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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

A Teacher’s Must-Have Apps

By Melissa Weatherwax — July 16, 2013 4 min read
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Today’s guest blog is written by third grade teacher Melissa Weatherwax. Melissa teaches at Poestenkill Elementary School in the Averill Park Central School District and she flawlessly uses technology in her inquiry-based classroom.

For as long as I can remember I’ve been drawn to technology. I clearly remember our eighth grade computer club with Miss Teras. We spent hours on the massive Apple machine creating a pixilated image of a rainbow, only to not save it in the final hour and all of our work was deleted! I’m not sure that my tech partner ever did forgive me! It’s the excitement of discovery & possibilities that I can’t get enough of with technology.

If there is a new gadget, app, or program that works to make documentation, planning, and reporting easier then I’m your girl. We all know there are apps linked to popular literacy programs, apps to practice facts and phonics, apps to create movies and videos, but I’m always on the search for something to work smarter for me, NOT for me to work harder to use.

Evernote, NoteShelf, GoodNotes..Oh My!
In the past, I decided to give Evernote a shot to move toward a paperless classroom. I liked the ability to document my kids’ progress in a way that was always at my fingertips. I could reflect, assess, and share struggles, concerns, and progress at the click of an app.

Last year I stumbled upon NoteShelf, which touts itself as an app that is, “The most beautiful note-taking app ever designed for the iPad.” There is not a Lite version, so I contemplated the cost and ultimately went for the price tag (more than I’ve spent on any app I’ve purchased) and haven’t looked back.

I highly doubt the creators had any intention for it to be used in a classroom, but I realized its potential and dove in. I am able to provide feedback and comment on my kids’ work (I’m a “feedback” girl, not really into numbers to help with improvement) and then keep a screen capture of their work with comments and goals noted. I can then further comment on these screen shots using notes, highlights, or even type more individualized goals or needs that I see.

Although work goes home, I maintain documentation all year and can prove progress that my kids have made & essentially create a digital portfolio for all students and subjects. This app allows you to search for keywords and leaves you with notebooks containing those words. I have also created forms on Word and uploaded them as PDFs to use within the program, again furthering my effectiveness in monitoring progress and attaining goals.

Last year I organized notebooks by student; each having stacked notebooks for each subject as well as some imported sheets I used when needed to keep records for fluency, etc. This year I am contemplating creating the notebooks by subjects with stacked notebooks in each for every student - I’m hoping this will make it easier to create revolving groups based on goals, targets, needs, etc.

Another program that I have found priceless is GoodNotes which is available for Android and Apple formats & is available in a lite version with limited uploads available. I am able to create my plans on a self-created template in Word - including special area class, student services, lunch times, etc., color code “protected learning” blocks, subject areas, or times with pull out services, save them as a PDF, and upload it to my iPad using GoodNotes. This app lets me write on the planning page with multi colored pens, markers, and highlighters; I can mark plans that may not have been successful, skills that need to be retaught, work that wasn’t mastered, etc.

Although I could also use NoteShelf for my plans, I choose to use this as a separate program to keep records of my daily plans. I then save these plans within GoodNotes for further review. Within GoodNotes, users can create various folders on the shelves for uploads - I have folders for my evaluations & meetings with administration, faculty meeting agendas, district information, and others that I created as need arose. Different background papers are available and this program can be used to take notes as well. At the click of an icon, you also have the ability to export pages as well through email, iTunes, Dropbox, Google Drive, etc.

I’d Lose My Mind Without Remind 101!
The final “can’t live without app” that I use is Remind101, a free app that was created by a student at Michigan State who struggled with disorganization. This free app allows parents and students to text a given code to a Remind101 number and their name is added to the teacher’s account.

During the week I often send out blast reminders about projects, parent-kid conferences, interesting websites and documentaries, items to bring to school, etc. I am also able to send out brief descriptions of what is happening in our classroom which takes less time (and paper!) than a weekly newsletter. Within this app, there are settings to schedule the time the text is sent - if the text is directed to my students, I can schedule it for dinner/evening time, but if it is geared toward the parents, I can send it right away.

Not only can I send these texts from my phone, but also through wifi on my iPad. Although each text is limited to 140 characters, I have had extremely positive feedback from my parents about this app.

I truly believe that with the amount of technology, apps, and tablets available, we have to be finicky about we choose to use in our classrooms. With new mandates continually being imposed on our schools, we have to be wise consumers and maintain high expectations for the technology we use. We need to expect smarter technology, not expect to have to work harder to integrate it into our classrooms.

Follow Melissa on Twitter.

Melissa blogs at A Teacher, a Table, and a Tub.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.