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This Year’s Hottest Classroom Tech Tools

Tablets and interactive whiteboards can transform the way you teach. Get inspired with our quick classroom guide.

By Ben Rimes, NEA member and K-12 Educational Technology Coordinator for the Mattawan Consolidated School District, Michigan

Each fall is a chance for educators to start fresh. New ideas, new students, new goals—and for many teachers, brand new technology ready to help enhance teaching and learning. Getting started with new tech tools can be a big struggle, though. While you and your colleagues are busy spending August and September memorizing names, seating charts and developing fledging relationships with learners, you don’t always have the time to figure out the quick tips and tricks needed to get started with a new tech tool. That’s where some great advice from your fellow educators comes in handy!

CHROMEBOOKS

Chromebooks are the hottest up-and-coming devices for classrooms. Where netbooks failed, Chromebooks have found success. These laptop computers are made by a variety of manufacturers and run Google’s Chrome operating system, a special version of their Chrome web browser. Already know how to surf the web? Then you already know how to use a Chromebook.

Ideal for:

  • Computing in the Cloud. Access all of your documents, presentations and resources on any device connected to the Internet
  • Schools that utilize Google Apps for Education
  • Lightweight keyboarding on the go

Places to Get Started:

Quick Tips:

Jessica Winstanley and Paul Murray, NEA members and Instructional Technology Specialists for Portage Public Schools in Portage, Michigan, have some great tips for getting started with Chromebooks. Since Chromebooks are always connected to the Internet, Paul suggests making sure to talk with your school’s Tech Director to make sure the wireless infrastructure can handle the extra traffic. Paul and Jessica both suggest having your school district’s Tech Department look into purchasing Chromebook management software from Google for each device, which makes deployment easier. This means you can remotely control the devices without having to physically have them in your hand. Jessica strongly advises that teachers using Chromebooks add some form of digital citizenship curriculum into their learning environment. Since students are interacting online through Google’s collaborative tools for most of their work, they need to be able to effectively deal with group problems, interpersonal issues and other forms of digital communication. Resources like Common Sense Media and NetSmartz are good places to start.

IPADS

iPads have quickly become the face of mobile computing and learning in the classroom. With access to iTunes, the largest app and media store on the web, iPads have become valuable tools for educators who are willing to push content creation into the 21st century, and augment text publishing with video, audio and other multimedia.

Ideal for:

  • Multimedia projects that combine audio, video and still images
  • Classrooms that need portability and lots of battery life
  • Mobile video production for students

Places to Get Started:

Quick Tips:

I’ve had a considerable amount of experience with iPads and work closely with my tech department to manage both the devices and the apps on them. When working with educators, I always tell them to turn on automatic updates and App Store downloads if they have more than one device. This saves time in making sure all devices have the latest updates. Using playful and unique wallpapers helps younger students recognize the correct device, as they can look at the screen and quickly determine if they have the right one. Some educators get creative and use student “selfies” as wallpaper for device identification. And don’t ignore device protection. Our district relies on Gumdrop cases for maximum protection against bumps, bangs and drops with elementary learners. Speck also makes some nice “Folio” cases for older learners.

ANDROID TABLETS

Making a strong showing in recent years, a few manufacturers have managed to produce some high quality Android-based tablets to compete with the iPad in the classroom. These devices function like an iPad as far as basic tablet use goes, and many of the same popular apps that are in the iTunes store can be found in the Google Play Store.

Ideal For Those Who Want:

  • A less-expensive alternative to iPads and iOS devices
  • Seamless integration with Google Accounts for schools with Google Apps for Education
  • Tablets built for multiple user accounts

Places to Get Started:

Quick Tips:

Andy Losik, Infotech Teacher and NEA Member for Hamilton Community Schools in Hamilton, MI has been a leader in Android tablet implementation, working directly with Sony. He suggests all teachers using Android tablets start by downloading the Google Drive App from the Google Play Store. It makes managing documents and cloud storage of files easy. Purchasing some spare USB thumb drives or SD cards to make moving content from one Android tablet to another, or to a computer, easier is also high on the list of “things to do.”

INTERACTIVE WHITEBOARDS

Interactive Whiteboards, or IWBs, have gone through a great deal of evolution. Many now don’t even include a board, as many projectors can turn any regular whiteboard surface into an interactive one with a special pen. Specialized software for your IWB can allow you to create fully interactive lessons and activities for students.

Ideal For:

  • Whole group instruction time
  • Annotating over desktop and the web with digital markers and highlighters makes any website a digital textbook
  • The teacher that wants to blend the traditional whiteboard with digital resources

Places to Get Started:

Quick Tips:

I’ve written about how to get started with your IWB before, but my best piece of advice is still just letting your students use the board! Too often, educators adopt the traditional “teacher at the front” method and limit student use of the IWB. At minimum, saving all of your class notes using the software that comes with the IWB is a nice way to quickly familiarize yourself with the various annotation tools. And revisiting older topics is so much easier when you pull up your previous notes and activities.

This article was published in NEAchieve!, our monthly e-newsletter. Sign up to receive helpful tips and information delivered to your email inbox.

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