Tech Trumps® Friday Focus: Popplet - capture and organize your ideas

This Friday I'm focusing on a lesser known digital technology, one that seems simple but is perhaps deceptively powerful when used well. It's also one which I think might be particularly interesting for primary teachers (I'm currently working on a primary pack of Tech Trumps - more of that later, email me if interested). This week it's the turn of Popplet.

What is Popplet?

Popplet is a visual organisation tool, a type of mind mapper if you like where you can create objects containing thinking or imagery, and then link these together to create a web of interconnected objects. It is in this linking that the real power of Popplet shines out, as it gives you the ability to represent thinking using a visual layout rather than long hand text.

You can use colour to bring more structure and variation to your individual "popples", videos from popular services Vimeo and YouTube, images from your computer, and also free form drawings if you like - ideal for younger children.

Popplet only has an iPad version, so no luck for Android or Windows mobile users out there, but it does have a fully featured web version which I'd recommend over the app anyway. It also supports real time collaboration, and commenting, so is ideal for working with others.

How can you use it in education?

As you can see from the Tech Trumps® card above, Popplet is pretty good across the board - but it's particularly strong on Investigating and Collaborating.

Popplet may not be that well known, but is fairly well used. Simply click on "public popplets" and you can find a wealth of visualisations already created, with plenty of ideas from others on a myriad of topics. However, one of the key issues when Investigating a new topic with your students is not simply finding information, it's about organising that information. It's no good just creating a simple list, what you're really looking to develop in your students is an ability to analyse information, evaluate it, and ultimately synthesise it into new forms which give it extra meaning. It's only through this synthesis, this reinterpretation of information by an individual student, that true deep learning actually takes place. Popplet is an ideal way for them to practice this task, as it's so flexible in the way in which you can visualise information. By using not only the flexible canvas itself, but also the ability to colour code, add imagery, and draw free form, popplet provides students with a wide range of abilities to express their unique synthesis of a topic.

Of course these ideas about analysis, evaluating and synthesis are even better when done as a group. If there's one clear thing that research into learning has shown, it's that we learn best with others - in fact, arguably, we learn everything through others, though it's fair to say that the 'others' in some cases may be artefacts produced by other humans, as opposed to live people themselves. Learning may be unique to each individual, certainly if you agree that learning is connecting new experiences to those that have already been internalised, but that process of change in the individual is something that is immeasurably enhanced by working with others. Popplet can help here by supporting Collaborating with others in real time, so you can experience diversity in thinking as you work. Being exposed to other ideas and having your own thinking challenged is a great way to develop new perspectives. On top of that Popplet includes a clever commenting system where comments can be added on a separate hidden layer alongside the main map. This could be used by peers themselves, but also could be used by the teacher as an assessment layer for later marking and feedback.

So that's about it for Popplet - a simple mind mapping tool from one perspective, but a powerful investigation tool that can help to scaffold peer collaboration from another.

Do you have any ideas for using Popplet that you'd like to share? Please feel free to add them in the comments!

Would you like your own set of Tech Trumps®?

Do head over to the Tech Trumps® to see Popplet and a host of other apps, all rated against the key challenges you're focused on as a teacher. There's an interactive version of the Tech Trumps® to explore, plus a PDF download version for offline use - or you can go old school, and buy a physical pack of cards for only £4.99 plus postage which I'll whisk off to you first class in the next available post :-)

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