Jack Kenny trawls for goodies for the English classroom at BETT, and internet freebies too
Not everything is about novelty. You might go to BETT 2010 and come away thinking that there is very little that is new. You will probably be right, but the really good news is that you can do a great deal by spending very little money. Web 2.0 offers so many wonderful applications that just to explore them will spark off many great ideas for teaching and, more important, will spark students into learning.
There is just one hurdle to overcome. You have to get used to the idea that you don't need to have applications stored on your machine and you don't need to store your work there. It is all about trust.
We are not short of word processors and they are still the single most important piece of software that we can use once we move beyond the copy typing aspect. The ability to edit, merge, share and re-present text is still under-exploited. Buzzword is a free online word processor from Adobe: very elegant and pleasurable to use. The first screens look better than Word. The whole thing gives you confidence in the online world.
Still thinking about writing, Etherpad is an outstanding tool for collaborative writing. Essentially, what you do is create a 'pad' or document and upload text that you plan on working with. Etherpad will then give you a unique URL to the page that you can give to those you want to work with. They can 'chat' with you and edit the document at the same time as you. The only snag is that Google has snapped up Etherpad and will include some of the features in Google Wave so Etherpad has an uncertain future (check out its Transition Plan).
Pleasure in words is a key to literacy - go for creativity
Taking pleasure in words is one of the keys to literacy. If you believe that try Wordle. Some might argue that it is just fun and flippant. What's wrong with that? Children will love it. If you are imaginative you will find creative ways to use it. Try it for short poems.
You could even share the short poems via Skype. Skype has been around so long now that it has almost disappeared into the old programs abyss. It needs to be looked at again. This is a program that is cable of connecting you and your class with audio and video to almost anywhere and anyone in the world. Both the audio and the video is first class. Students will love it. Instant spoken English with a purpose. Real audience. Transparent school walls!
Like Skype, Jing extends your reach. Jing takes the pain out of explaining processes on the computer. You can make a recording of an activity on the screen – how to create hyperlinks for instance – and explain what is happening. Save your explanation and students can consult it when they need it. You don't have to be there. It also enables students to create explanations too. Simple and ingenious. It is one of those programs that challenges you to think of many uses.
Also a program of many uses is Evernote. You must have experienced the moment when you are browsing and you find something that will come in useful. If you don't do something quickly you lose it. Evernote enables you to do something quickly. You can capture text, audio, video and save. What you save goes into a personal archive that you can search. It is a great research tool both for teacher and for student.
"Making the News" is a project to promote creativity within the curriculum. It is is a web-based school news station, created for schools by the East of England Broadband Network (E2BN) and the Knowledge Media Institute (KMI) of the Open University. You can use Making The News at school and at home. Any curriculum area or key stage should be able to find a use for it. News containing text, images, animation, audio and video can be broadcast, published and accessed online. E2BN claims that it is really straightforward. And its young news gatherers will be making the rounds at BETT 2010.
Online word processors in a class of their own
J2E (Just2easy) is an online word processor produced by the two guys who developed Textease and made it into the leading word processor for primary schools. Danny Young and Geoff Titmuss have been brave enough to have faith in the online world and faith that teachers will grow to trust it. It looks as though their faith will be rewarded, J2e has been been nominated for a BETT award. The program will actually, in school terms, do more than Google docs. A school has to subscribe but, like most online applications, the worry about saving and having the latest version is lifted from your shoulders.
However, there is a problem. CrickSoftware's WriteOnline is just as inventive, with added features for inclusion and special needs. The speech facility is the best that I have heard. The word predictor is of great value to many students. Teachers can even analyse the amount of time students spend on a text and dissect the spelling errors. Which do you choose?
BETT 2010 visitors have to choose the TAG Learning stand – that is a must. They have searched the world for good material. Probably the best thing they have done recently is sponsoring the National Schools Film and Animation Awards. At a time of recession they have put their money where their heart is and the work from the schools taking part justifies the investment. Recently TAG has been working with Steljes and teachers will have an opportunity at BETT to see the new software Smart Sync which will enable a teacher to see and monitor all the computers in a classroom.
The UK's most inventive company, Immersive Education, is bringing out MediaStage2: a bit brighter and more modern looking with cross-curricular activities rather than totally media focused. They also have two new Kar2ouche titles: Functional Literacy and Customer Service for Key Stage 3 and 4 (with a diploma angle) and On the Island (Key Stage 1 cross-curricular) exploring how the Rose review might be implemented.
Up there with Immersive must be 2Simple. And visitors to the company's recent advisers' day were stirred to applause when Max Wainewright shared insights into what we can expect from 'augmented reality' and the new program 2Simple will preview at BETT, 2Create A Superstory. If you thought that 2Create A Story was taking digital storytelling to new levels of digital creativity, you are likely to be knocked out by 2Create a Superstory which develops multimedia authoring/animation for storytelling even further.
Coomber re-invents itself for the digital age
If you have been teaching for some time you will certainly have encountered Coomber. They have produced A/V equipment for schools for years. Critics used to say that the robust machines were made so ugly to deter thieves. Not any more – the new Real Time CD Recorders look reasonably good. If you want to record live to CD and play back the results in the classroom (as well as being able to play ordinary CDs) this is the machine for you. It is easy to use, with one-touch recording from microphone. Another brilliant way to record is with the Easi-Speak Microphone from RM's TTS. You speak into the mike and then you take it (it has a USB socket on the base) and plug it in to a computer and hear the result. Children can wander round with this mike and they do not have to be connected to anything. Simple, brilliant.
NATE will be on the Subject Associations stand with information on how English teachers can make good use of ICT. They are giving a seminar on the topic 'Hardware, wetware and software - three innovative approaches to English and ICT' on Saturday January 16 (13:30 Gallery 2 - Solutions Theatre). Teachers have been particularly interested in the uses of wikis, podcasts, movies and the visualiser. You can obtain information about 'Sharing not Staring" a booklet of ideas for using interactive whiteboards.
The English and Media Centre grows in influence each year because of the quality of its resources. There is now nothing to equal it for English teachers. Doing TV Drama is a collection of extracts from a range of outstanding contemporary broadcast drama which will inspire students’ interest in TV narratives and stretch their critical and creative skills. Their emagazine subscription website aimed at A Level students has been nominated for a BETT award. There is also an invitation on the site asking teachers to indicate the kind of support they need for for the new GCSE.
Maybe there is not much novelty around, but never have English teachers had such a range of exciting, focused applications and resources to choose from.
January 13-16, Olympia, London
You can find links below for the products and services mentioned in this article. More information on exhibitors and seminars at:
Making the News - Stand K49
Adobe Systems UK - Stand K40
J2E - Stand Q26
WriteOnline - Stand F40
TAG - Stand C50
TTS - Stand P1
Immersive - Stand F80
Coomber - Stand R12
NATE - Stands Q42 and 43
Free tools for English teachers
English and Media Centre (emagazine nominated for BETT award)