Slideshows

Reviews, September 2012

www.observe4success.com • Retail Price: $1,200 per year, per school (volume discounts available)

Observe4success is a Web-based observation and evaluation software tool that is primarily geared for school administrators to assess teachers and staff. It is customizable to meet the user’s needs, making it possible to build a personalized assessment system.

Quality and Effectiveness: Observe4success is all about simplicity and allows those who have little or no familiarity with data collection software to start using it immediately.

Ease of Use: Users can simply choose the templates that observe4success has already created by offering content that they’ve put together. (These templates are based on educational research from more than 14 researchers who developed a complete and comprehensive look at what is happening in all aspects of the classroom.) These categories themselves can be further refined just by clicking or un-clicking categories or subcategories that the user would like included in their own reports.

Creative Use of Technology: Users have a number of choices for collecting their data. Their forms can be short for “Three-Minute Walkthroughs” or much “beefier” for longer observations. Data can be collected in a variety of ways, such as checkboxes, 3-7 point scales, dropdowns that are filled in with your own criteria), and even a timer. Users can have a variety of different forms and a variety of “observers.” Observe4success even supplied a “Peer Visitation Form” for colleagues to give feedback as well.

The real benefit from observe4success takes place when all the data has been collected as there are a myriad of ways to aggregate and make meaning from the data. For instance, as an administrator, one could look at growth from an individual teacher over time or look at an entire grade level’s growth for a specific teacher. These data can also extend out to subject areas, complete schools, and even the entire district.

Suitability for Use in a School Environment: Clients of observe4success are given a wonderful live demo with a customer support representative who is available to help set up your system. However, it would be nice to support this offering with video tutorials on each feature for when users need reteaching.

The greatest feature that observe4success offers is that you, the user, have complete control over editing, modifying, or creating as many different types of forms as you’d like with no additional fee. You will have complete access to the creation of the forms. Many other companies would charge for your own individualized needs; but observe4success doesn’t because they put you in charge of its creation. Reports from all data collection can be exported and viewed in many different forms (e.g., graphs, .cvs files, scales).

One feature that I’d love to see included is a way for those being observed to also be able to have input into the observation report. In other words, providing an area where the teacher could explain in writing exactly what was happening during a part of the lesson that perhaps the administrator might have misinterpreted. That would surely advance the goal of conversation for this product.

TOP FEATURES

• Works on any device that can connect to a browser on the Internet.
• All data is safely backed up at observe4success.
• Completely customizable for each district, school, or administrator’s needs— this is especially important as we start to embrace Common Core and STEM standards.

OVERALL RATING: Even though you’re given plenty of support and a live demo from observe4success, its power is in its simplicity and intuitive setup for anyone to quickly create a new observation form.

www.belkin.com • Retail Price: Belkin Tablet Stand $25; Belkin Tablet Stand with Storage $40

The Belkin tablet stands are designed with comfort of use and ergonomics in mind. Each stand allows for a tablet to be held at multiple angles in a classroom environment. They can securely position and hold a tablet so that students can interact with the device in more functional methods beyond a desk or table.

Quality and Effectiveness: Although they are complex in design, each of these stands is simple to use. These stands are also durable, light, stackable, and allow users to record footage from multiple angles. The Belkin Tablet Stand with Storage features an extra compartment for cables or other supplies. The case is translucent so it is easy to see what is stored inside.

Ease of Use: These stands also provide ergonomic support for the user by providing multiple angles for holding the tablet. Teachers can use a quick, two-minute demonstration to show students how easy it is to operate the stand. Sitting in front of a tablet with one of these stands will make a notable difference in posture and will offer extra support to the hands and wrists when working with the tablet.

Creative Use of Technology: These stands are creative in their design, which offers durability with a multitude of viewing angles and uses for photography or video recordings. The material grips on the device will also offer a secure hold for students.

Suitability for Use in a School Environment: The stands will be a great addition to any classroom. Keeping a tablet secure on a desk will likely extend the life of the device, by keeping it off the floor. It will also help with glare from classroom lighting by providing a better viewing angle.

TOP FEATURES

• Design and durability
• Ergonomics and comfort
• Multiple angles for viewing and recording

OVERALL RATING: These stands would be helpful in many classrooms. Having access to these stands will make many of your classroom projects easier for your students and ultimately will protect your investment.

Tales2Go.com • Retail price: $100 per year for five devices; bulk pricing available for schools

Tales2Go brings thousands of audiobooks, stories, and songs from name brand publishers and storytellers to desktops, laptops, or Apple mobile devices in the classroom and beyond, with access for Android coming soon. The 3,000 plus titles in the catalog are organized by grade level from pre-K through grade 8.

Ease of Use: What makes Tales2Go so effective is its simplicity. Users can literally search and stream materials from anywhere. Schools will also have access to bulk licenses, which can be used for as little as 10 or as many as 100 devices, making it ideal for individual or group listening. Users can search by keyword, category, or more specific criteria, such as genre, language, grade level, or popular series, such as 39 Clues.

Creative Use of Technology: Tales2Go’s strength is not in how great its technology looks, but in how little technology you need to know to make it work. All you need is a computer and Internet, and you have instant access to content that stretches throughout all grade levels and across the curriculum.

Suitability for Use in a School Environment: Tales2Go is more than just for listening pleasure. It is also a great tool for teaching sequencing, comprehension, fluency, phonemic awareness, vocabulary, and listening skills. Tales2Go also added the Accelerated Reader data package to their desktop player (with mobile iOS access coming soon.) Teachers can take advantage of links to adaptable literacy activities, many of which require nothing more than a flip chart, markers, and index cards. Aspiring writers can also craft their own tales using downloadable story maps.

TOP FEATURES

• Students learn sequencing, comprehension, fluency, phonemic awareness, and vocabulary, while listening to professionallyread stories.
• For an annual fee, schools get unlimited access to a library of 3,000 (and growing) titles that can be listened to simultaneously on multiple devices.
• In addition to listening to audiobooks, teachers can download easily adaptable activities from the company Web site that are aligned to state standards, to complement the stories and enhance the curriculum.

OVERALL RATING: Tales2Go not only gives students access to literature customized to their own interests, it also challenges them to go beyond their current reading ability.

When we launched Gaggle at James Weldon Johnson (JWJ), the timing was not exactly the most opportune. We were right in the middle of benchmark testing, the Thanksgiving break, the winter break, and semester exams. The students were able to dive right in because they were already well acquainted with social media. Now our challenge was finding the time and innovative ways to engage the faculty in using Gaggle, both for social media and as an educational tool. Gaggle allows teachers to use readily available technology to communicate with their students, organize their classes, and maximize instructional time. It also helps students learn how to communicate in a more professional manner while encouraging them to use technology and helping them learn invaluable 21st-century skills for the future.

Many of our faculty members expressed interest in learning more about Gaggle and learning how to make optimal use of its functions. I offered a series of mini-workshops on how to use Gaggle both in and out of the classroom. These workshops were scheduled after school and lasted approximately 30–45 minutes (depending on the participants). Each session focused on one particular area, such as how to use the Mark it Up! function, setting up discussion boards, or assigning and collecting work through the assignment drop box. As an added incentive, I also advocated for the participants to receive professional development credit for their participation.

My goal for the sessions was to demonstrate actual lessons from a variety of subjects and show how Gaggle can be used to enhance and enrich the work for both the teacher and the student. For example, a social studies teacher could set up a chat room and a discussion board designed around the President’s State of the Union address. While the students are watching at home, they can also participate in a chat room discussion while the teacher discusses the President’s speech and the audience’s reaction. The discussion board could also provide a platform for higher level questions for the students to add commentary and create discussions. These virtual communities could also provide ample material for class discussions and other relevant course work. Since JWJ is a BYOD school, Gaggle opens up many more creative and diverse opportunities for our students to work and learn. As the Common Core curriculum is more fully implemented, tools like Gaggle will give us many valuable educational avenues to explore and document what we are doing for our students.

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