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.
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.
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.
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.