By Guest Author Jeffery Sullivan
When Susan asked me to talk about the idea of portable software solutions for teachers, I must say that I felt this was an idea that was way to long in coming. As a former IT professional, fellow educator, and a proponent of free and open source software, I had an awesome time researching and testing these solutions, for you.
Portable software runs from a USB flash drive or SD card and is completely independent of the system that it runs on. This allows you, the user, to use the programs that you need without installing anything on the host system. The tools below are a few of the tools that we’ve found that support Susan’s brain-based teaching strategies with free, portable, and web-based software solutions.
Timers – one of the easiest ways to manage limited class time and to teach students to make good use of time is through the use of timers. PC Chrono has standard time, stopwatch, and countdown capabilities while www.online-stopwatch.com offers a variety of browser-based timer options that work especially well with visual learners.
Drawing and Cartoons – The brain learns in pictures and having students create, or providing them with, visuals is a great way to reinforce learning.
Greenshot is a portable screenshot utility with basic editing features for highlighting and commenting on captures. This is a great alternative to programs like Snag-It and Jing.
Make Beliefs Comix, Witty Comics, and Marvel Super Hero Squad are great ways to have students create visuals for concepts learned in class. Tux Paint can be used to make simple drawings and cartoons, but be careful because you’ll spend hours playing with these tools if you’re not careful.
A more recent addition to the comic strip creators: Canva’s Online Comic Strip provides design templates that students can use for their presentations or projects.
RealWorld Paint is a feature rich, but easy to use paint program for creating or enhancing visuals that students can work with in the classroom. We’ve actually used this program to recreate several of the examples that Susan uses in her seminars.
Mindmaps – There are a number of good online and free/open source tools to create mindmaps. Xmind is portable, feature rich, and quite easy to use.
Tools for Audio Learners – LibriVox, Audio Owl, and Thought Audio all offer free audio books that we can use to supplement and reinforce learning. You can use music from Karaoke-Version to make your own learning songs.
Finally, Balabolka uses the built-in voices included with Windows to ‘read’ passages of text out loud. This is an incredibly good way to reinforce learning with your auditory or ELL learners because they can read along as the computer ‘reads’ the learning passage to them.
Coolplayer+ is a good little portable audio player and VLC Media Player is just about the best audio/video player available today, free or not. After all, once you find your karaoke songs and the videos for your lessons, you need to be able to play them. Ever tried to do that and had Microsoft Media Player fail on you?
Video – We all know the value of video for introducing and supporting almost any subject we are teaching. Most of us are familiar with Teachertube and Youtube, but the Khan Academy is becoming one of the best sources for educational videos on the internet.
To capture those videos for repeated use, Damnvid is a portable application that does exactly that. There are also a number of browser-based tools and browser plugins, like Download Helper for the Firefox browser.
These tools support the most commonly used brain-based learning concepts, but there are a number of other tools that can be adapted or used for specific subject areas. PortableApps.com and PendriveApps.com offer a wide variety of choices and options.
Whatever you teach, regardless of the restrictions your district places on the technology you use, there are tools available to support you in your best-practice teaching efforts.
For more information about using technology to strengthen instruction, see Susan Fitzell’s book, Using iPads and Other Cutting Edge Technology to Strengthen Your Instruction.