2 Tech Tools to Keep Students Engaged and Alert

A MiddleWeb Blog

class-apps-no-cap-240Let’s face it…an approaching new school year brings an entire bag of emotions…not all of them good.

It can be easy to get overwhelmed by many of the challenges that lie ahead. There are our classrooms to set up, new students to get to know, and of course, last year’s kinks to iron out.

While each teacher’s classroom is unique, one common challenge we all face is getting more out of our students. We want them engaged in deep questioning and conversation during class time. We want them to complete the learning tasks they take home. We want them making connections between lessons in the classroom and the world outside of school.

With these goals in mind, here are two free technology tools to help get our students – and the school year – off to a good start.

Sparking Deep Thinking and Classroom Conversation with Poll Everywhere

The effective use of questions and classroom discussion is an integral part of learning. They help to ascertain what students already know, to check for understanding during or after the lesson, and to stimulate deeper level thinking and debate.

cc poll eve logoOne free, versatile tool for posing questions to students during and/or outside of class is Poll Everywhere. Students can respond to a variety of open-ended, multiple choice or ranking questions designed by the teacher from any internet-connected device or smart phone. Student responses can be displayed in real time or saved for later.

For example, not too long ago I was in an 8th grade classroom where an animated (and heated) student debate ensued between students about whether the United States should be involved in military conflict in places such as Syria.

The teacher asked everyone to pause and individually write down factors that should be taken into consideration when such a decision is made. She collected them, went to her computer, and quickly created the following question in Poll Everywhere for each of her students to consider:

cc1 blue rectangle

cc 2 5 questions

She partnered her students up with a classmate and asked them to discuss each ‘consideration’ before responding as an individual from their own device. When each student had done so, the class results were displayed.

cc 3 poll results

The teacher asked students to discuss in trios what conclusions could be drawn from the class poll results. It was fascinating to hear the groups discuss and justify their ideas using the data generated through the teacher’s use of Poll Everywhere.

Giving Students Something They Need: Reminders

All of us need reminders from time to time. This is particularly true when it comes to middle school kids who have a multitude of things on their brain that have little to do with schoolwork.

remind logoI have yet to find a tool better than Remind (now part of ParentSquare) for keeping students – and parents – ‘in the know’ with quick, simple-text emails or smartphone notifications. It makes communication efficient in a secure, private way. (Teachers, parents, and students can stay in touch without ever seeing or having access to each other’s phone numbers.)

The Remind app is free and works from nearly any device. It’s a cinch for parents and students to sign up and start receiving alerts from the teacher. Remind allows teachers to send short reminders as texts, but also allows for files to be attached such as photos, documents, presentations, and even PDF’s.

Using the mobile app, teachers can also record and send voice messages to students and parents. Recently, an option has been added for starting two-way conversations with students and parents which can be turned on or off at the discretion of the teacher.

cc remind attachMy favorite part of the tool is how it allows me to either send out announcements immediately or to schedule reminders for later on. At the start of each year, I visit with my students and ask them when they are most likely to check their phones. This allows me to schedule alerts and reminders at ‘pique’ times.

Getting Off to a Great Start

I realize how busy each of us can be as we prepare for a new school year. It can be a real challenge to squeeze in even more time to play around with a couple of new technology tools. But it’s also true that the most important time investment we make as teachers is the time we invest before our first student walks through the door. In order to go fast…we have to go slow.

Our students lead busy lives but always seem to find time to check their digital devices. If our goal this year is to get more out of our time with them – to engage them in deep questioning and conversation about the world around them – why not use a tool or two to facilitate the process…and provide a reminder or two as well?

Curtis Chandler

Dr. Curtis Chandler (@CurtisChandler6) is an education professor at Brigham Young University-Idaho in Rexburg. Curtis has been a Kansas Teacher of the Year and a KS regional instructional tech coach. “I am a middle school teacher through and through,” he says. He enjoys spending time with his wife and his favorite students – his four sons. His two blogs for MiddleWeb include Class Apps (insightful articles about blending tech and teaching strategies) here, and New Teacher Tips, a blog dedicated to preservice and beginning teachers, here.

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