20 top edtech tools for the classroom

At Common Sense Education, the edtech reviewers have seen it all. To help teachers navigate the plethora of materials for the digital classroom, Tanner Higgin, director of Education Editorial Strategy at Common Sense Education, presented “50 Top Edtech Tools for the Classroom.”

Following are some of Higgin’s favorite classroom edtech tools.

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Adobe Spark: This flexible design tool lets teachers and students design everything from a web page to a social media post. It includes templates and color palates to make sure that student projects are looking good. Higgin said creative educators have found a million different use cases across all subjects and grade levels.
Google CS First: A computer science curriculum with themed coding projects, this program makes coding less intimidating and more accessible to people from all different backgrounds. In addition, the themes and activities motivate students from different backgrounds and knowledge levels.

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Extraordinary ELA

ThinkCERCA: Focused on argumentative writing, this research-based tool teaches critical thinking and has well-structured lessons that encourage thoughtful writing.
InsertLearning: With this program, teachers can take any website and add instructional content. By adding layers to a web page, they can make online research more engaging and encourage students to interact with content beyond just reading the text.


5 real examples of coding and robotics in the classroom

Coding and robotics go hand-in-hand, and they’re becoming a more integral part of classrooms across the country.

Aside from the excitement students muster when they see a robotics kit morph into a controllable arm or a tiny programmable vehicle, coding and robotics offer a little bit more than a fun classroom experience.

When students participate in coding and robotics activities, they’re learning employability skills such as teamwork and collaboration, problem solving, the ability to fail and persevere, and more.

Different schools teach coding and robotics in different ways, depending on the availability of funding, knowledgeable teachers or classroom volunteers, and time.

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Here’s a look at how five schools and districts are teaching coding and robotics. Use these examples as inspiration to integrate coding and robotics into your own classroom, or share them with colleagues to demonstrate how easy it is to start incorporating robotics in the classroom.

1. At The Village School in Houston, TX, instructional technology specialist Ruth O’Brien and middle school teacher Marc Abrate help students develop skills that help not only in coding, but in areas such as problem solving, critical thinking, and collaboration.

Coding has been a required part of the middle school and elementary school curriculum since 2014. Teachers attend coding workshops and receive training at school. Students in fourth grade are trained to use devices to code, and they also have to train their peers and students in other grades.


What does it really mean to be competency-based?

The education field is regularly plagued by the need for common definitions as new practices emerge. As we’ve seen with personalized learning, ambiguous terms for ambitious ideas can create widespread confusion and even skepticism. By contrast, a common definition can pinpoint a “north star” that helps practitioners and policymakers focus efforts to implement a new approach. In the case of competency-based education, researchers and educators have worked for years to define the term and document its component parts in detail.

However, even when a general term has a common definition with relatively wide acceptance, it remains persistently difficult to use that term to describe what implementation actually looks like because not all components of a broad definition are always in practice at once. Last year, as we began working towards better collective knowledge on school innovation through the Canopy project, this challenge came into focus as we heard that people’s expectations for a visit to a so-called “competency-based” school often turned out differently from what they witnessed in person. These interviews gave us a hunch that simply labeling schools “competency-based” didn’t go far enough to indicate what’s actually happening in the school.

Related content: 5 things to help us move closer to competency-based education

The Canopy dataset (downloadable from the project website along with a report of our primary findings), compiled from a diverse group of 235 schools across the country, offered a way to test that hunch. To build Canopy data, nominators and schools used “tags,” or keywords and phrases representing elements of school design, to describe each school’s model. The tagging system includes the more general term competency education, as well as an expanded set of “specific practice” tags that describe more granular parts of a competency-based system.


3 keys to a successful community literacy initiative

Finding a school district that doesn’t have a literacy initiative extending beyond the walls of the classroom would likely be quite a challenge these days. And that’s as it should be! Reading is, as the cliché goes, fundamental. It’s a basic academic skill that helps students learn any other skill they will need to develop.

Building a strong, effective literacy initiative takes more than just asking students and community members to read together and planning a party to celebrate success at the end (though the parties are great, too!).

At Garland Independent School District, we’ve found that there are three keys to a successful literacy initiative: establishing clear goals, ensuring equitable access to reading material for every student, and building community partnerships from day one.

Related content: How we turned around our district’s literacy scores

By focusing on those elements, our program has seen amazing results in its first year. While the program is still ongoing, between May 31 and September 1, participants have read more than 109,000 books in more than 784,000 minutes. More than 59,000 students had access to myON in that time and each student has so far spent a whopping 1,326 minutes reading on average.


5 strategies to engage students with attention issues

Engaging students with attention issues and ADHD—rather than just managing their behavior—should be a goal for every teacher. Teachers worry, though, that they will have to create a separate curriculum or otherwise alter how they teach.

Not so, said Ezra Werb, M.Ed., an educational therapist and author, in his edWebinar “Engagement Strategies for Students with Attention Challenges: Lower Anxiety and Raise Confidence.” During his presentation, he offered strategies to lessen the anxieties of students with attention issues. These strategies can also raise their confidence, so they can meet the same goals as their peers who do not struggle with attention issues.

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1. Get interest rates up. Students’ interests aren’t talked about enough or used to a teacher’s advantage, said Werb. He suggested asking all students about their hobbies, likes, and activities. Then, the teacher can sprinkle these into the lessons, e.g., using favorite cartoon characters in word problems or having students write profiles of athletes, to grab attention. By meeting students in their areas of expertise, anxiety goes down and interest goes up.


3 digital tools that are shifting the teacher’s role

Technology has infused classrooms with useful digital learning tools and has ushered in a new model of connected teaching. Teachers are now linked to professional content, resources, and systems designed to improve instruction and increase personalized learning.

But are all these tech tools making a teacher’s job easier. or more difficult and time-consuming? Teachers are now expected to have data analysis skills at a much deeper level than required in the past.

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In today’s digital world, they are expected to manage a great deal of technology–at least three different platforms to input their own data, student attendance, grades, and lesson plans. They are required to help their students access multitudes of apps and websites for various learning and support. They are also expected to view and use data they or others gather to inform instruction. They are expected to create individualized lesson plans for each child’s learning needs.


We need to put robotics in rural schools

Rural schools in the United States face challenges many of their suburban counterparts couldn’t fathom. For example, access to challenging and engaging STEM courses such as robotics and coding is not as prevalent in rural schools as it is in larger districts. But one district is aiming to make it easier for students to access robotics in rural schools.

Out of the Loop,” a 2018 report from The National School Boards Association Center for Public Education, notes that “rural students have significantly less access to STEM-focused AP courses” and that gaps such as this “may indicate that rural students have limited access to academically rigorous programs.”

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One rural district in North Dakota is fighting this statistic with a K-12 STEAM program that prepares students for the future by teaching 21st-century skills necessary in today’s–and tomorrow’s–workforce.

Alexander, North Dakota, epitomizes small-town America. A 2017 estimate puts the population at 308, and the Alexander Public School serves around 260 K-12 students. Seeing a need to instill future workforce skills in their students, the district implemented their K-12 STEAM program, which includes coding and robotics, about five years ago. Superintendent Leslie Bieber attended a conference and had the opportunity to learn to program robots. When she returned, she worked with former robotics team coach Alexandria Brummond, who at the time was the school’s second-grade teacher. “The program developed over the years,” says Bieber, eventually including a TETRIX class, which then became a FIRST Tech Challenge class and team.


5 takeaways about the state of edtech today

Using the right edtech tools, combined with knowledgeable and confident teaching, can help accelerate student learning, according to Promethean’s 2019 U.S. State of Technology report.

The report surveyed educators to offer a comprehensive views of current classroom technologies, adoption, usage, and trends over the next five years.

Eighty-six percent of teachers and 82 percent of administrators agree that edtech tools improve achievement, according to the report, which analyzes edtech trends and usage.

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Eighty-three percent of surveyed administrators and 74 percent of surveyed teachers say they are “constantly striving to innovate by using technology as a tool for education.”

Administrators’ edtech priorities include using technology to boost engagement (61 percent), using technology to enhance collaboration (46 percent), using edtech to boost teacher productivity (29 percent), and ensuring student and other important data is protected online (26 percent).

While almost all respondents understand edtech’s benefits, the data indicates legacy infrastructure, organizational inertia, and competing priorities continue to act as barriers to adoption.


How this school designed a robotics program from the ground up

As a former computer engineer with a background in applied math, I’m a firm proponent of STEM education. As a math teacher with 14 years of experience facilitating robotics clubs for students, I’m also an ardent supporter of programming and robotics as a vehicle for STEM ed, so when I had the opportunity to build a K–5 robotics program from the lab up, I leapt at the opportunity.

Our school is a brand-new Title 1 campus. We’re in our first year and just opened in August, so we’re still tweaking and learning as we go, but we’ve developed a solid foundation for introducing students—even those who are very young—to a range of STEM and other concepts in an environment that feels more like fun than work. Here’s how we did it.

Kindergarten & 1st grade

When I was designing the robotics program, I wanted to make sure we were building a bridge from kindergarten all the way to 5th grade and beyond, so our program is designed to be progressive throughout the six years students are with us and to set them up for more advanced robotics in middle and high school, should they choose to pursue it.

Related: 11 educators share how they bring coding into the classroom

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For kindergartners and first graders, we use two products: LEGO’s STEAM Park and KinderLab’s KIBO.

STEAM Park uses Duplo LEGO bricks and gears, pulleys, and other simple machines to help very young children begin to understand concepts like leverage, chain reactions, motion, measurement, and even buoyancy, which isn’t usually introduced until 2nd grade.


Building and sustaining a strong math culture

Current employment trends and future projections all point towards continued growth in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) jobs, as well as the need for STEM-related skills in other fields. Yet, recent math proficiency levels among American students remain low, at just 44 percent in fourth grade and 33 percent at the eighth-grade level, and the math score trend lines are not showing significant improvement.

The attitudes of many students toward math are also not positive, and in order to improve those attitudes and actual math performance, David Woods, a senior director at Dreambox Learning, explained during a recent edWebinar how developing a strong math culture can engage students in authentic and effective learning, and result in increased achievement.

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Using a problem-solution approach, Woods outlined a number of the challenges educators face when teaching math, and he explained training and planning strategies designed to address those issues. He also identified classroom techniques teachers can use to help students improve their math performance and attitudes.

Preparing to build a strong math culture

Surveys have shown that it’s not only the students who may have a negative attitude toward math. Many K-5 teachers perceived themselves as being “bad” at math, and therefore may have their own “math anxiety” when trying to teach the subject. This can impact the effectiveness of their instruction, as well as the cues they may transmit to students, thereby perpetuating the same feelings, attitudes, and achievement levels.