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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

By now, many new and veteran teachers are settling into the routine of the new school year. Hopefully, the back-to-school anxiety levels have subsided and classrooms are alive with learning. Notice that I said "hopefully." Speaking as someone who spent nine years in the classroom, this was usually the point in the year where I started to feel unorganized and scattered. I had a plan, scope and sequence, but still felt like my organizational methods were beginning to spiral. This feeling occurred in classrooms where I had technology at my disposal and classrooms where I did not. The combination of feeling like you never have a minute to spare, stacks of papers to grade, parents to attend to, and the ever-constant email slowly taking over your precious free time . . . all of this can frustrate even the most efficient teacher.

Rest assured, there are ways to organize and simplify your classroom. Following are three applications that can organize your teaching schedule and turn your classroom into an efficient machine.

Email

As I mentioned above, email has become a constant in the life of every teacher and administrator. Plus, many students now have email accounts and use this medium to submit work or the occasional excuse. For many teachers, it seems like the emails will never stop. And, on top of it all, it's become an expectation that we respond to them in a timely manner. The good news is that there's an app for this. It's simply called Mailbox, and it allows the user to sync with his or her Gmail account and determine how to manage email. One of the benefits of Mailbox is the ability to "snooze" messages and categorize them into lists or "later." Using Mailbox quickly allows teachers to organize their day and receive alerts about emails when they have time to get back to them.

Another great feature of the Mailbox app is that it's fully integrated with Dropbox. This feature allows users to attach any Dropbox file directly into an email.

Files

For years, teachers have "saved as" to the "my documents" folder on their computers. The idea of saving locally or to a flash drive was, and still is, the norm for archiving curriculum materials or important documents. But what happens when your computer crashes, or your machine needs to be replaced, or you leave the flash drive in your pocket and wash it? You lose a lot of great work. With many schools incorporating better infrastructures along with Google Apps for Education environments, educators need to look no further than Google Drive. Google Drive gives every user 30 GB of shared space, and includes docs, spreadsheets, presentations, folders, forms and more. Teachers can upload and convert a variety of document types for sharing and collaborating. The user is no longer tied to a single device, but can now access, share and collaborate on documents from any computer, tablet or smartphone. While Microsoft Office still has premium features, Google Drive is the only teaching tool you need for organizing your data in the cloud and creating simple workflows within your classroom.

Remembering Everything

My former colleague Dennis Villano said, "Evernote is my brain." There was hardly a day that I didn't encounter Dennis looking at Evernote and either adding items to or crossing them off his lists. And he's not alone in this. Evernote has quickly become my go-to app for helping me to remember everything in my day. I can access it from a variety of places and set alerts or reminders for when I need to do something. Evernote is where I make my lists, take a quick picture to remember something . . . and where I am writing this post. Another great feature in Evernote is its ability to remember the web. The web clipper for Google Chrome recently received an upgrade that allows users to not only clip a web page for remembering later, but also annotate directly on the page. At Groton-Dunstable Regional School District, we're using Evernote for our teacher evaluation system as well.

One of the big misconceptions about technology integration is that teachers have to learn how to teach all over again. This couldn't be further from the truth. At the core, technology integration can save us time and make us more efficient, organized educators. Instead of pushing back against technology integration, first see what it can do for you. Start with the three applications I mentioned above, or maybe just one. Take a few moments to learn the basic steps and see how incorporating these simple apps can turn your classroom into a model of efficiency.

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Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal
Facilitator

Great post!

Can I add two more? Remind101 https://www.remind101.com allows me to send secure, private texts to parents and kids without sharing my own cell phone number. I also use iCal http://www.icalshare.com to manage my class and home/family calendars and you can set up calendars that others can subscribe too as well (think due dates, department & faculty meetings, etc). I know GoogleCalendar works well for some folks, but I have too many schedules that I need to synch across too many devices and the Drive App doesn't work well with my university-owned gmail system.

Can't wait to hear what other folks have to share!

Douglas D. Fox's picture
Douglas D. Fox
Theater, Media, Journalism, English teacher: St. Pauls High School, NC

Having compared Google Drive to Microsoft's SkyDrive, I'll take SkyDrive.

Cheaper for more storage.
Webapp versions of Word, Excel, and Powerpoint that then directly download to desktop versions.
Ability to remote access any computer you have installed the SkyDrive app on.
Appears on local desktop/laptop as just a top level folder like My Documents is and accesses just as easily.

Evernote RULES (now if only my organizational abilities were up to its abilities!)

Doug Silver's picture
Doug Silver
Former teacher, reformed administrator, and now digital developer.

Teachers in Wilton, Ridgefield, and Greenwich CT along with independent school teachers in NY have started using WriterKEY to help them not only manage large amounts of student writing, but also provide meaningful feedback effectively and efficiently. Many of them used to use Google apps and MS WORD review tools.

ErinLind's picture
ErinLind
Seventh grade science teacher

The district where I work recently started using Google Drive and it has been such a great tool for the teachers and students. I have found the ability to collaborate and share files to be very valuable. Evernote seems like a great organizational tool as well. Based on the comments here I will certainly give it a try.

Todd Finley's picture
Todd Finley
Blogger and Assistant Editor (Contractor)
Blogger

Andrew,

Great piece on the meat-and-potatoes of technologies. I find myself living in Evernote (the link to document-sharing feature is really cool for sharing "how-tos" and readings with students.

Caitlin's picture

Awesome ideas! I have one more that's been at the forefront of my planning lately: using ActivExpressions to collect data & monitor student learning. As we move to the Common Core, my district is focused very much on data to prove students are succeeding. ActivExpressions keep kids engaged (they get to "text" responses via the devices). But, more importantly in this regard, the software organizes their responses, graphs their learning, and gives me real-time results. They are AWESOME!
Of course, these devices cost a pretty penny, so begging for funding can be hard... but the company matches you 100%, and frequently offer 50% sales, so you can score a deal!

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