Pete Best (not the Beatle)
Colorado Teacher + Tech Specialist
The dramatic change in the world of teaching has taken many teachers by surprise. We never signed up to be online teachers or worse yet, hybrid teachers where some of our students are at home while others are online. We never expected to be front-line workers.
When you are a teacher, there are certain tools that we took for granted before the COVID-19 pandemic reared its ugly head. Things like white boards. Smartboards. Paper handouts. Permission slips. Field trips. Speaking clearly without the encumbrance of a mask dulling our words.
We didn’t worry about lighting – the lights were either on or off.
We didn’t worry about pencil and paper assignments.
Students shared supplies and it was normal.
Sigh. Not anymore. We, as teachers, have had to reestablish what “normal” is for ourselves and our students. We have had to establish new routines that include masks, social distancing, online learning and all things digital. And we’ve had to choke back our frustration to show our students that change is ok, and we’re going to get through this.
So, let me help.
As a pretty tech-savvy teacher and building tech, I’ve researched and bought a ton of really useful equipment for myself and my staff. Here are the products (with links!) that I’ve found to be really useful in the classroom. All of them are very reasonably priced, well within the budget of a classroom (with or without some PTA help.)
Here’s a list of what we’re going to look at:
- A Ring Light
- A Great Webcam
- When You Need To Be Heard Online AND In Person
- When You Need To Be Heard In The Classroom With A Mask On
- The Best Way to Teach Math Online (or Art, or Writing, or anything)
- FREE Digital Permission Slips and Forms
A Ring Light
(runs about $37)
For those of you that aren’t into filming yourself for a YouTube channel or TikTok video, you probably don’t know a lot about lighting yourself properly for teaching online. Unlike traditional lights, ring lights are great at illuminating you without all those pesky shadows. When you are teaching online, good lighting is key for your students to be able to see you. So much of learning takes place through your body language and your face, so it is of vital importance that you can be seen. I tried a couple different ring lights but I ended up liking this one best as it was the brightest, which was great for those times that a teacher’s desk was facing away from a window so the light was at their back. For only 8”, it was much better than some of the 10” ones I tested.
A Great Webcam
(runs about $40)
I purchased a couple different webcams, including a Logitech one, but I found that I liked this webcam the best. With the Logitech camera, I had to install a driver and if your school is like mine, it is sometimes a challenge for teachers to install their own software. This camera installed itself (it is plug-and-play) without any issue. It has a mic built in, which is awesome, and best of all it is High Definition (HD) with 1080p resolution. This is really important for teaching online as you want to be as clear as possible for your remote learners. Nothing is worse than when you are trying to show a physical object or God forbid, ask them to try to read something and only have a built-in camera.
These webcams sit securely on top of a monitor (for desktops) or a laptop screen and provide a great viewing experience whether you are teaching online only classes or if you are teaching hybrid classes and need your at-home students to see what’s going on in the class. They won’t be able to read the board (no webcam is going to be able to do that, but I have a solution below so keep reading!)
If you are in Google Meet though, be sure to change your setting to allow for a higher resolution camera. Here’s how to do it.
For Google Meets:
Go to the 3 Dots and choose ‘Settings’
Then under ‘Video’ change the ‘Send Resolution (Maximum)” setting to High Definition – if your internet is robust enough (it probably is)
When You Need To Be Heard Online AND In Person
(both options run about $40)
If you are teaching hybrid classes where some of your students are online and some of your students are at home, the mic in a webcam or in a laptop / chromebook is not going to cut it. Online students are going to struggle to hear what you are saying.
In my experience, there are two possible solutions.
The first solution, and perhaps the best, is to get a conference room microphone to place in the room so not only can the online students hear your teacher voice, they can also hear any discussions going on in the room. These mics are also great for team meetings when you have some teachers in person and some teachers remote. One downside is if your voice is muffled because of a mask. If that’s the case, please see my second solution below.
We have found these mics to be nice and sensitive (even more than their 10-foot radius would suggest) and they have a nice long USB cable to allow them to be placed closer to the middle of the class.
The other solution which definitely makes sure that your voice can be heard by your online students as you walk around the room is this bluetooth microphone (about $29). While this mic does not allow much for hearing discussions, you can rest assured that your voice will be clearly heard on the other end. I really like this bluetooth mic as it is not too overbearing and easy to wear with a mask on, something that might muffle your voice when using a conference mic.
BUT WAIT, you say, I don’t know if my computer has bluetooth?! No problem! There is a great bluetooth adapter (about $10) that you can plug into your computer that needs no software or setup and allows any computer to connect to any bluetooth device. Here’s what it looks like. It’s very similar to those small USB plugs for wireless mice.
It is just plug-and-play, just like all tech devices should be!
When You Need To Be Heard
In The Classroom With A Mask On
(runs about $40)
These days, when masks and social distancing is the norm, especially in schools, it’s a real challenge to be heard in the classroom. Masks are not known for their incredible vocals, so it is no surprise that many teachers find their voices worn out by the end of the day, constantly talking louder than usual to be heard with students spread out as far as possible. One solution I would suggest (that my staff loves!) is to use a personal voice amplifier.
This is a great little headset that is rechargeable and should last all day. When worn on the outside of your mask, it will amplify your voice, rationing it out for the entire school day and preventing sore throats that we all know are NOT due to COVID.
If you teach in a classroom, this should be a mandatory accessory.
The Best Way to Teach Math Online
(or Art, or Writing, or anything)
(runs about $36)
Ah, the halcyon days of writing on the board. You could just grab a marker or digital pen (if you had a SMARTboard) and write with abandon. You could draw diagrams, math equations, smiley faces, notes for students and so much more! Try to do that with your online students and you look like a spastic kindergartener. Drawing with a mouse is impossible. Drawing with a trackpad is just as bad.
The solution, a graphic tablet!
I really love this graphic tablet as it is also plug-and-play. Just plug in the USB cord and anywhere that you can draw with a mouse, you can draw with this tablet. No software to install. Easy peasy! If you have a SMARTBoard (or want to use their free software), you can just draw on this tablet as if you are at the board and it will appear like magic on your screen. This is PERFECT for those times when you share your screen with your students and want to illustrate a math concept or answer a question. Have a dual screen? Just download and install the software (or have your IT person do it) and you can restrict the drawing to just one screen.
This tool is invaluable if you prefer handwriting to typing and a great resource for teaching elementary school online.
Digital Permission Slips and Forms
Last but not least, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention this great tool here. With the advent of COVID AND social distancing AND touch points AND buckets of hand sanitizer, nothing is more useful than a free e signature app that accepts online payment for parents to pay the school. Mobile Permissions is a great solution to any time you need a parent signature on a document:
- a permission slip
- a waiver
- a club activity
- an in-class movie permission slip
- a technology checkout like a chromebook / tablet or other digital device
- permission to use an online tool or website…
- you name it!
The service is simple. Sign up for your free account and then load your class list into the service. You then copy and paste your permission slip or activity waiver and with a few clicks, send it out for parents to use their finger to scribble out their e signature on their iPhone. There is nothing to install and it’s super easy. In fact, it’s so easy that you’ll probably get all your slips back in a few hours rather than a few days!
Moreover, gone are the days of checks and cash. Both are considered “dirty” these days with the pandemic, so many teachers and schools need a digital payment solution. With Mobile Permissions, parents can send money to the school using credit cards, which they LOVE, instead of writing a check like that aged person that holds up the line at the grocery store.
(Sorry, Grandma. I still love you!)
I hope these tools are able to help you up your teaching game and be the best online / hybrid / in-person teacher you can be during this crazy time!