Make Fall 2017 a Piece of Cake with These Must-Have Tech Tools!

I’m not gonna lie…this summer has been a bear. Actually more like a self-inflicted bear attack. For many, summer is a time of rest and renewal. But, because I am an incessant glutton for punishment, I have both taken and taught online graduate courses, presented at local (Northwestern) and national (ISTE) conferences, and attended a Google Summit, all while fulfilling an extended school contract. I’m like that last oyster cracker in a bowl of tomato soup…fighting to stay afloat while soaking in my surroundings. My brain is full. Thankfully there are such things as Facebook file saving and social bookmarking tools. If I had to rely on this 44-year old brain to retain all of this without such reminders, it would be hopeless.

That said, I am so excited to begin another school year! At the end of May, most of us leave school looking like one of the evil Minions. By August, we are ready to start anew. It’s one of the things I love most about teaching and instructional coaching… the ability to start with a clean slate. I have spent significant time thinking of the top tools I want to introduce to new staff upon returning this fall. Lucky for you, I am sharing with you first!

Now before I share, if you’re new to my blog, let me reiterate my mantra. “It’s not about the tool; it’s about the learning!” If you go about technology integration with a focus on the tool or equipment, you’re doing it wrong. You (and hopefully your entire district) must have a framework by which you operate. As I teach my graduate technology courses, it becomes brutally apparent just how many schools have not adopted a framework for technology integration. SAMR, TPACK, and Triple E are all valid frameworks that are backed by research. If you aren’t aware….enlist the power of Google and come aboard.

Once you have an idea of what true tech integration is, you’re ready to start adding to your shopping cart. Teaching is like being a chef. Like any great recipe, there are many ingredients that need to be combined just right to help you create that delectable treat. Technology is just one ingredient. Once you bake a cake, the individual ingredients are no longer visible. They are stirred, sifted, folded, and baked in order to complete the right reactions needed to transform. Tech integration is no different. When melded with the other components of your curriculum, no one thing should stand apart. It should be seamless. It’s pretty easy to fall into the “Oohs” and “Ahhhhs” of a cool new tool or app. Run away from that trap. While it’s ok to be excited about trying some new thing, show your students that you’re excited for them to show what they know instead. Now, without further ado, here are a few suggestions to make the most of your school year.

First ingredient: a social bookmarking site. There are so many out there, but I always resort back to Draggo . It’s easy to use, drag-and-drop interface and coordinating bookmarklet make it so easy to save sites. It even allows you to save to an inbox when you aren’t quite sure what category you want it in. My memory sucks, plain and simple. I am inundated with so many resources on a daily basis that I have no prayer of keeping up without a simple tool such as this. You’re welcome.

Second ingredient: a student work repository that can double as parent communication. There are a few I recommend here, primarily based on the age of your student and preferences. Class Dojo and Seesaw are my favorites for elementary. They are interactive, fun, and keep parents connected. Each has it’s own set of special features that set it apart from another. Dojo’s Mindset videos are pretty awesome and get rave reviews from the students I know who have viewed them. Both are free and come in web and app form. For older kids, I recommend Google Classroom. Parents can still be kept abreast of what’s happening, with the added independence of operating through a student’s school G-Suite account. Google Classroom can also be used in the elementary with ease, if even only for a simple way to get links, assignments, and information out to students

Third ingredient: video embedding resource. I shy away from calling it Flipped Teaching resources because video embedding resources can be used for so much more. Need to adapt assignments for special needs students? Done. Need to create a bilingual resource for an EL learner? Done. My favorite tools for this are Edpuzzle and Wizer. There are a ton out there that do similar things, but I suggest finding one and really digging into all of the features before expanding your horizons. With Edpuzzle, videos are at your fingertips and creating questions to ask within it is a task that does not require an advanced technology degree like some resources out there. Wizer, claims to be a digital worksheet maker (I really hate that tag line), but it makes up the bad advertising with some really inventive ways to get students digitally interacting with material. Both of these tools have a robust user-made collection from which to borrow ideas.

Fourth ingredient: student interactive quizzing (self or simple correcting). Formative and summative assessments both have their time and place. These are tools I love for testing kids on progress and understanding. The first, Nearpod, can be both student and teacher-paced. Not only can you put videos, links, pictures, and text into Nearpod, but there are a host of pre-made Nearpods done by others that you can copy and tweak to fit your needs. I not about reinventing the wheel! The other one I want to bring to the forefront is Quizlet Live. Many of us have used Quizlet for years. However, within the last year or so, Quizlet Live was added to the mix (free!) and it adds an element of collaboration to the mix because students are grouped together in teams automatically, and the material that appears on each kid’s computer is different. Meaning, the definition to a term will be on one computer and the actual term will be on someone else’s in the group. Students must talk and share in order to make correct decisions. Quizlet Live also adds the element of competition on which students seem to thrive.

Fifth ingredient: digital citizenship material. There is a plethora of resources out there designed to educate our youth on Internet safety and proper use, most of which have been vetted by reputable experts. However, there are two teacher-friendly avenues I head toward every time. We don’t have time to figure out every little lesson and add that to already heaping full plates. The folks at Common Sense Education and ISTE have partnered with companies like Nearpod and Google to put together my two go-tos. Nearpod’s digital citizenship curriculum is already leveled, categorized, and covers 8 elements of digital citizenship well. We have implemented this in grades 1-12 in our school with much success. Even in its first year, we had a glorious collaboration between librarian, school counselors, and our MS/HS computer teacher to ensure that the material was being delivered. While we have tweaking to do this upcoming year, I see it as an essential tool for schools and teachers who like to save time and use high-quality products at a very low cost (there is a free lite version for each level). The second go-to is new, and I’m in love. The free game, from ISTE and Google is called Interland. It combines game-based learning with digital citizenship, and it’s, dare I say, FUN!?! I played it for awhile and quickly found myself immersed. Another win for Google with this encouragement to “be Internet awesome!”. Check it out here.

This is, in no way, a complete list of sites I recommend for the school year. There are so, so many resources I use on any given day. However, by following the recipe (and adjusting and substituting when the need arises), you will set up your classroom for successful technology integration and your students for success. Best wishes on a fantastic start to your 2017-2018 school year!