With hundreds of educational tools online, how are teachers supposed to pick and choose? What makes one better than another? And when do educators have time to learn how to use a new tool?
The fall semester is in full swing. You’ve memorized everyone’s names, allergies and accommodations. You made it through open house and homecoming. So now that classroom routines have been established, you can take a breath and have a look at your lesson plans so far. What’s working? Is there anything new you can incorporate?
In my classroom, I was always working on creating notes and activities from scratch. I made most materials and games using my knowledge of Google Classroom, which offers a variety of tools with which my students and I are already familiar. I would hear good reviews from colleagues on a new website, app or Chrome Extension, but I was afraid of anything that smelled trendy.
I didn’t give myself time to go explore and learn how to use many new things because I was too busy recreating the wheel. Every single day. What happened if I spent the time to create an account, learn the basics, add my rosters of students, integrate it with my LMS, create an assignment, teach my students how to do it — and then it wasn’t wildly successful? On top of that, it seemed like there were several different websites that all did something similar, so how could I even pick one to try? My fear prevented me from taking that risk.
Be a classroom curator
These days I work with education technology, and I am frequently hearing about new tools. My response is often “That’s so cool!” or “My students would have loved that!” but I know full well that my tunnel vision when I was teaching was intense. I was focused on being the expert in my classroom, modeling my favorite practices and giving quality feedback.
The majority of our activities were designed around me — being a moderator, a model, an expert. Looking back, I wish I had adopted more of a “curator” mindset. All the information in the world is out there, readily available for students. I could have focused more on identifying the best tools for students to use as they process information. And if the focus was on them using it, maybe that could have meant less work for me.
Building your toolkit
There are lots of ways to categorize what’s out there, and this by no means encompasses every great education tool, but I recommend choosing one favorite tool from each of these categories: content engagement, collaboration and mastery. The three tools you choose will become your Digital Teacher Toolkit, which is an essential component of your classroom.
Build in the use of these tools while you plan new lessons, and rely on them when you need to make a quick adjustment to a lesson. Using these tools should be as fluid as any other classroom routine.
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How do you choose one tool from each category? You might look into a few things while evaluating them. First of all, are you comfortable using it, and can you think of lots of ways to integrate it into your lessons? If you can only think of one use or one lesson the tool fits with, don’t waste your time.
Secondly, do your students like it? The goal of all of these tools is to increase engagement and mastery in your classroom. If your students think a tool is unhelpful, for whatever reason, listen to them. Part of creating a great classroom culture is making classroom decisions together. Feel free to create a sample activity on two different websites and get their feedback on which one they preferred.
Once you do choose your top three tools, integrate them fully into your classroom routine. Students should practice using these tools regularly so they can fully engage and produce a high level of work. Be their curator, not their expert.
Where to start
Let’s start with content engagement. This category encompasses any tool that helps students engage during a lesson. There are lots of subject-specific tools that cover common standards, but a few that work for all subjects and grade levels are Nearpod, Pear Deck, Boom Cards and EdPuzzle.
Next up is collaboration. Find a tool you like that allows your students to work together as they process information. My favorites are Padlet, Dotstorming, Google Jamboard and Kami. Each of these tools allows students to add their own thoughts into a shared space.
Last but not least, mastery. The mastery category encompasses products that students create to demonstrate their knowledge. This could be a review game, a drawing or literally anything. I recommend looking into Kahoot, Flip, Quizlet or Flippity.
Once you’ve built your digital toolkit, you should have one tool from each category ready to go at a moment’s notice. For example, if my toolkit for this school year was Pear Deck, Dotstorming and Flippity, I would be able to turn my current slides into interactive notes, enabling students to engage with the material. They would have a dedicated digital space to collaborate with each other and share content. And they would be able to build a wide range of products for presentation or review. That sounds like a pretty robust toolkit for three tools.
One other note as you curate your toolkit: Check that the tools you want to adopt work seamlessly with your current classroom technology. All of the tools mentioned above work great with the new Samsung Interactive Pro.
As things change
Now, let’s talk about longevity. I was always afraid that the strategies I adopted would fall out of vogue, or the company would fold, and my work would be lost. It’s equally possible that I will just get bored with one thing or another.
The truth is, education technology is a growing industry, and great new ideas are launching all the time. In order to maintain the role of an effective “curator,” I recommend learning one new tool per semester. Any more than that, and it will be difficult to establish clear expectations and routines with your students. If they are always learning the tool, they can’t focus on the content.
Educators are great at sharing what’s working within their own space. When looking for new tools, it’s always a good idea to ask around and see how all these pieces are working together.
Our Samsung Education team is dedicated to helping your efforts as a curator for your classroom. Not only do we offer in-person professional development (PD), but we are always looking out for ways in which we can provide additional support throughout the school year. Check back each month as we offer more tools, ideas, and resources to help teachers on their journey to offer the best experience for their students.