With more weeks of remote learning under our belts than any of us ever hoped for, we’ve all been accelerated in our understanding of what technology can (and can’t) do to keep kids happy, learning and supported. While we count down the days until we get to hug (or at least wave at) our students again, we hope this list of apps and platforms we’ve been relying on helps other educators navigate the new normal.
Whatever you choose to use, remember, simplicity is your goal (more on that here). With all the resources flowing, it’s tempting to start flooding families with lots of new technologies that do lots of cool things. Resist! Start with one platform that meets your most acute needs, communicate it clearly, get the buy-in you need, then give it a try, providing lots of guidance along the way. Once that goes well and if additional unmet needs exist, you’re ready to try something else.
As educators, you know your community best. Take your time, get it right, and lead the way. Some of these are free. Others require a subscription. None will fly unless you keep a cool head, move intentionally, and do all the other easy but essential things great educators always do.
Kids who love to read — and read well — can teach themselves anything. We’ve found these platforms particularly helpful for helping kids continue to develop their reading skills and love of books, even while schools and libraries are closed.
Ensuring students have just plain enough high-quality books is critical. We like Tumblebooks for its vast digital library of picture books (and their come-to-life animations!), as well as chapter books. The platform has a tremendous variety of picture books, chapter books and graphic novels, so we use it to ensure students get to pick out books they just can’t wait to read, either independently or with their families. For early readers, Tumblebooks has a cool feature that plays audio to accompany picture books, so that students can listen, while also seeing the word highlighted on the screen. The platform requires a subscription but schools and libraries can try for free through August 2020.
Whether or not students have actual Kindle devices, the Kindle app can be downloaded to computers and phones for anywhere access to countless great titles. Downloading the app is free, and the cost of titles varies. We like this particularly for the whole class novels our kids read together in middle and high school. Along with just plain having access to the same book, the app allows for annotating which, as every teacher knows, is essential. We’ve loved watching our kids come together around whole class novels (Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate, Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson, Midsummer Night’s Dream, Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison, Fences by August Wilson, among others), even when they’re far apart.
Audible and Audible Stories
We can’t say enough about the benefits of kids listening to books — particularly high-quality stories read by professional readers who are so darn good at it. Listening to a fluent reader helps kids develop a rich understanding of story, character and dialogue, and can be used to “stretch” kids’ reading comprehension — that is, to allow them to engage with books that might be just out of reach on the page. Our kids use Audible Stories for their independent reading assignments (30-60 minutes daily, either independently or with family members, depending on age/grade). Access to the full Audible library is paid, but the subset of titles in Stories is free, streams from any device, and is available across six languages.
Epic offers clearly leveled books, which makes it great for choosing texts that are well-matched to students’ abilities. We love it for guiding reading in particular. Teachers use Epic to choose a book for a group of 6 to 8 students, spend 3-5 minutes getting kids excited about the story and reminding them of their individual literacy goals, then send them off to read independently. From there, students read the book independently, and the teacher calls individual kids to listen to them read aloud, ask questions, and give feedback. At the end of the lesson, the students and teachers meet on video conferences to discuss the big ideas in the book, analyze author choices, and share what they found most interesting. The platform is free for educators through June 2020 and parents can sign up for a 30-day free trial.
Lexia is an adaptive platform that provides interactive learning activities to support growth in phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, comprehension, and grammar. We use the platform to help our youngest readers nail the mechanics of reading, and like that it provides independent practice adapted to each kid’s needs. Students take an initial assessment that identifies their level. As students use the site, the platform adapts, making the activities more or less challenging. This is a paid platform, with various pricing levels depending on scale.
Interactive learning activities that keep kids engaged are crucial at any time, but especially during remote learning. These resources can help.
Code.org is a great resource to promote and learn computer science. We were already using it as part of our elementary school Science curriculum, so the transition to using remotely was a natural one. Currently, our second through fourth graders complete daily 30 minute lessons and challenges (which they love!). The website can be accessed without logins, or teachers can create classes and provide logins for their students (in which case they’re also able to track progress over time). Code.org is free for all.
DreamBox is an adaptive K–8 math program designed to complement traditional instruction. DreamBox focuses on reinforcing concepts, not just computational skills. We use DreamBox as a supplemental activity outside of school hours for middle schoolers who can benefit from additional practice. DreamBox is a paid platform, with varied pricing depending on the number of students, though there are free trial options through the end of June due to COVID-19.
Desmos Graphing Calculator
Desmos offers free access to an online graphing calculator. It also has a variety of pre-packaged, interactive lessons, organized by topic. Teachers can also use the platform to create their own lessons that include interactive graphs and response submissions. Our MS teachers use Desmos to create a more interactive learning experience for their students. As kids move through the problems within each lesson, teachers can see their work in real time, pause the entire class on one problem, or share select student responses with the whole class to generate discussion.
We love chess! It’s a great way to help kids develop critical thinking skills and have fun while doing it. This site allows kids to learn and play chess online (and if they teach their families to play while everyone’s stuck at home, even better!).
Remote Assignments and Feedback
This tool allows teachers to set up a virtual classroom to send out assignments and collect completed work. At SA, Google Classroom was already being used in grades 5-12, which was helpful in our transition to a remote context. Since remote learning began, we have rolled out to K-4 as well. Stay tuned for learnings!
Kami - PDF and Document Annotation
Kami is an app that’s compatible with Google classroom. When students open a document using Kami, they can write directly on it with a stylus, just like they would on a paper assignment. The app also allows educators real-time access to student work. We rely on it particularly for math instruction, so teachers can see kid work and provide feedback and coaching.
Like all of you, we are learning as we go and constantly tweaking our approach as we figure out what works and what doesn’t. We will continue to share our best practices and learnings with you as we learn them (for additional details on our approach, visit here). In the meantime, we’re sending all of our gratitude and love to the educators and families performing miracles every day. We’ve got this!