If there was ever a year for teachers to beg, borrow, and steal good ideas, this is it. All good teachers know this is how we get better, and this is a curated list of tech tools that I have begged and borrowed from others—and I didn’t have to steal any of these as there has never been a year when teachers were more generous.
Based on my own teaching of college students as well as the responses of 1,461 virtual learning academy participants—pre-K to 12 teachers and administrators—to survey questions on impactful tools that I conducted from May to December 2020, and over 70 webinars and virtual learning sessions I’ve conducted in that time, these are the top teacher-tested tech tools I have identified. My learning has happened with my own students and through my own mistakes, and I received great ideas from educators across the U.S. and around the world.
I will continue to use these tools and recommend their use regardless of student-level or how we deliver education moving forward.
The top 10 best tools for teaching are:
10. Parlay: For those of us who like to discuss rich texts with students, Parlay lets us connect with students remotely, facilitate discussion, and track how the dialogue builds. As students respond, Parlay shows who is contributing and where the conversation is moving as the software visually tracks student responses in a discussion web. Teachers can use built-in tools to assess the frequency of students’ answers in real time even when students are not in the same room. Teachers can then spend their time on deeper level assessment of the depth of student responses, which can also be recorded.
9. Flipgrid: One of the most popular tech tools in schools, Flipgrid won praise from teachers across the country because of the flexibility it gives students to submit digital projects and how it effectively supports peer and teacher feedback.
8. Edpuzzle: I’ve used Edpuzzle for a while, but it became much more vital as more of my content shifted online. Teachers use Edpuzzle to make video clips interactive by requiring student responses, which are easy to collect and assess.
7. Pear Deck: Pear Deck does to Google Slides what Edpuzzle does to videos. Slides become interactive, and teachers are able to collect feedback immediately.
6. Prezi: I’ve used the virtual presentation software Prezi for years, and I appreciate a recent update that allows me to be on the same screen with the graphics, creating a more engaging presentation. Prezi offers teachers another tool to capture short lectures, explanations, or other content in a more visually appealing and personal way than as a disembodied voice or thumbnail in the bottom corner of a screen.
5. Screencastify: Every student can be Sal Khan working out problems with explanations. This tool was first recommended to me by a teacher in Kenya, who explained how Screencastify transformed her math assessments by allowing students to show what they’re thinking from wherever they happen to be working. Screencastify is also valuable for reducing cheating as teachers can observe students working and explaining problems instead of just recording answers.
4. Mural: This has been a lifesaver for virtual collaboration. Mural allows teachers, students, and other contributors to write on virtual sticky notes and then organize and reorganize them in real time. The best in-person meetings are always the ones where the collective expertise of the room can be captured visually, and if we can’t be in the same room with students—or colleagues—Mural is the next best thing. Even better, there’s no need to go back and summarize or clean up evidence from the meeting. The Mural is the artifact. Many teachers are now using Jamboard in a similar way.
3. Gimkit: Created by a high school student who thought he could improve upon Kahoot!, Gimkit allows teachers to create question sets that students can answer over and over again while competing against each other, which is great for surface learning and review. Because Gimkit allows for repetition of answers and has a variety of ways for students to earn points, students remain engaged as they work at their own pace.
2. Mentimeter and Slido: These are both excellent for collecting feedback from groups, so I’ve ranked them together. I use these almost weekly for professional learning and in my classes. Slido allows participants to ask questions and then upvote others. There are many similar tools, but Slido is easy and free. Mentimeter allows students and teachers to collect real-time data on questions they have, in the form of word clouds, rankings, and various scales. These are great discussion starters that allow everyone to contribute to the collective wisdom of the group.
1. Learning management system: A good LMS is key to reducing stress for teachers, students, and parents. A list like this one would be counterproductive if it left your educational delivery fragmented among disparate tools, and a good LMS helps you organize everything into a one-stop shop.
I personally love Canvas and Schoology, but I know many teachers have worked miracles with Google Classroom, which is “free.” I use those quotes for a reason: Google Classroom is only truly free if it is not requiring significantly more human capital in the form of time and energy than a fee-for-service platform like Canvas or Schoology. The most significant asset for managing learning in the chaos of this school year has been staying organized, and Canvas has been a lifesaver for me.
I have taught virtually, led professional learning across many time zones, delivered content asynchronously, and taught students in masks with others Zooming in due to quarantine, Covid, or personal preference. For me, nothing will ever replace in-person teaching and learning, but like many other teachers and administrators, I now know how to effectively facilitate learning in a previously unimaginable set of circumstances. This school year’s desperation has driven us to explore a wide range of tools, and we can be better because of the firehose learning we have done this year. We just need a few tools to create some space for us to breathe.