Teachers are masters at reflecting upon best practices to better serve their students. While summer vacation may be a time of physical and mental renewal, it isn’t long (usually by mid-August) before the gears start turning and obsessing over how to improve upon last year’s educational campaign begin to keep us up nights. I really wanted to make this year a more efficient one from a productivity standpoint. As a pragmatist, my motto as a teacher is “work hard and work smart.”
I spent much of this past summer reading up on the habits of being a more efficient teacher and how to be more productive at work. After sifting through a few dozen articles, I realized that streamlining my various administrative teaching tasks this school year (data collection/reporting & parent/student communication) would be my focus. After careful planning and some late night tinkering, I realized that I could be an effective educator with nothing more than my iPhone. Now you can too.
5 Apps That Will Transform Your Teaching
Here are some of the apps that have really made a difference for me so far this year. All 5 applications work across multiple platforms and are really mobile-friendly:
Digital photography is a hobby of mine. In fact, I have an entire folder of about a dozen apps dedicated to it on my smartphone. Moreover, I’m also my school’s social media editor and yearbook photo editor as well. Bottom line: I take a lot of photos, and need to be able to store, edit and manage thousands of photos every school year. While working with them on my smartphone is easy and convenient, I like to keep my private and professional photos separate. Google Photos allows me to do just that.
Google Photos is a free download on multiple platforms, and given the fact that my school board has adopted Google Apps For Education (GAFE) products exclusively has made using this mobile app a simple choice. Originally, the thought of uploading pics to the cloud seemed daunting due to the stories you hear about how companies (like Google) use the metadata from your photos to acquire information about individuals. But, after putting the app through its paces for the last several months, I couldn’t be happier.
With an easy-to-use and intuitive interface, Google Photos is a powerful app that allows for photo editing, album creation, collaboration, and unlimited photo storage for free. The premise of the app is simple: Google will store an unlimited number of your photos as long as they are in a manageable format. Pics that are extreme high-definition will have their resolution decreased slightly, but are still gorgeous, vivid, and usable for projects like social media streams and school yearbooks. And, for those familiar with how sharing files and collaboration works within Google products, you get the same real-time editing and updating that comes with it. I highly recommend this app for anyone tasked with taking photos for their school, or anyone who likes to take digital photos. Period.
Nobody stores their files and backups on physical media anymore. It’s outdated and impractical. Cloud computing has arrived and made teaching much more efficient and productive. Google Drive, along with its competitors (OneDrive, Dropbox) allow teachers to do more in a shorter amount of time.
Functionality is also one of Google Drive‘s greatest features. While it’s possible to upload absolutely anything to your cloud account, the beauty of Google’s cloud-based file management solution is the fact that it does not count files created within their own G-Suite of products (Docs, Sheets, Slides, Forms) against your storage capacity quota. Files can be can be easily published online or shared via .pdf in just a few clicks. Everything is saved in real-time, eliminating the need to remember to “save” your work every ten minutes, while an integrated revision history feature allows you to easily go back in time and restore earlier versions of your document as well.
Extensions (browser add-ons) are what really make Google Drive shine. With everything from formatting, fonts, and graphing to easily setting up mathematical symbols and bibliographies, Google really has the leg up on Microsoft when it comes to harnessing the power of the browser to help tailor your creativity for intended audiences. Collaboration has become second nature, as cloud-based files, reports, and other important documents are available from any device at any time. Department meetings and anecdotal reporting on student progress can be done simultaneously by several teachers without having everyone present. The fact that the application is also mobile-friendly makes Google Drive another app that easily occupies a spot on my phone’s homepage.
Teachers in the 21st century are “educational curators”, creating and sculpting consumable educational materials for our students. When that’s not possible, we’re constantly combing through videos, web pages, and other digital media in the hopes of finding something that will help us ingeniously explain one concept or another. To help keep a running track of the plethora of sources used/visited, I use bit.ly, a mobile app that helps to shorten exhaustingly long web addresses, organize them according to tabs, and provide analytical insights to help track visitors, web traffic, etc..
I send home class notes and digital handouts to my students on almost a daily basis, and using an app like bit.ly certainly helps. All of my class notes are tagged according to chapter/concept/topic, and the handouts/assignments I assign are also tagged to match those of my class notes. The application keeps things really simple by limiting your sharing options to things like email, social media streams, and posting to websites. Customizable “bitlinks” are also available so you know exactly what each contains. Also, because of their short length, bitlinks are really great for Twitter and its 140 character limit. Mobile-friendly, bit.ly allows me to curate on the go from absolutely anywhere.
Remind is an app that has completely revolutionized the way I teach. At its core, it’s a messaging app, but it does so much more than that. The application has both a web applet and mobile version which allows me to send class announcements, help with homework questions, and manage activities seamlessly.
While it does take some organization on the part of the teacher at the beginning of the year to help parents sign-up/register for the free service, many are thanking me by the end of the first reporting period that I use the app and question why other teachers are not following my lead. Parents receive daily homework announcements in the form of text messages, allowing them to help their children manage their time and schoolwork. And, for students who have questions in the evening, Remind‘s chat feature allows them to message me with queries they may have. Students also have the option of including a picture of the problem they are working on, and either of us can also send a voice memo to better explain things.
As a parent myself, I can understand the challenge of having a busy schedule and trying to stay up to date by keeping in touch with my child’s teachers. Remind helps to bridge the communication gap. Formative feedback is instantaneous and allows for a very healthy education partnership between parent, student, and teacher.
Collecting data from student assessments for summative grading and reporting purposes is lengthy and grueling – the academic requirement to doing your taxes 4 times a year. At the start of my career we used pencil and paper; eventually evolving into dubious spreadsheets with complicated formulas and conditional formatting. This year, I’ve decided to move my gradebook to the cloud thanks to Markboard by chalk.com.
Even though Markboard is a web application, it’s easily accessible on mobile devices as well. Set up is a snap – multiple class sections are available, and you can easily associate various assessment tasks to course standards specific to your state/provincial curriculum. Numerous assessment types are available (percentage/points, binary, rubric, observation), and the possibility to “re-submit” assignments is possible as well. Markboard also allows for teachers to “omit” assignments when students are absent without affecting their overall grade average – and that is on top of being able to designate assessments for either “formative” or “summative” purposes.
Reporting results through Markboard are easy as well. Units/topics/assessment types can be assigned specific weightings while .pdf printouts of class/individual results are possible for easy exporting to email to send to administration and parents. In addition, Markboard‘s user-friendly interface makes it great to use when conducting parent/teacher conferences as well. Even though the application has only existed for a few years, Markboard has the potential to be a very powerful electronic gradebook alternative to the classic teacher’s spreadsheet.
Markboard (free): available at chalk.com.
Technology has prompted the evolution of teaching over the past decade. While much of what has been presented has been mostly student-centered (the development and deployment of exciting and engaging materials for lesson delivery), it’s nice to see that some thought has also been given to the ways in which teachers do administrative tasks. Such products allow for better time management and ease of communication, rendering teachers much more effective. In today’s “connected” age, it’s nice to be able to keep up.
‘Til the next post.