Saturday, September 13, 2014

Reflective Teaching: Day 13, Edtech Tools in the Classroom

Day 13--Name the top edtech tools that you use on a consistent basis in the classroom, and rank them in terms of their perceived (by you) effectiveness.

As an edtech "newbie" I am still working on becoming more fluent with the burgeoning educational opportunities, apps, features, and general lollapalooza that is the edtech universe.  If I am honest, I'm a bit overwhelmed by all the different ways we teachers can now connect our students with educational technology.  And in the face of all the possibilities, I tend to take things slowly. So I don't jump in the the edtech pool deep end; I wade.  So here are the edtech tools I use in my classroom (and a couple at the end that I am researching) in order of effectiveness (and, not so coincidentally the order in which I found them).

It started out with Google Chrome.  Our school wrote a grant to get more computers into our students' hands; thus four of our teachers were able to get classroom sets of Chromebooks and some Google Training.  It was eye-opening to see all the ways we could use these netbooks in more ways than just using the Chromebooks as word processors.  I use Google Docs/Drive, Forms, Sheets, etc.. in my classroom all the time.  I love the ease with which the students can take quizzes with the Forms (and I can grade those quizzes with the Flubaroo script in minutes and have data about mastery).  I've used these tools for a couple years now, so I feel that these are the most effective tools I use.  I know using a netbook is not a huge leap into all things edtech, but I feel that it is a good basis to then use others.

Once I was using the Chromebooks daily, I found CollaborizeClassroom, a contained chatroom-like platform to get and track student feedback to lessons, questions, polls, etc... There is a topic library for you to browse from or add to, and the kids enjoy seeing what their peers post as feedback to their posts.  The site sends you weekly activity reports, too, so you can see in a glance what the students have been doing.  I want to incorporate this even more as more features are available.   Webinars are available, too, which I like because they help me swim with confidence deeper into that edtech pool.

I also love as a great study help. It gets the kids to study vocabulary and facts without it feeling like studying.  This online collection of flashcards allows the student flexibility to access his/her classroom content online wherever, even on Facebook.  I can upload our spelling and vocabulary lists, or specialized academic vocabulary terms for specific units into a classroom, and the kids learn the terms and definitions by playing games or taking tests.  To save time, I can even use other people's lists and upload them to my classes if they cover the same things I do.

I then found a great classroom management tool: InstantClassroom.  I wanted a way to get all the kids involved in class discussions offline.  Too often you have only those three kids who volunteer answers and all the other kids allow those three to do all the answering.  If you want to involve all the kids, you have to call on them, and too often just going around the room student by student means the students pay attention only when they see you're coming to them.  So...the key is to do it randomly.  There are lots number of offline ways to do this-- popsicle sticks with their names, a checklist, or deck of cards to name a few--but what about online?  Voila!  I saw this tool one day while I was browsing Pinterest (I'll talk more about this edtech tool...yes, a moment).  I loved the idea of the random name generator.  This way the kids can't anticipate who I'm going to call on next, so they are forced to pay more attention.  It is also equal... everyone has to participate.

Pinterest is also a tool I use a lot (though not usually at school or in the classroom) when looking for information and ideas.  Sure, I originally went to this online "scrapbook" to keep track of recipes, craft blogs, and DIY ideas.  However, I quickly found that I could also get ideas about teaching tools, websites, and technology.   I could also get ideas from others who have similar interests and follow their boards.  This may be an unorthodox way to have a Professional Learning Network, but with so many Pinners with boards about teaching and education, I have found any number of really great classroom helps.

I am more than wading now; I'm swimming but am not yet in the deep end.  I like to still have the ability to touch my foot to the bottom until I'm totally comfortable.  So far the edtech tools I've mentioned are those I'm actively using either in my classes or lesson planning or grading.  Here are a couple I haven't used so I can't really judge or rank their effectiveness.

Recently I discovered another free edtech: NoRedInk.  It is a way to help the students work on their grammar and writing skills.  It allows you to create pretests, assignments, and quizzes from their question banks and, when the students take the quizzes or do the assignments, the program tracks their skills for them.  It gives the teacher an at-a-glance feedback chart of which students are mastering the various grammar skills.  The free version is pretty comprehensive, but I'm sure that the premium version (paid) has even more options.  I mentioned another edtech in a previous blogpost in this series: Geddit.  Like NoRedInk, I haven't used this yet, but I am looking forward to using it.

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