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How to Get Organized for the New Year

January 05, 2015

As the school year begins in the warm early days of autumn teachers, students, and parents always have an idealistic view of how they will start fresh.  This could mean communicating more between home and school, staying on top of homework, keeping more organized notes, or using more efficient study methods.  By the time winter break approaches, however, most have fallen back into old habits.  The brief breather between 2014 and 2015 is the perfect opportunity to explore tech tools that can get your school year plans back on track.

School-Home Communication with Remind

No matter how much we plan ahead, lessons take longer than predicted and due dates have to be adjusted.  Sending out last minute emails is not always ideal because people don’t tend to check email as often as they check other social media apps.  Remind is a safe way for teachers to send text messages to parents and students with last minute changes or due date reminders.  Students in our school drama program like how their director uses it to efficiently and quickly update them on last minute rehearsal information.  Teachers don’t have to give out their personal cell phone numbers or find out their students’ cell phone numbers.  Remind takes care of that.  Also, students can’t respond to the text message, a feature that teachers feel helps ensure professionalism.  Remind even has pre-designed fact sheets to give to parents and students that answer all their questions and walk them through signing up.

Stay on Top of Homework with myHomework

Student calendar or agenda books start out neat, but often end up torn and covered in doodles by the time December rolls around.  I recently learned about myHomework from a student at an edCamp I attended.  She uses it to track her assignments and can even set it to send her notifications on her smartphone when big due dates are approaching.  It is available across all mobile and desktop platforms, so it is ideal for BYOD or 1-to-1 school environments.  If teachers want to take assignment organization to the next level, they can use to communicate with their students using myHomework.  There will be no more missing assignments because someone “forgot” with these two powerful apps working together.

Keep Notes Organized with Evernote

Two years ago I decided to take the plunge and have my students start keeping paperless notebooks with Evernote.  It is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made to help my students stay organized.  No more folders bursting with papers.  No more overstuffed three ring binders.  In Evernote, students can create notebooks that contain separate notes for each of our 3-4 day lessons.  Also, as long as they are connected to Wi-Fi, Evernote automatically syncs their work to the cloud.  Nothing is lost.  Notes are also time and date stamped within the app, so it is easy for students to go back and find what they did yesterday, last week, or even last year.  One of my favorite features of Evernote is how it pairs with Skitch, an image annotation app.  Students can add color images to their notes, which isn’t possible with three ring binders full of photocopied sheets, and then annotate them to show their own understanding of art, maps, charts, and political cartoons.  Was a student absent?  Have her find a trusted classmate and a note can be easily shared and added to her Evernote file.

Study Anywhere with Quizlet

Learning vocabulary is almost universal for all academic subject areas.  It could mean new words, names, places, or ideas.  Students spend hours creating flashcards only to drop them in a puddle on the way into school or lose them in mess of their lockers.  When I asked my sophomores what their favorite study app was, they all agreed on Quizlet.  Students can create their flashcards and then take them anywhere as long as they have their smartphones.  Hanging out while waiting for practice to start after school? Sitting in the waiting room at the orthodontist?  In the car with Dad while he drives between sports practices in the evenings?  My students love to use Quizlet to study anywhere and everywhere, even if their schedules are busy.  I have also enjoyed creating Quizlet sets for my students so that I know they are studying the right information.  Quizlet turns flashcard sets into games like “Space Race” and “Scatter” to make studying more fun, too.

There are other organizational tools out there, but when I asked students these were their favorites.  All of them are free, available across multiple platforms, and intuitive to learn and use.

Kerry Gallagher teaches middle and high school history in Massachusetts