Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Free Online Gradebook Learn Boost Goes Live

Last month I reported on a new free online gradebook program called Learn Boost. Today, Learn Boost went live to the public so I signed up and gave it a test drive this evening. The current version of Learn Boost doesn't have all of the promised features activated yet, but what is activated is quite good. The most outstanding feature of Learn Boost is its very intuitive user interface. At no point during the processes of setting-up my class roster, creating a seating chart, and entering gradebook assignments and grades did I have to guess or wonder what to do next. The one feature I do wish it had live right now (it appears to be in the works) is an option to import student lists from an external file. You do have to enter student names manually the first time you use Learn Boost. Overall, on a scale of one to ten for ease of use, Learn Boost gets a ten!

Aside from the ease of use, Learn Boost has some excellent features for day-to-day use. When taking attendance in Learn Boost you have the choice of recording in list view or in a seating chart view. The Learn Boost lesson plan function allows you to upload documents and files that you need in order to conduct your lessons. Coming soon, you'll be able to share lesson plans with other teachers through Learn Boost. Recording scores in your Learn Boost gradebook is very easy too. You control the scoring system and grading scale that you use in Learn Boost. You can export and or print your gradebook at anytime.

Applications for Education
I've worked with teachers using the expensive gradebook systems Infinite Campus and Power School. The biggest complaints that I hear from teachers about those system are about how steep the learning curve is for simple tasks like recording grades or updating class rosters. In fact, in my school we've had entire staff development days devoted to training teachers on how to use Infinite Campus. That is time that could definitely be better spent on any number of alternate activities. Learn Boost will make it easy for teachers to easily do their daily administrative tasks instead of struggling to navigate an difficult user interface. If your school is looking for a new gradebook system, consider giving Learn Boost a good long look.

And I almost forgot, I tested it and Learn Boost works equally well in Chrome, Firefox, and Safari. I did not test it in IE because even on my Windows machine I've uninstalled IE.

Wikispaces Updates Editing Options

If you're a Wikispaces user the next time you sign into one of your wikis you will notice some new editing features. Late last week Wikispaces added new "undo" and "redo" options to the editing menu. This should make it easier to fix small mistakes or to repeat an action like inserting blocks of text. The other new feature that should be of interest to teachers and students is a new system for notifying you that someone is editing a page at the same time as you. In the past this notification appeared at the bottom of the page and was easy to miss (my students missed it all the time). The new notification placement is just below the editing toolbar.

Wikispaces also made some technical changes last week that don't affect the visual editor, but might be of interest to you anyway. You can read all about those changes here.

WackWall - Build Your Own Social Network

Through Kelly Tenkely's excellent blog I recently learned about WackWall. WackWall is a service that anyone can use to create a social network. Some of WackWall's key features are message boards, customizable user profiles, private messaging between community members, and Facebook connect integration. Facebook connect integration means that people can sign in to their WackWall accounts using their Facebook credentials.

The free version of WackWall does set a limit on monthly bandwidth usage, but for most classroom situations that limit shouldn't present an issue. If you have someone in your school willing to maintain a server for you, you can download and run the WackWall software for free.

Applications for Education
If you're looking to create a small network in which you can share information and interact with your students and their parents, WackWall might be for you. WackWall could also be used by PTAs or booster organizations to connect their members.

Custom Math and Handwriting Worksheets

I typically do not write about worksheets or printables, but I do recognize that there are still some uses for them. This is particularly true for lessons intended to help students develop their handwriting skills. Twisty Noodle, a provider of thousands of printable worksheets, has a large selection of free worksheets designed to help students develop their handwriting skills. The handwriting worksheets can be customized by altering the text appearing on the worksheet and the font used on the worksheet. Twisty Noodle also offers basic mathematics worksheets that can be customized.

Applications for Education
A quick Amazon search reveals that worksheet books sell for anywhere between $10 and $1400 (click here for that pricey book). Customizing and printing worksheets from Twisty Noodle could represent a significant cost savings for teachers and schools.

Here are some related resources that may be of interest to you:
Time for Time - Teaching Students to Tell Time
Teachers Pet - Free Printable Teaching Resources