Back to School 2020: Tech You’ll Actually Use

This isn’t a list of shiny new apps. Teachers who turn to technology during a pandemic are looking to carve out more time to have human-to-human interactions with their students. We’ve curated this list of quality ed tech tools for passionate high school and college STEM educators like you who are doing the hardest work of their lives. Your experience is the best measure, so let us know if you agree these tools are solid teaching supports.  

Tools that Give You More One-on-One Time With Your Students

Spend more time connecting with your students and less time fiddling with technology.

  • EquatIO –This Google Chrome browser extension lets you type, handwrite or dictate any mathematical expression and converts it into accurate digital math which can be added into a Microsoft Word doc or G Suite app. This tool allows you and your students to maintain a digital workflow and collaborate while giving you time back in your day for one-to-one coaching. It’s especially useful for students with learning disabilities or visual impairments. EquatIO is available in paid versions for high school and higher education, and is free for teachers.
  • Kaizena – Kaizena is a Google add-on that allows teachers to quickly leave personalized voice and text comments on students’ work in Google Docs and Google Slides, conveying meaning with both words and tone-of-voice. They can also embed videos to further explain or reinforce concepts. Students have the same ability to add rich comments, creating a feedback loop. Researchers, educators, and students have found that this easy feedback helps to build stronger connections between teachers and students. Kaizena is available in both free and paid versions.

Tools that Enrich Your Lesson Content 

Customize learning to each student’s pace and level of understanding. Spend less time delivering content and more time interacting with your students, getting them unblocked, and keeping them motivated. 

  • Grasshopper – Grasshopper offers a self-paced, 8-part curriculum that teaches high school and college students the fundamentals of JavaScript coding, how to create animations with code, how to build a website with HTML and CSS, and techniques to solve the kinds of problems asked in technical job interviews. Grasshopper is a Code with Google program, part of Google’s commitment to closing equity gaps in computer science education. It’s easy to log into Grasshopper using your Google sign-on, and move seamlessly among your desktop, Android, and iOS devices. Thanks to Google support, Grasshopper is free
  • Khan Academy – Khan Academy is nonprofit with the mission to provide a world-class education to anyone, anywhere. It features self-paced content like videos, articles, and practice questions that align to educational standards in many different countries. Skills reports let teachers know how students are progressing in their subject mastery. Teachers can find content by searching using course name keywords or Common Core Standards. Khan Academy is free to both teachers and students, and it is supported by donations. Teachers can sign up for an account here
  • Labster – For some students, taking a lab science class can be the beginning of the end of their future career in STEM. They disengage and fall behind when they can’t understand the content. We are admittedly biased, but that’s where Labster’s facility for “productive failure” shines. Featuring over 150 different science simulations built in 3D, Labster immerses students in a scenario and fosters a growth mindset by allowing anyone who initially fails to experiment with different potential solutions and receive contextual support until they succeed. Designed for both higher education and high school, Labster is aligned to NGSS, AP, and IB standards. Labster is available in multiple paid versions, including heavily discounted high school packages.
  • Mathalicious – Math is the foundation on which the sciences stand. Rather than weed out struggling students, Mathalicious uses “hooks” and interactive elements like images and videos to spark curiosity and rich discussion. To get started, teachers search the library of lessons by keyword or Common Core Standard (every Mathalicious lesson is aligned to Common Core Standards). Each lesson includes a downloadable lesson guide for teachers and handouts for students. The tool’s “Reflect” tab encourages teachers to share their experiences, ideas, and lesson-specific feedback with colleagues around the world. Mathalicious is available for about $320/teacher/year.

Tools that Promote Student Engagement 

Engaging technologies like these embed opportunities for interaction, and use elements of design, animation, and sound. You and your students can make learning fun with these tools.

  • Brainly – Brainly is a great peer-to-peer engagement tool. Students can use Brainly to dive deeper into concepts they learn about in Labster or to overcome a learning obstacle. Last year, over 100,000 science questions on Brainly at a high school or college level were answered. Teacher accounts are free and include unlimited Q/A, content reporting, and dedicated community support.
  • Gimkit – Gimkit says it makes remote learning “more doable”. Teachers tell us that two benefits of Gimkit’s gamified platform make it stand apart from the rest: 1) students complete the activities at their own pace, so students who process differently or slower can take their time and faster students can move quickly, and 2) it does the grading for you. Gimkit is available with a 30-day free trial and costs about $60/year.
  • Kahoot! – Kahoot! is a fun way for students to stay involved with their teacher and peers, during both in-person and online classes. Kahoot! lets teachers create live games using questions posed as polls, true or false, puzzles, and even permits open-ended responses. Students can respond on their phones or other devices. One great benefit of Kahoot! is that it captures insights from each assessment like how many students played, which questions were the most difficult, which players struggled. This lets teachers like you direct your limited time to re-teaching confusing concepts and reinforcing students who need help. Kahoot! is available in both free and paid versions.
  • Quizlet – Once known only for its interactive flashcard tool, Quizlet now offers students practice questions, interactive diagrams, games, and even a module that creates a study plan for them complete with reminders about when to study and feedback on areas they need to prioritize. Teachers can get started by searching for existing content using keywords, browsing the results, identifying an existing study set (collection of information on teaching topics), and copying + customizing the study set to suit their own needs. Quizlet is free to students. Customizable teacher options are available in a paid subscription.

Tools for Calm and Focus

Foster a good working environment in your own home. 

  • Headspace – The pandemic is taking an emotional toll on teachers. Headspace is here to help you stay strong; several studies show that using this mindfulness app reduces stress and irritability while increasing average mood ratings. Headspace is available for free to K-12 educators.
  • Noisli – Background sound, also known as white noise or pink noise, helps many students (and teachers) overcome the distractions of a noisy home environment. Users credit Noisli’s Google Chrome browser extension and phone app with helping them find calm and peace during stressful situations and when working to solve difficult problems. Noisli offers a buffet of pleasing sounds (think rustling leaves or a crackling fire) to mix and match. When paired with headphones, you can develop a personalized sound environment that is conducive to focus. Noisli makes a free version available and offers 50% off for educators.

If you’re an educator who has had a positive experience with other teacher-friendly tools for STEM classrooms, please reach out and let us know about them!  

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