Sunday, December 28, 2014

Top 10 Teaching Tools of 2014

These tools are a mix of my old trusty favorites and some new discoveries that I have been meaning to blog about for a few weeks now. They are ranked in no particular order; they all serve a wide variety of functions, and some are free and some not. But all of them are incredibly handy, user friendly, and are tools I use in my classroom on a weekly, if not daily, basis.

Student's phones become their buzzers. So easy and fun!

I am listing Kahoot! first because if you don't get through the rest of this list, this is the most important  fun tool to add to your classroom.

Gone are the days of boring test review sheets or out of control jeopardy games that always seem to end up in mass chaos in your classroom. We've all been plan a cute, fun jeopardy game to review for an upcoming test and the next thing you know, students are screaming at each other and making death threats over "who buzzed in first" or whether or not the daily double had a hard enough question. Inevitably, half the class is angry and the other half has found a way to zone out and not participate for the last 45 minutes.

Aha! Kahoot solves that problem. Here's how easy it is: Step 1, create a review quiz through Customize for your own material or find one of the thousands of pre-made review games that have been made by other teachers. Add images or video clips if you want, or keep it simple and straight to the point. Step 2, tell students to pull out their SmartPhones, log on to, type in the game password and a username and bam, the game begins.

Each student's SmartPhone, computer, or tablet becomes their buzzer (see the image above). There's no more "boys against girls" teams or teams that are unequally balanced by "the smart kids." It's every kid for themselves. Better yet, after each question, students can see where they are ranked. As a teacher, I love seeing the quiet, too-shy-to-participate kids be ranked in the top 5 for everyone to see.

My students go nuts when it's a Kahoot day, and I don't end up frustrated or feeling like my classroom got out of control. It's a win-win.

This is not me or my classroom...but, oh, I wish it was.

If your school is looking at adding 1:1 technology, beg them for Chromebooks. Yes, iPads look cooler and are made by the almighty Apple, but Chromebooks are better for your classroom in pretty much every way. I know this because I have had the rare opportunity to teach 1:1 with both Chromebooks and iPads. Chromebooks win, hands down.

Reason #1: They are more cost-effective. Retail Chromebooks can go for as low as $199 compared to an iPad for $399 (and that's on the cheap end).

Reason #2: They include keyboards. Surprisingly, students hate typing on touchscreens. Well, don't you? Sure, they are pro texters, but keep in mind that the average teenager's texts consist of "k" and "idk, u?" When it comes to prolonged typing, they want the trusty keyboard just like adults. If you want the 1:1 experience to actually be functional in a classroom, you are probably going to want them to type, and they will go crazy trying to type on their iPads. Just trust me on this one.

Reason #3: They work seamlessly with GoogleDrive.Yeah, that's a no-brainer. Google Drive is an absolute MUST for high school classrooms. It's listed here on my top 10 tools, so I won't get in to it now. But Google Drive on the iPad doesn't work so swiftly sucks.

There are other reasons like they hold longer charge, don't offer as many ridiculous time-wasting games, are light and easy to operate and so many more. But I digress. Chromebooks are where it's at. Sigh, I miss mine.

This is a sample from my own Schoology 9th grade course page. 

There are a lot of classroom networking sites out there, and I'm not going to pretend to know anything about them...because I don't. BUT I do know about Schoology, and compared to not having a school networking site and using a mish-mash of Twitter, classroom Facebook pages and the clunky school website, Schoology is a godsend.

All my students are automatically enrolled in to my (and every other teacher's) Schoology course page. The main page is similar to a Facebook newsfeed, where students can see instant updates about my class. I might send something like "Hey everyone, here's that link to EasyBib I was talking about in class" and the students will be notified of the update right away.

I mostly use the site as an extra communication tool to students about upcoming due dates and test dates, as well as place for them to access all the materials in class. Surprisingly, the students do use it just the way you would want them too. One student lost her 15 page vocab packet and without even asking if she could get an extra copy from me (which I did have) she printed one out on her own at home. Hello! Responsibility meets internet accessibility. I shouldn't brag about a student doing a simple task like this, but you guys know that teenagers are not the most resourceful.

Anyway, it's pretty much the best organization and communication tool your classroom can use. I haven't taken a sick day yet, but I've been told that students have even messaged teachers questions about the sub plans through it. I know many teachers wouldn't be cool with that, but I can't think of a better way to make sure learning is accessible for students.

It's so easy even these adorable little kids can do it.

Reflector App is a tool that does exactly what it sounds like, reflects. It takes anything from your iPad or iPhone and reflects it on to your SmartBoard screen (via your computer). All you do is turn on your mirroring capabilities on your phone and voila, there it is.

Why is this cool? It makes you mobile. I've turned my reflector app on with a presentation from my iPad, then walked around the room while lecturing. Every teacher knows standing in the front of the classroom, in the same spot, is the easiest way to bore your students or to invoke classroom management issues.

Oh wait, it gets better. I've also had my students reflect their own phones/iPads to the board. Oh, Tommy just found a cool picture of a scuppernong (See chapter 9 of To Kill a Mockingbird) and wants to show the class? Reflect it on the board! I also had a student video an assignment on her phone, and rather than mess with trying to e-mail it to me, which often doesn't work because the file is too big, she simply reflected it to the board. So simple!

Photo editing made simple.

I use PicMonkey so often in life it has just naturally made its way to my classroom.

PicMonkey is free, but I opt for the $3.99 monthly version for a few more features. It edits, designs, and collages your photos. Although I know how to use Photoshop and often do so, I find I turn to PicMonkey for quick, simple projects. Students can use it to add captions to photos or collage multiple photos for presentations. But, to be honest, I use it more often to spruce up my curriculum or for my own presentations. Or for, perhaps, designing all my banners on my blog...

Who wouldn't want to see their name on a jungle leaf?

If you are still using the old school popsicles in a tin can method of randomly selecting students in class, STOP. Download the free Random Name Selector app, type in your student's names, and throw out all your popsicles. I most frequently use mine for choosing speech order, so no students can claim it's unfair. But of course, they have to watch the app do its magic. That's half the fun.

I'm not going to explain this any further, because it's just that simple. But I will say, that even my high school seniors get excited when I pull out the Random Name Selector and reflect it on the SmartBoard for all to see. They especially love the jungle theme (A bird squawks every time a new name is selected).

My students type all their papers and create all their presentations in Google Drive for the main reason that it automatically saves and stores what they create. Word constantly seems to crash, or students forget to save, and all that they've worked on for the past hour goes out the window.

Luckily for me, all my students have been set up to have a Google account, so accessing their Google Drive is simple. As long as they have internet connection at home, they can work on whatever they began in class.

I also love Google Presentations because multiple students can work on their group presentation at the same time. I  have students immediately "share" their work with me, even before they have gotten anything done, so I can check in on them while they are working. Students can automatically see when I am looking at their presentation or document. Sometimes, if it's clear none of the group members are working, I'll type little messages directly on to their presentations like, "Are you working?" and soon after I see them scrambling to erase my message and begin typing.

Google Forms are also great for gathering and organizing information quickly and easily. It's all great and it should all be a part of your weekly teaching regimen.

I discovered TPT last year but really began using it this year, after designing my teacher planner. I have found a plethora of helpful, up-to-date lesson plans that usually align to the common core. A lesson is typically under $2, and you can often score entire unit plans for $5 or less. I pick and choose what I like from the packs, but I'm very rarely disappointed with what I buy.

I also began selling my own lesson plans and unit plans. I'm not going to say that I'm raking in the dough, but to date I've sold 17 planners at $5. It took me a day to design the planner, and now all I do is sit back and get paid. It all rolls right in to my PayPal account. I often use my profits to purchase new curriculum. Right now I'm working on a Romeo and Juliet unit plan to start selling. Stay tuned!

I'm going to admit, I don't use planbook myself mostly because I took so much time designing and printing out my own physical lesson planbook. But, I know several teachers who do utilize and love it.

I've played around with it and I can completely see why. It is versatile and functional, and allows you to completely plan out every day of your week, down to the minute (which I usually scribble on post it notes randomly around my desk). What's even better is that it allows you to choose the specific standards you are addressing in your lesson that align with the Common Core. You can slap a screenshot or a link to your planbook on your personal teaching website for students, parents and substitutes to see. It's also a surefire way to win the heart of your administration by being able to show how your teaching is Common Core aligned. A little brown nosing never hurt, right?

No, I did not run out of Apps to add to this list. Quite the contrary, I have several more I would love to share. Instead, I'm choosing books as my final teaching tool of 2014 as a reminder that, in spite of all the incredible technology we have at our finger tips today, books are still one of the greatest assets to be used in the classroom.

I'm saying this because, as an English teacher, I still believe that words are the most powerful tool you can give a student. When you place a book in a student's hand, it has the capability of opening their eyes and expanding their minds. Nothing is more powerful.

While I love the way my students squeal with delight when they see we are playing Kahoot that day in class, I love more when I watch a student's eyes light up when speaking about her favorite book. I love when my entire class can argue about the motivations of a character. I love when a reluctant reader proudly admits he actually enjoyed the book I put in his hands. Books are the reason I got in to teaching, and I want to remember their power and importance every single day.

So there you have it, my top 10 teaching tools of 2014...which will undoubtedly be carried over to 2015, but I hope to add more to my list. If you have any teaching tools you love, feel free to share them! I'm all about learning more, and am hoping my world is expanded even more when I begin my master's program in March!

Honorable Mention goes out to: Remind101, TurnItIn.Com, Pixabay, Notability and YouTube, more great tools I use in my classroom, but just couldn't fit in to one post!


Mary Elizabeth said...

I'd like to know which Reflector App you used?

Maddie B. said...

Hi Mary, the reflector app can be found here:

Unfortunately it isn't free. My school purchased a license for it. It's super helpful if you can get your school on board with it!

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