Tech App Roundup: How I’m Starting the School Year

I’ve thought about it… long and hard.  Our district is still on the fence about changing the cell phone policy and whether or not students can use devices in class, but considering I’m the “disruptive teacher”, I know what I have to do to teach the way I want to teach in MY classroom.  Even when I mentioned how excited I was about using devices in my classroom to my team, they looked at me like I had the world’s largest zit on my nose.

When I shut the door, the building disappears and we enter a universe that I control.  So, I made a list of the devices that can be used in my classroom this year, and the online resources we’ll be starting out with this year. Policy be damned.

I’m teaching a 7/8 split this year, so I’m pretty sure most kids will have access to a smartphone or an IPod, if nothing else. I’m also allowing them to bring in, WITH PARENTAL PERMISSION, tablets or laptops/notebook computers. I recognize that keeping up with these devices will be as much of a chore for us as anything else, but, a 13 year old should learn a bit a responsibility for an overpriced device, don’t you think?  Mrs. Stone’s science class is as good a place as any to start that experience.  All of the apps described can be downloaded to phones or tablets and are found in Android and iOS formats.

I’ll be introducing (or in the case of some of the 7th graders) reintroducing the following apps at the beginning of the year:

  • My Big Campus: I wrote a mini review of this particular learning management system a few weeks ago and although, as of this writing, I still haven’t heard a “go” from the IT department, I’m moving forward with it.  It will be a great place to put academics, social media, and the world at our fingertips.  I can’t wait to get started using it.
  • Class Dojo: I used this app in my 6th grade classes last year with AMAZING success.  This behavior management tool can be used to get them to class on time, get and keep them on task, given them props for participation and acknowledge the good behavior without saying a word to them.  It also works on negative behaviors.  The bong of “you did something wrong”, usually gets the one that’s out of control, back on task quickly and without much discussion.  I love this app.
  • Dropbox:  Our community is requiring all students to keep their files on flash drives this year. (omg, so totally 2010!) I’m giving my students the additional option of setting up a Dropbox account or a Google Drive account (see below).  I have used Dropbox for 3 years now and have found it to be invaluable when I need to find a file but I’m nowhere need my personal device.  I think the students will feel the same way.  The only different for me between Dropbox and Google Drive would involve a student’s access to the different upgrades of Office software. If the student has an older version of Office at home, Google Drive might be a better choice.
  • Google Drive:  Why Google Drive might be a better choice for some kids: the Docs.  Google Docs merging with the cloud to become the Drive is a good thing for a LOT of my students who have a computer without Office or other  word processing software on it.  Although, this is becoming less of an issue as the years go by, for simplicity’s sake,  the Drive account might be easier for some students.
  • Twitter: I’m going to take a stab at this with my 8th graders. Pray for me.  I know, I know, I’m going to have to really push it, babysit it and keep them focused as we use it, but I think it can be a good experience for them to see how powerful an education tool Twitter can be.  Lord knows, I’ve become a better teacher since finding my way around with this app.
  • QR Code Reader:  There are several out there, all appear to work great.  I will be using them to give assignments like videos, websites to visit, homework sheets, etc.  You can print them out to set on a table for students to scan and review for a quiz or visit a museum virtually.  You can text them to everyone so they can get directions for an assignment or be reminded to of a due date. They’re super easy to make and I’ll be doing a tutorial on them soon.  I make mine at BeQRious
  • Google Voice: Last but not least to start the year, my new favorite app!  As you recall, at the end of this past school year, I did a little pilot of Google Voice with great results, so I will be using it for homework this year.  I found the phone app for it, so I’ll have the kids download it to use.  There doesn’t appear to be an iOS app out yet (nice knockoffs tho), so this one will be optional for the kids.  They will still be able to access the service without the app.  Its more for me to get info out to them than the other way around.

In addition to the above, one of the teachers on my team is using Facebook to get messages to the students.  I think I’ll use the Google Voice for that, but what about a closed group for the PARENTS?  I’ll think a bit longer on this one and get back to you.

I’m sure there are several dozen other apps I can have them all download the first week of school, but, I don’t want to overwhelm the people.  This is a good start, and will send a message to my students and their parents that we’re moving forward with technology and its going to be a fun ride.

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What apps, if any, will you be using to start your school year?  Share with us, I might like to use some of them too!

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