The “back to school” season is upon us. It is time to grab the kids and take a trip to the store to pick up all the essentials for the new school year. Supplies lists might be shrinking as more schools take their classwork online. Online calendars have replaced planners, and web-based assessments have replaced #2 pencils.
The classroom looks entirely different from when we were kids, and the pandemic only served to increase that gap. Computers, tablets, apps, and websites offer students enhanced opportunities for learning. Many school districts will likely continue to provide remote learning options for their students.
Technology will continue to revolutionize the public education system in the future. I believe it is essential to be aware of your student’s applications in or out of the classroom to stay relevant. Understanding what, why, and how these software systems are used will allow you to better connect and communicate with your child and possibly their teachers as well.
Let’s take a look at some of the tools that rose to popularity last year and may continue to be a significant part of learning as we advance.
Flipgrid is becoming a mainstay in the educational technology landscape. The site was founded in late 2014 on the idea that the students of Generation Z preferred to communicate with pictures, videos, and emojis rather than written words. The site is simple but powerful. First, teachers create a topic of discussion. Then, students sign in from any device to record a short response to the conversation. The videos are limited to five minutes, but many teachers choose a shorter time limit to avoid rambling. The videos set the stage for more in-depth discussions in the classroom. Some of the use cases include introductions, reflections, peer reviews, compare and contrast, etc. As the site says, Flipgrid helps students “define their voices, share their voices, and respect the diverse voices of others.” Flipgrid quickly found favor among educators who used the platform to connect with their students during the pandemic. Flipgrid allowed teachers to engage their students in meaningful ways even when everyone could not be together. The buzz around Flipgrid continues to grow, especially because the entire platform is free for educators.
With Chromebooks accounting for almost 60% of the educational computer sales in the United States, Google is leading the way in the classroom. Google Workplace for Education is the company’s free collection of powerful, collaborative-based tools that go hand in hand with Chromebooks. The suite includes applications for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, websites, email, and more. Remote learning drastically increased the need for teachers to manage their classes in an online environment easily. Google Classroom is the answer, and clearly, educators agree. The pandemic increased Google Classroom adoption in schools by a whopping 110 million users. Classroom includes a scrolling feed, similar to popular social media sites like Facebook or Instagram. When a teacher creates an assignment or posts an announcement, students can find it at the top of their feed. Google Classroom also connects to Google Calendar. This interaction provides students with a single view to see all of their assignments and due dates. There are many additional features such as automatic grading, direct connections to other apps, and built-in differentiation, making Google Classroom a favorite among educators and students.
The dictionary defines boredom as “classroom review sessions.” If you were fortunate as a child, your teacher might have turned your review session into a game like “Jeopardy.” The folks at Quizlet have taken a similar approach to make learning fun. Teachers take a set of traditional review questions (up to 12) and load them into the Quizlet engine. Next, students join an online game session in the classroom from their phone, tablet, or laptop. Once all the students are in, Quizlet automatically divides students into teams of three to four people. Students then move around the room to find their teammates, and the game begins. A question appears on every team member’s device, along with three possible answers. While the item is the same, the answers on each person’s screen are different. Students must collaborate with their group to determine who has the correct answer. Answer the question correctly, and your team receives a point along with a new query. Choose incorrectly and face the consequences. Your score is set back to zero, and you must start all over. The first team to answer all the questions correctly wins. Students truly enjoy the competition aspect. During the pandemic, Quizlet rolled out an “Individual Mode” that allowed students to compete individually as collaboration during remote learning proved to be challenging. Quizlet also offered its tools free during the 2020-21 school year to help teachers looking to engage their students. As we return to in-person learning, I expect many teachers will be looking to enhance their classrooms with this tool.
Kahoot surged in popularity during the pandemic, rising to #5 on the list of educational applications. Like Quizlet, Kahoot uses gaming concepts to engage learners, and it works on any internet connected device (phone, tablet, laptop, etc.). Unlike Quizlet, teachers can choose between everyone playing against each other or a team format approach. Teachers also have the option of selecting a premade Kahoot from the online library or making their own. Once ready, the questions are projected on the board, and students begin to answer. Only one item is shown to the group at a time. Points are awarded based on how quickly students select the correct answer. After every question, the leaderboard is displayed, so students will often cheer or groan based on how much they moved up (or down) on the board. Whoever has the most points at the end of the game is the winner. Kahoot uses a format similar to playing trivia at a local sports restaurant. Kahoots can also be assigned to students as homework for review. Keeping with the gaming theme, a teacher “challenges” a student to complete the Kahoot instead of just assigning it.