Time to Timeline: A Review of 5 Free Tools

Thanks to the amazing Ed Tech Leader Gina Stefanini’s presentation at the Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA) Conference in January 2011, I learned about five tools that can help students and teachers create visual, interactive timelines. I finally had the chance to sit down and experiment with them! There are infinite ways in which you can use interactive timeline tools in your classroom, including the following:

  • Chart whole-class understandings of an overarching theme over a period of time
  • Learn about the order of actions or happennings
  • Put items in order according to a story
  • Plan actions before or as you carry them out
  • Map the history of a person, place, or event
  • Record individual student growth and learning over time
  • Conduct research and record your findings
  • Have others comment and give feedback on your work
  • Showcase on-going work using many mediums including music, video, images, text, voice recording, and more

For a brief introduction to using timelines in the classroom, check out this article in Edutopia, titled, Timelines 2.0: A Fun, Easy, and Free Classroom Tool by Chris O’Neal.

The following are notes that I hope will help you decide which timeline tool is best for your needs.

Capzles http://www.capzles.com/#

  • Requires sign-up
  • Excellent example: A Brief History of Apple
  • Sharing: embed in websites (though I was unsuccessful at embedding A Brief History of Apple into this post), link, share on social networks, email, RSS
  • Interface: slickest and coolest looking of the tools on this list, easy to use, drag-and-drop to re-order, auto-saves as you work
  • Customization: neat backgrounds, fonts, colours
  • Privacy: full range of options from completely private to allowing others to edit your work
  • Content: photos, videos, audio, text uploaded from your computer
  • Community: add and message friends, bookmark favourites
  • Other views: none so it would not print well
  • Cons: can’t add captions to photos unless you add a caption as the name of the photo before you upload it

TimeToast http://www.timetoast.com/

  • Requires sign-up
  • Excellent example: The Life of Galileo
  • Sharing: embed in websites, link, share on social networks, RSS
  • Interface: very simple and clean, easy to use
  • Customization: none
  • Privacy: full range of options
  • Content: photos uploaded from your computer and text that you type
  • Community: none
  • Other views: text view available (good for printing)
  • Cons: must upload photos one at a time, no customization options

OurStory http://ourstory.com/home.html

  • Requires sign-up
  • Excellent example: it was very hard to find one due to a lack of organization and navigation options on the site
  • Sharing: embed in websites
  • Interface: cluttered and confusing
  • Customization: saw some that were different colours but couldn’t figure out how to do it for my test timeline
  • Privacy: full range of options
  • Content: photos that you can search for via Yahoo images, images uploaded from your computer, and text that you type
  • Community: meant for people to create timelines of their lives and share with their families and communities, can also join groups
  • Other views: none
  • Cons: incredibly confusing and hard to use!

Dipity http://www.dipity.com/

  • Requires sign-up
  • Excellent example: The History of Legos
  • Sharing: embed in websites, link, share on social networks
  • Interface: not quite as slick looking as Capzles, but still pretty neat, easy to use, first part of the creation process is mostly text-based
  • Customization: a few backgrounds to choose from
  • Privacy: full range of options
  • Content: photos, videos, audio, text uploaded from your computer, 20 most relevant images from online searches, a pre-set number of your most recent uploads to Flickr, YouTube, and other networks, blog posts and tweets
  • Community: add friends, follow favourites
  • Other views: default timeline, list, flip book, and map
  • Cons: sometimes frustrating when clicking on individual timeline items because it moves whenever you move your mouse and movement is not quite smooth

XTimeline http://www.xtimeline.com

  • Requires sign-up
  • Excellent example: History of Mobile Phones
  • Sharing: embed in websites, link, share on social networks, but there is an extra step to sign up for this
  • Interface: 90% text-based, not very intuitive
  • Customization: none
  • Privacy: full range of options
  • Content: photos uploaded from your computer
  • Community: add favourites
  • Other views: none
  • Cons: text-based, boring looking, not very intuitive

The Verdict

  • Best tool overall: Capzles
  • Accommodates the widest range of media: Dipity
  • Most ways to share: Capzles
  • Easiest to use: Capzles and TimeToast
  • Most customization: Capzles
  • Coolest looking: Capzles
  • Best for sharing blog or tweet updates: Dipity – if you create one with your tweets/blog, it will keep it updated with your latest posts
  • Best for printing in b/w: TimeToast

Have you used interactive timelines for teaching and learning? How have you used them? Can you share some tips for making the most of them? Which interactive timeline tools do you use and why?

(Image: Nu Food Timeline #2, by Bennet for Senate. 2009. Available under a Creative Commons License.)

Flip Your Classroom = No More Lectures! (+ Free Resource list)

Traditional high school classrooms are places where teachers lecture for 75-85% of each class. Teachers introduce ‘the basics’, give examples, and have students take notes while they speak. If students are lucky enough to have a teacher who uses some kind of media, they may get to view one or two videos, simulations, or diagrams during the lesson. By the time ‘the basics’ have been taught, there is little time for students to delve deeper into challenging questions. And despite a few minutes of multimedia, the classroom is still an overwhelmingly teacher-centered place of learning.

Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams are award-winning teachers in Colorado who use the term, Mastery Learning to describe how they have ‘flipped’ their classrooms inside out. Instead of lecturing in class, they have created hundreds of vodcast videos which their students view for homework. When the students are at school, they do hands-on, interactive, problem solving, and active learning. For a brief intro to this concept, check out Jonathan and Aaron’s short video titled, The Flipped Classroom, by Learning4Mastery.

When I speak to high school teachers, they are always worried about the lack of time to “cover the curricular outcomes”. They run into this issue because they have planned their teaching calendars as if students came to school to listen to the teacher recite a book to them, with a set number of pages alloted for each day. If we truly want to engage students in deep, authentic, reflective, and active learning, then doesn’t it make sense to flip the classroom? Shouldn’t we have students learn the basics before coming to class to explore the challenging aspects of a topic? Shouldn’t we give students the power and responsibility to be in charge of their own learning?

You may have experienced a flipped classroom of sorts in post-secondary studies. I recall many of my university classes assigned readings for homework that taught the basic concepts, vocabulary definitions, and examples that I needed to tackle the controversial and engaging questions with my peers and professors in class. The first time I neglected to do the pre-assigned work, I quickly realized how much it would have helped me to participate fully in the exciting conversations.

Many teachers will argue that they cannot monitor students to make sure that they view videos, read textbooks, or do any preparation for homework. One of the ways in which Jonathan and Aaron have dealt with the issue of student accountability is to create forms for students to fill out and take notes on while they watch their vodcasts. In my opinion, depending on how academically focused your students are, simply asking them to answer a few questions on the pre-assigned material would be one way to make sure that it is done.

The most powerful force to encourage students to do pre-assigned homework is to ensure that at school, they have the opportunity to experience exciting hands-on explorations and activities with the guidance of a passionate teacher. Ultimately, this would encourage students to come to school prepared to learn by doing their pre-lesson homework.

Flipping the classroom is one of the most powerful strategies that educators can employ to help students learn. Flipping your classroom doesn’t mean spending hours creating videos like Jonathan and Aaron, although their work is incredibly professional, entertaining, and well edited. To start with, you can simply assign some textbook readings along with a few questions for homework so that students can synthesize basic information. If they can read it in a textbook, then why would you lecture about it? To take things a step further, you can find dozens of free interactive videos, virtual manipulatives, exciting lectures, and more on sites like these. I have gone through the following list (all of these are free!), and believe that they are high quality sites with extensive resource selection:

  • TeacherTube – like YouTube, but features only user-created educational materials
  • YouTube – for up-to-the-minute information, educational videos, and many resources to link learning to popular culture
  • iTunes U – free podcasts, videos, lectures, films, and more from world-renowned universities and educational institutions (does not require an i-device to download and enjoy)
  • Merlot – a collection of thousands of user-created interactives, sites, and materials that are quite well categorized
  • MIT OpenCourseWare – this links to a section of the site focused on resources for high school subjects
  • BBC School – includes review lessons and self-tests in all subjects
  • HippoCampus – mostly math and science resources featuring narrated animation-style lessons
  • Khan Academy – a well organized collection of thousands of instructional videos
  • Patrick JMT (Just Math Tutorials) – thousands of videos, well organized, on everything to do with math
  • Internet4Classrooms – an endless list of websites where you can find various resources, organized by subject area
  • Wolfram Math World – an extensive collection of math examples (text form only)
  • Wolfram Demonstrations Project – images and interactive media in all subjects
  • OpenLearningInitiative – features a number of free courses that include videos and virtual demonstrations, mostly in math and science
  • Open Yale Courses – features a small number of advanced-level course offerings that include lectures and videos
  • Academic Earth – features mostly video lectures from professors at world-renowned universities
  • PhET – science and math simulations for all grade levels, even in other languages from the University of Colorado at Boulder
  • Educatonal Vodcasts – Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams’ website explaining their motivation and process for creating their vodcasts

Will you try to flip your classroom once in a while? If you are already doing it, what is working for you? How are you doing it? What tips can you share?