15 Digital Tools that Support Project-Based Learning

This post was originally published on TeachThought by Terry Heick

TechnologyThese days, my mind is frequently on the Common Core and helping educators grapple with the new standards and expectations for literacy learning. As we know, one of the major shifts in the ELA Standards is the expectation (and requirement) that students will be reading much more nonfiction and informational text resources. Project-Based Learning is a natural way for students to be immersed in real-world reading for real-world purposes.

Terry Heick, my friend who continually steers me to the newest (and best) digital tools, highlights technology tools that support project-based learning in this informative post. Because it’s not really about technology for technology’s sake, it’s about how these tools support student learning. I suspect this post will help you, as it did me, learn more about new digital tools that support Project-Based Learning.

Project-Based Learning is a 21st century approach to learning that acts both as a curriculum and instruction tool, as well as a new way for students to think about school. Rather than strictly academic lessons and units, real-world problems can be solved, and students gain experience with long-term management of the learning process, and the possibility of self-direction.

Project-Based Learning allows for naturally embedding “school” in authentic environments whether those are digital or physical. It is a way of learning that is as much about the process as the project, allowing for the seamless integration of technology, and the inclusion of digital and social media to solve relevant personal and social challenges.

A Simple Project-Based Learning Process

The following apps and digital tools are built around a vastly over-simplified-but-you’ll-still-get-the-picture 4-step process:

1. Brainstorm: This is where the students brainstorm problems, ways to solve those problems, and the logistics and limits of any solutions. And if the project isn’t challenge-based–e.g., it is primarily creative in nature–brainstorming is still necessary to understand the problems, establish any goals,  and identify audience, purpose, and available tools and platforms.

2. Plan: The next step is to create a plan based on the above often . A second effect is a streamlining of things; whereas brainstorming is often messy and a bit chaotic (if it’s honest), planning allows for prioritizing to occur, and separation for more and less important elements of the project.

3. Collaborate: Though collaboration is possible during brainstorming and planning, it really comes into focus here, when the project comes to life. This can also be thought of as the “Drafting” stage of the project where students research, write, design, create, revise, and fine-tune any products of the project, or the process of the project itself.

4. Publish: Among technology’s greatest talents is the ability to make the classroom wall’s transparent. All project-based learning that features products of any sort have the potential–if not the right–to leave the school building and “perform” in the real world, creating a more authentic need-to-know in the students, and making thinking and learning “public” in the process.

In this process, students use technology each step of the way to improve access, collaboration, and curation, without having technology dominate the entire process.

The technology serves the learning process itself.

BRAINSTORM

1. MindNode

Platform: iOS

Price: Free

Description: Like MagicPad below, this one is also pricey at ten bucks, but if you do a lot of concept-mapping in your classroom that you want to save, share, and publish, it doesn’t make much sense to save a few dollars and have students fight a sub-par app.

Sharing options from their iTunes page:

Share
• iCloud sharing (requires iOS 6): access your mindmaps from MindNode touch for iPhone and iPad or MindNode Pro on any Mac.
• Dropbox sharing: open files from your Dropbox and save them back to it when you’re done working on them
• WiFi sharing: share files between your Mac and your iOS device over the local wireless network
• Export your mind map as a PDF, FreeMind or OPML document, PNG or TIFF image, or text document.
• Send your mind map to other apps in any of the supported export formats
• Send your mind map to the camera roll as an image

2. SimpleMind+

Platform: iOS, Android

Price: Free

A dead-simple concept-mapping app that doesn’t have more features than it needs, and has an easy to use interface.

simplemind

PLAN

3. Sooner

Platform: iOS

Price: Currently on sale (70% off) at .99

Sooner is a highly-visual to-do list with daily and weekly views to for micro and macro planning. A must-have for project-based learning.

4. MagicPad

Platform: iOS

Price: $9.99

MagicPad is a powerful app—and its price reflects it at ten bucks. It features concept-mapping for brainstorming, note sharing, task prioritization, and related scheduling. Probably overkill for most K-8 classrooms, but high school and beyond, it could prove valuable.

5. Evernote

Platform: Web browser, iOS, Android

Price: Free

Description: If the full-on project-planning apps are overboard and you only need to be able to share simple notes, images and other single-media fare, Evernote is your best bet. Cloud-based, easy-to-use note-collection and sharing FTW.

6. Begin

Platform: iOS

Price: $6.99

If Sooner doesn’t meet your project-planning needs, Begin just might. It also allows for similar planning views, and makes it easy to share them as image files or pdfs via email.

It was also designed for iPad-use from the ground up, so it works. Which is nice. Seven bucks is a tad steep, but sometimes you get what you pay for.

begin-app

COLLABORATE

7. Screenchomp

Platform: iOS

Price: Free

Description: An app that records screencaptures for annotation and sharing.

8. Twitter

Platform: Web browser, iOS, Android

Price: Free

Description: It’s twitter. You probably understand how it works, and how it can be used in the classroom. It seems like a clumsy way to message, but the kids love it. So let them eat cake.

9. DigiSocial

Platform: iOS

Price: Free

Description: Like a mash of VoiceThread and Instagram. As with all apps, how effective it is depends on the age of the students, and the learning goals you have in mind.

PUBLISH

10. Jux

Platform: Web Browser, iOS

Price: Free

Jux takes a minimalist approach to sharing content and ideas, offering the entire screen to fill with a student’s thoughts, project images, or textual analysis. It is the anti-blogging way to blog.

jux

11. Prezi

Platform: Web browser, iOS

Price: Free accounts with paid upgrades

If Jux is the anti-blog, Prezi is the anti-PowerPoint, allowing for the sequencing of presentations to be done in two dimensions, and opening a world of possibility for the use of space and depth. In this way, Prezi can be the project, or simply be a showcase for the project students complete.

12. Storify

Platform: Web browser, iOS

Price: Free

Storify is an interesting new app that allows you to browse and share from multiple social media streams and blogs at once.

Their iTunes page explains:

“Use Storify to:

  • Tell a news story about something that is getting attention on social media
  • Tell the story of a public event such as a conference or other live event where attendees are posting to social networks
  • Tell the story of a personal event like a wedding, party or night out with friends
  • Tell your company’s story by using what you and your customers say on social media
  • Tell your own story using the photos, video and updates you post on social networks to help you remember and share what is most important to you”

13. Kidblog

Platform: iOS

Price: Free

Description: Kid-safe blogging that can be used at home or in the classroom. The user-interface isn’t as simple as it could be, but after spending a bit of time with it you’ll figure it out. Images can also be uploaded directly to the blog without using embed codes.

14. Smart Drawings

Platform: iOS

Price: $3.99

Description: Smart Drawings allows students to create technical drawings, from blueprints to line-based sketches of proposed projects, products, or other widgets.

smart-drawings

15. Moxier Collage 

Platform: iOS

Price: $1.99

Description: A simple way to mash media forms, similar to Glogster and Phoster. 

 

{Integrating Technology}  Posts you may be interested in checking out:

 

Recent posts by Terry Heick of TeachThought

 

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Image attribution flickr user flickeringbrad, and the app developers respectively

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Kimberly

Kimberly is an educational consultant who works with district leaders to improve instructional effectiveness and student learning. No Tears for Tiers, a book about Common Core Vocabulary that she is writing, will be published by Solution Tree in 2014. In her other life, you'll find her in her gardens, biking, reading, or hanging out with her two teenagers (when they let her, that is).
  • http://www.facebook.com/diannmar Diann Martin

    thanks so much for these references, I teach grad students and believe me, most of these tools would be useful for them.