My totally unofficial and off-hand observation is that a vast majority of discussion about iPads/Tablets for Teachers is really about iPads/Tablets for Students: apps that are for the students’ use. As a technologist and coach, I’m always wary of the time tradeoff of new technologies. If I continually throw additional resources/challenges/expectations to teachers, even those early adopters will quickly get overloaded and start tuning out what were intended to be helpful suggestions. In order to keep the window open for quality thinking, reflection and research to happen, an Ed Tech specialist should use technology to nurture the teacher as well as the student. With that in mind, here are some suggestions for teacher apps that can save time, promote reflection and inquiry, and preserve/recapture as much precious high-level time as possible. All apps are free unless otherwise noted, and are available on iOS and Android.
My new default RSS reader is Feedly. To be honest, I don’t look for much in an RSS reader, and Feedly is simple, quick to set up, and allows you to organize your inputs. It has all of the standard sharing options that you’d expect, and the one-touch option to save pictures to a Pinterest board is a nice bonus to those who use that service regularly.
One of my two favorite overall apps is still Zite. This app, which takes basic interests and searches for interesting news sources and articles for you, is a great way for teachers to stay current in both their fields and the hugely-active world of educational discussions and blogs online. Teachers who follow the TPACK (or the earlier PACK) model are familiar with the idea of both Pedagogical Knowledge and Content Knowledge. Zite is a great way to ensure that teachers can grow their expertise in both by letting Zite search for articles relating to a teacher’s interests. I commit to mark every single article that comes in as either “thumbs-up” or “thumbs-down” which keeps my profile pretty much on-target, and have found many great bloggers and sites through Zite which I added as permanent subscriptions in Feedly.
Between home computers, school computers, phones and tablets, files and ideas can get fragmented in multiple locations. Nothing derails a lesson plan like realizing a few minutes before the class starts that a necessary file is in another location. The big three competitors in the cloud storage market now are Dropbox, Google Drive and SkyDrive. I use both Dropbox and Google Drive– Dropbox for files and Google Drive for Google Documents. Google Drive now can be a fully-functional cloud storage option, but I have too much in Dropbox to be willing to move at this point, and I think that the file management interface is easier in Dropbox. That’s personal preference, though, and the fact that you have a cloud storage option is more important than which one you choose at this point.
The King of Notes
Sorry to every other note-taking, organization, web clipping and organization app out there: Evernote won. With their addition of reminders so that notes can now be given actionable deadlines, there’s a clear king. Evernote is the home of all my notes, my brainstorming ideas for the future, lesson plans (one touch to e-mail in case of a sub), and any web pages to save to read or share down the road. In addition, it’s a great collaboration tool, and some teachers use it for an entire content management system. I’m not there yet, but for my personal use, everything is present and immediately accessible. My desk is paper-free, and any notes are instantly synced between my devices.
Content Management System
If I could drive one point home to teachers, it’s that good Educational Technology is both pedagogically effective and more efficient for everyone. Content Management Systems like Edmodo should save you time in the classroom by keeping all materials permanently accessible to students. Finding, printing and handing out extra copies of handouts for students who were absent is a waste of your time. It also does nothing to promote independence and responsibility on the hand of the student. Having students post questions before class promotes pre-reading and pre-flection, and it allows you time to prepare answers and recaptures class time. Having students submit assignments online (when appropriate) cuts down on your carrying, eliminates lost papers and makes students more accountable for deadlines since there are no arguments about whether anything was on time when it’s clearly time-stamped.
Edmodo is free and easy to set up for a class. I have never used it in a whole-school system, but if your school has no school-wide CMS, it’s a great option for your classes.
Marking up PDFs
The only app on this list I paid for is GoodReader ($4.99), and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. It’s a very robust markup app for PDF files, allowing multi-color highlighting, typing, freehand drawing/stylus, and a variety of comment/editing tools. It’s also a great reader, and has heavy-duty organization and file-handling capabilities. It integrates with cloud storage apps as well, so it’s very easy to pull in student submissions, mark them up, and re-upload them or e-mail them directly.