I recently posted a list of Top Tech Tools for Teachers that I believe are useful for all teachers. In going through this list and receiving feedback from others, it is clear that it can be overwhelming, especially for busy teachers just starting in the Education Technology arena. So my goal in this post is to offer my "Top Five and Why". It was a very tough choice picking only five. There are so many great tools for teachers available on the Internet and the list I compiled is minimal to say the least. So my choices here are based on a combination of experience working with teachers, research in the form of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, the Horizon Report K-12 Edition, and collaboration with peers in the ed tech community.
Number One - Google Docs
By far, this is the number one tool I would suggest to teachers. Google Docs is a web-based suite of tools (word processing, spreadsheets, forms, presentations, and drawing) that has extremely powerful collaborative and sharing capabilities entrenched in its design. With an array of creative uses, Docs provides teachers these tools to be more efficient in managing their classroom, collaborating on school improvement meeting minutes or managing grades and lesson plans. As a classroom tool, there are countless 21st century projects a teacher can facilitate through many available projects and templates within Google Docs.
Another reason Google Docs is first in my list is when looking through lists of other great tools, Docs has many of these other features built-in. For example, not only can you use the regular productivity software but you can also upload and share your own files eliminating the need for a service like Dropbox. You can also use pages/spreadsheets/presentations as web pages for other projects, agendas and what not. There are just so many great things about putting these tools in the cloud (on the Internet) that I can't describe them all here.
One of my professional missions is to ensure that every teacher has a web presence. It is so important that this tool is available to communicate with their students, parents, and the community. It provides teachers a platform to share what they are doing in the classroom and share student work with a more relevant, authentic conduit. It also provides a means for two-way communication from parents and community members genuinely interested in the success of our future leaders. WordPress floats to the top of my list because of its ability to easily generate great looking, dynamic sites including web pages, blogs, and a host of other features designed for effective communications. It's a flexible tool for teachers just starting out or the most tech savvy educators.
Number Three - Diigo
The Internet is a vast land of seemingly endless information. As a facilitator of learning, teachers need a tool to collect useful web gems . The amount of websites teachers collect for any given curriculum is daunting enough. On top of that, sharing these gems so all students have access can be frustrating to say the least. The answer is social bookmarking. Diigo is a powerful bookmarking engine able to share links anytime, anywhere. Bookmarks are organized how we think, using tags. The social side allows us to share links and updates with other teachers in the same field. Diigo steps up the social bookmarking game by providing a tool to annotate websites; highlighting sections, making comments, and more. Lastly, another feature of Diigo allows for group and classroom interaction and discussion. This is one tool that would be hard to live without.
Number Four - Twitter
Social Networking is all the buzz right now. It's cool, if not necessary, to have a Twitter or Facebook account. Maybe you have one already for sharing pictures with family, getting a new recipe from a friend, meeting up at a reunion, or just sending messages. (Goodbye email?) But why does this have importance as an educator? I see three main reasons teachers need a Twitter account: 1) Building a network of like-minded professionals in your field. Having others to lean on for ideas or support. 2) Self-directed professional development. There are so many resources shared on Twitter and this is a great social filter, letting your colleagues decide what is good and what is not. 3) Communication with students and parents. Teachers use this tool to share upcoming announcements, homework, tests, sports scores and more. It is a great way to use the tools our students are already using and leverage the power of social media. As a friend on Twitter said to me, "Twitter is what you make of it - if you follow other educators and people with like interests, you learn from each other and can get some amazing resources and ideas. You are who you follow!"
Number Five - Skype
The world is flat. And the classroom should be too. Skype is an invaluable tool to break down the walls of the classroom and transport your students to any part of the world. This video conferencing software runs on Macs or PCs (and even mobiles) and is a great cross-platform communication software for anyone with an Internet connection. The possibilities of going global are endless - from virtual field trips to connecting with scientists, authors and more. You can share your screen with other classrooms or having a parent or community member join your class. Only your creativity will limit the use of this invaluable tool.