A Few “Techie” Tools I Use in My Classroom

I thought I’d share a couple things I use in my classroom on a daily basis. My hope is that as people read this post they will be inclined to leave a comment and share something they use regularly as well. I’m focusing on hardware but that’s not to say everyone has to!

First up I would have to say that I use my SmartBoard an awful lot. That said I almost never use the “Notebook” software put out by Smart Technologies, the makers of the SmartBoard. I find I use it most with the my students for what it is, an oversized tablet stuck on the wall. It’s a way for us to Tweet together, blog together, research together, reflect on work together, etc. I know some people do really cool stuff with the notebook software and if you’re one of them please share an example!

The next piece of equipment kind of goes with the first but I think even if I didn’t have a SmartBoard I would still use a video projector. I honestly can’t think how teachers do without one of these! I think I’d be in big trouble if I was ever without one.

The next thing I really dig is my wireless keyboard. Now this really is something that is more a matter of convenience than necessity. That said it saves so much time over using the on screen touch type pad that I was using with our SmartBoard. It also allows me to sit back and let the students run the show. This is something that I’ve gotten used to and would be very hard to live without. Typing on a flat keyboard is much more intuitive for the kids and is a skill that they must acquire anyway. The on-screen SmartBoard keyboard is just too clunky and too often encourages mistyping.

Of course to even have a keyboard you would need a computer!! The computer I use was supplied to me by my school but it’s the same computer I would be using if I had to buy it myself. It’s a MacBook Pro running the Lion (10.7.3) operating system. (You can check out a short video highlighting the features in Lion here.) I have a dual screen set up which I find very useful as well. I use the dual screen set up for a variety of reasons. The first is that I find the 13″ laptop screen a bit small and I like to have a bit more real estate when working on projects that involve multiple windows. For instance, when I am running multiple browsers or working between multiple programs where I am taking something from one program (usually images, video, or blocks of text) and moving it to another. In addition the secondary screen is the screen that is projected on our SmartBoard. This way I can que things up (such as videos ect) and can drag stuff on and off the screen for the kids to see without having to dive through a bunch of stacked windows.

You can take this a step further with the multiple desktop feature and load up stuff on different desktops. With Lion it’s easy to three finger swipe between desktops. I also find this useful when giving presentations. You can load up specific things on different desktops and just swipe back and forth rather than trying to find the proper window among 5 or six tiled windows. As I said earlier this can allow you to load up videos or webpages that are ready to go.

Multiple desktops displayed across the top

This is nice when presenting as it doesn’t allow a slow internet to mess with the “flow” of your presentation. No more sitting around to wait for a page to load, just swipe over to a different desktop where it’s already loaded. If you’re running a Keynote or a PowerPoint slideshow on your main screen you can swipe over to another screen to give specific examples of something from your presentation.

One thing that I came to use rather recently has been a lazer pointer. I know I know… those were cool.. in junior high. (Back when they used to call it junior high!) I actually find it very helpful. Since the wireless keyboard allows me to sit back and let the students take control of the SmartBoard sometimes I need them to navigate to an area of the screen that isn’t obvious or easy for me to explain. That is where the lazer pointer comes in. I can just point it out quickly and accurately. We had a couple lying around the tech office and I grabbed one a while back when I was heading to a conference to present. After I got back I had it sitting on my desk and thought I would impress the kids with it. I was like “hey guys check this out” and they were like “meh”. Even though they weren’t impressed I actually found it useful and now I use it everyday!

Some rights reserved by Artnow314

One thing that I don’t have currently but will next year is an Apple TV. The screen sharing capabilities are very exciting! I’m a bit bummed that I will not be able to use it’s streaming features to the fullest as I’m outside of North America. Nevertheless I still think it will be a valuable addition to the classroom. As it states on the Apple website:


Play content from your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch on your HDTV. Watch movies, play music, show off your videos and photos โ€” even show what’s on your screen to enjoy games, web pages, and more.

I think it will be cool to have an iPad screen wirelessly thrown up on the Whiteboard. Now as the class watches on the big screen individual students can share what they are working on or how they created something or walk us through how they solved a problem right from their iPad. Sweet! What I think would be really really cool is if you could control the iPad using the SmartBoard as you AirPlay the screen.

The one thing that I don’t have that many of my cohorts use is a document camera. Those who use them seem to think they couldn’t live without them. Since I’ve never used one I really just don’t know what I’m missing. I think when my Apple TV arrives I am going to fashion a stand of sorts for an iPad so that I can use it’s camera coupled with the AirPlay screen sharing feature to use the iPad as a document camera. That’s the plan anyway….

What are you using that you couldn’t live without?

About Benjamin J Sheridan

Instructional designer at the University of Kentucky.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

31 Responses to A Few “Techie” Tools I Use in My Classroom

  1. Aroma Pannu says:

    Wow! Love the post and how you have incorporated the why and how of what you are using. I am not using many of these tools right now but sure am hoping to at some point in the near future- okay maybe not the apple TV-taking small steps at the moment. We do have 5 ipads in the room for 9 kids -and we use them all the time for many (purposeful) different things. Connecting (not wirelessly though) to the big screen is a huge plus for the reasons you mention. Another thing I love to do is find books online (either on the ipads or computer) and read them with the class on the big screen-it feels like an instant big book without having to worry about handling it (I always seem to fumble with the real deal). Another plus is that I am not limited to what is in the library -just on my searching skills ๐Ÿ™‚ Reading back I realize I am not sharing much in terms of the hardware used but did enjoy reading your post. Maybe if you write a post on software ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Hello and thanks for commenting again! Great use of online books. You make a great point about not being limited to the books you physically have in your library. And projecting them up for the whole class to read is another great idea. Hmm a post on software… there’s an idea.

  2. Nice post! I love my document camera. I use it for all of my read alouds (if it’s a chapter book, I go through and load all of the illustrations up before hand, for a picture book I just lay under the live camera). I would love the Apple TV to projector set up, but the HDMI to VGA issue has us in a holding pattern for a while. We have found a work around, but have to test it yet. I am not a SMART Board fan. I am waiting for someone to show me the magic. I have played around with it a lot, I have been to workshops, but I have not fallen in love. I’ve tried to fall in love, really, I have.
    We are a PC school, so I feel that I am missing out on the Mac experience. I am running Lion at home, so I know the potential. Perhaps somewhere, someday…

    Thanks again for your ideas.

    • Again, another great reason to get a document camera! I hear a lot of people echo your sentiments with regard to the SmartBoard. The one I have was ordered by accident and the school found out they couldn’t return it so I said I’d take it. I find I use it a lot but I don’t think I do so necessarily in the way in which it is marketed.

      It must be frustrating having to work on a Windows based machine at home when you have a Mac at home. I had to do that for a while and it wasn’t super fun. I have heard the Apple TV-VGA-HDMI problem from many teachers as well.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment and share your examples. Much appreciated!

  3. Emily Roth says:

    Thanks for the post, Ben. One thing I cannot live without is my document camera! I taught grade 1 using it and now am teaching grade 4 with it. I use it probably 400 times a day:) Why is it so great? Number one–sharing student work. In writing workshop, it’s a great way for kids to share their piece (or part thereof for older students). Another use–read alouds when reading a smaller picture book so all can see the pictures. Sometimes, with my grade 4 students, I will put the chapter book up there so my visual learners have access to the text. I use it for math all the time when I want to review a particular problem out of their journal or go over a test altogether. In science, we just dissected owl pellets. Something happened with ordering, so we only had 5 for the entire class rather than 11. I was able to show them on the document camera so all could get a good look at a particular bone or initial instructions for dissecting. I could go on and on, but for sure, my number 1 tool is a
    doc. camera (and projector of course;).

    I also have an interactive whiteboard (Epson); and, for me, it is also a glorified whiteboard. I never received any real training, so I just have explored bit by bit on my own (but have not made it too far!). This is actually something our school is looking at now–how can we use the technology tools that we ALREADY have EFFECTIVELY to enhance student learning? Two tools we already have in upper ES are interactive whiteboards and 1:1 Macbooks. We are trying to push our thinking so that we are using the ‘interactive’ element of the whiteboards more and using the Macbooks more than just as word processing machines. I have used several Google apps with my class this year (docs and forms/gmail accounts/calendar/sites). They love it! On their own, they will create docs with their peers (always copying me on them) and have this beautiful collaboration without me hardly knowing. That’s when you know tech is truly embedded in the learning!

    I’d love to start using Twitter with them. Would you suggest we start with a class account? Is there an age restriction like facebook? And, more importantly, what could we DO with Twitter? I absolutely love the idea of connecting with other classes across the world. And I know my kids would be into it as well. I guess I need to know where to start…(I’m thinking COETAIL is a great place!)

    • Wow, your comment could be a blog post in and of itself! Thanks for sharing so many ideas! The examples you’ve given of how you use a document camera have given me DCE or document camera envy. I think you bring up a super important point… training! What use is all this great technology if we can’t use it in a manner that’s relevant to our students and curriculum. We have so many resources and departments competing for our time. Everyone wants a piece of your classroom and feels their program/initiative is the most important. Most of it’s great stuff but it is tough to find time to fit it all in.

      I love your example of how you are using Google docs. When you said that you “have this beautiful collaboration without me hardly knowing” I said “YES!” out loud. If you’re interested in using Twitter in your classroom you might want to check out Cybrary Man’s website and check out his extensive use of Twitter resources. You might want to join a couple Twitter chats to see if there are already some Twitter projects you could join in on. If not just create your own!

      It sounds like you are doing some amazing stuff so keep up the good work! I’d highly recommend COETAIL to anyone!

  4. Jennilea says:

    Interesting post regarding the tools you have in your classroom. Similar to your school we have smart boards, projectors, dual screens. Interesting enough I just finished a blog on tools I am using for my teaching and learning.

    After working on this course for the past year, I felt it was crucial to take a look at what programs and web 2.0 tools are an important part of my teaching and learning. Over the past year I have read many blogs, followed lots of tweets and thought about how technology impacts my teaching. I have broken down my ideas into daily, weekly, and monthly.

    On a daily basis I am using:

    Diigio to keep track of the cool websites and articles I come across. I also receive weekly updates from different diigo groups I follow. (Classroom 2.0, Project Based Learning, Global Education Conference, Coetail, Online Tools, Interactive WhiteBoards in the Classroom. and many more) My students also used diigo to keep track of their bookmarks, and in an upcoming unit we are explicating using this for the kids to look at a unit through the lens of different stakeholders (a detailed post on this to come)

    Dropbox- Always using it to save files, and share folders with my co workers

    Email updates from Larry Ferlazzo – He sends out the best websites of the day. Very useful stuff from this guy!

    Year Level blogs at our school. Year 8 and Year 7

    Aslo each student has a personal blog, which I follow using netvibes.

    Utube: Always searching for cool videos, and uploading my students work to our school account. Teacher Tube is also a great addition.

    Vimeo- Another great source for video footage

    Weekly I am:
    Reading my RSS feed from Blogs like Langwitches,Teaching Sagitarian , 21 Century Presentation.These blogs are really the main ones that I read on a weekly basis, but do scan others from our suggested RSS feeds.

    Portal Page- Our school keeps curriculum and units accessible to students on a portal page. Each course has its own portal page. Weekly I updating these pages

    Dyknow- To send my students work and receive work, also at time to screen share.

    Weekly updates from my Diigo Groups, TedTalks, TedED

    Monthly I am:

    Podcasts from Live Web 2.0, passed Coetail course discussions.

    Occasion Tweets @jhortop

    GoogleDocs, video editing, In Plain English, glogster, voice thread, flickr, compfight, powerpoints, many website links, prezi, google maps, google earth, screenr, sound cloud, Radio Lab, creative commons search tools, brain pop videos, linkendin, flocabulary.

    For me this is not an overload of resources, and I find it quite manageable. I also am always on the look out for new ideas and new tools that will enhance student learning!

    • Wow! What a wealth of information you have here! I really like the way that you’ve broken it down by day, week and month. I also appreciate how you’ve given brief explanations of how you use many of the tools. Sounds like you’re doing some amazing stuff. I’ll be looking for your post on student use of Digo. Glad you took the time to read and comment! Keep up the good work!

  5. A short and sweet post that has generated a lot of comments. I wish I could learn to love a smart board but at present it is the bane of my life. I teach programming and I used to project code onto the white board and then have students use whiteboard markers to label, correct or comment on the code. Trying to do this with the smart board is a lot more hassle and I just don’t use any of its other features so I now put paper over the smart board so that we can write on the code again.

    • Andrew, I think that’s hilarious that you’ve put paper over the SmartBoard… talk about the wrong tool for the job! I think with Apple TV’s ability to wirelessly screen share devices SmartBoards will loose their already meager appeal. Glad you took the time to read and comment. Cheers!

  6. Gary Collins says:

    A document camera (we have the ELMO) is a tremendous tool. We use it extensively in social studies to share student writing. The kids actually like to get on the ELMO and show the why’s and how’s of the revisions they have made to their writing.

    Also, you can make your own video clips using the document camera. A colleague and I were doing a lesson on types of governments recently. Not the most exciting stuff. So, we dressed up as secret agents, made up a spy agency (S.W.O.R.D.), and sent them on a quest to find a secret encoded message from HQ. (“Your mission, should you choose to accept it…) The “secret message” was a video we made using the ELMO that was like the Common Craft videos – moving bits of paper around, etc. We posted the video to YouTube. The kids learned the basics of differentiating between types of governments (Who has the power?), and were then set off to “spy” on a couple countries and report their findings to their superiors at S.W.O.R.D. headquarters (that’s us). Worked to liven up what could be a very dull lesson or two.

    Anyway…if someone is flipping their classroom, the document camera could be a useful tool for creating video clips.

  7. Viviane says:

    Thanks for the great post! You have a writing style that makes me feel like I am right there watching you! I will be using interactive whiteboards in my next school in Germany. As I don`t know much about them, I have decided to take a course ($300 for 2 days) on tips, lessons and techniques. I love that you have a wireless keyboard and the multiple screen function. My biggest problem with presenting is sizing. The size and location of my screen is distorted when projected. I have seen the Apple TV work in another school, with a stand holding an inverted iPad.The iPad camera was showing a book that the teacher wanted projected. Very cool! The tool i could not live without is my iPhone. It quickly allows me to take photos or video of kids at just the perfect moment. I really enjoyed your post…will visit again!!

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