8 innovative ideas for the tech-strapped teacher

5. Centers-based learning. Elementary school teachers have used centers-based learning for years, but secondary teachers are often resistant. Centers can stretch the technology that exists in a classroom to allow every student opportunities to interact with it. Rotating groups of students through reading stations, writing stations, listening/viewing stations, and hands-on activity stations, with or without technology is a best practice. When combined with an interactive computer station, students can not only explore, but also create with just a few devices for an entire class of students.

6. Integrating technology with one device. I recently worked with teachers in an area that not only had very few computers, the technology they had was outdated and they only had dialup internet access. The reality of that inspired me to find ways that a single device could be used in the classroom. Even if you are in a situation where your students cannot put their hands on technology, they can still benefit from the engagement that alternative methods of direct instruction allows.

I’m not talking about sitting the students in front of a screen and showing them videos for an entire class session or supplementing your lecture with a digital presentation. Suggestions such as using an image to start a conversation about author’s purpose, movement, or a period of history or making predictions can be a powerful way to integrate technology into direct instruction.

Using a short video clip with the audio removed can be a meaningful summative assessment when a student is tasked with recording, or even writing on a piece of paper, the narration for the video. Creating an interactive presentation with images and hyperlinks can increase engagement when students are asked which image the teacher should click on next. None of these strategies require internet access, either, so even the most technology-poor classroom can incorporate these solutions.

I have also seen classrooms that used the concept of technology in their classroom with nothing more than a piece of notebook paper and a pencil. The concept of explaining a character by drawing a fake Pinterest board is the same as when a student uses technology to create a digital version.

7. Get apps for free. If you must use an app for a mobile device or browser that costs money, wait for it to have a temporary price reduction or giveaway. Many app developers will temporarily lower their prices or even give away apps in an effort to build their market. In response, some app developers have created apps that help you keep track of these opportunities. AppsGoneFree is a resource for iOS operating systems that provides daily information about apps being offered at a free or reduced price. The website even allows users to submit suggestions for apps they would like to see go free. Another handy, free tool is AppShopper. AppShopper is a web-based app finder that allows users to create lists of apps they want, but are not willing to pay for. AppShopper will notify users when that particular app has a price drop, and also provides daily updates on reduced-price apps. AppShopper also has a new social app that integrates user ratings and suggestions into the iOS platform.

8. Turn mobile devices into a free classroom response system. Many campuses choose to invest a significant amount of money into classroom response systems, or “clickers.” These response systems provide an opportunity for students to interact with prompts provided by their teacher and for the teacher to accumulate data to use for formative assessment. Rather than investing money in those systems, a workaround that does not limit the use in any way and in fact, enhances it, is to use mobile devices with a free web-based system. These systems work on any device that can connect to the internet. Remember those old phones you asked parents to donate? They can be used as “clickers,” as can laptops, Chromebooks, and even handheld gaming systems that have internet capability.

There are several I have tried. Two have become my favorites, with one an honorable mention. The one I have used the most is Socrative. Socrative can be used for multiple choice, short answer, voting, quizzing, and competitions. It can integrate images, provide downloadable reports for the teacher, and is extremely easy to use. Students simply point their browser to and enter the teacher’s room. The teacher controls the prompts that are sent to the device. Its ease-of-use and compatibility across platforms is what makes this one my favorite. Teachers can decide “on-the-fly” to use Socrative – it is that easy.

Another favorite, for another purpose, is Kahoot, which makes it easy for teachers to gamify the learning experience by creating a quiz show format for review questions, instruction, and information gathering. On the student side, Kahoot is simple–they visit and enter a pin number provided by their teacher. On the teacher side, this one takes a little planning–the questions and answers have to be entered ahead of time. Still, this free resource provides a great opportunity for engagement in the classroom, regardless of age. I have seen teachers get just as excited about participating in a Kahoot at a professional development workshop as I have seen students get in the classroom.

The honorable mention is InfuseLearning. I haven’t used it a lot because it doesn’t work across all platforms and the performance is sometimes spotty. The reason I think it is one to keep on the radar is that, although it is very similar to Socrative, it has additional answer formats, such as Likert scales and sorting, as well as interactive tools that allow students to draw their responses.

The bottom line. Think about what you want to have, take inventory of what you actually have, and work toward the dreams you have of a technology-rich classroom. Building that bridge, one piece of technology, one free app, or one piece of donated equipment at a time is always a better strategy than staying where you are. As you think of creative ways to stretch your technology, you will find it getting easier and easier and in the stretching, you just may come up with a better experience than you would have had if you had unlimited funds to devote to technology purchases.

Elaine Plybon is a Facilitator of Transformative Learning at Keller ISD in Texas, and was named one of the National School Board Association’s 20 to Watch Education Technology Leaders in 2014.

She is an active member of Discovery Education’s Discovery Educator Network (DEN), a global community of educators that are passionate about transforming the learning experience with digital media. This is part of a series of articles from DEN members, which previously featured how to revolutionize PD for the digital age.

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