Websites, apps and devices help teachers teach and kids learn in new ways. Check out these 10 great education tech choices.
Information technology has become so tightly woven into our workday and personal lives that it's hard to imagine life without it. We get directions from GPS, read books on our e-readers, collaborate with colleagues on documents in the cloud, connect with friends on social media and more, and we do it all from our smartphones and tablets.
Technology is also driving the way teachers teach and students learn. The National Education Technology Plan 2010 calls for revolutionary changes in education using tech. "Technology-based learning and assessment systems will be pivotal in improving student learning and generating data that can be used to continuously improve the education system at all levels," the plan says. "Technology will help us execute collaborative teaching strategies combined with professional learning that better prepare and enhance educators' competencies and expertise over the course of their careers. To shorten our learning curve, we should look to other kinds of enterprises, such as business and entertainment, that have used technology to improve outcomes while increasing productivity."
In other words, what works for the business world should work in the classroom.
This is true now more than ever as the Common Core State Standards are adopted across the country. Focusing on college and career readiness and replacing state-specific -- and wildly varying -- existing guidelines, the standards mandate not only what students should learn from kindergarten through high school, but how teaching and learning should happen. Technology promises to drive this new way of teaching and learning.
The Common Core State Standards are vague about what technology should be used, and that is more than likely intentional: Any specific technologies recommended today are sure to be outdated five years or even a year from now, as new and intriguing technologies pop up.
The good news is that there are many options to choose from. Blogging platforms, electronic whiteboards, tablets, smartphones -- the list goes on and on. The bad news is that many schools and school districts aren't equipped to evaluate and implement new technologies. And, while several options today are free, there is still a general skittishness about the use of things like social media in the classroom, especially at the elementary school level. These fears seem to be abating, however, as schools look to and learn from models in the business world, including bring-your-own-device (BYOD).
In this slideshow, take a tour of 10 tools that can help you create an engaging learning environment, as well as accommodate tight education budgets. Some of the tools, such as Twitter and Facebook, will require especially keen oversight by teachers. Look at these sites as an opportunity to teach students not only the curriculum at hand, but also safe and effective use of technology.
Not only are teachers using Twitter to keep parents up-to-date on what is going on in the classroom, the popular network gives students an outlet for creative writing. Older students can take the Twitter helm themselves, assuming there is a level of accountability before anything goes out publicly. On the other hand, some students are starting early. This screen shows tweets from first and second graders in Windsor, Ontario.
As with Twitter, Facebook provides students with an instant audience. Moreover, Facebook's Timeline feature provides classrooms with a visual timeline of their work throughout the year. It also gives parents and guardians the opportunity to comment on student work and become more involved in their children's education. Some teachers are using Facebook to put works of classic literature into context, having students post and comment as characters from a novel or even Shakespearean play. The Facebook in Education page provides tips and success stories.
Bulletin boards have long been associated with classrooms, both for posting news and showcasing student work. Now classrooms are using the popular online bulletin board Pinterest to share their work. Create boards for different subjects, different classes, different units -- the possibilities are endless. Teachers can find a slew of ideas from their peers on Pinterest.
Skype can be used in the classroom for myriad purposes, but at its best it brings students up close and personal with people they might never have access to. Many authors now do presentations via Skype, usually for a fee. Classrooms also can make connections with scientists, mathematicians, community leaders and kids their own age from different communities or even countries. The Skype for Education page offers ideas and lesson plans.
Sites like Twitter and Facebook provide students with a world audience and a platform on which they can collaborate and communicate. But public sites also can introduce security and privacy worries. Edublogs is one example of a collaborative publishing and communications environment that is a bit more locked down than public platforms, and thus might be more palatable to concerned administrators and parents.
To prepare for college and starting a career, every student should be able to create and give presentations. Google Apps includes some very robust, collaborative office productivity tools for education, including a presentation tool. Microsoft PowerPoint also does a fine job, but for free, collaborative presentation tools on steroids, try the free online service Prezi.
Cloud-based storage services such as Box, Dropbox, Google Drive and Microsoft SkyDrive give students and teachers a way to store and access data from anywhere using any device. Cloud-based storage becomes especially compelling for educators using a "flipped classroom" model: Lectures and other resources are made available for consumption outside the classroom, and classroom time is reserved for hands-on collaborative projects.
Increasingly, students' personal digital devices -- most notably, their smartphones -- are far newer and more powerful than anything a school can supply. Therefore many schools are letting students and teachers bring and use in the classroom the devices with which they are the most comfortable, an educational version of the work world's bring-your-own-device model. Of course, this brings with it a couple of concerns: security and equity. Many schools do not feel capable of ensuring students' safe use of so many disparate devices. Also, not all students can bring a mobile device to school.
Tablet computers have been a game changer for many schools. They are relatively cheap, quick to start, long lasting on one battery charge, and fun to use for students of all ages. In a perfect world, every classroom would be equipped with its own tablets for students to use. In the meantime, some students are bringing their own tablets to school as part of a BYOD program, while other schools with limited tech budgets are making do with tablets brought to the class on a cart.
Powering all those smartphones and tablets students use in class? Thousands upon thousands of apps. Educational apps cover every possible topic, help students improve their reading, intervene with kids who are struggling with math. That's not to say all apps are good; in fact, many are really bad. Educators must carefully vet any apps they recommend for student use.
What technology tools are you using in the classroom? Leave a comment!
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