A new generation of word processors has emerged as one of the latest steps in the evolution of education technology, and they can be a lifesaver to students faced with big research papers, theses or dissertations. Scrivener functions as a sort of Photoshop for text documents, giving writers multiple panes to shuffle around in the main window as they customize their workflow. Scrivener has a built-in tool for creating outlines, which is a must for beginning writers and stays useful throughout an entire academic writing career.
It also comes with the ability to view images, PDF files, Web pages and other media elements right inside the writing window, which can be a great help on those big research papers. One especially cool feature of Scrivener is an organizational tool that breathes new life into the tried-and-true method of using index cards and a corkboard to visualize the big picture of a long-form work. Shuffle the notecards around and their associated sections are rearranged in the document itself.
Not every student learns about mind mapping in school, but those who do almost never forget it. Professional settings the world over make use of the technique to energize the brainstorming phases of new projects. Popplet is a visual thinking tool that lets students use interactive mind maps to sketch relationships between notes and multimedia research material.
It only takes a few minutes to learn the control scheme, and the visual depictions of relationships between pieces of information can help students better understand and remember how the details of their project work together. The interface is fairly kid-friendly, also, which makes Popplet accessible even to elementary students working on their first report.
The Popplet mobile app for iPad cost $5 at the time of this writing, but accounts for the Web app can be had at no charge. If your students could use a fresh way to outline and brainstorm, Popplet might be just what they need.
Whether or not you’re already using Evernote for your own purposes in the classroom, consensus resounds that it’s one of the most potent and flexible organizational tools ever to hit the market. A bit lighter and easier to use than OneNote, not only does it sync your notes across all devices and computers you use, but it outperforms most other note taking apps with its suite of features:
- Create notes with typed text, handwriting or sketches
- Save, sync and share files across multiple devices
- Snap photos of whiteboards and book pages and search for text inside the images
- Organize notes on multiple levels using notebooks and tags
- Share notes with colleagues and classmates for easy collaboration
Evernote also offers tons of additional products that can make it an even more powerful tool for project organization. The Web Clipper lets students take snapshots of Web pages, annotate them and save them to their Evernote account to be shared with project partners or used later. On top of all that, Evernote’s core functionality won’t cost your students a cent. Premium accounts are available, starting at $5, but free accounts should work just fine for most projects.
As K–12 schools refocus on team-based, interdisciplinary learning, they are moving away from standardized, teach-to-test programs that assume a one-size-fits-all approach to teaching. Instead, there is a growing awareness that students learn in a variety of ways, and the differences should be supported. The students often learn better by doing it themselves, so teachers are there to facilitate, not just to instruct. Technology is there as a tool and resource, not as a visual aid or talking head. Gensler, a national architecture firm that’s working with a broad range of schools — from primary schools in redeveloping inner cities to NYU Magnet, Wharton, and Duke — is working with one of the global pioneers, the PlayMaker School in Los Angeles. Behind the venture is GameDesk, which views gaming as an interactive medium for learning.
Launched with a sixth-grade class, the PlayMaker program builds on play and explores how its young students can use a variety of tools and games to learn in new ways. Instead of classrooms, PlayMaker School has a suite of spaces that are interconnected physically and visually. There’s an ideation lab, a maker space, and an immersive gaming and learning zone where the students can try out the games they create and the software they develop.
A degree in economics from Oberlin College hadn’t prepared me for a career writing production-ready code. Despite my best efforts at slapping together crude HTML and CSS Django templates, my ability to contribute to our codebase was limited at best. So I started slowly teaching myself to code with online tutorials and lessons. After many disheartening starts and stops, I realized why I was having problems sticking with it: code lessons and videos felt like school to me, and I had no interest in returning to the classroom.