Connected Classroom: Using Online Tools for Lesson Planning
If there's one thing teachers can't get away from, it's lesson planning. Even if you take a week off from your students, you still have to provide lesson plans for the substitute.
Most teachers make use of old lesson plans, but even if you have a loaded arsenal of all the lesson plans you could ever use, it still takes time to prepare and modify them for your current classroom.
Fortunately, whether you have a loaded back stock of lesson plans or you need to create a new one from scratch, there are plenty of online tools that are free and easy to use to increase your lesson planning productivity.
Here are some that have helped me in my teaching.
On the bar across the top of any Gmail account, there's a link that says "Drive." When you click on it, you see a virtual desktop for keeping files online. With Google Drive (formerly Google Docs), you can create and upload Word documents, spreadsheets, presentations, forms, drawings, fusion tables, and scripts.
You can access these documents from any Internet connection, and you can allow others to view or edit them. Furthermore, you can also sync Google Drive with your own hard drive, so all of your documents are accessible from anywhere.
When planning awesome lessons for your students, you often have to work when inspiration strikes. This tool allows you to plan and modify your lessons from literally anywhere: at home, at work, or on the go.
Evernote is an application that creates notes of ideas you like, things you see, activities you want to use in the future, and anything and everything your could possibly want to bookmark from the Web or from real life, since you can upload pictures, include URLs, or create notes of nothing but text. Evernote is helpful in lesson planning for two reasons: notebooks and syncing across mobile devices.
Notebooks categorize your notes by subject, and you can create as many notebooks as you want. For example, you can create notebooks for worksheets, activity ideas, field trips, vocabulary, assignment ideas, or educational products you like. If you’re looking for something to fill a hole in your lesson plan, you can search through your notes in a specific notebook for whatever it is you need.
Evernote syncs across your computer and all your other mobile devices. This means you can search through your notebooks from anywhere. And while Evernote is designed to work with the Internet, you can still look through your notes when not connected.
LiveBinders is an organizational tool that lets you collate documents and resources from around the Web. When you add pages to your virtual LiveBinders, you can view them like actual pages inside a book instead of just a list of links. Furthermore, you can add your own PDFs and documents to complete your virtual information stash. In addition to finally getting rid of all the paper clutter on your desk and in your bookshelves, LiveBinders is also compatible with SMART Board technology.
Making Classroom Exercises
Having all the information in the world on your subject is useless unless you can put it into tangible, usable activities for your students. But, with so many free tools on the Internet, you'll find it’s totally unnecessary to reinvent the wheel every time you want to make something for your students. Chances are, someone else has already made something like it.
For example, Google Education's lesson plan search tool allows you to search by subject and age range. If you're looking for something specific, you can also search by product like blogs, videos, literary documents, or science fair projects.
Another online resource sharing tool, Quizlet, allows you to search through study sets created by other teachers in all kinds of subjects. It also lets you share your own created sets to help other teachers around the world.
Within Google Calendar, which is linked to Google accounts, you can schedule your days by overall daily tasks or down to the hour.
You can add events or tasks to each hour or day, so you know what you having coming up and the different things you need to get done. For example, if you have your overall, basic lesson plans outlined for a month, you can insert them into your calendar. From there, you can see which ones need planning, which ones take lots of preparation, and you can insert tasks into your calendar with detailed descriptions of what you still need to do.
This helps you stay on top of your game in a clean, streamlined manner without scribbling tiny notes in the margins of bulky paper planners.
Auto Time Logger
This application is especially effective if you’re a new teacher or you're introducing new types of activities or techniques into your classroom. It's a simple, easy-to-use timer that shows you the amount of time you spend on a particular task or project. We all know that planning effective lessons is about 50 percent proper timing, so this helps you get a better estimate of how long it takes to complete certain activities.
The Internet is a wonderland of content. There are expert bloggers in literally every subject niche, and it doesn't take long to find a cool, new, exciting website with information you want to share with your students or integrate into your teaching strategies. Content aggregators help you keep up with all this interesting and unique information without having to visit each website everyday to see if there’s an update.
Blogger is a free blogging service offered by Google. However, you don't have to create a blog to use Blogger’s reading list service. Simply sign in through your Gmail account and click "Add" under the Reading list. Copy and paste the URLs of the blogs you wish to follow, and the blogger feed will be updated with new blog posts in real time. Free desktop applications like FeedDemon and DeskShare aggregate your favorite content directly onto your desktop, without the need to visit any websites.
Alternatively, many blogs allow you to sign up for their RSS feed with your email address. Doing this puts each update straight into your inbox. If you don't want to clutter up your personal account, consider creating another account to check periodically when you need inspiration.
Ultimately, lesson planning is an art form that takes time and practice to perfect. While no two teachers are alike in their planning approaches, you'd be hard-pressed to find an educator that doesn’t want to save time or effort in lesson planning. With modern technology and the blessing of the Internet, new teachers or old teachers taking on new subjects never have to start from scratch.
* * *
Chelsea Baldwin is an English teacher with experience teaching students of all ages and speaking levels. She's taught international business executives through an online school, as well as small children in a traditional classroom in New York.