ISTE 2010: The Worcester Method

by Dean Mattson

Last spring when I was planning a session for the TNT technology conference in El Paso, my goal was to pick something that would be popular. I wanted a session so huge that it would pack the room and I’d have to turn people away. So I shamelessly applied two insights I had attending NECC in 2008: (1) conference attendees, like casual book readers, like practical sessions with numbers in them, and (2) teachers like sessions like the one Tammy Worcester gave that have a lot of different ideas and presented in such a way that they can get a picture of how they would use it in the classroom.

The result was 50 Great Math Websites for the Elementary Classroom, and yes it worked. The room was packed and I did have to turn people away. Success!

I attended Tammy’s session on Monday titled Tammy’s Favorite Free Web Tools and she was great again. Her session started on 3:30 after a long day. I was tired, my head was sore, I was in the mood for a long nap. Yet within the first five minutes of the workshop, I got a second wind because I was excited about the things I was learning about. She had so many great websites and many of them even I had never heard of. I don’t know how she does it.

I think part of the reason she’s so successful is that in these types of sessions, she has so many resources to share, you know if there’s one that quite doesn’t catch your fancy, there’s going to be another one coming soon. But there’s a danger in this approach in that it just becomes just a big long list that makes your head spin. Tammy though spends some time on each tool – she shows how to get up and running on each one and then she gives some different ideas on how it can be used. It really is a good template on one way to present a session, one I think some (though not all) presenters would benefit from picking up on.

My favorites of the websites she presented were ones that would allow students to much more easily produce and share creative work than in the past.

  • JamStudio – An online music-making site, which can either complement or use in place of GarageBand. (Make sure you scroll down to the bottom and click on the In the Classroom link so you can get free access to the site.)
  • Vocaroo – I’ve written about ipadio, which is the easiest way to make a podcast. But if you want to have a student make a one-off recording of something, Vocaroo is the easiest. Perhaps the best part is that it doesn’t require a login! Yet it will still save the recording, it provides an embed code so it can be put into blogs.
  • Sketchcast – With this website you can record what you sketch onscreen along with your voice. You could have students describing a math concept or explain how to solve a problem. Unlike Vocaroo, it does require a log-in which unfortunately does a hoop you’d have to jump through.
  • Jing – Jing is an alternative to Sketchcast but it’s an application that would have to be installed. (There is both a Windows or Mac version available.) Now when I tried to use Jing in the past, it seemed like I had to upgrade for it to be able to do what I wanted it to do and I already have Screenflow. I need to try it again to see if it would work for students.

I also attended a session on Google Spreadsheets and Forms that Tammy presented. She did a good job, but I didn’t get as much out that one because I’m already familiar with the basics which is what she covered. I did learn there was a way to make a spreadsheet template in Google Docs and there’s an easier way to check if an answer is correct if you make a quiz with Google forms, but she didn’t cover that.

Links are available for the Free Web Tools and the Google Spreadsheets and Forms examples.

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