OnCUE

Author - Nate Ridgway

Apps That Serve Limited Device Classrooms

My Favorite Limited Device Apps:

In my last blog post, I described how limited device teachers have to be proactive problem-expecters focused on access, ease, & efficiency. With those principles in mind, this next post is on the two two apps I’d recommend for almost every  (or 1:1 for that matter) device classroom: Classtime and HyperDocs/HyperSlides. 

If you haven’t heard of Classtime, it’s an absolute lifesaver in terms of gearing up students for an engaging lesson or for gathering assessment data. As its creators describe it, “Classtime is a solution for classrooms that complements in-class teaching with immediate feedback on students’ level of understanding. 

Classtime features many prefabricated classroom challenges and spaces for teachers to import their own, unique questions. And what’s handy for the lab or cart-based arrangement(s) is that no logins are ever needed. Simply put your Classtime session code at students’ fingertips and have them start. Combined with the power of a Hyperdoc or Hyperslide, you can craft a really engaging lesson and let Classtime measure your students’ learning mastery for you. 

HyperDocs/HyperSlides:

What’s the difference between HyperDocs and HyperSlides? Not much. They both feature a student-paced workflow and are based on great learning theory and instructional design. HyperDocs are created in a document; HyperSlides are created in slide presentation apps like Google Slides or PowerPoint.

When deciding between Documents and Slides:

  • Choose whatever format best fits your activity or your style.
  • Documents are more linear in nature, i.e., you type text in a line, and the text flows straight down the page.
  • Slides allow for more design freedom.
  • With documents, you can organize content by breaking sections with page breaks and lines. In Slides, you can organize content by slide.

Quality HyperDocs or HyperSlides have many important parts, but getting started isn’t too difficult.  Check out these few examples that you could adapt for use in your own classroom:

Grouping Strategies: Since I’ve mentioned Hyperdocs/Hyperslides & Classtime as my go-to app for limited device scenarios, I’ve put together five different grouping strategies that I’ve utilized with both of them complimenting each other.  Think of this as a starting guide: the activities, apps, and strategies you can create are infinitely customizable with a bit of creativity and intentional planning. Again, don’t forget that grouping doesn’t drive your instruction; let the grouping make your lesson objectives possible.

STRATEGY 1: A Device Per Group

Purposes:

  • All students could participate in the same Hyperdoc/Hyperslide or Classtime session; or, you could differentiate the groups with different levels of difficulty.

Likely Activities:

  • Warmups, Exit Tickets, Whole-Group Lessons, Group Projects, Escape Rooms.

Recommendations:

  • Differentiated groups can be done by student selected content, learning process, interest area, or readiness.

STRATEGY 2: A Device Per Rotating Group

Purpose:

  • Students rotate between activities and complete a Hyperdoc/Hyperslide linked activity & Classtime assessment after each one. 

Likely Activities:

  • Activity Stations, Problem Trails, Gallery Walks, Escape Rooms.

Recommendations:

  • Balance groups heterogeneously.
  • Keep a timer running to keep groups moving along.
  • Make sure that your stations aren’t linear–students should be able to start & end anywhere.

STRATEGY 3: Clustered Devices

Purpose:

  • Collect one particular group’s assessment data. All students might take the same assessment, but one group will use Classtime.

Likely Activities:

  • Warmups, Exit Tickets, Small Groups.

Recommendations:

  • The particular students who will use Classtime could be self-selected by the students or chosen by the instructor.

STRATEGY 4: Classtime Station

Purposes:

  • Use Classtime as an assessment check after a particular Hyperdoc/Hyperslide-linked activity.

Likely Activities:

  • Stations; not advised for linear-based activities (warmups & exit tickets).

Recommendations:

  • Not an advised setup for linear activities (warmups & exit tickets).
  • This gives the instructor an incremental “slow drip” of data that can be used to adjust instruction on the fly.

STRATEGY 5: “Hot Potato” Competition

Purposes:

  • An assessment & gamification grouping strategy.

Likely Activities:

  • Warmups, Exit Tickets, Review Activities, Attention-Grabbers

Recommendations:

  • Having students “pass” the device (hence, “hot potato”) adds the ability for classrooms with limited devices to take advantage of the gamification elements of Classtime more cooperatively, as well as adds a dose of competition.

Just remember, utilizing limited devices takes time and patience to implement. Our motto in Don’t Ditch That Tech is poco a poco, “little by little.” Build students’ capacity and comfort around using limited tech as you build your own. The first time you try it, test it out as part of one class for fifteen minutes, then grow from there. You really CAN do it – just take it step-by-step.


Nate is a tech-loving history teacher in Indianapolis, Indiana and a co-author of Don’t Ditch That Tech: Differentiation in a Digital World. He specializes in lesson design and also is licensed in Special Education Mild Interventions. He’s taught in both middle school and high school settings, but currently is enjoying teaching World History & Dual Credit U.S. History. He is currently finishing a Masters degree in History at the University of Indianapolis.

Limited Devices, Unlimited Possibilities

Don't Ditch That Tech

Let’s face it– classroom tech over the last decade has gone B.A.D. — that is, Bring A Device. I think a lot of outside observers, casually peering into their child’s classroom, might assume that classrooms are now filled with technology from floor to ceiling with iPads, Chromebooks, cellphones, Macbooks, and everything in between.

Certainly, there’s an element of truth to this. Just like the world outside, educators and students have more apps, gadgets, and connectivity at their hands than ever before. 

However, access to these new tools is far from ubiquitous. The first school that I taught in as a special education inclusion teacher wasn’t 1:1–we had the good old computer lab that we couldn’t put too much faith in having regular access to or reliably working for us.

A couple of years later, I met Matt Miller of the Ditch That Textbook fame and we partnered up with my mom–Dr. Angelia Ridgway, a professor of education–to write a book about our experiences with classroom tech. A few months later, and Don’t Ditch That Tech: Differentiation in a Digital World was the result. 

A significant part of our book dealt with that limited tech situation that I and my co-authors had experienced in our educational careers. I thought I’d share some of our best tips, tricks, and apps from it; things that will make a difference if you find yourself in a classroom with limited devices, a tech cart, or computer lab. As you’ll soon find out, limited devices can still mean unlimited possibilities.

“We have the opportunity to harness the power of all technology in our classrooms—whether school-issued or not. If we find ways that can support learning, we can help students use smartphones, mobile devices, and other technology in useful, educational ways.”
— Don’t Ditch That Tech: Differentiation in a Digital World

Laying the Foundation:

I’ve always believed that the best tech-using teachers–limited devices or not–stick to a couple of common “threads”:

1. They tailor their use of technology to their lesson objectives, not vice-versa. 

The theme of “technology is a tool, not a lesson plan” is really important in all classrooms, but it’s especially good to remember on those awesome days where you do get your hands on some iPads or Chromebooks. Your entire lesson doesn’t need to be teched out, nor should it. Yes, there might be that one really cool app you want to try, but if it doesn’t fit your lesson, there’s no point. In fact, I’d push you to think about another word instead of “app”– applicability. It’s always a solid idea to ask, “Is this the appropriate time to use this piece of tech here? Why?”, or, “How will it affect my students’ learning?”

2. The best tech-using teachers attempt to tie up any loose ends by critically thinking about their use of tech in the classroom. They try to be proactive problem-expecters instead of reactive problem-solvers.

“Tying up loose ends” happens before students even get the devices in their hands. There’s “hardware” to consider: internet outages, apps updates, low devices batteries, etc; but there’s also “software” those “soft skills” that students need to successfully share those few devices. Critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and communication are just as important as the devices themselves, and they need to be “charged up” too.

Before your tech-enabled lesson begins, I recommend establishing and teaching tech-specific expectations and procedures. Every teachers’ is different, but mine looks like this:

Of course, expectations aren’t everything (a well-designed and engaging lesson is always the best behavior management strategy in my book), but it’s a crucial part of incorporating any amount of tech into your classroom. A full disclaimer: No behavior plan–no matter how engaging–is foolproof. Occasionally, students will break those expectations or struggle to master learning-related skills. However, instead of simply punishing the student, seize the opportunity to help them grow and learn.

Planning Your Lesson:

With your foundations set, it’s time to plan your lesson and use that tech you’ve got on hand to make your it even better. No matter what age or subject area you’re teaching, I recommend following a few “CUES”. 

Create a Home Base

The name of the game with limited tech is efficiency: you only have these devices for a limited amount of time, so the more you can reduce barriers and open up access to learning, the better. We’ll talk more in a follow up blog post about how HyperDocs & Hyperslides can make a limited-device classroom function much more fluidly.

Use Web-Based Apps

When using tech in the classroom, nothing feels worse than the moment when things go wrong. To help reduce problems, eliminate—as much as possible—the need for your students to use apps that are only accessible on lab devices. Although there’s definitely something to be said about the quality of software vs. online applications, the ultimate barrier to learning here is access. A classic example of this is Google Earth vs. Google Maps, both of which are amazing mapping tools. Google Earth demands high-end internet bandwidth & device graphic capabilities; Google Maps is easy to use and doesn’t require any kind of downloadable software. Which would students find easier to use and have access to?

Establish Expectations and Procedures for Online Work

Once your lesson has concluded in the lab or students have returned their devices, what do you need to do to make sure homework can be completed? You can either choose to:

  • Not assign homework on days when a Cart/Lab was used.
  • Adapt online work to be completed on paper as well as at a later time. 

Let’s say you do decide on option two. Unfortunately, you still face a slew of issues:

  • First, can the homework assignment replicate the same skills that students were utilizing digitally?
  • If yes, will the assignment ensure students are appropriately and equally supported outside of school?
  • What if students only partially completed their assignment? Can they possibly transfer that work to paper?
  • What if they need to turn in both digital and physical work?

Stick to Apps that Are Easy to Use

With your students possibly on a different device every time they visit the lab or when you get ahold of a cart, it’s especially important to minimize access issues in order to maximize learning time.

When possible, avoid apps with lots of barriers for students to overcome in order to use them, such as:

  • creating accounts
  • logging in with usernames or passwords
  • updating computer software, such as Adobe Flash Player
  • downloading large or multiple files

Keep the theme “less is best” in mind. Try sticking to a few apps until both you and your students get the swing of the technology. 

Take a look at the sample classrooms below and the difference between using two different apps, Classtime and Verso, for the same warm-up. Assuming this is the first time the apps are used, notice the list of steps that students in Ms. Cheyenne’s room must execute compared to her colleague, Mr. Keegan.

Ms. Cheyenne’s Room

Steps for App Used: Classtime

  1. Student clicks on the posted and distributed HyperDoc link.
  2. Student enters name.
  3. Student begins work on his or her warm-up and submits it.

Mr. Keegan’s Room

Steps for App Used: Verso

  1. Student clicks on the posted and distributed link.
  2. Student clicks “Sign Up.”
  3. Student clicks “Student” for this or her account.
  4. Student creates a username.
  5. Student creates a password.
  6. Student enters class code provided by teacher.
  7. Student enters first and last name.
  8. Student clicks the warm-up.
  9. Student begins work on his or her warm-up and submits it.

This is not to say that Classtime is an inherently better app than Verso. When operating in the context of a limited-device teacher, however, Classtime makes more sense to use due to its relatively simple logistics.

So, in conclusion, limited device teachers have to be proactive problem-expecters focused on access, ease, & efficiency. Set a strong foundation, and the rest of your lesson will follow. In the next blog post, we’ll be exploring my two favorite apps, Classtime and HyperDocs/HyperSlides, that I’ve used in limited-device classrooms.

Stay tuned for the next entry in Nate’s OnCUE blog series – coming soon!


Nate is a tech-loving history teacher in Indianapolis, Indiana and a co-author of Don’t Ditch That Tech: Differentiation in a Digital World. He specializes in lesson design and also is licensed in Special Education Mild Interventions. He’s taught in both middle school and high school settings, but currently is enjoying teaching World History & Dual Credit U.S. History. He is currently finishing a Masters degree in History at the University of Indianapolis.

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