10 Simple Tech Tools to Take Learning to the Next Level
Technology can be an amazing tool in the classroom. But I think we need to be mindful when implementing it. Standards and content should always come first. If technology offers us a way to better teach the content, then we should use it. If it doesn’t, then we should leave it. We should be careful not to discount face-to-face discussion and paper-based activities–students need those, too.
That said, I’ve compiled a list of simple tech tools that can truly enrich your students’ learning and take it to a level that’s difficult to reach without technology.
Here are 10 Simple Tech Tools to Take Learning to The Next Level
1. Open a PDF or Image File as a Doc to Extract The Text
Sometimes you have an old worksheet or a reading that you want to digitize. It’s simple to scan it to a PDF or snap a picture of it to upload for your students. They can use an app like DocHub to type, draw, or highlight directly onto the PDF.
But the text is flattened on a PDF. Sometimes you and your students need access to the text. When you have access to the text, you can use apps to read the text aloud to students or to translate the text for ELL students. You can’t use these apps with image or PDF Files. Google Drive can extract the text for you.
Simply take a clear picture or screen snipping of the text you need and upload it to your Drive. You can also upload a PDF to your Drive. In Drive, right click the image or PDF, and select “open with Docs.” The image or PDF will open as a Google Doc with the image at the top and the text extracted.
The image is shown at the top of the Doc. The text that can be manipulated is extracted beneath.
2. Use the Google Read&Write Extension to Help Struggling Readers
The Read&Write Chrome Extension is a powerful tool to help your students improve their literacy skills. It can be used with any text that is not flattened (see tip 1 for extracting text that is an image or PDF). Read&Write has many capabilities, including highlighting, text to speech, reading focus guide, vocabulary lists, picture dictionary, translate into French or Spanish, and speech input. It also has screenshot reader capabilities in the premium version. Here is a useful PDF explaining what each tool within Read&Write can do.
This is the focus guide feature. It really helps my students with processing difficulties read on a screen.
3. Use the Talk and Comment Extension to Give Your Students Verbal Feedback
There is little more frustrating than spending hours grading student essays and leaving productive feedback only to have students ignore it. With the Talk and Comment Extension, you can record your voice to give students audio feedback as you read their papers. I’ve found that they are generally more likely to listen to comments than to read them. Here is a helpful PDF for getting started.
4. Use Google Forms for Behavior Reflection
Early in my career, I read the book Teaching with Love and Logic, and it has had a major impact on my teaching philosophy through the years. One incredibly useful takeaway that I have implemented from it is a behavior reflection form (mine is free here).
When I had a large classroom, I created a corner for quiet reflection. If I sent a student back there, they had to fill out a sheet reflecting on their behavior. These days, my classroom is too small for that, so I have students fill out a reflection in Google Forms instead. Each time a student fills out the form, I have a digital copy that I can send to a spreadsheet. For minor offences, I like to keep it between me and the student the first time. If it recurs, I email their responses to their parents, letting them know that there will be progressive consequences if it happens again.
You can post a QR code to the form in your classroom, share the link through email to the infringing student, or post the link in a section of Google Classroom or whatever platform you use. Here is a copy of my form that you can use and modify.
5. Use Google Keep to Import Drawings into Docs and Slides
I have many students who are artistically gifted, and I love to give them a chance to shine with projects and activities. Digitizing their drawings is easy with Google Keep integration into Docs and Slides. Students draw their images in Keep, open a Doc, and click the Keep icon on the right hand side. They find their images, and drag them into the Doc.
Make your drawing in Keep (try not to be jealous of my abilities–we can’t all be artists).
6. Use Google Arts and Culture App for Historical and Creative Writing
The Google Arts and Culture App is a useful tool for social studies, ELA, and, well, art. It has multiple categories, virtual tours, and 360 video. But the coolest part is the selfie feature. Students take a selfie and load it to the app. The app searches artwork to find one that looks most like the student.
Have students research that artwork and write an essay or creative story about it. Here are detailed instructions for implementing this feature. Be sure it will work for you and your students prior to class time.
7. Use The Explore Feature in Docs, Sheets, and Slides for Research
The Explore Feature is already in Docs, Slides, and Sheets, but many people do not know about it. Students can right click on a word in their Doc, select “explore,” and research on the subject appears in the right of the screen. If students select a quote to use, Explore automatically generates a footnote for them. Click the three dots to select the citation format. In Google Sheets, the Explore Feature will format results and generate graphs. In Slides, it helps with the layout. Here are detailed instructions for Using Explore in all three apps.
8. Encourage Student Creation with WeVideo
I teach heavy content classes, and it’s difficult to genuinely teach all of the standards. But I think it’s important to make time for students to create–it’s more meaningful than their just consuming the information and it helps to build skills they will need for the 21st century workforce. The more creative the assignment, the better. For example, instead of having students make a slideshow about Napoleon, have them create an ad for joining Napoleon’s army.
A free tool for making and editing videos with Chrome is WeVideo. Here are the basics your students will need to know to work with WeVideo. They can create documentaries, advertisements, music videos, skits, and so much more to share with the class. An added bonus is that they can share their videos in WeVideo, so there’s no need to use YouTube if your school has it blocked.
9. Use Symbaloo for Student Choice and to Create a Differentiated Workflow
Symbaloo enables you to organize web content into tiles on topical boards to share with students. It can be used to jigsaw topics, create a differentiated workflow, and personalize learning.
Create a free symbaloo account and create your first board, for example, “The Enlightenment.”
To jigsaw the topic, link to a different website, say about various Enlightenment thinkers. Have one per tile. Assign each student or group a different thinker. Have them follow the link and research the person. They can take notes on butcher paper to create a gallery walk for the rest of the students to take notes about.
To differentiate workflow, color-code the tiles. There could be a Blue Flow, a Green Flow, and an Orange Flow. Each flow contains leveled work over the same topics. For example, if the Blue tiles are for the higher level students (not that you would tell them this), the initial reading will be more challenging than the initial reading for the Green and Orange tiles. The next tile in each may link to an activity (force a copy link to a Doc) that is slightly different for each group. The third tile may lead to a different extension activity for each level, and the fourth may lead to some sort of formative assessment.
You can also use symbaloo to personalize learning. Create a choice board with various colored tiles. Each tile of the same color links to an activity that asks students to do a similar activity using different modalities. Have them choose one activity to complete for each color.
All blue tiles, for example, could ask students to learn content. They can choose how they will learn it. One blue tile might link to a reading. Another might link to a video, and still another might link to a virtual tour.
All green tiles, for example, might link to an activity. They might all ask students to analyze a primary source over a similar topic, but the genre for each source might be different. One tile might link to a letter, another might link to images, and still another might link to audio. Students select one to complete.
All orange tiles can link to a creative extension. One might be text-based, one might be art-based, and one might be video-based. Again, students have a choice.
Make all yellow tiles different types of formative assessment that students can choose among–a quiz, a quickwrite, a storyboard….
Don’t forget to create a red tile, for example, that links to a spreadsheet, form, or Google Classroom assignment box where students can turn everything in. I would have a different “turn in” tile for each class I teach.
The Sybaloo Blog offers tutorials and ideas for getting started.
10. Use Forms and AutoMastery to Re-mediate and Enrich
I’ve written about this before, but it is too amazing a tool not to mention again. AutoMastery is a free Google Forms add-on that enables you to effortlesslyre-mediate or enrich after teaching information.
Create a Google Forms Quiz containing key concepts you want your students to retain from a lesson. Click the add-on, and select an emerging (perhaps below 70) and a mastery level (perhaps above 85). The intermediate level will be the scores in between.
Insert a link to a different activity for each level in the appropriate box. Activities can include reteaching and extension, depending on score. The appropriate assignment will be emailed to each student based on their score, so don’t forget to set the Forms quiz to collect their emails.
Here is a detailed blog and video for using AutoMastery with Forms.
If we use technology with intention and not just for its own sake, it can save us time and transform student learning in a way that was far more difficult to implement in the past.
What technology tool has taken learning to a new level in your classroom? Share your favorite tools in the comments below!
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