Old tools, new twist

By the NJEA Technology Committee

There are dozens of new EdTech apps developed every day, all promising to revolutionize your classroom practice. But do these apps significantly benefit learning, or are they distracting digital toys?  

Recent research suggests what many seasoned educators already implicitly know: traditional or “old school” methods promote certain kinds of learning better than new digital methods. Handwriting notes appears to be more effective than typing at promoting memory and making mental connections. Flashcards, manipulatives, and hands-on tasks can anchor learning in the real world, making those mental connections even stronger.  

In classrooms increasingly relying on digital technology, are we losing touch with tried and true “old school” methods?  

This article, however, is not an urgent call to discard educational technology altogether! When employed thoughtfully, technology emerges as a potent ally, bolstering rather than diverting from the essence of effective learning. 

Productivity tools  

 Some technologies bridge the gap between the physical and virtual, benefitting from the best of both worlds. Get your hands on some of these if you can! 

  •  Anki (ankiweb.net): This is a digital flashcard app where students can create basic flashcards. However, they can extend these by embedding multimedia in each card such as audio pronunciations, animated GIFs, etc., to help trigger their memories. (Free) 

  •  Google Drive: Upload a photo of handwritten notes and use optical character recognition (OCR) to annotate the document. Works great on scanned prints. (Free and paid versions) 

  •  Livescribe (us.livescribe.com): The Livescribe smartpen captures everything that you write and everything that is spoken. The pen contains a camera that takes a picture of your notes as you write them. It also has a built-in microphone that lets you record what is being said. (App is free. But the pen must be purchased separately.) 

  • Rocketbook (getrocketbook.com): This is a modern-day notebook that is reusable and can connect to cloud services to upload your work, organize it and allow you to erase and begin again. (App is free, but the Rocketbook must be purchased separately.) 

  •  PolyPad (polypad.amplify.com): Virtual Manipulatives for Math including fractions bars, number blocks, algebra tiles, function machines, tangram puzzles, probability, geometry, and more! (Free) 

  • Google’s Voice Typing: You can type and edit by speaking in Google Docs or Google Slides speaker notes. Go to Tools->Voice Typing to turn it on. It can also be used to create transcripts of videos or lessons for students. (Free) 

Artificial intelligence applications: websites 

When used thoughtfully, these can be excellent time-savers for educators or expand the potential of students. Use them to create exemplars (good or bad), worksheets and other learning artifacts. 

  • ChatGPT (openai.com/chapgpt): This is a chatbot developed by OpenAI. Based on a large language model, it enables users to refine and steer a conversation toward a desired length, format, style, level of detail, and language. (Free and paid versions) 

  • Craiyon (craiyon.com): This is an online image generator that allows users to turn text into images. The platform is easy to use and offers a range of customization options, including font, color, size and style. Users can enter their text and choose from a variety of templates to create personalized images. (Free) 

  • Google Gemini (gemini.google.com) Formerly known as Bard, Google Gemini is a generative artificial intelligence used in many different ways, including text, image, audio, and video understanding. (Free and paid versions) 

  • Grammarly Free AI Writing Assistance (grammarly.com): This is a writing assistant software that checks and improves the user’s spelling, grammar, punctuation, clarity and style used in various platforms such as emails, documents and web content. It uses artificial intelligence to analyze and make suggestions to enhance the quality of writing. (Free and paid versions) 

  • Quizizz (quizizz.com) This platform offers a built-in AI tool that will generate questions for you. Users can input a summary of what they need or upload a document, PDF, or even a video! It will create relevant questions and design a quiz for any topic. (Free and paid versions) 

Whiteboard tools 

Use digital whiteboard applications as a multimedia substitute for paper notebooks where students can write notes by hand the old-fashioned way on their touchscreens but have access to modern the modern functions of copy/paste, drag and drop, embedding multimedia (maps, photos, graphs, etc.). They can also use digital flashcards to drill vocabulary, concepts, and world languages. 

  • Microsoft Whiteboard: For those in Microsoft districts, this integrates well with OneDrive to back up all your personal and collaborative boards in one place. (Free) 

  •  Limnu (limnu.com) This is a digital whiteboard platform that allows users to create, share, and collaborate on digital whiteboard content. It offers a variety of features, including the ability to drag and drop content, add text and images, and collaborate with others in real time. (Free and paid versions) 

  • Miro (miro.com/online-whiteboard): This is an online collaborative whiteboard platform that enables users to create, share and collaborate on interactive visual maps, mind maps and diagrams. Its interface is user-friendly and intuitive, making it an excellent tool for remote teams or groups working together in the same physical space. (Free) 

  • Excalidraw (excalidraw.com) is an open-source platform that allows users to create and collaborate on whiteboard drawings in real time. It runs on a web browser, and users can access a variety of stylus and keyboard shortcuts to add shapes, text and images to their drawings. (Free) 

 Presentation tools 

Help students organize and communicate their thoughts in a powerful (and beautiful) new way that goes beyond the poster board. 

  •  Prezi (prezi.com): This multimedia presentation tool features useful templates and 3D zoom. (Free and paid versions) 

  • Canva (canva.com): Canva is free and has templates to create infographics, social media posts, videos, posters and so much more. It also can create AI-generated images to include in your projects. (Free and paid versions) 

  • Animoto (animoto.com): Create videos that engage and impress. Animoto’s drag-and-drop editing tools and visual effects make it easy. (Free) 

  • Beautiful AI (beautiful.ai): This is generative ai presentation software for the workplace. (Free and paid versions) 

  • Slidesgo (slidesgo.com): This platform provides templates for Google Slides and PowerPoint. (Free) 

  • Emaze (emaze.com): Content creation with the help of AI. Use professionally designed templates to create presentations, websites, blogs, and surveys. (Free and paid versions) 

  • Wakelet (wakelet.com): Save, organize, and share content from across the Internet into beautiful collections.  (Free and paid versions) 

And click, just like that, what was old is new again!

Make sure you check out our Tech Talk series on the NJEA YouTube Channel youtube.com/njeaweb. Our latest video features the presentation tool Wakelet. 

The NJEA Technology Committee

Sabina Ellis, Essex County, Committee Chair  
Daniel Abbadessa, Hudson County  
David Ahn, Bergen County  
Annice Benamy, Union County  
Christopher Bowman, Burlington County  
Daniel Cyckowski, Somerset County  
Laurie Floyd, Monmouth County  
Olive Giles, Mercer County  
Bethany Hannah, Salem County
Kevin Jablonowski, Gloucester County  
Patricia Jones, NJREA 
Dali Kilpatrick, Camden County  
Melissa Krupp, Ocean County  
Lori Lalama, Passaic County  
Pete Moran, Hunterdon County  
Maryam Sarhan, Atlantic County  
Pallavi Shetty, Middlesex County  
Julie Stratton, Cape May County  
Raymond Vikete, Morris County  
Karen Wester, Warren County