My Top Ten List

Every time I refresh my page on Facebook or Twitter, there is a new top ten list of essential educational technology resources for teachers.  So, I will get on the bandwagon and post my own.  This is the list of ten essential resources that I will (hope to) have in my classroom next year, so that I can continue in the evolution of 21st century skill building.  This is geared toward middle level math classes; I’ve read tons of articles that relate resources to high school and a few to elementary school.  I also read many posts that seem to be trying to sell me something.

So, here is the list that I created, because everything is free or cheap and it fits in with what’s already in use or available.  Not everything is tech, but everything is 21st century.

1. A central display.  I understand that I will be moving into a new room next year, which will be equipped with a SMART Board.  I’ve already written about my ideas about that, but I’m looking forward to taking my own advice.  This will be the hub of in-class communication and collaboration, but not a standalone instructional device.

2. Student technology.  Students need to have real, helpful tools at their fingertips.  Whether it’s a set of tablets or laptops in the classroom (we’re looking at enough to put three students to an iPad next year) or BYOD, students have to be able to interact with the technology and use it to collaborate with small groups and the class through the aforementioned hub.  The products they use in the classroom should be as close as possible to the real-world tools of science, math, business, and other fields.

Update: We got the word that our technology grant fell through.  No iPads this year.  Wouldn’t it be nice if the leaders of our nation and states decided to fund essential components of public education? 

3. Electronic library.  I have yet to hear a good, solid reason why hardcover textbooks are still being purchased en masse for my math classes.  As you can read in this blog, I’m a strong supporter of discovery programs, like Connected Math, but I’m having a very hard time reconciling the use of such a powerful tool with the fact it isn’t electronic and interactive.  It also should not be the only resource to which we turn to guide our students.  Included in the student technology, students should be able to access a large resource library and learn the skills to use it.

4.  Learning management system.  My colleagues love Edmodo.  I love Schoology.  Either way, students need a way that they can interact and learn from each other outside of the classroom.  The main implication I’m looking forward to is accountability.  Properly executed and run, it makes every one responsible for taking part in the discussion.  It also makes practice and homework easier on the teacher and the students.  I plan to put lots of individual assessments and assignments on Schoology next year in order to free up more class time for investigations, analysis, and problem-solving.

5. Ongoing training. Sounds like I’m trying to run a business here, but maybe that’s because I am–in a way.  My students need ongoing training in things like study skills, collaboration, writing, presentation, public speaking, problem-based learning, higher-level questioning, literacy, and digital citizenship (locally and globally).  Every new teacher must read Dr. Harry Wong’s famous book, but veteran teachers should go through it every year, also.  And not just for the “First Days of School,” but for the entire year.

6. An effective curriculum. It’s already well known that I’m a proponent of the Connected Mathematics Project.  I think the developers and researchers out of Michigan State University deserve trophies for bringing this style of teaching and learning math to the mainstream (and Pearson deserves a big, juicy raspberry for turning it into a profit machine).  Connected Math is not perfectly aligned to the Common Core State Standards–yet.  But it is the best I’ve seen so far.  However, it is not self-contained and teacher-leaders and district curriculum specialists have to work diligently to make sure that new and unprepared teachers become fluent and practiced in teaching the new standards.  If it’s not CMP, then it needs to be something strongly student-centered, project-based, and led by the CCSS math practices.

7. The ability to group my students.  Tables would be nice, but I’ll work with (*shudder*) desks.  I’ve called them research teams in the past, and I think that’s still a good name for them.  After all, they aren’t just solving math problems together, they are researching and testing the tools and practices need to complete complex tasks.

8. ePortfolios.  There is an increasing pressure to keep and use student work as evidence of progressing in and reaching teacher standards.  I hope to go one step further, by getting students to keep their work in digital portfolios.  Not only does this serve to uphold my evidence side off the teacher evaluations, it also allows for deeper self-reflection and self-evaluation for my students.  This part of next year’s preparation is a work in progress, since I have not yet found the perfect place.  Evernote?  Three Ring (not real impressed by this one)?  Still looking.

9. A PLC that is open to moving in a more 21st century direction.  The nice thing is, I think most of my colleagues are there already.  But I really hope we can start to embrace the Common Core for what it represents: higher-level thinking and deeper understanding.  Let’s get rid of multiple-choice tests and frontloaded algorithms and start getting into the habit of making our kids think, discover, and synthesize.

10. A fresh outlook.  This summer, I plan to read Dr. Tony Wagner’s new book, Creating Innovators.  His last book gave me the gusto to move ahead knowing that I need to help my students be ready to compete in a global society.  Now, I hope to move them forward with the skill necessary to do just that–innovation!  I want my students to move away from the way I was taught math (rote memorization and skills practice) and start moving in the direction of new ideas and novel synthesis of problem-solving methods and tools.

That’s it, so far.  I have a lot of work to do!

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About Kris Nielsen
Kris L. Nielsen has been a middle grades educator and instructional leader for ten years in New Mexico, Oregon, and North Carolina. He is a graduate of Western Governors University’s Master of Science Education program, with emphasis on child development and instructional technology. Kris is an activist against corporate education reforms and has had his writing featured in several online magazines and blogs, including those of the Washington Post and Diane Ravitch. Kris currently lives in New Mexico with his young son and beautiful wife.

One Response to My Top Ten List

  1. Greg says:

    For the past two years, I’ve worked in a classroom with a SMART board and iPads. They are great tools for teaching and the students really respond to using technology in a more interactive classroom environment.

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