October 22

Insight: The Essential Digital Toolbox in 4 Pieces

At this year’s new teacher orientation, Dave Budas and I had the opportunity to introduce new Sylvania teachers to digital education in our schools. Standing in front of a group of eager new faces and discussing exciting new changes in digital education is one of the best parts of my job, but it carries one drawback. Overload. Dave and I can get a real head of steam going in our excitement, and when we do, I sometimes see the face of a lost teacher, struggling to keep up.

In our presentation, I addressed that factor directly.

“You know you’re working in Google Chrome, and you’re thinking about using Google Classroom. You might also like to communicate with Twitter, or you’d prefer to use the more teacher-friendly Remind. We haven’t even discussed all the Pearson products for secondary students, and the elementary teachers are probably thinking about Brain Pop. Not Brain Pop? Then, RAZ Kids, right? On Friday, you’ll learn about Achieve3000, which is kinda like Newsela. And don’t forget about the almighty Khan Academy, and–stop! Overload!”

Icons for the services were filling the screen behind me, covering each other faster and faster. We used the rhetorical trick to discuss the importance of teacher-to-teacher support.

Digital overload. As we progress with digital instruction, more companies jump on board. As teachers experiment, more cool strategies percolate throughout the district. But the more that happens, the more teachers not riding the crest of this tsunami risk being crushed by it, holding onto their three-ring binders and overhead projectors for dear life.

Don’t worry! Help is here!

Teachers will experiment with a wide variety of digital tools in the same way that they have always experimented with different teaching strategies. Some work. Others don’t. We keep the former and drop the latter. We constantly reflect on change and try to advance our game. But, through all that creative change and development, the 21st century teacher can rely on an essential digital toolbox of four tools.Yes, only four tools. If you have these in your toolbox, and you’re comfortable using them, then guess what? You’re a digital teacher.

Number One: Empower your students’ work through Google Drive


692px-google_drive_logo-100069375-largeTeachers and students have always needed pens, pencils, paper, poster boards, crayons, markers, colored pencils, staplers, three-ring binders and three-hole punches, notebooks, and a variety of other office supplies. Their use? Productivity. These physical tools lead to the production of content, be that an essay or a presentation. Microsoft Office has long been the go-to for digital production, but in our new cloud-based world, Google Drive has taken over. Every student and teacher needs productivity tools, and Drive offers them through docs, forms, sheets, slides, and more (Check out Lucidpress in Drive for desktop publishing). If you can use Drive to produce and share work, you’ve laid the foundation of digital teaching.

Number Two: Record your students’ achievements through PowerSchool

icon175x175We need a gradebook, right? We need a filing cabinet for student records, yes? Pearson’s PowerSchool has served us well since its introduction three years ago. This powerful software keeps our grades and rosters, fills a huge number of administrative purposes, and communicates effectively with parents. The phone app is also effective. Students and parents may get lost in the sea of different digital tools, but they know and like PowerSchool. If you can use PowerSchool to record and access information, you’ve expanded your digital foundation.

Number Three: Keep students and parents informed with Remind

icon175x175 (1)Teachers always seek to keep their parents informed about assignments and other developments in class. Traditionally, a class newsletter or completed agenda book served this purpose. And while the scheduling board in the classroom helped the student, it did not help the parent at home. These steps were essential, though, as they reached out beyond the classroom to keep students and parents on task after leaving for the day. Teachers that have adopted Remind have learned how powerful it is to communicate this information. Yes, secondary schools have all adopted the crucial homework matrix approach (another success for Google Drive), but that communication is passive, not active. Parents and students must go to it. Remind goes to them. With simple tools and low set-up, students and parents receive text alerts about anything going on in class. Remind is active communication that seeks the listener, instead of the other way around. And the buy-in from students and parents is amazing. If you can use an active communication tool like Remind, then you’re almost finished with your digital foundation.

Number Four: Share resources and direct activities through Google Classroom

hero_logoMany of you have not jumped on the Classroom bandwagon yet, even though more join every day. Let’s table the skepticism for a moment and talk about why it is an essential tool. We always need a space to post information, share resources, and talk. That space has always been this archaic thing called a classroom. Some are bright and happy; others are dark and focused. Some have windows; some have accordion walls. Regardless, every teacher needs a space for gathering the class, its students, resources, and all else. In digital teaching, a teacher needs a digital space for that as well. In Sylvania Schools days past, that has meant something like Moodle, Teacherweb, or My Big Campus. In other schools, students might use Schoology or Blackboard. Some teachers now might be using Google Sites or Weebly. Whichever you use, a digital teacher needs a digital classroom space. Google Classroom has quickly become the leader for Sylvania Schools for one reason: Google Drive. Drive is our essential set of productivity tools, and no online classroom enables those tools as well as Google Classroom. Even if you are sticking with your established online classroom, having one is the last essential tool for the digital teacher. If you have it, your foundation is complete.

And that’s it. If you can deliver content, lead student work, remind them of their work, and record the results of their work, you’re teaching. If you can use the tools above, you’re teaching digitally. Learning these four essential tools from the digital toolbox is an easy task, and mastering them will follow quickly.

And once that’s done, surprise! You’re a highly qualified digital teacher!