You’ve got every device under the sun in front of you in your bring-your-own-device (BYOD) classroom. What apps are you going to use? Here are the apps and app categories that I recommend you test for your school. There are lots of apps—these recommendations are based on what I’ve used with my students or successfully tested.
Your school is bricks and clicks—you have a physical presence in your classroom and a digital podium through your content-sharing platform. You need a way to share your digital instruction, and kids need to know where to look.
- PowerSchool Learning: (Previously Haiku Learning.) This is a full learning management system (LMS) that I’m trying to get our school to adopt. It’s multiplatform and robust, which makes it a great fit for our BYOD environment. It also works on top of Google Classroom, so I have all those features too, plus my grade book.
- Google Classroom: Teachers are moving in droves to Google Classroom. While it doesn’t have all the features of a full-scale LMS, teachers are giving students assignments and so much more with this awesome tool.
- Sophia: A favorite of my friend Todd Nesloney, this is a basic tool to share a lesson or two. I started with this tool before going to PowerSchool Learning. Today, if I were starting out, I’d probably go with Google Classroom.
There are many other content-sharing platforms, like Moodle, Canvas, and CourseSites. The point is that you should have either an LMS or a content-sharing platform in a BYOD environment so that students can access a digital classroom.
Screencasting and Capturing What Happens in Class
If you’re going to share and interact with your students in the electronic and physical spaces (as you should), you must learn how to screencast.
- Screencast-O-Matic: This is my go-to app. It’s free, but I pay a few dollars for the pro service because I love it, it gives advanced editing features, and I can download to Dropbox. You can see that my YouTube tutorials are recorded with this.
- Screencastify: Another screencasting tool many people use.
- Explain Everything: Works on iPads and Chromebooks. Teacher Tom Davidson from Australia recently told me this was a “desert island” app of his. He and many teachers use it to assess how students are working math problems.
- Swivl: A robotic stand for your iPad, iPhone, or Android phone. When you use the app, Swivl will film and capture everything. It can also follow you without an app, so you can set another device to record and put it in the stand. Swivl lets you record speeches and helps you evaluate your own teaching. Just put the controller with the mic in your pocket or around your neck to record yourself as you move around the room.
- Dropbox: If you shoot video and need to get it onto your computer, Dropbox is essential. I also use it to make my classroom as paperless as possible.
- OneDrive: This tool goes with Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. I require my students to sign up for it over the summer. It’s great because they can open their documents in free versions of these Microsoft programs when they’re away from home.
- Google Drive: This sync tool, underlying Google’s G Suite, is a must for the collaborative classroom.
Students need multiple ways to share and to express themselves, particularly verbally and with pictures. This is part of transliteracy. Many teachers who are using tools that capture voice, photos, and videos are also constructing their own DIY soundproof boxes like this one from Justin Bell.
- Seesaw: This tool is admittedly a little clunky on Chromebooks and some web browsers, but it’s a must-have for tablet devices. Teachers are using it for portfolios of all kinds and even in PE class. This is the most popular tool these days when I ask teachers about transformative tech.
- VoiceThread: This incredible tool helps younger students build e-portfolios.
- Write About This and Tell About This: I love these iOS apps from Brad Wilson for kids of all ages.
- ThingLink: Educators who work with special-needs kids swear by this tool. It’s web-based, but comes as an app.
A personal blog is one of many ways for students to have a voice as blogging gives them a chance to interact with an audience and their peers. While I presently use Ning with my eighth graders, I’ve used all of these blogging tools at one time or another.
- Ning: Ning looks like a social media site because it is. I have a private Ning network that I use to teach my students blogging because it’s so easy and flexible and feels like Facebook. But the prices have gone up recently, so I may be moving to another option soon.
- Edmodo: This gives you blogging, sharing, and assessment, plus extensive libraries of assignments that you can join and share with other educators. Even if you don’t use Edmodo with students, it’s worth joining just to be part of the massively useful educator communities. If you’re collaborating between classrooms, Edmodo is one of the easiest ways to do it.
- Kidblog: This platform lies on top of the familiar, easy-to-use Blogger platform and is set up especially for schools.
- Edublogs: This blogging platform uses WordPress in a powerful way, with each student linked to the teacher’s blog and to each other. You have lots of privacy settings, and you get a very professional look.
- WordPress: Many schools are setting up their own self-hosted WordPress blogs. Doing so is easier than ever and gives you lots of flexibility for sharing.
- Write the World: This is a website that feels sort of like a blog. Teachers can run competitions or let students participate in competitions around the world. This is a fantastic, free way to help kids build their own audience.
- Dragon: Has an app on every platform, and some are free. I teach my students to dictate to Dragon and paste into their other apps.
- Microsoft Word: A perennial favorite. While you’ll need a school-wide subscription to edit on the iPad, you can always use OneDrive for iPad editing if necessary. Students will have to sign up for the free account at home, as Microsoft lets only three people per day sign in at one location.
- Google Docs/Drive: Students should know how to collaboratively edit. Make sure they understand the difference between commenting and chatting—other collaborators won’t see the chat, and it isn’t saved. Students using Chrome can voice type, and they should also install Read & Write for Google Chrome, which has other features for improving literacy.
- Wikispaces: Wikis are a vitally important tool for knowledge collection as a group. My favorite is Wikispaces. To see it in action, check out this Gamifi-ed project that my students did with teachers in Alaska.
Special needs: Students with special needs have many tools available in the Google Chrome browser. After you use Chrome’s powerful accessibility features, try out Dyslexia Reader and install the Speech Recognition add-on, which Jennifer Cronk, a special needs expert, says is far more responsive than Google Voice typing. Take time to figure out the tools and accessibility options available on your devices for any child who needs them.
I rarely assign a specific software program for presentations. These are my top six that I recommend to students. I expect them to know how to move their presentation slides between these programs. When they’re doing a massive online presentation like the one they did for Gamifi-ed, some may create slides in Keynote and others in Haiku Deck, but they all have to export and insert their slides into the group Google Presentation file the day before we present.
- Haiku Deck: This is one of my favorite presentation programs for kids because of its tight integration with Creative Commons photos. They’re easy to share. You can try it free for basic presentations.
- PowerPoint: Integrate with Microsoft OneDrive, and it’s perfect for those kids who will edit on multiple devices. This tool is a plus in a PC-heavy environment.
- Keynote: Works with iCloud and picked by students who use Mac and iOS devices.
- Prezi: This online tool also has apps to create very interesting presentations that start off as mind maps.
- Google Presentations: If we’re presenting online as a class, this is our go-to app. It’s the easiest way to edit together. Just know that once you’re in presentation mode, students can’t change slides. Sometimes students will create in PowerPoint and upload to “Google Prez.”
- SlideShare: An excellent platform for sharing presentations and embedding them in the class website or wiki.
- Office Sway: This tool easily takes a PowerPoint and turns it into a neat online website presentation. I’ve had students present using Sway exclusively.
Electronic Note Taking
There are three front-runners in this category, in my opinion:
- Evernote: With a school subscription, you can share notes school-wide. Evernote does well at recognizing handwritten and scanned notes.
- OneNote: If you’re a Microsoft shop and have admins supporting you, they can configure some very cool sharing abilities in this robust note-taking app—the only synchronous note-taking app that works.
- Google Keep: Teacher Crystal Koenig told me how she uses Google Keep to organize her clubs and have students request what they want her to teach. You can easily link to-do lists to Google Docs or create a Google Doc from a shared note.
Graphic Design, Infographics, and Color Selection
- Canva: For graphic designs of all kind. I used this tool to redesign the header on my blog and to promote my school’s events.
- Adobe Spark: Educators love this handy tool so much that I’m including it even though it’s just for iOS devices.
- Easel.ly, Infogram, Visme, and Piktochart: infographic makers of choice these days.
- Storyboard That: I purchased the subscription to be able to do storyboards. You can’t beat it for making cartoons and movies.
- Classtools.net: I can’t say enough about this free site made by teacher Russell Tarr. I don’t even know where to classify it. Students can make graphic organizers, vocabulary or math video games, fake Facebook-like profile pages for historical figures or chemical elements, and fake Twitter-like tweets. There are so many things you can create, download, and embed—take some time to tour the site.
Now that students are creating so many graphics, we have to help them understand how to pick colors. You can introduce kids to color wheels, or just teach them how to use Paletton. Then teach them how to enter the hex codes in the apps and tools that they use.
- Paletton: This tool lets you determine whether you’re going with a monochromatic, adjacent, triad, etc. Comparable to a color wheel.
- LessonPaths: Think of it as educational playlists. (Previously called MentorMob EDU.)
- Symbaloo: I see this used heavily by elementary teachers, who set it as the start screen for kids. It has large buttons that will take kids to websites.
- LiveBinders: When my son was in fourth grade, I used this to create a study platform for sharing material with other parents.
- Google Spreadsheets: See Annie Cushing’s Must-Have Tools to get a sense of the power of sharing links in this way.
- Diigo: Diigo is my must-use social bookmarking tool (I even use it to post to my blog). Students share research in groups (you don’t need an email to sign up), and you can link it to blogs and other sources, which automatically pull from it.
- Flipboard: While just on the iPad (for now), this platform is a great way to create a digital magazine of resources for your staff.
See my article “Fantastic Formative Assessment Tools” for more detail on these. All of these work on all devices.
- Socrative: My all-time favorite app for formative assessment. It cut my time teaching binary numbers from five days to three because I didn’t move forward until everyone understood each concept.
- Formative: This fantastic tool lets you see students work math problems live and more.
- Kahoot: The fast quiz-game assessment tool people love.
- Quizizz: My friend Jon Corrippo swears by Quizizz and uses it to teach vocabulary and more. It has the advantage of being self-paced even as students play together.
- Quizlet: This tool has several pieces. Quizlet Live lets teachers have interactive games, while the app Quizlet Learn helps kids develop their own study plan.
- Smart Lab: Smart Lab runs on the teacher’s computer but lets you run quiz games and activities on your touch-screen projection device at the front of the room. It also works with BYOD. (The assessment portion is BYOD.)
- Nearpod: This tool works on multiple devices and lets you synchronize lessons across them.
- Edpuzzle: This gem lets you include questions alongside videos.
- Recap: This tool lets teachers gather questions from students to share with the whole class, and lets students use video to respond.
- Google Forms: You can create self-grading Google Forms for formative assessment.
- Kaizena: This tool integrates with just about any platform and is one of my 15 best Google add-ons. It helps you provide rock-solid, multisensory feedback on student work.
If you absolutely must do multiple choice (and if multiple choice is all you do, be warned that you’re missing out), spend as little time as possible grading. These apps make it a snap. You create the quiz, students bubble in the answer, and you snap a picture on your mobile device, which is your own personal Scantron. If you’re going to do multiple choice, at least give students immediate feedback. There’s no excuse not to.
Some fascinating things are happening with physical motion using BYOD. Perhaps the most widely used tools are video delay apps, which let you set a delayed-start for your video camera so that you have time to get in position and film yourself doing a physical activity. This helps with coaching and improving form but can also be used with performance arts. Here are a few apps that phys ed teacher Jarrod Robinson talks about:
- ReplayIt: This is a video delay app for Chromebooks and laptops.
- BaM Video Delay: There are other video delay apps for the iPad, but this one comes highly recommended, though it is pricey.
- Fit Radio: Select the type of activity you want to have students do and the app picks music for that activity. This keeps kids focusing on the workout instead of picking out their music. It can be used for physical motion activities in the classroom.
- Team Shake: This tool is helpful in any classroom where you want to make teams. Just load your students’ names in and go. You can even put in a few constraints—for example, you might want to make sure two people don’t get put together.
These are just some of the many tools available for a BYOD environment. As you’re implementing BYOD, learn more about the SAMR Model so that you can get past replicating what you’ve always done with new digital tools into truly redefining what you do in your classroom.