January 22, 2017 at 01:03AM

6 Ed Tech Tools to Try in 2017

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It’s that time again!!

To celebrate the launch of my brand-new, fully redesigned Teacher’s Guide to Tech, I’m hand-picking six ed tech tools that deserve more teachers’ attention. These are not all brand-new tools, but I thought each one offered something pretty special for the classroom.

Check them out.

1. Nearpod


Picture you and your students in class. Every one of you has an iPod or other tablet. You open up a PowerPoint presentation and it appears on every student’s tablet, with you controlling the pacing of the slides from your tablet. So far, it already sounds like a pretty nice way to keep students more focused because they can all see it equally clearly.

But then imagine adding more interactivity: An open-ended question students can respond to right on their tablets. A poll. A quiz. A drawing activity where students sketch or diagram something. When students respond on their tablets, you see the results on your own.



Two new additions have taken Nearpod lessons to entirely new heights:

  • Nearpod 3D offers a library of over 100 stunning 3D objects that can be used in Nearpod lessons. Learn more.
  • Nearpod VR allows students to take virtual field trips to over 100 different locations, no headsets required! Learn more.

It’s easy to build lessons on your own, using materials you’ve already created, or you can browse the Nearpod Market to purchase beautiful ready-to-use lessons created especially for this platform.

2. Planboard


Part of Chalk.com’s suite of productivity tools, Planboard makes lesson planning a breeze. Individual blocks of time show what you’re doing on each day during each class period. Within each cell you can create a rich, dynamic lesson plan:

  • The full text editor allows you to create bulleted lists, add horizontal lines to break up sections, and format the text size and color to make it easy to find the information you need.
  • Add links to outside resources, embed videos, or attach files.
  • Add standards to a lesson with the click of a button. As you add standards and sub-standards to various lessons, Planboard keeps track of your progress, so you have a record of which standards still need to be covered.



After a lesson is created, you can easily move it to a different day or copy it to repeat on subsequent days or just reuse at a later date. Whole units can be planned and mapped out over a semester, and you can reuse semesters with just a few clicks.

And because Planboard is also available as a mobile app, you can make use of these handy tools anywhere, whenever it’s convenient.

3. Slack


Slack is a team messaging platform that is much more efficient and user-friendly than email for team communication.

Messaging takes place on Slack through channels, which are like separate chat rooms for different conversations. A channel can be public or private, making it flexible for all kinds of communication needs. And it’s more than just messaging: Users can also attach files and hold side discussions about these files within the larger conversation.



This tool would be wonderful for staff communication, where channels could be created for different uses: one for the whole school, smaller channels for departments or grade-level teams, and even smaller ones for special projects.

Slack would also work for students working on group projects, participating in clubs, student government or sports teams, or staying in touch with their teacher or classmates about class assignments and due dates. And because so many workplaces are shifting away from email and toward platforms like Slack, getting students used to this type of environment will make it easy for them to transition to the workplace.

4. Peergrade


Peer review is an integral part of many courses, and students learn a lot from evaluating the work of their peers. Unfortunately, setting up a peer review system has its challenges: It’s not easy to teach students how to give each other effective feedback. It’s also difficult to hide student identities, making truly unbiased feedback hard to accomplish. And if you have a large number of students, keeping track of who has given feedback to whom can be frustrating and time-consuming.

Peergrade takes care of a few of these issues. Originally created for use at universities, it’s a platform where students can evaluate each other’s work anonymously. After the teacher creates an assignment and a rubric, students submit their work. Next, Peergrade randomly distributes the assignments to different classmates for evaluation. Students give feedback to their classmates using the rubric set up by the teacher; they can add written comments as well as selecting options from the rubric. Finally, students can view the feedback given to them; they can rate the comments as helpful or not, and even flag problematic comments.



This would be an outstanding addition to any class where writing or project-based learning are core activities. Some teachers might want to use this tool as a step students take before “officially” submitting their work. Although Peergrade can’t teach students how to give quality feedback, it definitely makes it easier to systematize the process. The quality control is still up to you.

5. Newsela


Have you ever found an article that you wanted to share with students, only you knew the reading level was too difficult for some? What did you do? Did you just give it to some students, or try to find an easier article on the same subject to give to the remaining students?

With Newsela, this dilemma is a thing of the past. The site houses a big collection of current events articles from sources like the Washington Post and the Associated Press. For each article, the Newsela staff has adapted it for five different reading levels, allowing readers to simply select the level they want and read the same content written in langua
ge that’s the best fit for them.



With a free account, teachers can create classes of students and assign specific articles to those students, or students can find articles on their own. All readers can use the annotations feature to take notes on the text, organize articles into their own personal text sets, and take the built-in quiz that goes with each article and get immediate feedback on how they did.

6. Sketchboard


The first thing you’ll notice about Sketchboard is that it actually looks like a sketch, as if someone drew it by hand. This makes it feel like you’re working on paper, but better, because it’s all saved in the cloud.

Sketchboard has a lot of the same features and functionality as other mind mapping tools: Users can collaborate on the same sketch, you can add unlimited items to a map, and individual parts can be moved around at will. But the items can take all kinds of shapes: squares, circles, computer screens, people; you have over 50 icons to choose from. If your idea can’t be represented with one of the icons from the Sketchboard library, you can just switch to the freehand tool and draw it yourself. This makes your map a whole lot more visual, so your ideas become even clearer.



Another nice touch: Sketchboard is integrated with Google Drive, so you can open a sketch from right inside your Drive, then go back into it later and edit it. It’s also integrated with Slack, so if you use that for group discussion, you can also use Sketchboard maps to enhance the collaboration.

Take a look at everything you can do by browsing the Sketchboard Gallery.

The Teacher’s Guide to Tech

If you’re not yet familiar with the Teacher’s Guide to Tech, let me introduce you: It’s my encyclopedia of educational technology, a 265-page PDF you can keep on your home computer, work computer, or any device that will read a PDF.

The whole purpose of the guide is to make it fast and easy for you to navigate the world of ed tech. Once you start using it, you won’t believe how much you’ll learn, or how FAST you’ll learn it!

Where to Get It

Single-User Licenses:
If you just want a copy for yourself, you can get a copy at Teachers Pay Teachers or on Teachable.

Multi-User Licenses:
To get the guide for your team, school, or even district, you can save a lot by getting multi-user licenses. Although these are available on Teachers Pay Teachers, I am offering deeper discounts for multiple licenses on Teachable.

And in January only, I am offering 20% off for all licenses for 10 users or more. This offer ends January 31, so click here to get the guide now for your group!

Offer ends January 31, 2017.


Learn something new every week.
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