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6 Free Digital Tools for the Classroom

Heidi Reina, M.S., Ed, is an educational technology integrator and teacher, reviewing free educational websites and apps.

6 Terrific Digital Tools for Teachers and Students

There's a rich variety of free web tools that helps students, teachers, and homeschool parent-teachers share their learning with other students, teachers... even the world. Paper and pencil are on their way out. The typewriter is ancient history. Web tools have taken over.

There are tons more available than I have listed here. But my focus in this article is on software and freeware that can be used in any subject area.

This is a sampler of the different kinds of web tools available to kids and educators. There are more than 150 free web tools listed on Learning Tools.

Google Earth

Google Earth

Google Earth

A global view across the curriculum

Did you see that one coming? Most of us have seen Google Earth in action on CNN News as they zoom in on some disaster. But GE's uses for learning are limited only by the imagination of students and teachers. If you're studying Earth Science, I can't imagine doing it without a volcano or mountain tour like those you can download from Mountains and Volcanoes. History teachers can help students explore Ancient Rome in 3D.

You download the Google Earth software to your desktop or laptop. This is memory intensive software, so if your system is older, check out the minimum requirements to run it first. Be sure to take a look at the Google Earth for Educators for lessons, tutorials and tips, and a teachers' forum. Also helpful is another site, Google Earth Lessons to see what you can download from teachers who have been-there-done-that. There are even ideas for using Google Earth with Real World Math and English with Google Lit Trips. More lessons ideas are available on Teaching with Google Earth.

Because GE (and the tours/lessons) must be installed and run from each computer it's used on, I found it worked best in my classroom with a digital projector from a class computer.

Secure for student use at all ages when downloaded using a teacher's or parent's email account.

ePals Global Community Website

ePals Global Community Website


Connect with other students worldwide to learn

For a global view from a different perspective, try out ePals. Many of you may have heard of its usefulness in foreign language learning as a secure means that a class in one country can communicate with classes in other countries.

But it is so much more than that. It combines secure e-mail and blogging features. (Their SchoolBlog won a 2006 award for "best blog for education.") The collaboration features make it useful for virtually any subject area and grade level. You can create your own project, or choose from several available on the website.

All this, and ePal will match you with a class of students in China, Australia, India, Iraq, Bolivia, Kenya, or even across town -- 200 countries and territories. The email and blogs use translation software in six languages, so don't let lack of proficiency in the other class's language hold you back. And if you're learning a foreign language, I think this is THE place to go to practice it.

ePals is completely Internet-based and nothing needs to be installed on your desktop or laptop. I loved it three years ago when I used it with a class, and it has only gotten better since then. So catch the wave and join the global classroom!

Secure for student use. Student accounts created under teacher account. Outside volunteers working on projects with students have background checks before communicating with class members.

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Use Technology to Encourage Critical Thinking Skills in the Classroom

OpenOffice Impress

OpenOffice Impress


Word processor, spreadsheet, presentation software, Microsoft compatible

If you'll be working just from your desktop or laptop, consider using Sun Microsystem's OpenOffice. Like ThinkFree, it is compatible with Microsoft Office 2007 and earlier. This productivity suite has a wordprocessor, spreadsheet, database and presentation package that all look very similar to MS Office.

In addition to its other features, OpenOffice contains a Draw module that makes it easier to create graphics, organizers, flowcharts, etc. Another module, Math, helps you to create math equations using symbols, then embed the equations in Write, the wordprocessing module.

Aside from these features, provides forums where users can resolve problems, study tutorials, and share templates. Many of the add-on templates are free, while some are commercial and will charge a fee. OpenOffice is compatible with MS Windows, Linux and MAC, and it's available in several languages. All together, this highly rated open source software provides lots functionality for teachers, students and parents.

Secure for student use when software is downloaded under adult supervision for students under 13.

ThingLink Media Linker

ThingLink Media Linker

ThingLink Education gives students a way to tag images and make them interactive. It's a great tool to use as part of a presentation. Students link selected parts of an image to videos, text, or links to social media.

Audacity Sound Editing Tools

Audacity Sound Editing Tools


Create digital music for multimedia presentations

Audacity is a downloadable software sound editor. This award-winning sound editor helps students and teachers personalize their projects. The digital recordings can then be used in combination with presentation software or video software.

Cut, splice and mix sounds. Change the speed and pitch. Use it to create podcasts and mp3 recordings and download them to a player or CD. Convert your favorite old records and tapes to digital recordings.

Secure for student use when downloaded using a teacher's or parent's email account.

Flickr Digital Media

Flickr Digital Media


Edit and share your photos

Flickr is a website where you share and edit your photos. Flickr handles the organization and sharing. Its ease-of-use and integration of the partnership has made Flickr a standard image gallery tool.

Flickr has integrated itself well into established online applications and services, such as blogs and Facebook.

Flickr is also a rich source of Creative Commons images for use in the classroom.

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