During the last month, Ask a Tech Teacher readers voted on which tech tools had the greatest impact on their teaching. For this Best in Category award, we asked them to look for the ones that made them say Wow and rush to share with colleagues everywhere.
Then we looked for the following qualities:
- how dependable is it
- how versatile is it for time-strapped teachers
- does it differentiate for the varied needs of students and teacher
- do educators like it (fairly subjective, but there you have it)
- how did it work when exposed to your students
- was it easy to use and intuitive to learn
- did it fulfill promises and expectations
- has it become a beloved tool in your classes or a failed experiment
Here are the 2018 Best-in-Category and Honorable Mentions for the following Categories: (more…)
Education used to focus on the 3 R’s — reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic. Without a doubt, those remain critical subjects but these days, they are just the beginning. What about history (because those who don’t understand history are forced to repeat it) and civics (so we understand how government works)? And the STEAM subjects — science, technology, engineering, arts, and math? No wonder it takes eight hours a day — and more — to learn what is required to thrive in the 21st-century world.
I need to add another topic to this list, one that is used daily and misunderstood just as often, one that intimidates some and confuses many, one where an introduction feels like drinking from a fire hose. If you haven’t guessed it yet, it’s the Internet. Let’s be honest: The Internet is a monster. You felt that way — probably called it worse — the last time you were hacked. Having your personal information stolen feels like your life swirling down the drain. In your lifetime, you will spend more time on the Internet than sleeping. It doesn’t care about your career, your favorite subject, or life goal. If we are defined by the choices we make, the Internet provides the biggest chance for an oops with the most devastating consequences.
Teenagers spend average nine hours a day on the Internet. It seems irresponsible to adopt the SODTI attitude — Some Other Dude Teaches It.
That’s the bad news: Internet safety must be taught and if not by you, by whom? The good news is, teaching about the Internet is easily blended into almost any subject, any topic. Let’s start with the biggest Internet topics most schools want to cover and I’ll show you how to do that.
For a decade, when I thought of desktop publishing, I turned to Microsoft Publisher. I loved its flexibility, adaptability, and ease of use both for classroom projects and home. But then I moved on to other alternatives, like Lucid Press that were more flexible and affordable for educational purposes.
Really, I didn’t see a lot of other alternatives until Sara Stringer, from the Ask a Tech Teacher, came up with this great article about desktop publishing options. Some of these–like Word–have changed so much over the years that they are now a provide reasonable alternatives to laying out an attractive professional design in a program everyone is familiar with:
Technology advanced drastically in the past few years, allowing people to create different products with the aid of a computer. One of the most popular products that were drastically improved by the presence of technology is printed materials, which were commercially printed from a single file that was created using desktop publishing software. Printing digital files can be performed in a short period of time, with the finished product being bound with the help of a strong type of glue, which securely holds the pages together.
With the prevalence of digital computers, tablets, and smartphones nowadays, people could easily create their own digital files with the help of software programs. Publishers would have total control of the things that they wanted to do, and their ideas could produce high-end digital published materials such as brochures, menus, books, and magazines, among others. It is important to find out the best software program that will be used by a desktop publisher. Because there are many available software programs in the market today, the preference among publishers varies. The following software programs are the most common desktop publishing tools used by amateurs and professionals:
Now that you’ve engaged your students with awesome Hour of Code fun, I’m thrilled to introduce the incredible Root Robotics for going far beyond the hour! Root’s a versatile, engaging robotics and coding program that grows with students from pre-K up through grade 12. Root comes to us from our friends at Sunburst Digital – who provide engaging STEAM and SafeSchools programs for schools.
This holiday season, you can enter to win a $100 credit applied to a purchase of Root or ANY OTHER STEAM solution from Sunburst here! Sunburst wants to hear about the innovative ways you’ve engaged your students with Hour of Code – share a few lines about your activities, and you’ll be entered to win! Learn more and fill out your entry form here.
Created by learning and robotics experts at Harvard University, Root is a hexagonal-shaped robot that climbs whiteboards and traverses tables. Learners can program Root to move, turn, draw, erase, scan colors, play music, light up, sense touches, feel bumps, detect magnetic surfaces, perceive light, and respond to sensors in a phone or tablet.
Root’s design enables whole class instruction and project-based learning in groups. In addition to exciting, easy-to-implement lessons that teachers can deliver on the classroom whiteboard, each Root comes with a foldable whiteboard mat, perfect for groups to use anywhere.
Study.com is an online distance learning portal that provides over 70,000 lessons in fifteen subjects (including algebra, calculus, chemistry, macro- and microeconomics, and physics) aligned with many popular textbooks. Resources include not only videos but study tools, guides, and more. You can read more detail on my Study.com review here.
Today, I want to talk about Study.com’s emphasis on differentiated instruction.
When I first discovered Study.com, I was blown away by its unique approach to providing passionate learners with a college education that fit their lifestyle. If you are that person who struggles with traditional campus-based classes, has a full-time demanding job, can’t get to a campus because of transportation issues, lives on a tight budget but still values high-quality education, AND you are committed to earning a college degree, do yourself a favor and visit Study.com’s website. I’ve worked with Study.com in the past and come to realize the high value they place on differentiating instruction and meeting students where they are ready to learn, so when they wanted to share the news of their online class teaching the basics of differentiating in the classroom, they knew I would want to help.
To me and many other educators:
Differentiated instruction is at the core of effective teaching.
What is differentiation?
Differentiated learning can be defined this way:
With differentiated instruction, teachers proactively create options to accommodate a diverse range of learners while keeping the whole class on track. Teachers observe students carefully in order to design experiences that match the learning styles of the class and the differing levels of ability and understanding. —Study.com
You might call it ‘personalized learning’ or even ‘blended learning’ but at its most basic, differentiated learning is teaching in ways that best serve individual students–providing different resources and lesson plans to suit different learning styles. If for you, the term ‘differentiation’ should always be followed with, “Where am I supposed to find the time?“, it’s because too often, differentiation is conflated with the tedium of creating individual lesson plans for each and every student. Me, I’ve never done that. Instead, I offer a variety of media that address the lesson. Students do the work of picking what is best for them and selecting the assessment medium best suited to their communication style be it audio, video, text, visual, music, art, or another.
Key principles of differentiation
Forms are popular in schools for all sorts of reasons. Some teachers look no further than Google Forms but for those who require greater simplicity and sophistication in a form builder, as well as agility and rigor, free JotForm (premium edition also available) is an excellent option. It works on PCs, Macs, and mobile devices and offers what seems like an endless supply of professional-looking templates for tasks like performance evaluations, permission slips, volunteer sign-ups, feedback on events, asking for donations, collecting payments, providing contact information, and more. Its drag-and-drop interface makes building forms intuitive, quick, and easy. And the completed form can be pushed out via link, embed, or email. Here’s my review if you’re looking for more details.
If you already use JotForm, here’s some great news: JotForm has kicked it up a notch by offering a free PDF editor.
Why a PDF Editor?
Every teacher I know must edit a PDF at some time in the school year. Maybe they want to customize an existing PDF for use in their class, or a form they created requires that sort of versatility. PDF Readers are common (like Adobe Reader) but editing one is trickier. If President Trump’s campaign chairman Paul Manafort had one, it would have changed his life dramatically (click the link to read more of this story–and thanks to the JotForm folks for pointing this out to me). Many school documents are shared in PDF format for ease of use on multiple platforms as well as security from being hacked or edited. The biggest reason by far why my colleagues require a PDF editor is that too often, the underlying document is lost and the teacher has nothing left but the PDF.
That’s when a PDF editor becomes critical. Click here for JotForms’ Complete Guide to Editing PDFs.
The start of a new school year is always busy. New students, new parents, new rules at school–but there’s one more piece that shakes up my education ecosystem: new webtools. I get so many recommendations from colleagues, trusted forums, and my Twitter feed. I recently previewed one I think you’ll like called Education Galaxy. It’s online assessment, practice, and instruction for K-6 students with a tagline:
Curiously fun, amazingly effective, refreshingly affordable.
I give new webtools about two minutes. By then, I’m ready to read on or move on. Stipulating that I haven’t yet used this one, here’s what teachers say about Education Galaxy that kept me reading:
“…95% of my students passed the state test and I feel I owe it to Education Galaxy.”
“One of my teachers just mentioned how well she feels Education Galaxy prepared her students for K-PREP. We are very happy that we found Education Galaxy!”
Do you see what I mean? Thankfully, Jeremy Verret, the founder of Education Galaxy, provided me with more information:
What is Education Galaxy?
Education Galaxy provides online assessment, practice, and instruction in a highly engaging environment for students. Education Galaxy supports math, reading, language arts, and science at the elementary level (K-6).
As of June 16, 2018, Today’s Meet closed (read the full details here). That iconic backchannel chat platform for classroom teachers and learners, the one that for ten years was the first name thought of when discussing feedback and collaboration, one that quickly became a staple in classrooms and conferences. I went to my PLN for thoughts on what they’ll use in its stead. It turns out, there are good options, depending upon whether you primarily use Today’s Meet for:
- backchannel and student response
- polls, forms, or surveys
- warm-up and exit tickets
Here are webtool replacements you can use for summer or fall classes:
Backchannel and Student Response
A backchannel is a way for students to chat about lesson material while it’s being taught. It occurs in realtime but is non-intrusive to classwork. The teacher can throw a question out to students and evaluate learning or needs based on answers. Or students can pose a question and get answers from classmates. Here are three options you will like:
Last year was a boom year for edtech web tools. There were so many, I couldn’t keep up. I would discover what seemed to be a fantastic tool (most likely discovered in FreeTech4Teachers, Alice Keeler, or one of the other tech ed blogs I follow), give it about five minutes to prove itself, and then, depending upon that quick review, either dig deeper or move on. If it was recommended by a colleague in my professional learning network, I gave the site about twice as long but still, that’s harsh. I certainly couldn’t prove my worth if given only five minutes!
Nevertheless, that’s how it is because there are too many options. Here’s what I wanted to find out in the five minutes:
- Is the creator someone I know and trust (add-ons by Alice Keeler always fit that requirement)?
- Is it easy to access? Meaning, does it open and load quickly without the logins I always forget?
- Is it easy to use? Meaning, are links to the most important functions on the start page? For example, in Canva, I can create a flier for my class in under five minutes because the interface is excellent.
- For more complicated tools, how steep is the learning curve? Does the site offer clear assistance in the form of videos, online training, or a helpline?
- Is the content age-appropriate for the grades I teach?
- Is it free or freemium, and if the latter, can I get a lot out of it without paying a lot? I don’t like sites that give me “a few” uses for free and then charge for more. Plus, free is important to my students who may not be able to use it at home unless there’s no cost attached.
- Is there advertising? Yes, I understand “free” probably infers ads so let me amend that to: Is it non-distracting from the purpose of the webtool?
- How current is it? Does it reflect the latest updates in standards, pedagogy, and hardware?
- Does it fulfill its intended purpose?
- Has it received awards/citations from tech ed groups I admire?
After all that, here are five websites that I discovered last year, loved, and will use to brighten the Spring months:
Finding webtools for high school classes requires a different set of metrics than those that apply to lower and middle school searches. Teachers who specialize in preparing students for college and career instinctively want tools that extend learning, support lesson plans, and simplify concepts taught in the curriculum. Of course they do! By high school, the pressure to prepare students for their future is immense. This is the final chance to provide students with the knowledge they require to succeed in the game called life.
Let me put that in pedagogic terms. If you’re familiar with the SAMR Model, you know it refers to the way technology tools can be used to enrich classrooms. This starts at a basic level of replacing traditional tools (like an atlas) and ends where technology provides experiences students couldn’t get without technology. Here’s how it works:
S (Substitution) — use technology in place of a traditional tool. For example, take notes digitally rather than with paper and pencil
A (Augmentation) — technology functionally improves the traditional learning approach. For example, notetaking may include audio and images as well as text
M (Modification) — use technology to enhance learning in ways that weren’t possible before. For example, students can share their notes and comments with each other creating a collaborative and energized learning environment
R (redefinition) — students use tech tools to accomplish learning that wasn’t possible with the traditional approach. For example, students use interactive maps to explore a geographic environment as though they were there.
The high school teachers I know want tools that contribute significantly to a student-centered learning ecosystem and that enrich learning with experiences they couldn’t have without the technology (modification and redefinition). They aren’t interested in replacing the usual tools or facilitating rote drills. Time is too short and the consequences too significant. To that end, here are six worthy websites and digital tools that will make high school classes more engaging, more effective, and more student-centered than ever: