Just like any other teacher, I want my class to be engaging, meaningful, and of course manageable. Even during a time with accountability, standards-referenced grading, and data-driven planning, I think that students deserve nothing less than dynamic learning experiences. To bring a sense of engagement to students, I scour the curriculum to find interesting activities. However, like many other teachers, I don’t always find what I’m looking for. The internet is a great resource, but all too often I find something that looks engaging only to realize that it is dry or outdated.

To find quality digital curriculum or other edtech tools to implement in the classroom, below are a few steps that I have found successful:

  1. Input from My Professional Learning Network (PLN): Most of the time, I consider my PLN to be Twitter or LinkedIn. However, there are times when I reach out to colleagues on Facebook too. Turning to a PLN is an incredible choice because when you find a “diamond in the rocks” - you can share it with like-minded educators. When you are active in your PLN, collaborating on what tools or resources you are using can save you a lot of time and anxiety about trying something new.
  2. Stay Up to Date on the Latest Tools: I read online publications, like state level educator websites and other education-specific publications, to learn about out the latest trends in EdTech. By reading online content, I can stay up-to-date on tools that are working in other teachers’ classrooms across the nation. For example, this “share-to-care” column from the Learning Counsel.
  3. Trial and Error: I try, I fail, and I learn. Most importantly, I do this with students. By trying something new and pushing myself to explore, I help my students learn that sometimes it’s ok to “fail”, because we learn from those experiences. By exploring new tools to use in class with students, I am modeling what a critical thinker and a reflective learner does, and I am also demonstrating how to act when something “fails” for students.

As a teacher, some of my most challenging roadblocks were not knowing what my students were thinking about our lesson’s “essential questions.” I wanted to add a tool to help capture what students were “thinking” when they go to an answer or make a conclusion. Recently, I turned to my PLN and did some investigative reading, followed by a trial and error with a selection of new tools, and I ended up finding two effective tools that met my needs: FlipGrid and ClassFlow.

FlipGrid allowed my students to use a camera to record a video response to teacher created prompts. I use it encourage students to reflect on the content they just learned, how they might use the content, and even get them to discuss in small groups. I can easily locate responses as they’re saved to the website where I can review and assess. This helps me determine where each student is when preparing for the next lesson. I can also use it as a highlight reel the next day to quickly review, with my students, what happened in class the previous day.

I used ClassFlow to replace the whiteboard software I previously used in my class. ClassFlow works with interactive whiteboards, Chromebooks, tablets, and smartphones. Being able to access all of my whiteboard content online through the website, edit my existing work, or search in the ClassFlow Marketplace for new resources simplifies my planning process. When using ClassFlow with students, I can send screenshots to their devices or even poll students to better gauge their level of understanding.

Education is evolving so quickly that we all need to be wide open to professional development opportunities. By being open to new, innovative, and meaningful tools, we can continue to hone our craft, meet the needs of our changing student populations, and stay engaged ourselves.