Resources

5 Essentials for Your Digital Classroom Toolbox

Written by Rochelle Tkach

With the summer months upon us, I am sure many of you are enjoying the sun and beautiful weather! Not only is the summer a time to sit back and relax, but it is also a time for reflection and planning. It is such a huge misconception that teachers do nothing all summer long and enjoy a whole two-month vacation. Unbelievable, right? Apart from some awesome family vacations, many of you are spending your time curriculum planning, buying resources, reading, and maybe even researching new teaching strategies. I am hoping that this blog post will help provide you with some interesting and innovative resources to explore this summer and implement in the 2016/2017 school year. It’s always nice to start the school year off with some fresh ideas in your digital teacher toolbox!


Planboard
Before testing out or jumping into a new digital tool, it is essential that all teachers have a one spot to organize their daily schedules, plan lessons, and map curriculum standards throughout units. Chalk.com is an overarching company that has created a slew of products to support teacher organization. One of their most popular and awarded products is Planboard. Planboard allows teachers to input their daily schedules through the mobile app. Teachers can view their calendar for the day, week, month, or year and begin to map the curriculum for their units. Many of you probably have a system to curriculum map such as a jotting down a timeline. However, Planboard allows you to take your curriculum mapping to the next level. After determining when certain units will take place, you can begin to build lessons right into the calendar. Multiple lessons can be built per day. This is extremely convenient since you can pull up your lessons and have videos or links built in and ready to show your class on an interactive whiteboard or LCD Projector. Built-in curriculum standards further embed detailed curriculum mapping throughout units. The app is fantastic to organize the scope and sequence of curriculum standards, reduce repetition of standards, and enhance possible cross-curricular connections. After creating lessons within Planboard, they can easily be imported into future calendars or shared with colleagues.


Cube for Teachers
Have you ever had that moment where you remember learning about or observing a fantastic website and not remembering anything about its name? This happened to me recently when I was trying to remember a website I came across on digital citizenship. I just released a series of three blog posts for Learning Bird on Digital Citizenship, and there were a couple moments while writing where I would vaguely remember resources but have no idea what they were called or even how to search for them. The digital world is incredibly huge compared to sifting through concrete classroom supplies or your school’s storage room. For years, teachers have developed filing systems, labeling systems, color coding systems, etc. to help keep all of their teaching resources organized and accessible. If you think about it, teachers have to be some of the most diligent content managers in the world. Every week teachers hear about something new or are given a resource to implement. The challenge is trying to remember all of these new and innovative strategies or resources. It is even harder to remember the slew of digital content since it is not tangible. It cannot be physically filed away for future reference in the classroom! So where do you even begin with organizing web-based resources?

Thankfully, teachers are starting to recognize this problem. There is no need to write down or create a master file of websites. These documents will most likely get lost and sometimes have no meaning if you cannot even remember why the website was important in the first place. One teacherpreneur recognized the need for a more efficient and organized digital content management system. Cube for Teachers is the first digital content management system specifically designed for teachers. Not only is it free for teachers to use, but it further allows teachers to categorize all of their favorite websites based on curriculum topic and overall expectations. It also works like a database for teachers to look up a standard and see what resources other teachers have categorized under it. You can search based on the type of web-tool as well (i.e. websites, apps, digital manipulatives, videos, etc.). As long as the resource has a webpage associated with it, it can be categorized or searched for in Cube for Teachers. Once it is time to use the resource, teachers can further organize their tools for the day on their dashboard. I always start my teaching day by opening up Cube for Teachers because I save my “Go To” resources for substitute teaching in my dashboard. Although I have a lot more resources saved, I keep the links to certain resources (i.e., BrainPop or Cosmic Kids Yoga) in my On Deck dashboard inside Cube for Teachers.


Sesame
A lot of professional development these days centers on differentiated assessment measures. This is especially true for math. More emphasis has been placed on capturing students’ mathematical thinking and communication instead of just their factual knowledge and application of this knowledge (usually through standardized testing). Over the next summer month, some of you may be trying to think of ways that formative assessment can be embedded into your everyday practices. When I work with teachers during professional development opportunities, I often hear them stressing how they need to take more anecdotal notes or check-in more with students. It seems like most teachers feel this is ideal practice, but they struggle to apply their beliefs about assessment in the classroom.

One way that teachers can begin their journey towards more formative assessment measures is through the capturing of visual evidence. Some teachers have begun to use more screencasting applications. However, these apps can only go so far. Assessment should be a reciprocal process where students and teachers are continuously communicating to scaffold students’ towards reaching their potential. This is a huge component in a constructivist classroom. Sesame is a digital formative assessment resource that allows teachers to capture students’ visual evidence of learning and provide them with continuous feedback. On the website, teachers can create a profile and then set up classes within Sesame. Within these classes, student profiles are made so that teachers and students can have access to upload visual learning. It is really easy to use Sesame as a back-pocket tool to document students’ progress because of their app. With the multi-modal capabilities in mobile devices, students’ profiles can become student-driven portfolios. Students can upload their own videos, audio, pictures, and other items that they would like to showcase in their portfolio. Teachers can provide on-the-spot digital assessment based on what students have uploaded. Teachers can further create rubrics through the website and formatively mark students’ progress as they upload visual evidence of learning. These marks can then be used as feedback along with qualitative comments.


Learning Bird
In the 21st century, it is imperative that teachers are providing learning opportunities that speak to the current generation of students and prepare them for the future. It is possible that many students today will be entering future careers that do not even exist yet. With technological advances, students need to become more fluent with the use of educational technology to support their own digital literacy and further enhance their engagement. Keeping this in mind, many school boards have fostered a blended learning environment. Often times, blending learning comes from a school board’s adoption of a learning management system (LMS). Although an LMS provides an online hub for students to submit assignments, access course resources, collaborate with other students, and monitor their progress in a course, they do not necessarily enhance differentiated instruction within a blended learning approach. Some teachers may upload content that speaks to different learning styles or learning needs. However, this is a lot of additional work and collation of resources. It would be much more effective if teachers had access to an online database of digital content that could be assigned to students based on their learning needs or interests.

Learning Bird is a fantastic resource for teachers to keep in their toolkit. Learning Bird is a library of teacher-vetted, content-aligned lessons with multiple curriculum topics. Teachers can set up student profiles under their account and create playlists of online videos for students based on the subject currently being taught. Unlike any other digital tools, Learning Bird allows teachers to differentiate these playlists based on a student’s academic needs or interests. These playlists of digital videos could then be viewed either during class or assigned as homework for students. Students can watch the videos on their own time and learn the same content in different ways. In other words, if students are learning about fractions, a teacher can assign different videos on fractions that are either more challenging or less challenging (modified) based on each student’s learning needs.

Learning Bird does not replace your current LMS system. Instead, it enhances the digital content that is posted through the LMS. The playlists created in Learning Bird can be assigned and pushed out through your LMS or through Google Classroom. Furthermore, you can assign comprehension quizzes that students can complete after they’ve watched assigned videos. You can also receive feedback on whether your students found their specific playlists helpful. This further supports students’ progress monitoring through formative assessment measures.


Kyte Learning
I am sure many of us have had the experience of going to a conference and hearing an expert explain how to integrate a new and innovative teaching strategy or resource. During Edtech conferences, this may happen every hour since it is one of the most innovative and growing components to education. It is extremely hard to keep up with the ever-changing, fast-paced edtech world, and it is even harder to practically learn and implement strategies suggested during edtech conferences. Often times, I hear teachers saying how they want to learn more about LMS or about Google Classroom. They will say how they have tablets in their school, but they prefer “traditional” methods. I believe that edtech can be very intimidating and overwhelming for some teachers. It is most likely that they are not scared of the integration of edtech, but rather, they are so busy trying to manage the hustle and bustle of teaching, assessment, report cards, standardized testing, and professional learning networks that it is hard to also think about learning edtech skills. It also does not help that many school boards lack professionals who can work alongside teachers at their pace to effectively implement technology. Some instructional coaches are trying to keep up and learn about new edtech just as much as teachers. So how can teachers enhance their edtech skills without the stress of extra PD classes?

Kyte Learning is a company that aims to enhance teachers’ edtech skills through digital professional development. I believe this web resource could still be one of your most important tools in your toolbox! Often times, teachers will attempt to integrate technology without fully understanding the wide capabilities of the device or how to properly implement it based on sound pedagogy. Whenever a new technology is introduced, or you hear about another way of using your tablets, computers, etc., Kyte Learning can provide on-the-spot professional development when you need the support. Lessons are teacher-created, just like Learning Bird. Therefore, you are receiving feedback and support from other active professionals in your field. What is really fantastic about Kyte Learning is how accessible the tool becomes. Instead of waiting for your school to hold a professional development opportunity about technology integration, you can get started right away this summer and create your own flexible hours to sit down and learn about edtech strategies and resources!


Hopefully this post has provided you with some must-add educational resources for your teacher toolbox. I also hope this list has encouraged you to ponder and explore new tools throughout the rest of the summer months. Some of the resources may even help with your upcoming curriculum planning and technology integration. It is critical that we are teaching students through 21st century contexts and that we support the learning needs and interests of all students.

Happy planning!

About the author

Rochelle Tkach

Rochelle Tkach (@RochelleTkach) is a guest contributor to the Learning Bird blog as well as an Ontario Certified Teacher working as an Elementary Occasional Teacher for the District School Board of Niagara.
She is a passionate educator advocating for 21st century learning practices. When she is not sparking creativity in the classroom, she is working diligently to complete a Master of Education at Brock University. Her research focuses on how tablets can enhance students’ 21st century skills through the specific features and multi-modality embedded within apps. Rochelle’s mission is to place more emphasis on EdTech pedagogy and the reasons behind why EdTech should be blended into the inclusive classroom.

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