Free Tools for Teachers

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There are probably close to a million different free tools out there for computer use. The goal is finding ones that work for you that work in your classroom and those that work. Remember just because it is free doesn't mean it is necessarily better then spending the money for a commercial version.


Productivity Software

Do you have students who have computers at home, but don't have Microsoft's Office suite? Here is a great alternative. It allows you to do basic word processing , spreadsheets, drawing, and presentations.
Google Account
The ubiquitous Google has a great service for those that might be ready for email and more. Signing up for a Google account gives users a ton of access to tools for no cost. Including word processing, speadsheets, and presentations. All of these can be shared as well.
Sure Firefox may just be a web browser, but the amount that you can extend it with extensions makes it a great alternative to Explorer. Add all sorts of things to the browser functionality from note taking to blogging. Zotero is just one example of how this can be achieved.
Much like Firefox Thunderbird is a nice alternative to Outlook, if you want to have a client based email. It can be extended as well.
Cute PDF
Do you want to be able to create PDFs without having to spend the money to get the full version of Acrobat? CutePDF is one of a few free ways to achieve this.
Looking for that free web page creator? Well here is your answer. This program replaces the old Netscape Composer.
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Portable Apps
For about $20 you can buy a 2 GB flash drive, with Portable Apps you can add a few of the programs mentioned above to the drive. Now simply plug in your flash drive and work on any computer that you have available.
Freemind is a mind mapping software. It is certainly not as nice as Inspiration, but an alternative none the less.
Microsoft Powertools
Release your inner geek with a few of the neat tools that people have developed for Windows XP.
Micorsoft Office templates
One of the nice things about having Microsoft Office is that a lot of people develop templates for anyone to use. Are you looking for a Calendar for you students? Try searching Microsoft's templates. In a time where no one wants to recreate the wheel, this is a great place to start when thinking about making something for classroom use.
Education Pack for Windows XP Tablet Edition
Are you one of the fortunate souls to have a tablet PC? Well take a look at Windows Education pack for the tablet PC. It comes with things such as flash card creators and mathematics tools.

Web based software

There are a quite a few blogging services out there. Three that you may want to investigate are Wordpress, Blogger, and Edublogs.
With all the talk about social networks this seems to be the latest that is out there. Check it out NYSCATE has one.
Elgg is another social networking application that is out there. Also a place where educators have been seen.
Bookmarking is something that all of us do. However Delicious adds the ability to be social about it. Share bookmarks with friends, and use the search to find great things out there that you weren't finding in Google. Besides it is already been filtered by others.
NY ePals Gateway
One of the untapped benefits of the Internet is global connectivity. NY State now has its own Gateway with ePals, the world's leader in connecting classroom to classroom. ePals has a suite of free tools for teachers and classrooms from secure email, to monitored blogging and file exchange. They also have live chat and are moving towards a version of instant messaging. The best part is that there is a community already in existence here and interested in collaborating with others.
For another free online community try Hotchalk. A free online learning and collaborative community. The site is completely free and currently has access (also for free for the next few months) to NBC News streaming video.
Reading First
One thing that students might be interested in are the books that you read as a teacher. Here are two great ways to share what you are reading, and what you have read. Both LibraryThing and Bibliophil give you the ability to share over the web what you are reading. Engage students by sharing your ideas and reviews on books.
Formerly MarcoPolo, Thinkfinitiy is a collection of lessons and activities that are available to teachers. All the content has been evaluated, so you aren't simply searching unfiltered websites.
If you want to be able to share photos with students Flickr might be a choice. Flickr allow you to upload 25 MB of pictures a month. Also it is a great place to search for photos, however be wary, don't let students simply search there is content on here as with the rest of the web that some may find offensive.
Elluminate is a powerful synchronous online learning environment. It allow you to conduct a class online without having to pay for the full version.
If you want something that will create flash based slide shows for you try Animoto. Sure it takes away all your creativity, but sometimes it is just a simple presentation that you want to create.
Would you like to have a collaborative class space? Wikis make this possible take a look at either Wikispaces or PbWiki for your own class wiki. Examples of wikis wiki with many links for teachers and one with many helpful Web 2.0 links.
YouTube might be blocked, but you can use something that is a bit more educationally based. Try TeacherTube for you classroom videos or SchoolTube. Also try EdVideo Online or VITAL for more free video resources for NY State educators. Both of these require working through your local PBS station or school district media center to receive a username and password.
Mind map? Floor plan? Flow chart? Seating chart? Things we’ve never thought of but that children do? Here’s a little online program that lets you do it all. A bit like a simplified Inspiration, it is available all the time, everywhere you have online access. Students can work from home, share their work, print wherever they happen to be. (Thanks to Gail for here suggestion on this one.)
Back to School with Web 2.0
A site with three different sections which will give you links to hundreds of Web 2.0 tools for teachers.

Chat Tools

Google Talk
Goodness Google has a ton of products. Google talk is a nice way to communicate with others. The client that you run on your desktop allows you to do instant messaging, free PC-to-PC voice calls, send and receive voicemails, and unlimited file transfers. It does interface with some different chat clients as well.
This is a great chat client. It allows you to connect to AIM, ICQ, MSN, Yahoo Messenger, and IRC clients, all at once. The basic version has some limits, but it is free without any spyware or other concerns.
Is a free VOIP client for you computer. You can make phone calls to and from your computer. You can also make calls to landlines.
Skype is similar to Gizmo and iChat, allowing you to make voice calls and Video calls as well. However to do this the other person must also have Skype.
Pidgin is similar to Trillian and connect with AIM, Bonjour, Gadu-Gadu, Google Talk, Groupwise, ICQ, IRC, MSN, MySpaceIM, QQ, SILC, SIMPLE, Sametime, XMPP, Yahoo!, and Zephyr. So it is another option to connect with a variety of other chat clients keeping your messaging in one place.

Multi Media

The GIMP is a powerful image manipulation tool. If you are looking for a Photoshop type tool this could be your answer.
Another Google product, which allows you to organize your photos and do some basic photo editing.
A simple photo editing and conversion software with quite a bit of power
For someone who wants to edit sound and create with sounds this is a good answer.
A nice alternative to iTunes for video and Internet based streams.
With all the little white buds in peoples ears today you can't get a much simpler media organizer than this. Besides it is a great way to listen and get podcasts.
Microsoft Photo Story
Microsoft makes this wonderful little program to create stories using your still photos. There are a ton of different uses of this program so that you can have students express their learning in different ways.
Springdoo is a way to create and upload your own videos.
Yes I realize it is blocked all over the place. The real question is why? Teachers could create and upload educational videos here, and the school doesn't have to pay for the server space. Of course you could go to TeacherTube or SchoolTube
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Classroom and Subject Specific

GIS Type

Google Earth (and sky)
Want to show your students the world? Download Google Earth and fly them across the planet. Use interactive push pins related to specific places and concepts. Now has Google Sky which allows you to explore the heavens with pictures and data for specific planets or other celestial bodies.
Easy GPS
Do you have your students out GeoCaching? Well EasyGPS helps you upload and work with waypoints. It is a simple interface and allows you to upload and download information from a variety of GPS units.
Take you students out to see the night sky during the day. Stellarium is a free open source planetarium for your computer. It shows a realistic sky in 3D, just like what you see with the naked eye, binoculars or a telescope.
Is a free space simulation that lets you explore our universe in three dimensions.

3D Creation

Do you have a class of artists that want to create the next Simpson's movie? Well take a look at Blender. You can even view a few short films and 3D art that others have done.
Google Sketch Up
Do you have a group of carpenters or perhaps some budding architects? Well Google's Sketch Up allows students to create 3 dimensional products, add textures, and print them when they are done.

Survey Tools

Survey Monkey
Allows you to run surveys for free with online reporting.
Has similar tools and options. Both of these have the option to upgrade your account for more access and tools.

Programing Basics

If you want to engage students in some basic concepts of logic and programming then you might want to try Scratch. Using objects students can create simple programs as multimedia shows.
Squeak is a powerful engine for learning basic programing.
A 3D programming engine. Here is a nice overview of Alice

Classroom Specific Applications

Crossword Puzzle Maker
There are lots of crossword puzzle makers out there on the web, but this one gives the best looking results, in my opinion. You can make it available online, or just print it for your own use. Solving online is pretty klunky. (Thanks to Gail for here suggestion on this one.)
Free Timer
Here’s a nice gizmo for your classroom: a free Timer which you can install on your computer, then use on your TV when students are doing timed work. Just download, click on the installer, and you're ready to go. The download button is about half way down the page, and the version I most recently downloaded was a little bit wacky. To activate the timer, I had to move my mouse into a rather odd position in the middle of the screen. Clearly, the company would like you to purchase other tools, but what we want is the freebie!(Thanks to Gail for here suggestion on this one.)
Are you looking for a way to have students work on vocabulary and save the world at the same time? Take a look here and help out a good cause 10 grains of rice at a time.
If you are a Math, Science, or Technology teachers and want to have students engage in creating real life projects you might want to take a look at Instructables. This site offers a variety of projects that you can either have students create, or have them submit.
Finale Notepad


This is a great little site that converts files for you. Say perhaps you have a Word document you want to change to a PDF. Zamzar will process the file and send it back to you via email. It also works well so that you can download videos from YouTube and other sites. Note: Be aware of the contents copyright.
Open Disc is a collection of software programs that are open source projects. There is even a disc specifically for education.
Ayiti: The Cost of Life
Darfur is Dying
A flash based game looking at the crisis in Darfur.
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