Enhance your Instructional Toolbox: Discovering the Unexplored

By Matthew X. Joseph and Shannon Moore (@SMoore_teach)

This school year has brought about a lot of changes and has required much adaptation, but one shift that has been powerful across school sites is the technological knowledge that has been a necessity to navigate a difficult teaching year. With the change in environment, educators have likely become familiar with Google or Microsoft tools, Flipgrid, Peardeck, Nearpod, Padlet, and other popular tech tools. Those resources have been saving graces during this pandemic and will continue to be mainstays as we navigate this new abnormal. 

However, as educators wrap up this school year and start to set goals for the Fall, their tech agility is more advanced than they would have ever imagined, confidence with educational technology has increased, and perhaps it is time to start exploring new tools or ideas they can add to their instructional toolbox that will boost engagement and collaboration in their classrooms and invigorate their routine. 

We compiled some alternative, not as renowned, web-based tools that support learning, and the price is right: free. 

  • Parlay is a web-based platform that provides a space for students to engage with their peers and their teachers in structured discussions and debate. Parlay offers an online and live option so educators can use the platform synchronously or asynchronously depending on student need. Additionally, there are features built in that encourage anonymity, support students with structured language frames for feedback, and provide educators with real-time data. Parlay includes a teacher-generated library, dubbed the Parlay Universe, in which educators can search based on content and grade level for already-crafted discussion templates that are turn-key ready to share with their students. Parlay affords students the opportunity to critically think about topics and collaboratively create knowledge through engaging discourse and feedback.
  • Blooket is an online trivia tool that engages students in content review by gamifying the experience. This platform is different from other trivia platforms on the market because it provides nine different game modes that can be assigned to the question sets. Rather than just a “select the right answer” mode, with every correct answer, participants can become collectors of gold, defenders of towers, workers in a factory, or runners on a track. The experience starts with educators creating their own question sets, or choosing from the Discover page and editing as they see fit. Once the question set is ready, educators host a game, choose a game mode, set the time limit for play, and provide students with a game play link or a unique game ID. Blooket is interactive, engaging, and adds competition to the learning process which encourages motivation and onus, not to mention, it makes learning fun!
  • Remind is a web-based platform as well as a cell phone application that streamlines the communication process between educators and their students & families. Remind has changed the game for both one-way and two-way communication. While wifi is scarce for some communities, it is likely that most students/guardians have a cell phone. Using Remind, educators can create unique codes that students/guardians can text to 81010 to sign up and receive text messages directly from their teachers. Remind provides each teacher and student/guardian a unique phone number that keeps actual cell numbers private. Additionally, messages cannot be deleted to ensure record keeping is safe and accessible at any time. Educators can choose to adjust the settings to solely be able to send outgoing text messages, or they can opt in to receive incoming texts as well; from the application, messages can be sent in six different languages to meet the language needs of their communities. Remind is a great resource to send reminders to students and guardians about upcoming events and due dates, as well as to build relationships with and cater to the social emotional needs of students through conversation. As we navigate the challenging journey of education, Remind allows educators to meet their students/guardians where they are at and ensures communication lines remain open.
  • Wizer is an online-platform that gives educators the opportunity to create interactive and customizable worksheets that not only promote learning, but include engaging design as well. Educators can incorporate audio directions, images, and many different types of questions to personalize the experience based on the content and student needs. Once created, educators can easily assign the worksheet to their students using their LMS. Students can respond via traditional typed responses, or record audio responses thus promoting personalization in exemplification of learning. Wizer also has a built in automatic grading feature that educators can set up which can save time and allows educators to provide more targeted feedback for students who need it. Wizer allows rules to be established in the platform which allows educators to send worksheets to groups of students based on skill level or need, as well. Additionally, Wizer includes a teacher-generated library that educators can freely peruse and select worksheets based on content and grade level need. Overall, for those not ready to move away from worksheets, Wizer provides a space to create engaging worksheets that encourage interactivity in a variety of ways while also saving educators time in the grading process.
  • Buncee is a web-based tool for creating interactive multimedia presentations. The user can integrate content from both external and internal sources and create content directly on each slide. A toolbar provides ease of accessibility and preview without the user ever navigating away from the tool. A student can integrate content from both external and internal sources and create content directly on each slide. Buncee boards are a great way to make students’ ideas grow and provide an inspiration to collaborate. Buncee’s interactive, drag and drop interface helps students, educators, and administrators create engaging multimedia projects and presentations to increase interactivity and flip the classroom.
  • Mote  is a Chrome extension that allows teachers to record their voices to provide feedback to students. Mote works with Google Workspace. Students love hearing their teachers’ voices and feel connected to their teachers. Teachers can leave unlimited voice comments and feedback on assignments via Google Classroom, Docs, Slides, or Sheets by clicking the mote symbol under the comments section. Teachers have up to 30 seconds per comment in the free version. Mote even lets you monitor student engagement on voice notes on the account activity page. This allows teachers to observe which students viewed/heard your notes. Mote can even translate voice notes into multiple languages. Voice comments are more clearly understood because students can listen to the tone of a teacher’s nuances and cadence.
  • Genially is an interactive visual communication all-in-one online tool to create stunning presentations, interactive images, infographics, dossiers, quizzes, resumes, etc. Teachers can enrich projects with interactivity and animation effects in seconds. Genially allows teachers to provide creative work in addition to excellent visual communication.  With Genially, teachers can add links, images, and videos to make learning truly interactive. You no longer need designers and programmers to build striking, visual communications; Genially has it for you. Choose from over 1100 templates, or start from scratch and let learning come to life.

Every passionate educator understands the value that exists in striving for constant evolution and growth to enhance student learning both in and outside of the classroom. Education is constantly shifting, which has never been more evident than it has been over the last year. Suppose we are not on a path of lifelong learning. How do we expect to push our professional limits, embrace innovative practices in the classroom, and rise to meet the challenges that will continue to lie ahead? Each new experience brings about an opportunity to take risks, and, perhaps, implementing a new technology tool can be the risk that pays off. New possibilities are on the horizon, and while sound instructional approaches don’t change, the tech tools to maximize student learning do. It is up to each educator to rise to the challenge and forge forward, knowing they have the chance to not only amplify student learning but discover more about their own capabilities along the way; trying something new is the first step in that discovery.

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