10 Savvy Tech Tools to Help you Teach from a Digital Distance

Apr 03, 2020

As we dive head-first into distance and virtual learning, tech tools for teaching have gone from being a luxury, and sometimes a nuisance, to being absolutely necessary for helping students continue their educational journey. These 10 savvy tech tools provide a solid foundation for fostering growth and learning during these unprecedented times.

For plenty of schools, the act of using technology can be summed up in a few verbs: block, filter, confiscate. Yet in allowing smartphones in hand, our students are more connected to the world outside our classroom than we could have ever imagined.

Once we get past the idea that technology is more than a mere distraction, we can finally tap into the world of opportunity it opens for our students.

In terms of mindset, I sure hope this post finds you on the bright side of the digital rainbow because I've got 10 tech tools to share, which benefit both our learners and our trailblazin' teachers.

One thing I want to point out before begin, however, is that when it comes to education and technology, it's not about the app or the platform itself. It's how we use the tool within the context of the lesson...

Are we laying it on top of the learning? Or are we baking it in?

Plenty of schools will tout the fact that they're 1:1, but the truth is, this badge of honor doesn't count if we're simply replacing physical worksheets, for instance, for digital ones.

Imagine, for instance, if I had asked my students to start a blog. Sounds like a world of possibility, right? But what if, for their first blog entry, I make them tab in responses to something like their study guide questions.

By its very nature, a blog is meant to be open to the public and read far and wide by the world. But if my students are blogging prescribed answers to questions that already have an answer...who the heck wants to read that?

So the case above is, more or less, what NOT to do with modern tech in the classroom. Sure, these students are 'using technology', but to what end? As far as learning goes, an assignment like this isn't enhancing much at all.

Meanwhile, imagine your students are working on a team project and they're using an online project management tool like Trello to organize and delegate tasks, or they're using a tool like Toggl to track how much time they're spending on the different tasks.

In these instances, the tech tools are upping the efficiency and effectiveness of the team's work together. The tech is humming quietly in the background of the research project, it's not the center of some 'digital literacy' unit.

So with all that in mind, let's get started! Download THIS TECH TOOL CHEATSHEET to help you follow along as I go!

Cool Tech Tools for STUDENTS

1 |Book Creator:

There's no better way to launch your students into the world of publishing than introducing a publishing tool like Book Creator into your classrooms. With this savvy tech platform, your students can create just about anything in book form.

According to the website, high school students can 'use the skill of digital storytelling to convey complex ideas and combine multimedia to really show what they know.'

A platform that's designed for students of all ages, but I'll warn you...your first glimpse at the website might initially make you think it's better suited for elementary-level students. So not true! If anything, this app is way underrepresented by our secondary learners.

And the answer as to why that is, is both simple and unfortunate: we don't infuse enough tasks involving creativity in the upper grades!

Narrative writing is all the rage at the elementary level. Meanwhile, expository and argumentative skills are where it's at for secondary writers. But if you look at any thriving business or company or organization, they use the power of story to make them memorable.

So why aren't we teaching teenagers that?!

It's going to take a whole lot of ~you and me~ to change the narrative around writing (pun totally intended).

So I challenge you to use Book Creator as an opportunity to reframe your instruction in ways that give students creative license to create, find new and novel ways to communicate information, and tap into visual literacy as they do it.

I promise that the power of story will be the 'just in time' knowledge they need to do well in this world.

At the time this post is being published, Book Creator is enabling their 'collaboration' feature for all users, otherwise only available at the premium level, in response to the COVID-19 crisis.

To learn more, go to www.bookcreator.com or for Corona Virus relief opportunities, visit: https://bookcreator.com/2020/03/support-for-schools-affected-by-coronavirus/

2 |WeVideo:

WeVideo is an online video editor, it's a perfect tech tool for video creation and is super accessible, as students can do so from any device.

Video is overwhelmingly the medium of choice when it comes to student consumption, so they have plenty of experience in observing how others do it. Now it's time to flip the switch from critical consumption to active creation!

Now just to be clear, Loom is also a video-related platform I often recommend as well, but the key feature of WeVideo is that it has editing function.

At the time this blog entry is being posted, WeVideo is offering free accounts for school accounts so your students can continue creating, connecting, and collaborating online.

To learn more, go to www.wevideo.com and click on 'Education', or to sign up for free account access during the COVID-19 crisis, go to: https://www.wevideo.com/blog/for-schools/wevideo-offering-support-to-schools-affected-by-covid-19

3 |Padlet:

If you're looking for a virtual whiteboard + creative space for your students to brainstorm, Padlet is an excellent tech tool for this! Anything you do visually (ex. on the board or on your document camera, etc.) with your students, you can likely do on this platform!

In fact, Padlet can be used in so many different ways, from brainstorming to research to formative assessment, so let's take a look at a few inspiring ideas for use.

First, if your students are working on team research, they can gather input, chunk ideas, and outline the direction of their work. If they're working in literature circles, they can use their Padlet to post clarifying questions, pull quotes, or gather evidence as they prepare to meet.

Or, if you just want space for students to drop in a bellringer or exit ticket, Padlet is definitely an awesome workspace for these kinds of tasks.

But one of my favorite ways to use Padlet is in the form of a backchannel. So here's what that looks like.

In PD workshops I facilitate, for instance, I invite participants to add any questions they have to our collective Padlet as we work through the PD content.

So periodically, throughout the session, I address the queries that arise in our digital workspace with my audience (i.e. a virtual 'parking lot').

Similarly, in the classroom, this 'back channel' approach is an excellent way to give every student a voice in the classroom while covering content at the same time (it keeps a real-time pulse on your learners, too!).

Regarding distance learning, this tool can be combined with your lesson's livestream. Teams of three or four can enter into a Padlet in a 'breakout' fashion to carry out a learning task you've assigned.

In all, there are so many creative ways to use Padlet. Go to www.padlet.com to learn more. And while it does come at a cost, Padlet offers a 30-day trial that you can easily use this month.

Click here to get the Tech Tool Cheatsheet along with other valuable resources!

4 |Canva:

This graphic design platform is perfect for demonstrating learning in visual ways. Whether your students are creating slides, infographics, social media graphics, logos, or any other eye-grabbing image you can think of, Canva makes that design process easy and seamless.

And while plenty of your students may be artistically inclined, there are plenty more who identify as 'artistically challenged':

'Miss! I'm just not...*creative*!'

With Canva's endless library of templates, your learners will have plenty of inspiration for their visual creations.

Not to mention, Canva-use gets a 10 out of 10 in terms of real-world transfer. Plenty of freelancers, small businesses, large companies, and non-profit organizations alike use Canva to attract eyes to their message, ideas, or offer.

 And the best part about this teaching tech tool? It's absolutely free. Simply visit www.canva.com to your students started.

5 |Flipboard:

Imagine having access to a range of reputable news outlets, but instead of having to visit each of these separately on the internet, you could sift through them *by topic* and in one, single location?

Welcome to Flipboard, a news aggregator where you can curate a top-news 'magazine' of articles based on your passions and interests. Then you simply 'flip' through your favorite categories to catch the latest headlines.

Some of the categories in my own Flipboard, for instance, include Education, Technology, Leadership, and Entrepreneurialism.

As a learning tool, your students can brush up on non-fiction in ways that speak to their intrinsic interests, which is much more likely to engage (not to mention, empower!) them.

Interested in other free resources, join our free resource library!

6 |edPuzzle:

edPuzzle lets you insert questions into videos to check for comprehension or to challenge your readers otherwise. You can choose a TED video, for instance, select something from YouTube, Khan Academy, National Geographic, and more.

Or--and my favorite part--you can create or upload your *own* video! So if you've been using and loving Loom lately, this is an awesome app for you to pair those recordings with.

For YouTube videos, I strongly recommend checking out 'Literature Crash Course' with John Green, or just his YouTube channel in general, Crash Course. It's excellent for this instance and as a resource for learning overall (pair with 'YouTube' mention later in this post)!

7 |Thrively:

To me, this app probably has the most potential of all of the tech tools, largely because it's positively steeped in 21st-century instructional methods! Students are 30 times more like to engage when their teachers know and can play to their strengths, right?!

Thrively offers a strengths assessment and related resources to help students chase their passions and interests while recognizing and celebrating the things they're good at along the way.

Specifically, 'the Thrively Strengths Assessment is an 80-question, 25-minute multiple-choice test that identifies unique character strengths across 23 different factors'.

Once completed, students receive a 'strengths profile', which becomes the basis for the rest of their learning experience inside Thrively.

So there are a ton of activities and content to help students further develop their natural talents once they get clarity on what those are. Visit www.thrively.com for more information and to get started for free.

8 |YouTube:

Guys, this one literally never gets old. You can create any combination of video playlists inside your YouTube channel for students to peruse.

Imagine: your students are getting ready to create a blog. Obviously, they're going to need some guidance in building the physical platform before they begin writing on it, yet you're not a certified Blog Extraordinaire...

In this case, you'd simply use the free information on the internet to save your A-minus!

Using your YouTube ninja skills, you'd just have to pull together a reliable playlist of resources for 'starting a blog', from tech tutorials to tips, topic inspiration, and other hacks to help them get started!

Or.. let's imagine you're getting ready to read a novel but needing to establish a little context before you do so. Gather up a few videos that speak to the story's backdrop (cough, Crash Course!).

Or hey, why not...make yourself YouTube-famous by creating a channel that features your *own* instructional content as you hit record during our 2020 Distance Learning Adventure.

In doing so, you've got a resource library ready to go the next time you have a substitute teacher or you make plans to flip your classroom for portions of a unit!

Bottom Line, READ: YouTube has been around longer than most social platforms, but it's the one that gets even more popular with every passing year. Video is *the* way of the digital future, so don't cast this one off as old news.

9 |Goosechase:

This platform offers an excellent opportunity to gamify the learning experience for your students. It blends the traditional scavenger hunt with 21st-century mobile technology to create this gamified approach.

When creating a mission, or game, you choose whether participants will submit a photo, a video, a text response, or check-in at a particular location as the proof of completion.

Goosechase comes complete with a leaderboard and real-time updates, which is perfect for our students because if there's one thing we know about Gen Z, they love a challenge!

Novel ideas...

As a source of inspiration, let's imagine you're reading a novel with your learners. One of your scavenger hunt questions might be to take a photo with a person in your household who is most like one of the characters in the text + be prepared to justify why. Then, when the class reconvenes post-scavenger, the fun photos they took for this task will be the conversation starters that propel you into the literature.

As another idea, you might have your students select a character from the book and decide on 5 apps that character might have on his/her iPad. After using Google Slides or Canva to create a visual of the apps as they might appear on that character's phone or tablet, the student would then use one of our other savvy tech tools like Loom or WeVideo to record him or herself justifying those decisions made.

A third idea: you might ask students to find a book on their own bookshelf at home which addresses similar themes to those contained in the novel you're reading with them, then have your learners provide a text response explaining that connection.

Other goose chase ideas...

If you're working on research, your students could video-record a primary-source interview; if you're assessing skill mastery, you might say something like, 'prove that you understand the meaning of X by uploading a photo or video to demonstrate'...

The options for your scavenger hunt are literally endless, and the gamified approach will no doubt keep your students connected to the learning process.

Itching to get started? Head to www.goosechase.com/edu to create your first digital classroom scavenger hunt!

10 | Talk and Comment:

I've saved the very best teacher tech tool for last with this Google Chrome extension: Talk and Comment. For those of you with literally hundreds of papers to grade, this is sure to be your grading hack solution!

Before we even think of ourselves in this regard, though, this tool actually doubles as one of the best apps on the behalf of our *students* because it helps us give them timely + specific feedback.

As you likely know, feedback is the number one driver of positive student outcomes...

But with increasing class sizes, it can feel impossible to grade everything in deep ways for everyone.

Insert the Talk and Comment app and Chrome extension. It gives you the ability to leave voice notes on anything online.

So let's imagine you're inside Google Docs with your essay writers. Instead of typing out mounds of feedback, you simply hit the record button to generate an audio response; then you take that link and embed it in the comments for the student to listen to thereafter.

Talking to comment is so much faster than typing to comment, am-I-right?!

(at least for my generation anyway...but soft, I date myself!)

So this tech tool will save you tons of time in that department, and it puts a human spin on the process...

I don't know about you, but hearing the intonation of someone's voice as they're critiquing my work feels way better than guessing (or worse, imagining!) if they're yelling, or being sarcastic, or being firm, or, or, or...

So Talk and Comment helps you connect on a more human level with your learners as you provide that much-needed feedback in a more timely fashion. You can download this awesome extension at www.talkandcomment.com or go directly to the Chrome store to do so. And don't worry, it's free!

To wrap it all up...

I could go on forever about the many tech tools out there that I know and love. Meanwhile, there are plenty more I have yet to discover!

Such, such! are the joys of the digital era, so keep the following in mind:

This stuff (i.e. the internet of tech tools-n-things) is ever-changing, but the longstanding message is clear...

The skill our students need to learn most involves resourcefulness: the ability to cleverly seek out the tools and resources they need to solve the problems, hiccups, or roadblocks they face.

Use these 10 tech tools to teach your learners how to seek out relevant resources, take risks with them, and tinker their way to the solutions that work for the moment they're in.

This 'just in time' learning may just be the best tool of them all.

If you are loving these ideas and want more, check out Teaching ELA Remotely: 10 inspiring ideas for digital instruction.

Connect with me on Facebook or follow me on Instagram! See you there!


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