04 May 2012

4 Essential Tools for Modern Teachers

There are a lot of fancy teacher tools out there but I've found that the combination of just a few free internet tools provides 90% of my needs as a teacher.

  1. DropBox. Sure, the school provides me with a network drive with 500MB that I can technically access from anywhere, but DropBox provides the same amount for free, and it's so much easier to use from home. Plus, it's required for tool #2.
  2. DROPitTOme. Just link to your DropBox, create a password, and share the link. Students can use it to submit assignments up to 75MB straight to your DropBox. I came up with a naming scheme that automatically arranges their files by period and last name, making grading a lot easier. I also transfer all the submitted files to an external hard drive to avoid clutter.
  3. Google Calendar. I use it to loosely plan my days and weeks in advance, and it's super easy to switch things around. I can link to the calendar to my site, and if I'm on the ball and add descriptions for each thing, students can click on the event and see exactly what's happening that day.
  4. Google Sites. As much as the designer in me wants to make a pretty site with animations, I still always come back to the ease, simplicity, and Google integration of Google Sites. I have one site for my students to find links, assignment descriptions, calendars, and other helpful stuff, and then another site just to organize my lesson plans into a large online database. One fun thing to do is create an "announcements" page that you treat as a blog for interesting/cool stuff, and then embed the five recent posts on the home page, so every time they go to your site, they see some new cool thing to pique their interest in your subject.

And here's a brief list of other tools I've found helpful, although not quite essential:

  • LearnBoost. I recently purchased an iPad and started out on the hunt for fantastic teaching apps. I didn't find any. The apps out there for teachers are far from fantastic. LearnBoost is a website that does a lot of the things I wanted an app to do. I can create seating charts and take attendance, manage grades, and create lesson plans. It also integrates Google Calendars and even adds to the calendar when you specify a date for a particular lesson plan, which is cool.
  • Prezi. I do very few presentations these days, but when I do, I prefer Prezi over PowerPoint. It's just a lot more dynamic, and I enjoy making sound effects whenever it animates from one slide to another. Plus it allows for a lot more creativity, so it's fun to give my students an assignment to create a Prezi.
  • Google Docs. In particular, the "Form" document type. I use it as an online disclosure document form, saving a lot of paper and making the student and parent data so easy to access as a spreadsheet. I simply embed the form in my Google Site and parents can easily find it and fill it out in a minute or less, which also forces parents and students to see all the information they can find on my website if they ever need to.
And tools that are subject-specific:
  • SketchUp. I've posted several times about this tool, which is mostly for multimedia-type work with students. It's free and it works pretty well on these old clunker computers.
  • Home Designer. I've mentioned this software as well. It's pretty inexpensive to provide this software for a whole lab of computers, and the interface and power is incredible.
  • FloorPlanner. If you can't afford Home Designer, try FloorPlanner, which is a web-based, one-floor-at-a-time home designer. It's free to sign up for and use, and it's pretty fun, just a lot more limited since you can only do one floor at a time.
  • Adobe Illustrator. This software has yet to have a cheap alternative, although honestly I'm hoping for one. Adobe software is incredibly overpriced for modern times. They release a new version every few years that has 5 new features that few people will ever use.
  • Adobe Photoshop. Same deal as Illustrator, although I have heard of many alternatives. I just use it because my district had a bunch of extra copies.

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