TECHNOLOGY TOOLS AND RESOURCES
In a world with what seems like an infinite number of technology tools and resources to choose from, how can we know which ones can be meaningfully incorporated into our classrooms to support our student objectives? Below I’ve compiled a list of tools that I use on a regular basis with a description of how I use them, and included both their affordances and constraints. My hope is that it might help you form an idea of whether or not they could be adapted for use in your own classroom situation.
SMART Notebook – As technology becomes more affordable and available, more and more schools are starting to have access to interactive whiteboards. One company that provides software (and hardware, but my district doesn’t have SMART branded boards) is SMART Technologies. They have accompanying software called SMART Notebook, that allows teachers to create interactive lessons via something similar to a slideshow.
- WHAT I LOVE – Each page of the slideshow can have different interactive aspects, from games to drag and drop to musical elements. If you can think of it, SMART Notebook can help you create it.
- WHAT I STRUGGLE WITH – Because there are so many powerful tools available, there are a lot of options and it has a steep learning curve for me. I still haven’t figured out everything I can do with it yet. Also, because my district uses different and slightly lesser hardware, only one pen (and student) can use the board at a time.
Easy Interactive Tools – I was introduced to Easy Interactive Tools as a starting step for using my interactive whiteboard after I struggled with making SMART Notebook presentations. It allows you to use the interactive function of your board without having to use the traditional SMART Notebook. It’s created by Epson to use with the Epson interactive projectors, which is what I have in my classroom.
- WHAT I LOVE – Easy Interactive Tools is just that: easy. There are a few pen options, a few highlighter options, a selection tool, and that’s about it. If you want to use your interactive board to annotate your slides/worksheets/lessons, this is the program for you. Now you can also use it to create presentations, but I haven’t explored that part. I use it more often than the SMART Notebook because I really like being able to add notes to my slides or have my students take notes. You can then save what you’ve annotated and access it later.
- WHAT I STRUGGLE WITH – As I said, you can create presentations with this software, but I haven’t been able to figure out how. It looks like it might be easier than SMART Notebook, but I’m not sure. You uhh… also have to remember to plug in the USB that comes from your interactive board! Don’t be like me and get tech support involved only to find out it’s because I completely forgot about that portion of the setup!
Spotify – Spotify is a music streaming service available via web, desktop/laptop software, and iOS/Android devices. There are both free and paid versions. I use it a lot in my classroom to introduce students to various types of French music, and I also make a ‘French Class’ playlist streamable by my students if they want to listen to more French without having to be in class.
- WHAT I LOVE – As I said, I use Spotify all the time in my classroom. I struggled with other music services like Pandora because I’m always looking for very specific things. Spotify allows me to listen to almost anything I can think of (like this French Renaissance court music album I used during our castle unit), make custom playlists, follow other playlists, and allows others to stream one of my playlists (even if they are a free account). You can even use the Pandora-like radio option to find songs similar to the one you are currently listening to.
- WHAT I STRUGGLE WITH – I choose to pay out of pocket for Spotify, which isn’t always possible for everyone. I chose to use the paid option because on the free option, you aren’t able to create custom playlists, you have to listen to occasional ads, and you can only skip songs so many times before you get locked out from skipping anymore. The somewhat good news is that Spotify sometimes offers discounts, and they always offer a discount if you are a student (which I currently am). A student account is only $5/month, which is half price. They also have a ‘family plan’ where you pay $10/month for the first person and $5/month for every additional person.
iMovie – iMovie is a powerful video editing software available on MacOS, iPads, and iPhones. It allows you near infinite video and audio effects. You can create movies, short clips, or even Hollywood-style trailers with it.
- WHAT I LOVE – If you want to make cool videos, this is the software for you. It allows you to take video, songs, and voice recording and mash them all together to make a highly polished video. It even lowers the music volume when you speak so that your listeners don’t have to go deaf.
- WHAT I STRUGGLE WITH – As I said, iMovie has near infinite effects to add to your video. Because of that, it has a VERY steep learning curve. However, there are a lot of tutorials out there from a basic how to get started to more advanced text overlay effects. It is also only available on Macs, which stinks for anyone using a different operating system.
Seesaw – Seesaw is a kid friendly, digital portfolio builder that can also be used as a learning management system. I use it exclusively for turning in work, and that work becomes their portfolio throughout the course of the trimester. They can then view their classmates’ work, as well as like and comment. I never leave anything other than positive feedback, and set the same expectations for when they do their own commenting. It is available on the web and iOS/Android devices.
- THINGS I LOVE – One of my favorite things about Seesaw is how it fosters student creativity. My students have turned in some of the most off-the-wall videos and pictures I’ve ever seen, all while working within the constraints I assigned. I had one student record every single one of his videos as his cat, as if his cat was the one speaking French and not him. Here’s a sneak peek. He loved it, I loved it, and both my principals loved it. It was just hilarious, and you know what? His French was near perfect! You can set it so all submissions require approval, which I do, so that you don’t have any accidental sharing of anything inappropriate or unrelated. I also love the mobile grading capabilities it gives me using their skills view. I can be sitting on the couch at 10pm, receive a submission, and have it graded all within about 30 seconds. No need for lugging a whole bunch of papers home from work! I try to be all about efficiency as a teacher, especially with 200+ students.
- THINGS I STRUGGLE WITH – One of the main features I use -the skills view- is actually only available in the paid version of Seesaw. This was a pretty big struggle for me at $120/year, since I don’t use it in the summer at all. However, I managed to string together a few free trials, and am happy to say I just became a Seesaw ambassador so those features are included in my membership now. Another thing is that their Android application is quite limited compared to their iOS application. My students kept telling me about these neat things they were doing and I couldn’t figure out why I didn’t have the same option. As it turns out, I believe that they launched on iOS so it continues to have more features than the Android version. Seesaw is run by a pretty small team right now, and so some portions of the website are still a bit clunky, and there is currently no way to see what exact time an item was submitted, or where it was submitted from (which were important when I was trying to solve a plagiarism issue). However, their customer support is AWESOME. Someone from their team always responds quickly and even if they can’t solve your issue, it feels like they are trying their best to help you.
Popplet – Popplet is an online mind mapping web tool that is also available on iOS devices. It can be used to generate and organize thoughts, ideas, vocabulary, images, etc.
- THINGS I LOVE – Popplet is pretty intuitive and easy to use. You simply drag and drop your bubbles anywhere you want, and can connect them with lines to any of the other bubbles. Bubbles can be easily deleted or moved, and the same goes for the lines you use to connect them. Students can add pictures to the bubbles, add pictures in addition to text, or just use text. Here is a short Popplet tutorial from Adam Bellow on YouTube. There are some color choices for customization, as well. It’s really fun to use it as a way to get all your ideas ‘on paper’ and my students have loved using it instead of writing out notes or doing a worksheet.
- THINGS I STRUGGLE WITH – I’m not sure if it’s something funky on my part, but I can’t delete the Popplet bubbles on the web version. For some reason, and perhaps it doesn’t play well with Chrome, the ‘X’ mark that is normally on the top right of each bubble doesn’t show up. And…the whole reason I have to use the web version much of the time is that there is no Android app available for Popplet, it is iOS only. As I have an Android phone and only have iOS devices during the school year, I’m limited in my way to use in. I’ve also had trouble changing/creating the Popplet’s title, as it seems like it is very hard to click that area of the screen.
Twitter – Twitter is a social networking and news site where people can post messages that are restricted to 140 characters, called ‘Tweets’. It is available via the web, as well as on mobile devices.
- WHAT I LOVE – Twitter is an awesome resource for two reasons. One is that you can use it to connect with professionals all across the globe to collaborate about any topic you want to. I am a part of the #langchat get together that happens weekly where we talk about foreign language teaching resources and methods. The second reason it is awesome is because you can use it to find authentic foreign language resources, which are things that are made by those who speak the language FOR those who speak the language. Using authentic resources (#authres) is one of the best ways to teach a language.
- WHAT I STRUGGLE WITH – The wealth of information on Twitter can be overwhelming at times, especially if you forget to edit your notification settings. I also struggle with the 140 character limit for each message, and I think many other people do too. However, it does force you to really think about what message you want to get across.
Piktochart – Piktochart is a website that allows you to create infographics with an easy-to-use infographic maker. It has some preset templates and you can also create your own from scratch.
- WHAT I LOVE – Piktochart IS pretty easy to use. It has drag and drop functionality which is super simple. They have a lot of graphics to choose from (complete with a search function), as well as text frames with changeable text right there in the frame. I use Piktochart to create my beginning of the semester syllabus for all of my different French classes, as it is much more visually appealing than just a document full of text.
- WHAT I STRUGGLE WITH – The number of preset templates is quite limited if you’re using the free version, and the amount seems to keep shrinking over time. However, if you’re good at fiddling around, you can edit any template to be more personalized to what you want. There is also a watermark at the bottom of your infographic if you use the free version, but this is only a minor constraint.
Any.Do – Any.Do is a task management app available on the web and on both Android and iOS devices. You can create different lists and set reminders for tasks to help you manage your time and keep your sanity.
- WHAT I LOVE – My favorite part about Any.do is the ‘Plan Your Day’ function. You can set it to go off at a certain time of each day and it gives you a list of what you need to accomplish. If you want to delay a task, you can toss it to tomorrow, two days from now, or even put it in the ‘someday’ category. That way you still keep it on a list, but you don’t have to be reminded about it as often. My other favorite part of Any.do is their recurring reminders function. Once you’ve planned your day, it will remind you to complete your tasks at times that you set, and will keep reminding you until you mark it as ‘done’. This is important for me. I have to be bugged constantly in order to get my daily chores done.
- WHAT I STRUGGLE WITH – In order to get those two best functionalities of Any.do, you have to pay for it. I chose to try it for a month just to see what it could do, and am loving it so far. There is also no way to change the default reminder time whenever you add an item to one of your lists, which is surprisingly annoying. My default reminds me at 10am, but there are some things I would rather be reminded about at 8pm when I’m at home as opposed to work.
EDpuzzle – EDpuzzle is a super easy web tool that helps you engage your students with videos by adding questions throughout the video. It is basically an in-video quiz that helps you track student understanding.
- WHAT I LOVE – EDpuzzle is such a fun way of engaging students with videos. Have you ever shown a short clip to a class and a few minutes later noticed that their eyes are glazed over and they’ve completely disengaged? EDpuzzle prevents that by getting students involved with the material they are watching. I mostly use it to assess my students’ comprehension of short, authentic French video clips (remember #authres from above?!). As they are not native French speakers, I like to make sure that they are at least understanding main or key ideas. I also use it for cultural videos that I show for certain units.
- WHAT I STRUGGLE WITH – Without having my students login to their own individual account, there is no way to track their answers. So I either have them flag me down when they finish if they are working individually or in groups, or we watch the video and answer the questions together as a class.
As I said in the beginning, we are drowning in a veritable sea of tech tools to choose from as educators. Hopefully this entry gave you some insight into a few of them and helped you decide whether or not they could be useful in your own situation!