How Tech Has Upped My Teaching Game, and a Sneak Peak Into My EdTech ToolKit



Right before I enrolled at Columbia University's Teachers College to get my M.A. in Social Studies, I was working for an online music startup company. In many respects, I was lucky enough to come of professional age during the go-go 90's in New York City. Days and nights blended into one amidst the soundtrack of the Moby Play album and the ironically incessant presence of that Daft Punk song, One More Time.  In August of 2001, I sprang myself from the tech world.  Without even logging in one day teaching in a classroom, I went cold turkey into education. 

After an intensive fourteen months of studying pedagogy, historiography, and social studies content as well as unleashing my novice teaching skills on a classroom of Stuyvesant High School seniors, I had a diploma from Teachers College and was a certified teacher. I accepted a position at a New York City public high school assuming I'd make it for five years and then move on to an administrative or policy position. Almost thirteen years later I'm still teaching U.S. History at the same school.


One year ago on June 10, 2014, I found a post-it note with the same exact date but from one year earlier. What was most remarkable in this discovery was that my teaching to-do list was exactly the same minus the year difference. This was not the first time I found what I dubbed my "Groundhog Day Teaching To Do Lists". Around that same time, my school's tech guy told us about Google Classroom and I swore to myself that I would pilot this program in my classroom for the following school year. This decision wasn't about my scribblings on post-it notes but more about what they essentially represented: I was turning into THAT teacher...the veteran who just etched off the date from last year's lesson plan, replaced it with the new one, and taught it like it was brand new.  But my strategies were ten years old and needed to get with the ties. 

Changing my pedagogy with more tech could not guarantee that my students wouldn't stop staring into the smartphones on their laps all period but it certainly was worth a shot!


Of course the students were resistant at first. Getting set up on Google Classroom was different for them too and teenagers hate change more than adults sometimes. (Just swing by and watch what happens when I change their seats. It's as if I told them I murdered their favorite pet.) However, after about a week mostly everyone was on board with Google Classroom.  It felt as though I lifted a floodgate in my pedagogy from 2005 (when my lesson plans had been last updated) to the 2015 world that my students currently inhabited. I started introducing more and more tech and this upped my teaching game. 



GOOGLE CLASSROOM: This online site (and app) is basically a virtual space for each of my classes. You can set up each class and add all the students from your roster using their school gmail accounts. Once the students are invited and accept the invite by logging into their Gmail school accounts, you can share links (videos, websites, photos), assignments, and even create an online discussion thread. This has helped me to get my students both college and career ready because most schools have a similar university version and in the professional world keeping up with your email and various online responsibilities is a part of the job more and more. You can save documents/assignments into your school Google Drive and then share select files and documents from the drive with the students.

GOOGLE DOCS: This is Google's version of Microsoft Word...but so much better. Students can write essays/assignments and then share them with me. I can edit their papers and write comments. In addition, students can peer edit their essays using the same features. This allows me to more easily give feedback to my students.

GOOGLE SLIDES: Basically this is Power Point but also better because it exists in the Google Drive cloud so wherever I go I can add to my slides that I use for my mini lessons and then also share them with my students on Google Classroom. When students miss class, they can simple go on Google Slides and catch up with the notes. I also include extra videos for students who want to learn more about the topic at home or learn more on their own time.


GOOGLE FORMS: I use this program for quizzes and surveys with my students. Students can take the quiz/survey on their phones (or computers) and then I can get real time data (in the form of pie charts and graphs) as to what percentage of my classes got the right answers. This is a great "check for understanding" (as they call it in the education world these days) so that I know if I need to slow down and go over content from previous lessons. In addition, I set up the surveys with questions that are related to the lesson discussion topics and I use them as a jumping off point for when we have "Accountable Talk" discussions or Socratic Seminars on topics such as "Was the U.S. justified in using the atomic bomb?". I have so much fun telling kids to "take out your phone" and take the quiz I just sent them when they come to class since teachers are normally telling them to "put away that phone." Basically, my goal is to turn their phones into educational tools as long as they are going to be staring at them obsessively in class all period (or thinking about what's on their phones awaiting them after class if I tell them to put the phone in their bags).


SOUNDCLOUD: I'm not just promoting Google on here, I promise. Soundcloud is an entertainment site for DJs and lovers of song remixes but for one of my unit assignments I allow students to create playlists of songs that align with each mini lesson from the unit. For example, one unit was on the Civil War and Reconstruction and students picked modern songs and wrote up a paragraph for each song on the playlist and explained how the lyrics and/or tone of the song aligned with the content. I find this to be a really effective way of getting the history to be more relatable and come alive for the students. Teenagers love their music so this is usually fun for the one who choose this option. Then I link to their playlist on Google Classroom.

KAHOOT: If you want to have pretty much every student lose track of time while learning all the while, Kahoot is where it's at! I am starting to create my own quiz games to align with my lessons but the other day I just picked other teacher's quizzes (there are over 14,000 to choose from and meta-tagged so that it is easy to find the topic in which you are covering/reviewing) and my students were 100% engaged (except for one canoodling couple in the back but they are teenagers after all!).


The results are stored in an excel spreadsheet (broken down by participant and their answers) so you can share the results with the class and use the data to figure out the content/topics that students need more assistance. I had students say to me "I learned more today than I did all year because when I play a game I'm more motivated to learn and get engaged." I have to say that I had the most fun all year too just watching them get so excited about history.

QUIZLET: This a great site for kids to create flashcards that they can review on their phones instead of (or in between) Snapchatting, having "selfie sessions", stalking random people on Instagram and texting emojis to each other. 

WHYSAURUS: This is still in beta mode but I worked with these brilliant guys earlier in the year by having my students test out their pilot site for some of my lessons. The genesis of the site is that the creators were getting concerned with all the unsubstantiated arguments that they found online without concrete evidence. They created this site to provide a format that would allow for online discussions with arguments (claims and counterclaims) with reasoning behind them. I had my students use the site to participate in an online discussion about if John Brown should be celebrated as a martyr for his actions leading up to the Civil War. This site provided them with a visual structure for effectively crafting arguments that helped them write stronger essays. 


Note: This list of ed tech I love is not exhaustive but just what I've used the most this year. 


When I left the online space fourteen years ago to teach, I had no idea how much my two careers would end up intersecting. Throwing these different apps, sites, and programs into my teaching toolkit has engaged my students in ways I didn't think was possible. Just the other day a student used the song One More Time in her playlist for the 1920s/1930s Unit. Now I can associate that song with my achievements as a teacher instead of my longstanding record of attending the most industry parties in one week.