Start your school year with engaging digital tools!

It's summer. You're enjoying your time off. But in the back of your mind, you're probably thinking about the new school year: How can I improve from last year? Should I reorganize my classroom or read new research on reading instruction?

But do you ever include updating or adding technology to lessons to that list? Take a moment to think about how you used technology in your classroom last year. Be honest -- did you randomly put some apps you'd never used on tablets and give them to your students or bookmark a random website that seemed to connect with your content but that you didn't have time to fully evaluate? Maybe you've been using the same apps and websites for several years. Are you using technology as a babysitter, or is technology helping to deepen students' thinking?

Edtech is changing so rapidly that it's not enough to use the same resources you did last year and hope you're creating students with competent 21st-century skills. Technology tools have great potential to stretch your students' learning but only when there's specific and thoughtful planning behind it. Just as you plan for reading, writing, and math, it's important to plan your year out for technology tools.

Here are some great tips to help start your year off with specific and thoughtful planning of all your edtech tools:

Start with what you know.

Use course and state standards as the starting point for your plan. Knowing the standards will help you use technology in your classroom effectively. Once you know your standards well, take inventory of all the technology you have access to in your classroom. Then, look for apps specifically designed for your content, read up on the ways educators are using technology hardware, and evaluate digital tools that will help expand how students use technology rather than just replace "old" skills.

Fit technology to address students' needs.

Technology has the potential to help mediate struggling students and extend learning for high-achieving students, but you need to plan for those students before they walk in for the first day of school. If you already have your class list, review students' skill strengths and deficits -- look for tools that address differentiation. If you don't have access to your class list yet, you can still plan based on previous years: Adjust the tools to meet your students' needs after you get to know them!

Use the best technology.

Don't keep using random tech tools you did a quick search for on the internet. Common Sense Education has a great collection of rated and reviewed edtech tools that are evaluated by teachers, not by some software company trying to get you to buy an app. Common Sense Certified Educators use and review all the technology on the site so you can buy an app and know it's going to be an asset in your classroom. Common Sense Education can even help narrow down digital tools by subject matter, grade level, or new top picks.

Invest in professional development.

After you've considered these three big ideas and found a few new tools to use, you may still be stuck deciding how these tools will work in your classroom. Common Sense Education can help! Check out quality lesson plans, videos, and webinars from Common Sense that will help you when you’re stuck. And, if you're still unsure how digital technology fits into your classroom, find a Common Sense Certified Educator to follow -- they can answer questions or help to clarify your ideas!

Even though summer is quickly flying by, don't let another year start without planning for technology in your classroom. Take the time to explore new tools and feel good about the edtech tools you're using in your classroom. The time you spend planning now will transform your classroom for the better -- your students will thank you!

Jennifer K.

I have been teaching for twenty-one grades K through 3. Currently I am a Math and Science Coach for Newark City Schools. I strive for differentiating my classroom instruction by using technology as a way to drive my instruction. For the last fourteen years I have served as my building's technology integration specialist. I have been awarded two NEA Grants for the purpose of using iPads to boost student achievement. In addition to my efforts in technology integration I also serve on my building's Leadership Team and manage the school's data for the RTI process