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Back to School: An Apple for the teacher

TUAW's going Back to School! We'll be bringing you tips and reviews for students, parents and teachers right up until the bell rings in September.

Going back to school isn't all about the students; the educators are often just as excited or stressed out as the kids about the beginning of a new school year. What can make life easier on the poor teacher? Great Mac software! Read on for information on a grab bag of Mac and web apps to help out your favorite educator.



Gradebooks


Gradekeeper (screenshot below) is the electronic version of that old paper gradebook that my teachers used to carry around and guard with their lives. Your favorite teacher can take attendance, create seating charts, and enter assignments and scores.

Gradekeeper runs on both PCs and Macs, and there are even Palm OS and Windows Mobile versions for taking attendance (no word on whether or not this will eventually be done for iPhone). A single user license is US$20, school licenses are US$100, and a district license is only US$500. The licenses allow you to use Gradekeeper on Windows and Mac OS X, at school or at home, with no cost for future upgrades. That's a great deal!

Gradekeeper

The Mac GradeBook software from Schoolhouse Software is another cross-platform gradebook. It provides over 40 on-screen and printed reports, and uses a simple spreadsheet-like interface for data entry. No Mac screenshots were available, but the some of the features are pretty impressive:
  • Print commendation, marginal, and failing letters in either English or Spanish.
  • Print student report cards that combine averages from different classes.
  • Create semester grade reports combining averages for each six weeks.
  • Convert missing grades to any grade you wish automatically.
  • Attach comments to progress reports.
  • Drop lowest grade automatically.
  • Maintain conduct grades.
An individual teacher license is US$79, and school site licenses vary from US$695 to US$995 depending on the size of the school. A free limited-functionality trial is available for download.

Easy Grade Pro (below) from Orbis Software is another gradebook app that your favorite teacher will love. It's also cross-platform and has full-featured Windows Mobile and Palm OS companions (not included). The software does not appear to be Universal Binary, but should run in the Rosetta emulation mode on Intel Macs. Orbis has also gone to the cloud with a web edition of the application.

Easy Grade Pro is quite popular, and is available for US$48 per teacher or US$498 for a school license. The pocket companions cost an additional US$35 per teacher or US$125 per school. It appears that this application is now part of Edline's suite of educational programs.



Edline's GradeQuick is a powerful gradebook with many reports. It can print interim progress reports or report cards, and is integrated with the rest of Edline's products including teacher web pages, online discussions, student web lockers, and more. A single teacher license is US$69.95, and teachers or administrators should contact Edline for school or district pricing. A 30-day free trial is available here.

George Beckman is a retired teacher from California who wrote a pretty good grading program called Pretty Good Grading Program (AKA PGGP). His Mac OS X native app is US$42, and George himself will help you get started using the application. A 30-day free demo is available here.

Maxium Developments makes Master Grade, a very functional cross-platform gradebook package.
ClassMaster from longtime educational publisher William K. Bradford Company doesn't appear to have been updated recently, but does "run on Tiger." In you're still stuck in Mac OS 7 through 9 hell, version 3.2 of this app will still work for you.

E-Z Grader is a combination gradebook and lesson planner. There's not much detail on the web page about this package, other than the price -- US$99.95 for a single license. Hey, developers -- if you'd like to us to write more about your applications, be sure to provide demos, screenshots, or something other than a price on your website. Jay Klein Software's Making The Grade Mac is another of these mystery packages. No pictures, no price, no information other than a few fifteen year-old testimonials...

There may be other gradebook applications available that didn't show up in my quick search, so if you have a favorite that wasn't listed here, tell us about it in the comments.

Lesson Planners

Want to get that class schedule planned and make it visible to your students and their parents? Jeff Hellman's PlanBook works on Mac and Windows, allows attachment of files (including presentations) to plans, and makes it simple to post your schedule to a Web server. At US$30 for a single license or US$600 for a district-wide license, PlanBook should fit any teacher's budget.

3 Square Associates develops and markets Lesson Planner Standard and Advanced (screenshot below). As with most of the software covered here, Lesson Planner is cross-platform. The package is built on top of FileMaker Pro, and utilizes a FMP runtime so you don't need to have FIleMaker Pro installed.

Lesson Planner Standard

When you start developing a lesson plan, Lesson Planner begins by having you build an Aims, Objectives, and Strategies sheet. You then move on to describing the lesson sequence, doing a self-evaluation of how the plan meets various criteria, attaching resources (sounds, PDF files, graphics), and looking at differentiation and learning strategies in detail. The Advanced package has a number of extra features I won't describe here. Instead, visit the website for details. You can also watch videos of how Lesson Planner works, as well as download a free demo.

Lesson Planner Standard costs £29.99 (US$62.80), while a license for the Advanced package is £49.99 (US$104.68).

Mind-mapping software is often useful, not only for lesson planning but for brainstorming other educational activities NovaMind Express is a lite version of NovaMind's powerful mind-mapping package for OS X. Available for US$49, NovaMind also provides a 30-day free trial.

Another mind-mapping app that works well for educators is MindJet MindManager 7 for Mac. This is a powerful tool, and aimed more at educators who are experienced in the use of mind-mapping. MindJet MindManager is priced at US$129, and there's a free demo of it as well.

Many of the Mac-based lesson planning applications seem to be stagnating, and for good reason -- there are some excellent web-based lesson planners. The first is iLessonPlan (screenshot below), which is available with a single license at US$29.99. You can request a free trial of the application. The great thing about web-based apps such as iLessonPlan is that they can be accessed from just about any machine, anywhere.

iLessonPlan

TeacherEase provides a complete suite of online educational tools. Not only does TeacherEase provide Lesson Planning, but they also have gradebook, report card, and curriculum mapping modules. For the first three individual educators at a school, TeacherEase provides a free one-year subscription. The pricing structure is rather labyrinthine, so if you're interested in seeing how much this is going to cost, take a look here.

Miscellaneous Tools

We all know it's the duty of the educator to make us all sweat with quizzes and tests, and now it's easier than ever for teachers to work up these tools of torture. Quiz Press (see screenshot below) works up all sorts of evaluation tests for printing. Teachers can also create iPod-based tests or post tests on the Web. This cross-platform tool from Sol Robots is available for US$49.95 and can be purchased here.

Quiz Press

Mr. McNutt wants to make learning fun! Classroom Quizshow creates a number of different types of quiz shows that can then be projected in front of the class for hours of educational happiness. The US$35 (single-user license) application includes five different quiz show types -- Tic Tac Tournament, Matching, Dots, Reversi, and Sudoku. There's a free trial available or you can purchase Classroom Quizshow through the online store.

FRS Classroom Game Show is another game show app for Mac. As with most of the other applications listed here, there's a free trial available for download. If you like the application, a single-user license is only US$19.95

iSocrates is a Mac-only assessment, evaluation and feedback system. It's available for US$99, and has many features for creating assessment and evaluation rubrics. Printouts of the filled-out rubrics are a great way to provide instant feedback to students.

Teachers -- want to become Web stars? ProfCast is an easy way to take your live classroom presentations, Keynote or PowerPoint decks, and other materials and turn 'em into podcasts. There's a 15-day fully-functional trial available for download, and a single-user license can be purchased online for US$59.95. ProfCast is an excellent choice for university professors looking at creating content for Apple's iTunes U.

Another way that you can present your educational expertise to the world is to create courseware. Norpath produces both Elements Studio and Elements Designer, powerful tools for developing and publishing courseware. Elements Designer is the "lite" version of this authoring environment and costs $US249, while Elements Studio is designed for commercial courseware developers. Elements Studio sells for US$495. Do you think you have the stuff to become a courseware developer? Give the software a try for free, or purchase the apps from the Norpath online store.

Conclusion

This is just a sampling of Mac software available for educators. If you're a teacher or professor and have a favorite tool that isn't listed here, please let the rest of the world know about it by leaving us a comment.



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