tool. Once I started messing with it, though, I realized just how useful this could be! AutoDraw uses AI to guess what you are drawing and then to clean it up and turn your drawing into something that looks cleaned up and professional. These drawings can be shared out, or they can be downloaded as png files! Students can do their own illustrations for stories and presentations with the help of AutoDraw instead of just searching for an image or a piece of clip art.


Do you love using games in class, but your students are bored to death of Kahoot! and Quizlet Live? Throw Gimkit into your classroom gaming rotation! Gimkit is unique for two reasons. First, no projection required. All questions pop up on student devices and it is student-paced, based on how quickly they answer the questions (if they make it through the whole set of questions before time runs out, they just start answering the same questions again). Second, the points system is monetary. Students earn in-game money for correct answers, and that money can be used to purchase upgrades, power-ups, and even sabotage items! When one of our teachers tried this game last week, he remarked on how quiet and engaged the students were as they played. Unfortunately, you only get five free kits before you have to start paying, but if you don't mind creating temporary games, this is a great gaming option! Bonus: it integrates seamlessly with Quizlet, so your Quizlet decks can be turned into Gimkits with just a few clicks.


I cannot explain to you how excited I was to discover Bookshare! It is such a needed resource. Bookshare provided free ebooks for students with reading difficulties. Here's a direct quote from their landing page: "Bookshare makes reading easier. People with dyslexia, blindness, cerebral palsy, and other reading barriers can customize their experience to suit their learning style and find virtually any book they need for school, work, or the joy of reading." Schools can sign up for an organization account and add students who have reading difficulties due to disabilities (IEP, 504, or other documentation is required), and the Bookshare library becomes available to those students free of charge. They offer books using the dyslexia font, read-aloud, highlighting, large font, and other formatting options to customize the reading experience. I haven't had the chance to use this in my classroom yet, but I'm looking forward to giving it a go.


Ya'll, Flippity is one spiffy tool! Flippity will take a regular old Google spreadsheet and Flippity it right on its head and turn it into something awesome, like flashcards, a quiz show, a randomizer, puzzles, artwork, a progress indicator, and more. There is a Flippity add-on for extra speed, and if you don't have a spreadsheet but you do have a list of things that need Flippityed (I just made that verb up), you can just input the list. As someone who has spent a painful amount of time trying to design my own tournament brackets before, I'm basically crying with relief at the discovery of Flippity.

PDF Candy

PDF Candy should be called PDF Freaking Magic! Take pretty much everything that Adobe wants to charge you to be able to do with a PDF, and PDF Candy will do it for free. Conversions, compressions, merges, splits, locking, editing... PDF Candy has you covered. I love PDFs for the fact that they cannot be easily manipulated, but sometimes there is a need to tinker with a PDF. This tool has you covered.

Hopefully there's something here that you'll be able to turn around and start using tomorrow to kick things up a notch in your classroom! What are your favorite free tech tools?