The new school year is here for many teachers. For those who haven't started school yet, the new school year will be here soon. If you've set the goal of trying something new in your classroom this year (shouldn't that always be one of our goals), here are eleven techy things teachers should try this year.
1. Build a Blog or Build a Better Blog
Blogs can serve many purposes for teachers. You can use a blog to communicate information to parents and students. You can use a blog to create a running journal of classroom activities and lessons throughout the year. Blogs can be used by students to record and reflect on their own learning. Make your students contributing authors on a class blog and have them write a weekly reflection on their own learning.
Three good platforms for classroom blogging are Blogger, Edublogs, and Kid Blog. All three of those platforms are very easy to start as they don't require any technical knowledge on your part. All three of those platforms allow you to control your blog's visibility settings. Get directions for creating Blogger and Edublogs blogs here. (Disclosure: Edublogs is an advertiser on Free Technology for Teachers.)
2. Build a Wiki With Your Students
Building pages on a wiki is a great way for students to record and share knowledge about topics they've researched. Last year one of my classes created a wiki about 1920's culture in the United States. When everyone was done contributing one of my students made the observation that the wiki had more information than the textbook, he was right.
Teachers and students can also use wikis to create digital portfolios. Students can create and edit their own pages to show-off the work they're most proud of.
Wikispaces, PB Works, and Wet Paint provide free wiki hosting. I prefer Wikispaces because they provide free advertising-free wiki hosting to teachers. Learn how to use Wikispaces here.
3. Build a Website
So a blog doesn't provide quite what you're looking for and a wiki doesn't either? Try building your own website. On your website you can include calendars of assignment due dates (try Google Calendar), post reference videos and documents for students and parents, and even collect assignments.
Building a website used to be a difficult, technical process. That is not the case anymore. There are many free website creation and hosting services available on the web. Google Sites can be used to create a website containing blog and wiki elements. Learn how to use Google Sites in my publication Google for Teachers II. Some other website creation and hosting services you might want to try are Weebly, Webs, and Yola.
4. Create Videos Without Purchasing any Equipment
Video is a powerful form of communication. It wasn't that long ago that classroom video projects required possession of expensive editing software and other equipment. That is no longer the case. Today, anyone with access to the web can make a high-quality video production. Two of my favorite web-based video creation services are Animoto and JayCut. Of the two Animoto is the easiest to use while JayCut offers the most editing options. Learn how to use Animoto in my free publication Making Videos on the Web.
5. Create Maps to Tell a Story
Maps are obviously useful for Social Studies teachers, but did you know that you can also use multimedia maps to tell a story? Google Maps and Google Earth can both be used to create a multimedia story. Try having your students write the biography of a famous person by plotting points on a map and adding text, images, and videos about that person to each placemark. Visit Jerome Burg's Google Lit Trips to learn more about using Google Earth in a literature course. Visit Tom Barrett's Maths Maps to get ideas for using maps in mathematics lessons. Need some general directions for using Google Maps or Google Earth please consult my free publications Google for Teachers and Google Earth Across the Curriculum.
6. Try Backchanneling in Your Classroom
As staffing cuts create larger class sizes, it is becoming more difficult for some teachers to hear every student's question and or comment. Some students are reluctant to verbally share their thoughts in the classroom. And some students just have to blurt-out every thought or question they have as soon as they have it. Creating a backchannel for your students can address all three of those problems.
A backchannel is another name for a chat room in which your students type their questions and comments whenever they have them. You can then address those questions and comments immediately, have students reply to each other, or address the questions when time permits. Learn more about the uses of backchannels in my presentation about using backchannels in the classroom.
Here are some school-friendly services that can be used to host backchannels: Today's Meet, Chatzy, Edmodo, and Present.ly.
7. Join a Social Network for Your Professional Development
Social networks can be used for much more than just sharing pictures of your kids with you old high school friends. Twitter, Classroom 2.0, and The Educators PLN are great places to connect with other teachers around the world. Use these connections to gather ideas for improving your lesson plans, share and find great web resources, and perhaps virtually connect your classroom to another classroom. Check out the Flat Classroom Project for ideas about connecting classrooms around the world. View my resources to learn how to build your own personal learning network.
8. Use an Online Service to Save Your Bookmarks
Every spring just before school lets out for the summer and all of the school-issued computers are re-imaged, some of my colleagues come to me in a panic wondering how to save all of the websites they have bookmarked on their computers. This problem could be completely avoided if they would just try using an online social bookmarking service like Diigo, Delicious, or Google Bookmarks.
Using an online bookmarking service allows you to access all of your favorite websites from any Internet-connected computer anywhere. All three of these services offer browser add-ons that allow to save bookmarks just as easily as you would with the bookmarking features in Firefox or Internet Explorer. These services also allow you to share your bookmarks with others (your students for example) and to add comments to your bookmarks so you remember why you saved each one. Learn more about online bookmarking services in this video from Common Craft. Learn how to use Google Bookmarks in my free publication Google for Teachers II.
9. Get Your Students Searching More Than Just Google.com
Give students a research assignment and the first place that most of them will go to is Google.com. There's nothing inherently wrong with that, but if that's all your students do they're not likely to find the best possible information. One of the ways you can do this is by introducing your students to Google Wonder Wheel and Google Timeline. Both of those refinement tools are built into Google Search. You should also show your students how to use Google's advanced search options. If your students are searching for information that contains numerical data such as distance and time, introduce them to Wolfram Alpha. Learn more about Internet search strategies and tools in my free publication Beyond Google. Learn how to build your own search engine in my free publication Google for Teachers II.
10. Have Your Students Create Podcasts
Creating podcasts is a great way for students to preserve oral histories or to hear themselves practicing a foreign language. Open source program Audacity and Apple's Garage Band are excellent platforms for recording podcasts. You can also record podcasts without installing software by using Aviary's Myna service or Drop.io's voicemail service. If you need a free place to host podcasts check out PodBean or Blubrry.
11. Eliminate Inbox Overload
Get all of your students using Google Docs or Zoho Writer this year to eliminate the need for them to send you document attachments. Simply have them share their documents with you. You can edit their documents and grade their documents without having to open attachments. Using Google Docs or Zoho Writer will eliminate issues associated with students sending attachments that you cannot open. Getting your students to use either of these services will free up a lot of storage space in your email inbox.
Stay tuned later this week for a free PDF guide on how to use the tools mentioned above.
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