Jumping in…Sophia.org and Fast Fig

While I’ve had this site up and running for a few months now, this is my very first, official written-by-little-ol’-me blog post. For someone who claims to love all things techie and innovative, I’ve certainly been  dipping my toes into (professional) social media slowly…first with Twitter, and now, this blog.

OK, enough babble. Onto the goodies.

I’ve recently stumbled upon two new online tools that gave me the oh-my-goodness-this-would-be-so-amazing-to-use-in-a-classroom buzz. You know, the ones you get when you find a site that just keeps getting better and better the more you dig in? That butterfly feeling as you move from “hmm, this looks cool…” to “WOW! This looks impactful!” The blood-in-your-cheeks rush as you imagine all the ways you can use this with kids to get them excited about learning? Yeah, these sites gave me that feeling. Both of these sites would be useful tools for flipping your classroom…so if that interests you, read on.

First up: Sophia.org

This site has multiple components that all center around flipped learning, both for creating flipped courses and for teachers to participate in flipped professional development. On the instructional side, Sophia offers the ability to compile/create, house, categorize, and distribute online tutorials.

Let’s talk “creating”. Sophia-built tutorials can include all kinds of media:

  • Audio

  • Video (uploaded video file or YouTube/Vimeo link)

  • Formatted Text/Images

  • PDFs

  • HTML code

  • Presentations (SlideShare or uploaded PowerPoints)

sophia

It even has screen recording software (reminiscent of Screen-Cast-O-Matic) embedded right in the site–are you kidding me with the ease of use?! Amazing. The librarian in me especially loves that each media type includes a box to cite your source, you have tutorial licensing options (a number of Limited and Creative Commons choices), and you can tag your tutorial with key words.

Oh, but wait…there’s more!

You can write an objective and summary for your tutorial, link it to related courses, and include textbook assignments complete with page numbers. Did I mention you can also embed quizzes? Because you can.

That’s not even getting into the free teacher certification programs and free teacher tools, or the ability to create class groups, playlists, pathways, and statistics.

Plus, Bill Nye loves it. And I might have mentioned…it’s FREE. Sold. I’ll be using this to build mini-courses on various library system information, like advanced searching in the NOVELNY databases to help teachers find articles to support the Common Core. Check back–I’ll post the finished product once I’m done.

Next on the docket is FastFig.

Although my focus is librarianship and information fluency, the importance of math has been on my brain since I participated in an amazing day-long workshop with Dr. Andrew Chen who has been highly involved in the development of New York State Common Core Math standards. In Dr. Chen’s words, Americans have a disease where claiming to be bad at math is worn like a badge of honor (guilty). He said it’s not uncommon to hear things like “Oh, I suck at math” followed by a conspiratorial smile and shrug. Substitute the word “reading” or “writing” there, and most people would be mortified to state that proudly. He also spoke about changing the way we teach children number sense and fractions–but that’s a whole other post. Also, I think it’s worthwhile for librarians to have math and science tools in their bag of tricks, especially given the push for STEAM in instruction. Anyway, I digress. Back to Fast Fig.

Fast Fig describes itself as a “Word Processor for Math” and I think that’s a solid depiction–basically, it’s like Microsoft Word/Google Docs and a Scientific Calculator got married and had an awesome little love child with the best features of both. Or, like Excel decided to loosen up a bit and stop being so intimidating. Either way, I like it:

fast fig

From this initial screen, you can select the type of document you’d like to use. As you type, Fast Fig automatically recognizes the difference between equations and text, and formats accordingly. Here’s the best part: it automatically solves equations once you hit “enter”. You can also add graphs and images.

There’s a number of functions available on Fast Fig, found here. To be honest, I don’t know what half of these do, but it looks impressive.

Implication-wise, I’m not entirely sure what a tool like this means. Is it really any different than giving kids a calculator? No. Is there the possibility for “cheating”? Well…I guess that depends on the type of assignment you give. Just like research projects that inspire copy/paste, math assignments that are only looking for “the answer” are more of a problem than worrying about students cheating. Make sure students are thinking and the issue goes away.

A Basic account is free, Premium is $50/year. According to the Fast Fig blog, Premium lets you turn off autosolve, although I signed up for a free account and could turn it off, too (shh!). Turning off autosolve is a key feature, as this lets you create worksheets for students super-quickly. You can also share documents with other Fast Fig users–who can then edit, share, and save. For flipping your classroom, you can print worksheets to PDF or screen capture yourself using Fast Fig for computational demonstrations, then use these in your flipped course. Or, direct students to the site as a way to check their answers on assignments.

There are a few limitations: It doesn’t have an app, it works best in Chrome, sharing is limited to other Fast Fig users (setting up student accounts could be cumbersome), you only get 50 “Pads” free.

For more info, two quick tutorials on the basic features are available on YouTube.

Disclaimer: I am not overly skilled at math (Sorry, Dr. Chen–I say that with regret, not pride!)  so anything that appears to make math easier/simpler/faster automatically earns high marks with me. Perhaps a math teacher would look at this and pshaw–but as I’m not a mathematician, I think it’s incredible. 

Ta Da! First post done. Is it taboo to discuss that it’s your first post in your first post? Is that too meta? Either way, moving forward, not every post will be related to digital tools, it’s just the thing that inspired me to dive in. Let me know if you try either of these sites out, and how it goes. Thanks for reading!

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