Favorite Things Friday: Apps! Teacher Edition

I am a teacher. And, although people keep telling me that we are grossly underpaid, I seriously love my job. There are certainly days, like a few this week, that are 12+ hours long and leave me getting home in the dark with only enough energy to climb into bed, but the payoff is so worth it in a way that is beyond monetary. It is definitely a job that chooses you, and per a conversation with colleague this morning during class change, if you voluntarily spend your day with high schoolers, you must be a little bit crazy. 

Anywho, getting to the whole point of this post, teaching in the 21st century is a challenge. Technology and society changes so quickly that realistically, we are teaching and preparing students for jobs that don’t even exist yet. Even having graduated college in recent years, the teaching profession has changed drastically in a very short time. Curriculum changes, pushes for technology (online testing, online teacher evaluation, online substitute system).. it’s all new, and nothing that our professors really could have prepared us for. Teaching online etiquette even, something that should have been addressed was barely mentioned, because no one could have foreseen the explosion of Twitter and other social media in the past two years. So how do we as educators move forward into a world where using a Powerpoint presentation is no longer considered technology? 

The answer: There isn’t one. But there are sure a lot of apps out there to make your job  a heck of a lot easier. 

#teacherproblem 1: Communication with Parents & Students

I teach high school, so parent communication isn’t really a forefront issue. Obviously if a student is causing disruptions in class (major ones) or is failing, I contact parents, or if a student has a ton of absences I typically will email or call if the issue is pressing. In terms of communication with students, it is virtually nonexistent outside of class and one of my biggest pet peeves is the phrase, “I didn’t know.” My response is usually, “I told you, AND it was on the board.” which is usually rebutted with, “yeah, I wasn’t listening/I don’t look at the board.” Well, high schooler, I appreciate your honesty but you really, really suck (Notice that is not in quotations as I would never actually tell I kid that they suck. 

Enter my first line of lack-of-communication-defense: TWITTER. 

I created a “teacher twitter (TT)” (I also have my personal account where I mostly complain about work, talk about food or post pictures of my dogs) for the purpose of following/being followed by students. This has been an amazing tool. Students LIVE on Twitter, and it is significantly less obnoxious/invasive as Facebook. They will ask me questions, post about fun things in class (or sometimes what they don’t like about class) and overall it just really helps keep up a good rapport. I do caution, do not spend a lot of time on your TT or tell students about things that you may see/read on there in terms of their personal life. Yes, they do put that information out on the internet for the world to read, but they don’t actually think people do. If you let on that you are reading their Tweets (what they will perceive as being nosy) then you can actually start to damage the relationship instead. There’s a fine line. It is also important to uphold and school/county policies in terms of social media use during the school day. It is important that you model appropriate social media behavior. 

I have also used it keep in touch with my cheerleaders, I’ll post flyers about events that I am planning (Costa Rica trip, t-shirt sales, International Club meetings, etc.) to help build interest. Students Retweet and it spreads the word even farther. Living in the future is awesome. 

My second line of defense: Remind101

This web based tool allows you to create text groups. Students simply text your code (you can create a custom code or allow it to make one for you) to a number to enroll in the group. It sends them a confirmation text, to which they respond with their full name and it puts it automatically into a list so you can see who receives your text. I have already sent FOUR of these out this semester and the students l-o-v-e it. I send reminders about quizzes, tests, due dates, etc. and I love it, myself. I also created a text group for my cheerleaders so I can send them all texts at the same time. I think the thing I like the most, is that I can text them but they can’t text me. If it were two-way communication, I believe it wouldn’t be as beneficial and would significantly take more time away from my non-teacher life. Also, this joker is FREE. Thank you so much to smart people who develop amazing things for teachers to use for FREE since we are so underpaid (see above). 

#teacherproblem 2: I’m stuck at the front of the room when I use a Powerpoint.

First, stop using a PC right now, buy a Mac and use Keynote. 

Okay, now that you’ve done that, assuming you have an iPhone, your life is about to be rocked. There is an app just for using your iPhone as a remote for your Keynote presentations. The only thing required (besides the Mac and iPhone, of course) is that your two Apples be connected to the same wireless network. I unleashed this baby on my classes two days ago and my students were like, “How did you change the slide from back here?!?!” Of course I replied, “Mágica.” This has changed my teaching, drastically. I can stand anywhere in the room and control my Keynote presentation, meaning I can walk around, check on students progress and of course, see them when they are attempting to text (not so) stealthily under their desks. BOOM POW, thank you Steve Jobs. If you don’t have a Mac or an iPhone, this could cost you up to $2,000, but if you are already a Mac/iPhone user, the app will cost you $.99. 

#teacherproblem 3: I can’t keep up with all the paperwork.

Until this year I was teaching Spanish and English as a Second Language. ESL, although extremely fun, was burdened with a ridiculous (and I mean ridiculous) amount of paperwork and data keeping. I was charged with keeping track of 100+ students, their schedules and progress, or lack thereof, in each of their four classes, in addition to their family history, language spoken at home, country of origin, EOC/EOG scores, and so on and so forth. Then, every six weeks I was to send out an “update form” where each teacher (read: four per student) was to note their progress, attendance, participation, issues, etc. and return it to me for me to read and react to. My first year was pretty awful. I had paper everywhere, and absolutely no idea what I was doing. Enter iCloud and iWork.

I made a spreadsheet of all my students, all their pertinent information and uploaded it to the cloud. I made a list of all the teachers, each student they taught each period and uploaded it to the cloud. Whenever I received a paper from a teacher, I’d open my iPad or iPhone (whatever was in my hand) and immediately note it in the spreadsheet, which would immediatley update on iCloud, making continuity between all my data keeping. What about class schedules for those 100+ students? I had our data manager email me a PDF and I opened it in iBooks whenever I needed it. This seriously cut my paperwork and data time IN HALF and the best part was that I was able to spend more time actually planning and doing work that directly benefited students. 

Now with the new Mac OS, you can save docs directly to iCloud from your computer (instead of going to iCloud.com) which saves a ton of time, and if you have multiple computers set up with the same Apple ID, it solves the work/home work problem.

Next up will be Favorite Apps: Student Edition! Happy Friday Educators! 

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