Summer 2014 has come and gone and it was one of the best I've had in recent memory. Lots of time with my family. Fun in the back yard (blue plastic) pools. Cookouts with friends. Swim lessons for our two little boys and trips to get froyo. So, what's next? How can I best make the transition back into the classroom? Here are seven tools to help make 2014-2015 your best year yet as a teacher. None of these are original as I've stolen them from better educators but so far they've helped me. Here goes:
Remind (formerly Remind101)
I began using this text messaging service last year and it was a game changer. I had never had the ability to so easily communicate with my students and parents. It's versatile. It's safe. It's immediate. It's one-way. I used it for reminders about upcoming tests, assignments that were due, project deadlines, encouragement, etc. Prior to Remind, it was an email that may or may not get seen for a couple of days. Prior to that it was what?? A piece of paper that would go into the abyss of your students' Mary Poppins like backpacks. There's no telling what's in those things. Know you'll need to send out reminders at several points in the year? Great, you can schedule them to be sent ahead of time. Bottom line - best quick communication tool out there to have in your back pocket. IF YOU USE NOTHING ELSE USE THIS!
Google Docs (now through Google Drive)
This is a great tool for collaboration in the classroom as well as between your teaching teams. Once you have created a Google account (or logged in using your existing one) you can create documents and share them in the "cloud" with specific people for collaborative editing. I have used Google Docs (GDs) to compile information at educational conferences and collaborate with our admin team to develop PD for other staff prior to returning to campus. I have used GDs to help students collaborate with one another on projects in (and outside of) class. I have used GDs to share information with my parents. Our science team also used this tool to collaborate and compile questions for student assessments. Not sure what parents think about how class is going? Send them a link (using Remind) to a survey. They fill it out and you get instant results. I love this tool and look forward to using it in so many different ways this year.
Google Drive is one among many different types of cloud drives accessible from any computer (or smart phone) with a network connection of some sort (the faster, the better). Google is my drive of choice simply because it's what our district chose and every student on our campus has a Google account tied to their student ID. Pretty sweet, right? Yes, because that means that whether they know it or not, every student has a Google Drive account. Trust me...they will know about it in my class. I plan to use this to aid in the project-based learning (PBL) culture of my classroom. Students can save documents they have been working on and because I have access to their drive as the teacher, I am able to view and make suggestions for improvement. This is a simple tool that promotes great collaboration between peers.
Clicking the link above will take you to Weebly.com. My reasoning behind this is that I used Weebly to create my blog. There's a free version available and it's super easy. I have just started on this endeavor and plan to use it this year to keep parents and community stakeholders up-to-date on what's going on in our classroom. My goal is to post weekly (likely towards the end of the week) with a little info about what we did that week along with a picture or two (no student faces recommended). I also plan to use it, much like I am now, to simply share my thoughts about what I'm doing in my class with the hopes that maybe other educators can learn alongside me.
Twitter is something I've used on a personal level for several years. Only in the past ten months have I discovered the beauty of using it for professional reasons. My professional learning network (PLN) will never be the same. It's on a global level at this point. Beyond using it for my own learning, my students will be able to use it to submit questions they want answered or answer quick questions that I pose to them. Through the use of hashtags, I will also be able to facilitate class discussions around specific topics. These are just a couple of ways I see myself slowly incorporating Twitter into my class this year.
Sophia is a resource that I'm just beginning to play around with. From what I'm gathering as I learn, it's a platform that I can create tutorials for my students. I will use these tutorials to aid in my transition to the flipped classroom. Within each tutorial I can post a video, a PowerPoint with some notes that go with the video as well as a quiz for students to complete (among other things). The most practical aspect of Sophia is that once students have watched the video, I can view analytics of what each student has watched allowing me to have verification of who has really watched and who hasn't. GREAT resource if you're planning to flip your class.
I used Edmodo heavily last year and loved it! It has proven to be a fantastic tool for communicating with students on a secure, open forum type setting. I am able to post assignments, reviews, documents needed for projects, rubrics, etc. Truly anything I want to publish in a secure environment that only my students (and their parents) can see, I can post. Some people use Edmodo as the primary method for flipping their class by posting their content videos and requiring each student to watch and make a reflective comment about the video. I will likely use this as ONE resource for my students to do this. To eliminate the possibility of excuses, however, I plan to have multiple platforms on which my students can get their content.
Class open house
This is a new one for me this year as well. Once a month, I will communicate to parents that on a set date my class will host an open house. They will be able to come in and observe alongside their child during his or her class period. My reasoning behind this is simply to have extra opportunities for communication with parents. I am aware that along with the flipped model there will be lots of questions. I simply want to use this tool to be completely transparent with the parents of my students and help them to understand what it is we're doing in class and why we're doing it this way.
I hope these tools help you as much as some of them have already helped me. My goal in installing these in my classroom is to simply be the best teacher I can be for my students. Have a great year!
Brent Clarkson, M.Ed.