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Saturday, August 8, 2015

5 Awesome Digital Tools to help Manage Differentiated Instruction

Digital tools allow us to more easily and efficiently differentiate and personalize learning for our students. Over the course of the last few years I have played and experimented with numerous digital tools in search of the ones that work best for me. There are tons of tools on the market to help teachers manage a blended and/or personalized learning environment--the trick is finding what works for you! Below are five of my favorite tools for creating and managing differentiated instruction in a blended learning environment.

I know, I know... there are a lot of learning management systems (LMS) out there. And everyone has a favorite. If you use something different, great. Just make sure that you're using something! Using an LMS has made it so much easier to differentiate instruction for my students digitally. With Edmodo it's easy to communicate with students, create differentiated work groups, build project teams, assign projects to small groups or individuals, manage and collect a variety of different assignments and projects (digital or not), and share out differentiated digital lessons from learning and presentation apps including Blendspace and Curriculet. Edmodo also makes it easy for students to share their learning and support each other, allowing the teacher to take more of a facilitator and coaching role, and students to take more responsibility for their learning.

Classflow is an interactive lesson presentation app similar to Nearpod and others. What I like best about Classflow over other interactive presentations are the adaptive assessments. Teachers can build in assessment cards that increase in difficulty for individuals who respond correctly to questions. Teachers can also send out specific lesson slides to individuals real time while running a presentation. For example, even though I might be going over slide 3 whole class, I can select slide 2 to be resent to Student X for review if I notice that he/she is still catching up or seems confused about the topic.

Assessments or assignments can also be built for students to complete asynchronously. Teachers can create differentiated assessments that incorporate videos, images, and/or text, and send them out to individuals to complete on their own. Students can navigate these digital assessment decks independently, leaving the teacher time to work with other groups of students.

I found Classflow a little more complicated to learn than similar apps, but that's only because of the awesome adaptive differentiation tools embedded into the software! If you struggling to create your first Classflow deck, check out the Classflow marketplace where other users have posted their lessons for free use. Teachers can use or modify lessons already created by other teachers to get started. It's the best I've found so far for creating lessons that you can differentiate ahead of time and on-the-fly!

Blendspace is used to organize learning materials and resources into lesson storyboards that students can navigate on their own. Teachers can create differentiated instruction paths and build in questions and activities for assessment. Students can also create their own Blendspace storyboards, which is great for research tasks, "20% time" projects, Genius Hour, and individual passion projects. Students do not need to sign up for an account to view a lesson path, but will need an account to create their own. AND, Blendspace is collaborative! Multiple users can contribute to a shared lesson storyboard and students with accounts can utilize the chat feature in the sidebar when viewing a Blendspace.

Bonus!... Blendspace's interface is really simple to use; teachers can search Google, YouTube, Flickr, or Gooru for resources directly in the storyboard, and can upload their own materials from Google Drive, Dropbox, or from their hard drive. Keep in mind... if your school district blocks YouTube, any resources linked from YouTube will not play in the Blendspace lesson. The videos you insert from YouTube will stream in Blendspace, so if your school district has video filters in place you may want to download videos to your hard drive first (or into your Google Drive) and then upload them into the Blendspace lesson. Users can share a Blendspace lesson by sending out a share link, using a QR code, connecting the app within to Edmodo, or by embedding the lesson on a website.

Pretty new to the scene, and so far, pretty cool-- I wish I had had Versal in my life years ago!  And although I haven't used this program much just yet, Versal has quickly moved it's way to the top of my favorite tools list!

Versal is a tool used to create interactive, asynchronous lessons, no coding required. The program reminds me a lot of an easier to use iTunes U or iBooks Author (two tools that I liked using, but that didn't work well in my elementary classroom with students who don't have iTunes accounts). Versal is based on a widget design system that allows teachers to build in text, video, slideshows, whiteboards, audio, quizzes, sorts, and more using the Versal widgets. There are even widgets for embedding Google Docs, Quizlet flashcard decks, Desmos, pdfs, Thinglinks, Music and Art activities... the list goes on!

Lessons created in Versal are easily shared with a link or embed code. And as of a recent update, you can share your Versal lesson directly into Google Classroom! Something to keep in mind when creating a lesson in Versal-- the free version of the program defaults all lessons to public (meaning anyone that gets the link to your lesson can view it). In order to keep lessons private, you'll have to upgrade to a paid version.

Now that I'm coaching ed tech for my district, I've created my first PD session of the year in Versal and will share it with teachers in a Google Classroom. This way, teachers that want to move more quickly through the lesson can do so on their own, and teachers that want to reference the lesson again at a later date will have the lesson link available to them in our Classroom!

This is an amazing tool for creating interactive reading! Curriculet allows teachers to embed notes, images, videos, links, and quizzes right into the text they want students to read. The Curriculet library allows teachers to check-out popular books/novels for K-12 (some free, some paid...most are very reasonably priced for a 3-month check out), annotate them, and assign them to a class. Curriculet links to both students' Google Apps for Ed accounts and Edmodo. Teachers also have the option of uploading their own material to annotate and assign to a class, or can use articles from USA Today, which is linked directly in Curriculet and comes pre-loaded with activities. I love this tool for whole class and small groups/lit circle instruction!

Bonus-- My favorite digital content resources (all free!)

  • PBS LearningMedia... videos, articles, games, interactives, primary source documents, expert interviews, and more. Register and get searching now!
  • Khan Academy... still cool and just getting better
  • NextLesson... great place to grab pre-made lessons, activities, PBL...many of which students can work on independently (I use this resources a lot for extension activities)
  • Newsela... current events articles that can be leveled

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