Educators need real teacher-tested digital tools to connect with students online. During this difficult time, there is truly limited time to plan or assess every single online option for teaching. That’s why I created this list. The digital resources below were put together with the help of Pathway 2 Success members who have done the work, tested the programs, and worked through the challenges.
Before I get started with the actual list, I must give a HUGE thank you to all the Pathway 2 Success members who contributed to this post. Your expertise is a huge service to the entire community of educators out there. I truly appreciate you. If you’re interested in becoming part of the Pathway 2 Success community, head over here to learn about joining. Not only is it free to join, but I send you free materials, ideas, and information about upcoming specials. I’d love to have you!
Connections are the most foundational element for kids and young adults to be successful. This is precisely why educators can’t just send packets home or e-mail work to parents during distance learning time. The magic happens when kids and teens feel connected, respected, and loved. That’s true whether school is in-person or online.
Further, no matter your school’s current plan for heading back to the classroom, it’s worth having a plan to integrate digital tools with students. Given the uncertain nature of the school year, it only makes sense to put some of these strategies in place early on. It’s a great time to test them out, see what works, and what needs to be tweaked.
If there is one huge silver lining of education during the pandemic it is that education is becoming more flexible. While these tools are listed specifically for distance learning needs, there are so many other ways we can use them in the future. This includes helping learners access the curriculum who may need to be out of school for various reasons and providing accommodations to kids who need extra support.
Here are some of the most favorite and helpful digital tools to connect with learners:
Zoom is an online video conferencing service. Educators can use it to virtually meet with students in groups or for private 1:1 sessions. Here are some highlights:
- Zoom makes it easy to have that necessary face-to-face connection with kids and young adults. Even if it is virtual, students need to see the smiling face of their teacher on a regular basis!
- It can help educators adjust instruction since you can see student facial expressions.
- Educators can meet with students in a full class for morning meetings or daily check-ins.
- Provides a platform to teach and deliver live instruction to all students at once.
- One helpful suggestion is to allow kids 10 minutes just to chat! This can help learners settle in while boosting connections.
- Educators share share their screen to complete work alongside students. The image below is a Social Emotional Learning Journal, but you can use any assignment your students need!
Google Classroom is a web service to help educators create, send out, and grade assignments. This is an incredibly helpful tool that allows educators a space to send out and collect work in an organized fashion. Here are some more details you should know:
- Ideal space to assign instructional content in a digital way. Students can type responses right in documents and send them back to educators for review.
- Teachers can make paraeducators and support staff co-teachers to allow extra supports in the classroom.
- Educators can create their own content or assign pre-made digital activities to students.
- Google forms or slides can be used as a daily check-in for students.
- Serves as one of the most organized and all-in-one programs to organize work.
- Take a look at some digital resources designed for use in Google Classroom (and grab some free digital materials, too!).
Flipgrid is a website that allows educators to create a virtual meeting place filled with “grids.” Educators ask a question and encourage students to respond. Here are some highlights for this website:
- Flipgrid is a favorite tool to allow students to share their work with others. After creating a project, writing an essay, or finishing an art project, students can use Flipgrid to showcase their work and describe what they did. Other students will watch and share as well.
- Students can feel empowered and motivated to share their ideas with others.
- Use as a reflection tool for learners. For example, students can share their biggest takeaways from a lesson or activity.
- Educators can add paraeducators and other support staff to join in the grid.
- Educators can choose favorite responses to curate a “mixtape” to share with the entire class. This can be a great way to summarize learning after a unit or topic. It can even be used as a reminder at the beginning of the week to review things students learned last week.
Class Dojo is an online educational platform that helps connect educators, students, and families. Here is more information and tips for Class Dojo:
- Educators can host morning meeting or check-ins through Class Dojo.
- It can be a helpful tool to share student work.
- One of the biggest benefits is the ease in sharing student work and progress with families, encouraging a positive school-home connection.
Boom Cards are an online tool to provide extra practice with skills. The platform is entirely digital and interactive, making it a helpful technique to make concepts more fun. Here are some helpful tips and suggestions:
- Educators can assign Boom Cards to entire classes or individual students, making them ideal for extra practice or intervention.
- Cards include multiple choice answers, giving students immediate feedback about their responses. Options for open-ended responses are also available.
- The Boom Card platform includes a huge variety of activities on several concepts. Both free and paid cards are available.
YouTube is a huge online platform of videos. Not only can educators record and share their own videos, but can access are a selection of pre-made videos as well.
- Educators can record themselves going over a topic, lesson, or directions for a project, and then share that video with students.
- Options are included to make videos private so that videos are only accessible to your students and families.
- Instead of creating videos, educators can select from other pre-made videos on a variety of topics.
- This can be an especially helpful tool for students who need visual supports.
Seesaw is an digital platform that allows teachers a space to share materials and assign activities all in one spot. Students can respond to the prompts in a variety of ways. Here is some extra information on Seesaw:
- Students can take pictures, draw, record, or write responses to show what they have learned. This allows differentiation for students. For example, if you ask students to share their three biggest takeaways from a lesson, some students might type out a response, while others could draw or a record a video.
- Assignments approved by the teacher can be posted for others to see and discuss.
- Students can like and/or comment on each others’ work. An option is also included where educators must approve comments before they are posted.
- An option is available to share work with families.
Google Jamboard is an interactive whiteboard. It includes tools for writing, drawing, and adding sticky notes. Here are some ways to use Jamboard:
- Educators can share their Jamboard with students as they make notes for their lesson.
- Students can work together on a collaborative board at the same time. For example, if students need to create a poster together, Jamboard would be a helpful tool.
- Students can solve problems out on their Jamboard while teachers are watching and providing feedback, as needed.
- Educators can post an image of work and have students respond by drawing or writing on a sticky note. The image below is a free Positive Thoughts and Affirmations activity to boost student confidence and start the day off strong.
E-mail is another critical tool to use during distance learning. Even though we all use e-mail on a regular basis, it was worth adding this in as a reminder to use with students and families. Here are some tips and ideas:
- Though a simple online tool, it’s important to remember that e-mail is extremely familiar and easy to use for families.
- Educators can send personalized e-mails to students and families, as needed. For example, educators might send a thank you note to a student for helping another classmate.
Padlet is a digital board that educators can fill with ideas, links, videos, and more. Here is more information on Padlet and what you can do with it:
- Educators can give a subject or idea to students and have them brainstorm on the topic. This can be a helpful tool for collaboration.
- Students can create their own individual portfolios with Padlet by saving materials to their board.
- Padlet can be a tool that helps students post their questions live during a class lesson.
- Lots of different activities can be created with Padlet, such as creating a classroom newsletter, creating discussions about a book, or developing exit tickets. The options are endless.
Screencastify is a tool that helps to easily record, edit, and share videos. Educators can use this tool to record lessons for students. Here is some extra info you might need:
- This can be an ideal tool to help create pre-recorded and edited videos to share with the class.
- Students can watch the video over and over, as needed, to learn a new skill.
- Serves as a tool to help educators “be themselves” in front of kids, even at a distance.
- Teachers can record a “message of the day” that students can watch any time that works for them.
- Educators can create videos to use year after year for certain topics.
Remind is a simple and easy-to-use two-way messaging system that serves as a direct line between schools and families. Here are some strategies for using Remind:
- Educators can use Remind to give notes to families about assignments, activities, and topics students are learning.
- Individual messages of support can be sent to students in need. This might be to a student who is struggling with a math assignment, or a learner who is having a rough time and needs an extra boost.
- Provides a space to send out class reminders to all students and families at once, much like a class newsletter.
- Educators can send out reminders about deadlines. This can be especially helpful as a quick engagement tool for older learners who need extra support.
Flippity is an online program that turns any Google Spreadsheet into a game or learning tool. This can be especially fun for a brain break with students.
- Use the demo and instructions to help guide you in starting off.
- Website includes a variety of activities including flashcards, quiz show, random name picker, scavenger hunt, board game, and several more activities.
- Educators can keep students engaged with different learning tools.
Other Tools and Websites
While these tools aren’t specific to connecting with students or organizing content, it is worth the time to check them out. They provide a wealth of information and can be assigned as class content or interventions to struggling learners.
- BrainPOP – Short engaging videos and assessments on a variety of topics.
- RAZ Kids – A helpful selection of reading practice.
- Kahoot – Engaging games to work on skills.
- MobyMax – Extended practice for reading, math, and more.
- IXL – Another online tool for academic practice.
- Epic – Digital tool to provide reading activities and track progress.
- Teachers Pay Teachers – One spot where you can find a variety of ready-to-use digital resources to meet the needs of your learners. You can find my store here.
Note that there is probably not one magic solution when it comes to digitally connecting with students. You might need a variety to make it work. For example, some teachers use Zoom for morning meetings, FlipGrid to showcase student work, and Google Classroom to keep track of academic work. Perhaps for a family struggling to keep track of different services, you might end up sending work via email. This is a time for one of my favorite quotes that we used to say often in the classroom: Do what works. Be flexible, try new things, give it practice, and learn together.
If I’ve missed any of your favorite digital apps or programs, feel free to reach out! I would love to hear.