Thursday, August 20, 2009

5 Back to School Must-Haves for Innovative Educators

By Dana Lawit

As the smell of school supplies fills the air, back to school lists often include the usual pencil, binder, loose leaf, sharpener, eraser, etc. While those traditional items might lighten the wallet of families and come out of Teachers Choice for educators in NYC, innovative educators like me are preparing a slightly different list geared toward engaging our digital native students and supporting my own 21st century practices.

Here is my list of five must-haves for innovative educators.

1) Digital Voice Recorder. I bought two of these over the summer to use with student journalists. Digital Voice Recorders are small, cost around $50, and link to a computer using USB. Beyond using them with student reporters, I plan on having students record their thoughts prior to writing, and recording voice and other audio for Podcasts.

2) Google Voice. I set up a phone number through Google Voice so that it would be easier for students and parents to reach me by phone. I like that Google provides not only a transcript of voice mails, but incoming calls as well. It's also a quick and easy way to get audio recordings from your students. Give them a reflection question for homework along with your Google Voice number. All their answers will be saved as audio recordings that are easy to share online. See The Innovative Educator's comprehensive overview of the ins and outs of Google Voice to learn how to get started.

3) Google Templates (through GoogleDocs). Recently, Google introduced the ability for users to share GoogleDoc templates both publicly, privately, and within your domain. Over the summer I created a template writing organizer. Students opened GoogleDocs, and created a new document from my template. Then they shared their new document with me, and as they developed their writing, I could provide individual feedback directly in their documents. This allowed us to have dialogues about their writing without me carrying a stack of papers home every night. During the year I plan on using templates not only with students, but colleagues as well; allowing us to more rapidly create uniformly designed lesson plans and curricula.

4) Librevox & Odiogo.
I'm constantly searching for ways to get rich material to low level readers, one option is to have students listen to audio recordings. Librevox is a site that provides audio recordings of texts in the public domain. If the text isn't available, you're welcome to submit a recording. I haven't browsed their entire collection but there are definetly some pieces I will be able to use, as well as some room for student submissions. Odiogo (used on this site) is a text to speech service for rss feeds and online text. This will allow me to a get a wider range of online text to students.

5) Flip Video Camera. This tool instantly ratcheted up student engagement either by getting it into the hands of a student for them to use during an assignment, recording a performance assessment, or documenting field work. I'm excited to continue to find new uses for the Flip.

Those are my 5 must-haves that I hope will keep my students engaged, parents and families connected, and me organized. What are yours?

To share your ideas, please leave a comment on this blog or leave a voice recording by selecting the Google Voice widget below.


  1. Lisa, I put in my number in your widget and called myself.. was that the idea?
    I fogot my cellphone today at home.. wow was I wishing everyone had my Google number and not my cell! Is there a way to forward my cell calls to my Google number?
    I'd add Google Groups and sharing Docs with Groups to your list - top on mine for this year!

  2. ok - here's another question.. .is there a way that when I post a comment here, I could choose my Google Apps identity?

  3. @susan, yes. The way Google Voice works is that calls go to the Google Voice number and it also rings all of your phones. If you don't pick up the voicemail is transcribed and recorded and can be accessed by email, text, or by listening to the recording from your computer.

    You can choose your Google Apps identity by being signed into Google on your computer with your Google login.

  4. I would add an iPod Touch to the list of must haves. There are great educational apps that can be downloaded from iTunes, in addition to educational podcasts. Students can even create their own tutorial videos and podcasts that can be used by the entire class to support learning while using 21st century tools.

  5. Dana,
    I just gave out my first assignment of the year, students need to call my google voice number and leave a reflection about last year's history class. The responses are coming in only an hour after school got out.

    Greg Kulowiec