In terms of the Internet, Trackstar is old school. Many teachers, however, haven’t had the chance to see it in action. Basically, Trackstar is a collected set of websites framed by a table of contents which is always visible. As each site is selected, the heading above the site viewer changes to include the teacher’s notes about the site being viewed, as well as questions about its content.
Now that I’ve thoroughly confused you, check out a couple examples that make it very clear. Stayin' Alive: How Plants and Animals Adapt to Air Pollution is a well constructed track with clear instructions and a variety of sites. In addition to the frames format of that previous link, you also have the option to see your links and notes in text form.
An example of how this application can be used for professional development purposes can be seen in Teaching Writers Right. Presenters or teachers forming collegial study group will find that this is an efficient way to organize sites and documents for group viewing.
Is Trackstar difficult to use? Not at all, since you don’t need to create your own tracks; you’re welcome to use the hundreds that have been created over the years. The homepage allows you to search by topic, author, or top tracks. Just be sure to check that all links are still working, and that the related heading content and questions are appropriate for your student group.
If you do wish to create your own, the process is simple, with ample prompts and sequenced steps.
Using Trackstar, teachers can
- present students with online learning tasks within a controlled scope of sites;
- assign individualized online tasks, differentiated by both web sites viewed and annotations added;
- incorporate current events using the Trackstar’s monthly themes or the Track of the Day;
- create modules that can be independently completed by students as homework or extra credit;
- structure lessons which can easily be carried out by a substitute teacher or a cross-grade learning partner;
- supply parents and students with a “virtual study guide” for upcoming tests;
- store, categorize, and tag their own favorite sites for future use (all sites for one unit can be found in one location;
- share their “best of” sites with virtual colleagues; and
- collaborate with colleagues to compile sites and comments in using a “wiki” format.