You can also listen to this blog post on my podcast, using this link.
Throughout 2020, we’ve learned a lot about the role that technology plays in children and young people’s lives – and we’ve learned a lot about how technology can bring people together. In the school environment, technology has proven to be a wonderful tool to amplify learning. Most recently, we’ve learned that technology can make it possible for learning to happen in a variety of environments, from in-person to virtual learning. But above all, we’ve learned that technology can never and will never replace great teachers.
For my final blog post of 2020, I’m sharing my favorite edtech tools of the year. This list is in no particular order: just 5 tech tools that I believe should top the charts in 2020.
1. Stop Motion Studio
Stop Motion Studio is “the world’s easiest app to get you into stop motion movie-making!” Stop motion animation is a hit with students of all ages. I use this app with my elementary students, and I’ve seen high schoolers get excited about it too. Stop Motion Studio allows students to create high-quality animated movies and short films with ease.
The interface is easy-to-use. It’s simple. It’s easy for students of all ages to navigate. Students can take a series of photos to build a stop motion movie. There is an overlay mode that shows the differences between frames. There are animation guides. There’s an interactive timeline that shows frames to help students stay organized while filming. Students can even add special effects, like backgrounds and fade effects. They can use built-in music and sound effects. They can even narrate their films.
What I love about this app is that it’s great for content creation and for having students show what they know. What better way for students to demonstrate their understanding – and to gain technical skills, too – than by learning to create their own stop motion animation?
Which brings us to the next tool on my list…
Flipgrid has been a popular tech tool for a couple of years now, but I think the attention it has gotten is for a good reason. In case you aren’t familiar with Flipgrid, it’s a video discussion platform that I’ve seen used with preschool students and I’ve seen used with PhD students. I actually used Flipgrid as a grad student back in 2019, and I use it today with my early elementary students.
Flipgrid’s schtick is that it amplifies student voice and empowers learners of all ages. And it’s true. Flipgrid engages students through the power of video.
The way it works is that teachers can create and share discussion topics with their learning communities. Teachers can add co-teachers, called co-pilots, and all learners need to do is download the app or visit the Flipgrid website, enter their unique Join Code, and then respond to the discussion prompt by recording a short video. These videos can be shared with the entire class or with just the teacher, depending on how the teacher sets up the assignment.
Another thing that I think is important to point out about Flipgrid is that it has fun filters and stickers that students can use to overlay on their video.
Something I, and a lot of other educators have noticed during this period of distance learning, is that many students feel uncomfortable with face-to-face communication via video on platforms like Zoom. Flipgrid gives students an opportunity to share their faces and their voices in a way that’s fun, playful, educational, and safe for students.
Next on my list we have…
3. Google Jamboard
Jamboard has recently exploded. Have you guys noticed this online like I have? I’ve seen a huge increase in the use of the tool over the past couple of months, which is why I’ve added it to my list of the top edtech tools of 2020. Jamboard is a part of the Google Suite, and it’s a digital whiteboard that allows for collaboration for teams and classrooms. I like to explain it to teachers by saying that it allows for the whiteboard-style experience even when students aren’t physically located in the same room.
As the teacher, you can create a Jam (a blank whiteboard) that you can edit and share with students. Students in your class can collaborate on that Jam anytime, anywhere, much like how they can collaborate on Google Docs or Slides. Jamboard has a bunch of different tools that bring ideas and learning to life. For example, students can draw or show their work with different pen tools. They can add sticky notes to brainstorm ideas together. They can insert photos. They can insert gifs and stickers. And they, or you as the teacher, can even highlight specific elements using the laser pointer tool.
I recommend that teachers use Jamboard as a collaborative tool for low-stakes activities, like brainstorming or exit ticket activities. And you can create individual Jams for students, where each student has their own copy, for higher stakes activities like assessment.
Now onto #4.
4. Pear Deck
I could go on and on and on about Pear Deck. It is an interactive presentation tool that syncs perfectly with Google Slides. The way it works is that teachers can create slide presentations and using Pear Deck, they can add interactive questions and elements that increase student engagement. Teachers can monitor both individual student progress and whole-class progress, which makes it a great tool for formative assessment too.
There are a bunch of different question types that teachers can add to the slide deck too. There are free response questions – with short and long text options. There are multiple choice questions from true/false to your standard ABCD multiple choice. There are also draggable questions which are fun and interactive for students, along with drawing questions that can be more open-ended depending on what subject you teach.
The Pear Deck website also has so many wonderful resources for teachers, including a Pear Deck “orchard” that has an extensive library of ready-made, editable templates. These templates are great to use when you’re first starting out with Pear Deck because they can help you get an idea for how you can use the tool to the fullest extent. And if you’re a Google Slides user and you don’t have the Pear Deck add-on, what are you waiting for? The second you finish reading this blog post, open up your computer and add it. You won’t regret it.
And lastly, for my final tool…
I’ve talked about GoGuardian in other episodes of my podcast, specifically Episode 17 on Digital Citizenship and Student Privacy, so if you’re a loyal listener, GoGuardian making this list shouldn’t be a surprise to you.
GoGuardian is the best tool out there for understanding student behavior online and above all, for helping keep students safe. GoGuardian has four main products: Admin, Teacher, Fleet, and Beacon. I wish I had time to talk about all of them today, but I’m going to focus specifically on GoGuardian Teacher because I think it’s the most applicable to our listeners.
GoGuardian Teacher allows teachers to gain real-time views into student activity. Basically what this means is that you can know what students are doing on their devices. For example, if a student is off-task or needs help, as the teacher, you can monitor that and provide support when needed. You can also do things like limit browsing, as well as view student browsing history. What’s nice about this is that as the teacher, you don’t necessarily have to worry constantly about what students are doing on their screens from a classroom management perspective, and instead, you can focus on teaching students with fewer online distractions.
I do want to mention some features of the other GoGuardian products too, in case you aren’t familiar with them. GoGuardian Admin can be used to protect students from harmful content online. There are flexible filtering options on YouTube and other websites that allow school admin to block things like comments, keywords, live chat, and even entire video categories. These products can even do things like identify students who are most at risk in terms of mental health.
Above all, if you’re looking to protect students and promote digital citizenship, GoGuardian is the tool for you.
So, there you have it! My top 5 edtech tools of 2020. Like I said at the beginning of this blog post, 2020 has really shed light on the role that technology plays in education.
“Technology will not replace great teachers, but technology in the hands of great teachers can be transformational.” – George Couros
What tools have made the biggest impact on your teaching in 2020? What tools are you looking to try? Would you add any to this list? You can let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to hear from you.
By the way – My podcast episode on this exact topic, in part, is inspired by other edtech podcasters who share their top tools every single year. I’ve included some of my favorites from the Cult of Pedagogy Podcast and the House of #EdTech, which you can view here and here.