An interesting email landed in my inbox the other day. A middle school teacher from California asked me what #edtech tools I was planning on using this year. “There’s so many tools to choose from,” he wrote. “Where should I start?”
While there’s no one right answer to his question — choosing #edtech tools should start with a clear sense for the kind of learning space that you are trying to create — here are three tools that I’ve used in my classroom already this year:
Socrative (and Mastery Connect): One of my personal goals for this school year is to do a better job at assessing learning. I want to gather information during the course of instruction and then act on that information. Similarly, I want to track progress by student and standard — and then provide differentiated learning experiences based on the information that I am collecting.
Those are solid goals, right?
That’s why Socrative — which allows me to ask questions and gather information quickly — has been a regular part of learning in my room already this year. Students don’t need a username or a password to login to Socrative and the service works well on any device –phones, tablets, computers — eliminating half of the headaches that come along with using digital tools in the classroom.
Today in class, I used Socrative to ask a series of questions about independent and dependent variables. The entire activity took 10 minutes to create and 10 minutes to deliver. When it was done, I knew instantly which students had mastered the concepts and which needed reteaching. I’ll change my plans for tomorrow based on what I learned today.
Mastery Connect — a companion tool to Socrative — takes assessment one step further. Teachers can develop and deliver more formal assessments with Mastery Connect. Performance on those assessments are then tracked by student and by standard. In the first four weeks of my school year, I’ve used Mastery Connect to give two pretests. The information I’ve collected has helped me to see in advance which skills and concepts my students are likely to struggle with and which skills and concepts that I can skip right over because my students mastered them in previous grade levels.
Remind: Another one of my professional goals this year is to get my students reading tons of high-interest nonfiction text. The way I see it, learning to love nonfiction is essential for succeeding in tomorrow’s knowledge-driven workplaces — and learning to love nonfiction is easy in a world where cool things are happening every day. The hitch: Students rarely have experiences with high-interest nonfiction text. Instead, they grind through textbooks or biographies of old people assigned as a part of classroom projects.
So I am using Remind — a service that allows teachers to send out short updates to parents and students — to share one interesting science current event every day. My students are jazzed by the notion of Megabots, are following the story of the baby pandas born at the National Zoo, and dig Scott Kelly’s Instagram page.
For me, sharing current events is easy. Interested parents and students signed up using a unique class code and chose to receive my updates by text, email or notifications in the Remind app. My job is simply to find interesting articles and then schedule them either through Remind on the web or the Remind app on my phone. Given that I am already reading interesting science every day, the entire process takes less than 20 minutes a week to maintain.
The results have been promising. My students come in almost every day ready to talk about the current events that I am sharing. They open their devices and poke through past current events during silent reading. And parents report spending time reviewing the daily current event with their child at home each night.
HSTRY.Co: One of the characteristics that defines scientists is an insatiable curiosity about the world around them. True scientists are ALWAYS wondering — and then acting on their observations. The beautiful thing about sixth graders is that they are naturally curious — driven to understand everything around them. Their wonderings, though, are often lost in the shuffle of a typical day at school.
Take today, for example: A student in my homeroom was really interested in the fact that she could float easily in salt water at the beach, but that she struggled to float in her neighborhood pool. She wanted to know why.
To help students capture the questions that leave them curious, I’ve started to experiment with HSTRY.Co — a tool that allows users to create timelines that include text, pictures, audio clips and videos. What I’m hoping is that because adding content is a one-click process, my kids will regularly record the ideas that leave them completely jazzed and wanting to know more. Then, I’m hoping that they will return to those ideas during the spare moments that they have either in class or at home. I see each student’s timeline as a sort of digital science journal.
Can you see the connecting thread between each of my #edtech decisions?
I had a clear sense of an instructional practice — assessing learning, turning students on to nonfiction text, recording the questions that leave us curious — before ever turning to technology. I didn’t start using Socrative, Mastery Connect, Remind or HSTRY.Co simply because they were cool new tools. Instead, I started using them because they were cool new tools that faciliated learning behaviors that I believe in.
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