Thursday, July 31, 2014

3 Tools to Kick Off the School Year

Earlier today a few teachers stopped by my office and posed this question to me.
"Joe, we noticed on Facebook you did quite a bit of professional development this summer. Name the three most awesome tools we need to check out...and Minecraft can't be your answer."  
Naturally, my response was, "Only three...and what's wrong with Minecraft? It is amazing, you'll see."
There are a ton of great tools out there for you to use with your students and I am a firm believer that one size does not fit all classrooms. That being said, here are three resources I encourage you to check out as the school year begins in a little over a week. While they are all easy to use, I have listed them in order from the quickest to most time intensive to set up. These are also some of the tools we'll be talking about in upcoming technology workshops.

1. Snagit App & Extension for Chrome

Many of us at Natomas Charter are big proponents for screencasting. It is a quick and easy way to create videos and basically clone yourself for your students. Every teacher and our computer labs are equipped with Apple computers and the built-in QuickTime Player application is a handy way to create a screencast (this tutorial will show you how).

However, what if you're not using Mac? Maybe only the Chromebooks were available for checkout or you want your kids to create screencasts and you have no idea what technology they have at home? Check out the SnagIt App & Extension for Chrome. This free tool allows anyone with the Chrome browser (Mac, Windows, or Chromebook) to take screenshots (photos) and create screencasts (videos). These files are automatically saved to a folder within the user's Google Drive account called TechSmith and from there they can be easily uploaded to YouTube or shared with another user. As you're planning out your year consider having students create screencasts to narrate a slideshow, explain how they pieced together an essay, or take you on a tour of their Minecraft virtual world. This tutorial will show you how to set up Snagit for Chrome.

2. Google Classroom

Is your Google Drive folder a complete mess after having students share their project with you? Would you like a tool where you can ensure every student names their document correctly and when the project is due you can actually embargo the file, no longer allowing the student to edit it? Then Google Classroom is for you!

Released just a few weeks ago, Google Classroom is an amazing resource for managing documents and student workflow. It is very similar to the Doctopus app/script some of you have used in the past, but the process for sharing resources with your students is much similar. Take a couple of minutes to watch this overview and tutorial video. You will be glad you did!

3. Schoology

Are you looking for a tool that will help you make outside-of-class work (aka homework) more meaningful through online discussions? Have you found that your teacher website is a great place for static information, but you would like a tool where students can submit work digitally or use online assessments? Then Schoology is the tool for you.

This coming year teachers in all five academies will be using Schoology in a variety of formats. For example, VLA will be using it as the heart and soul of their academy, PACT will be using it with their ProjectX, student-paced middle school program, and Leading Edge will be using it as a resource for extending learning beyond the traditional school day through online forums and discussions. It has applications for any subject and grade level and could completely replace your teacher website. If Schoology sounds interesting to you check out the Schoology page on the NCS PD Portal.

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