After I had been teaching with online resources in my classroom for a few weeks, I began to notice that the interactive content I was searching for fell into four distinct categories: interactive animations, virtual manipulatives, practice activities, and games. Each category is discussed in detail below.
Interactive Animations: A good way to think of an interactive animation is as an electronic teacher. (Although I don’t suggest you use these as a replacement for your instruction. More about this in a later post.) These pieces of content can act as online tutorials for a concept. They often include sound effects¸ voiceovers, and animations to present concepts to students, and they may be in the form of an animated or real-life video. Instructional animations work well as concept introductions, reviews, or as main lessons if used along with teacher interaction and guidance.
Virtual Manipulatives: Non-educators always give me a blank stare when I mention the term virtual manipulatives as if I have just lapsed into speaking in a different language. And in a way I have, its “teacher speak.” So, I explain that manipulatives are learning tools students “manipulate” with their hands to aid in learning a concept. Some common math manipulatives are base ten blocks, fraction bars, pattern blocks and tangrams. “Virtual” manipulatives are simply manipulatives that are computer based. They exist in the “virtual” world instead of being concrete and hands-on.
Virtual manipulatives require teacher direction as they are open ended applications that can be used for a variety of purposes and at a variety of learning levels depending on the teacher’s lesson objectives. Virtual manipulatives are excellent for getting students to use their higher order thinking skills, to promote deeper understanding of a concept, to encourage concept application, and to view immediate results.
Practice Activities: As the label suggests, these are activities that provide students practice with concepts. This type of content provides already developed questions that require answers and give immediate feedback from those answers. Practice activities cover the spectrum between basic multiple choice questions to more advanced problem solving and application challenges. Practice activities are typically thought of as being used for individual student learning and assessment in computer labs, but they can also be used very effectively as whole class guided practice questions, whole class reviews, sponge activities and lesson launch questions.
Games: Games are similar to practice activities in that they provide already developed questions that require answers and give immediate feedback from those answers. Games differ from practice activities in that there is an increased entertainment value, competitive format, or challenging aspect to the game that is not found in basic practice activities. For students, games often outshine practice activities and comments change from “I like this. This is a lot better than worksheets.” to “This is fun! Can I play it again?” Similar to practice activities, games can also be used very effectively as whole class guided practice questions, whole class reviews, sponge activities and lesson launch questions.
Once I began grouping interactive content into four distinct categories, it became easier for me to choose a resource to use based on the way in which I wanted it integrated into my lesson.