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Let's learn something new over holiday break!

Would you like to learn about a few new free tools to get organized, help students, or spice up your lesson plans? I can help with that!

SimpleK12's top subject-matter experts have put together some quick 3-minute videos to help teachers like you learn about their favorite web tools. And today I'm sharing some fun tools worth exploring during your winter break.

Each of SimpleK12's quick video tutorials outlines the basics of how to use the tool, making it easier than ever to get started.

Are you ready to learn something new? Remember to click through to each page until you've reached the end. Once you're there, tell me which one is your favorite on a comment on this article. :)

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Build a collaborative discussion space.

This free tool puts a fresh new spin on what a collaborative discussion space is. You don't even have to be in the same room as your collaborators.

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Padlet is an online sticky note board that can be used in a variety of ways.

Monica explains how you can use this virtual board to collaborate with others. Whether your students are using it for a review session, or you're using it with colleagues for a group discussion, Padlet is a wonderful way to connect and share ideas online.

One of my favorite things about collaborating with Padlet is that when you're finished with your brainstorming session, you have everyone's thoughts and ideas nicely organized on one shareable webpage. You can keep the URL for reference later on, or to go back to if you (or others) want to make additional notes.

For more on collaborating with students and colleagues, I recommend the Collaboration Toolkit. This online course contains videos that discuss various free tools that facilitate easy collaboration, along with strategies for online projects and discussions that increase engagement and build collaborative skills.

Now let's take a look at another free tool to help facilitate online discussions in your classroom.

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Set up a free backchannel discussion.

Are you looking for an online space for students to collaborate with each other? Why not try a free backchannel?

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Check out the video above as SimpleK12 technology trainer Monica Burns shares how to create a free backchannel with TodaysMeet. It's so easy to get started with this tool, Monica covers all the basics in under 3 minutes.

TodaysMeet is an online backchannel tool that allows you to create a virtual discussion space (called a Room) for your students to use. This is something you could have students use in a variety of ways, but the term "backchanneling" implies that you'd be using the virtual chat room while there is an ongoing lecture or face-to-face event going on, as well. Students can write down their notes, ideas, or questions live during the presentation.

Monica explains how you can use this free backchannel with your students, and save a record of your backchannel when you're finished.

One of my favorite things about backchanneling is it gives all students an equal voice in your classroom. Students have a variety of personalities, and some are more prone to raise their hands and speak up in class, while others may sit silently with their thoughts. Other students may have a natural tendency to have a dominating presence, no matter how you try to facilitate an equal platform. Providing an online backchannel is one way to offer another format for students to contribute to class discussions.

Next up, we'll explore how you can use one of the hottest content curation tools out there to help you find new lesson plans.

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Find inspiration for lesson plans.

Finding inspiration can be a vital thing for a classroom teacher. We all need a little motivation and help every once in awhile!

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SimpleK12 technology trainer Monica Burns has a great idea for using Pinterest to get inspired. She explains it all in the quick 3-Minute Classroom Problem Solver video above.

Pinterest is a free content curation tool that allows you to view and create virtual pin boards full of ideas. Monica efficiently explains how to use Pinterest to discover lesson plan ideas, activities, and other things of interest to both teaches and kids.

The possibilities of what a teacher can do with Pinterest are seemingly endless. Follow SimpleK12 on Pinterest. Make sure to take a look at SimpleK12's Pinterest boards for dozens of ideas, projects, plus some "just for fun" teacher quotes and jokes.

Looking for an alternative to Pinterest? Next, we'll look at a free tool similar to Pinterest, that is specifically designed with educators in mind.

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A tool for organizing tech tools.

In a world full of technology, who needs yet another tech tool? But how about one for organizing tech tools and apps you already have… tempting? Thought it might be.

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In the above 3-Minute Classroom Problem Solver video, SimpleK12 trainer Monica Burns explains step-by-step how to organize your tech tools with Participate Learning.

This is the first time I'd heard of Participate Learning, and it looks like an amazing organizational tool for teachers. Any Pinterest lovers reading right now? You're sure to get this tool right away, as it's somewhat similar.

You create your own resource collections (similar to a Pinterest board) so you have easy access to your favorite tools, apps, resources wherever you need them. The biggest difference, and benefit, I see for teachers using Participate Learning is everything on the site is geared towards educators.

While a tool like Pinterest may have a more fun, visual feel to it, Participate Learning has all the bells and whistles specifically geared with educators in mind. This means more relevant material coming your way, and less recipes and celebrity memes -- not that there's anything wrong with enjoying an entertaining meme every now and again.

Want to WOW your students and parents when they return from holiday break? Let's take a look at a free tool that'll help you create amazing classroom newsletters.

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Create amazing classroom newsletters.

Let’s take a look at a simple way to create newsletters, and put information in the hands of others.

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In the above 3-Minute Classroom Problem Solver video, Monica Burns explains step-by-step how to create newsletters with Adobe Spark.

When Monica recorded the above video a short while ago, the tool was called Adobe Slate, and the newsletters were called stories. As of the writing of this article, Adobe has renamed the tool to Adobe Spark, and updated it to include the creation of posts, pages, and videos.

While some changes have occurred, the creation process is very much the same as when it was recorded, which is why the above video is still helpful when taking a look at the Spark Page feature. This tool allows you to create stunning online newsletters in minutes. When you're finished with your creation, you can share via email, your class website, or social media.

For more on staying connected with parents using technology, I recommend this online training session, Optimize Parent and Student Communication with Email and Newsletters.

Doing any tweeting during the holiday break? This is the perfect time to get your Twitter feeds organized. Let's take a look at a tool that can help.

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Track Twitter topics efficiently.

Is your Twitter feed out of control? Let’s take a look at a free tool that’ll help you track twitter topics, and get your feed organized once and for all!

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In the above 3-Minute Classroom Problem Solver video, SimpleK12 Teacher Learning Community trainer Jerry Swiatek explains how you can use TweetDeck to streamline and organize your Twitter feed.

There are a lot of benefits to using TweetDeck to manage your Twitter account. Jerry focuses on creating a stream on your feed that combines search results. This means you can follow a set of specific hashtags or keywords all in one organized stream, instead of searching and re-searching Twitter attempting to stay updated with the most relevant information.

Check out Top Tools for Taming the Onslaught of Social Media Info to learn about more ideas on organizing your social media accounts and get them working for you. This training video explores several tools that can help you organize all of the great resources and ideas that are shared through social media. Join SimpleK12 trainer Jayme Linton as she explores how you can make the best use of Twitter, Tweetdeck, Pocket, and If This Then That to learn and stay organized.

Have any reference charts or posters in your classroom that could use a little update? Now is the perfect time to refresh them. Click to the next page to learn more about a free tool that can help.

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Update your classroom reference charts.

Take a look at this simple web tool to create custom reference charts for your classroom…

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In the above 3-Minute Classroom Problem Solver video, SimpleK12's Teacher Learning Community presenter extraordinaire, Monica Burns, explains step-by-step how to update your reference charts with the free image creation tool, Canva.

You can see how easy it is to design your own reference material from scratch with Canva. You don't need to be a techie pro to build your own beautiful graphics. The best part about this tool is everything you need to get started is completely free. You can add on additional graphics or special fonts for a fee, but Canva has more than enough to get the job done with a free account.

Once you're finished with your creations you can print them out, or share them electronically. There's also a Canva App available for iPad, for those of you looking to create on the go.

So there you have it, 7 free tools to check out during the holiday break. But that's not all I'm sharing today! For more in-depth training on a few of these tools, scroll down for a list of on-demand training sessions available at SimpleK12.

Now that you have a few ideas about some new tools to explore, let's take a look at these related on-demand training sessions from SimpleK12's Teacher Learning Community.

Twitter 101: Using Twitter Chats and Hashtags to Learn and Collaborate. Would you like to reap the benefits of learning on Twitter? Have you ever seen or heard of people taking part in Twitter chats, or wanted to join a chat but didn't know how? Join Steven W. Anderson, co-creator of #edchat, as he explains how Twitter chats and EdChats work, how you can participate, why you should participate, and how they can help you become a better educator. In addition to sharing some tips and tricks for getting more out of chats, Steven will also explain what hashtags are and how they can open up a world of possibilities for learning and professional growth.

Creating Interactive Photos in Your Classroom. Join Brenda Hauff as she explains how to use Canva, a free, cloud-based desktop publishing tool that makes you look like a pro. She shows how to take what you have just created and make it interactive with Thinglink. Using the free features of Thinglink, Brenda demonstrates how you can easily make a graphic come alive with interactive photos or text. There's no need to be a tech nerd – you can do it all without using HTML code.

Free Web Tools for Easy Formative Assessment. Formative assessments can help you determine how students are progressing with content and make adjustments to instruction. Technology can assist in the formative assessment process, making it quick and easy to collect and analyze information about student learning. In this session, explore 4 free web tools that make it easy to create and implement formative assessments to measure student learning and inform instruction.

7 Free Tools to Explore During Holiday Break Click to Tweet

Which tool are you most excited to try with your students? Share your thoughts in a comment on this article.

About the Author
Kimber Thompson is a Lead Moderator for SimpleK12 webinars and a Contributing Editor for SimpleK12.com. She writes frequently about education topics, and is passionate about tools and techniques that inspire young learners. You may reach her with ideas and comments at editor@simplek12.com.


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