Elementary school teachers now have access to a dizzying array of online teaching resources. With so many options at their disposal, how do today’s educators ensure that they’re selecting the right online tools and applications for their students?
This piece draws from an informal survey of five teachers* working in California public schools, four of them based in Laguna Beach. As longtime users of classroom laptops and early adopters of edutech tools, they offer advice on the most useful online education resources for K-5 teachers, including tools for classroom management, student skill-building, and getting parents involved in their child’s education. Please note that unless otherwise specified, these tools are available across the gamut of Apple and Android devices, including computers, tablets, and phones.
*The author’s mother worked as an elementary school teacher in Laguna Beach for 22 years; four of the five respondents are her mother’s former coworkers.
Ideal for: K-5 teachers seeking a tool for rule enforcement as well as communication with students and parents
What it does: This tool allows students and teachers to share the classroom experience with parents and provides an effective reinforcement system for good behaviors. It gives students a voice and empowers them to share the work that makes them most proud, accommodating various languages and devices.
Teachers say: “I am a big fan of using a randomizer app called ClassDojo for equality purposes in class. I know it’s very popular at the elementary level as well. The app has many other functions as well, such as positive/negative point collection, parent interaction, and classroom blogging.” (Sara S. from San Jose, CA)
Ideal for: K-5 teachers seeking a comprehensive classroom management platform
What it does: Google Classroom and the entire “G Suite” came recommended by three of the five elementary school teachers surveyed. These multivariate tools allow teachers to streamline classroom email; hand out assignments; create student groups for project collaboration; make presentations; offer instant feedback; save work in the cloud; share calendars; and much more.
Teachers say: “I absolutely use Google Drive and Google Classroom with students constantly. Google Forms is great for quick homework assignments.” (Sara S. from San Jose, CA)
Ideal for: K-5 teachers seeking a comprehensive “Unified Classroom” experience
What it does: Similar to G Suite, what doesn’t this tool do? PowerSchool allows teachers to create interactive classroom pages with tailored content blocks; embed material from various sites (e.g., YouTube, Maps, etc.); offer assignments and feedback in one place; administer quizzes; track student progress; and much more. Please note that PowerSchool integrates seamlessly with G Suite and other student information systems.
Teachers say: “I create my website on here. It’s easy to use. Our kids all have access and can create sites and check homework daily.” (Azadeh B. from Laguna Beach, CA)
Ideal for: K-5 teachers seeking an engaging, adaptive math program to learn the fundamentals
What it does: This gamified platform for learning math is aligned with US curriculum standards and meets students at their own skill-level. It offers its lessons in both English and Spanish and encourages creative problem-solving by accommodating differing ways of approaching math.
Teachers say: “With solid classroom instruction and access to DreamBox as additional support, students made huge gains in mathematical understanding. That’s when I realized the power of quality instruction with quality digital tools can enhance and expand instructional opportunities.” (Denise, Mathematics Program Coordinator)
Ideal for: Grades K-10 teachers seeking a gamified platform for learning math skills
What it does: Mangahigh features an extensive Prodigi system, composed of adaptive quizzes modeled on core standards. Students interact with those quizzes, as well as casual games that strike a balance between fun and education in an tailor-made platform which encourages discipline and self-teaching. Mangahigh offers real-world applications of problems rather than strictly theoretical work, contributing to the compelling nature of the content. Teachers can set challenges for lessons, focusing on specific competencies which add up to large gains across the fundamentals of mathematics. Additionally, schools can create a “Fai-To,” a points competition between two institutions. Mangahigh’s curriculum standards are aligned to the country in which it is being used.
Teachers say: “The kids can use [DreamBox and Mangahigh] independently and they both tailor to their math needs.” (Azadeh B. from Laguna Beach, CA)
Ideal for: K-5 teachers and reading specialists, including ESL instructors, who want to improve student literacy and language comprehension
What it does: This adaptive reading tool offers personalized instruction across six areas of literacy. Through a game-like environment, Lexia motivates students and provides teachers with the targeted feedback they need to assist students with areas of difficulty. For ESL classrooms, audio instructions are available in Spanish, Mandarin, Portuguese, Arabic, Vietnamese, and Haitian-Creole.
Teachers say: “[Lexia Core 5] is being used by our reading specialist now.” (Patti R. from Laguna Beach, CA)
Ideal for: K-5 teachers who want to make their students love reading
What it does: With over 400 eBooks across 29 levels, Raz-Kids is an application which helps improve student reading abilities and gets them engaged. It offers not only the books themselves in text-based or audio formats, but it also features comprehension tests; skills reports for teachers; and “Raz Rocket,” a motivational system which enhances students’ love of reading.
Ideal for: K-5 students who want to learn how to code
What it does: This easily learned drag-and-drop system of code can teach both kids and adults the fundamentals of programming.
Ideal for: Grades 3-5 students who want to learn how to program creative content
What it does: Scratch helps students create their own games, videos, and interactive stories in an online community, encouraging imaginative thinking, logical planning, and collaboration with others. It was developed by the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab.
Ideal for: K-5 teachers seeking supplementary educational material on a wide range of subjects
What it does: With animated videos, activities, and games, this playful and engaging learning platform overs multilingual lessons across all subjects. In its K-3 lessons, BrainPop presents lessons in STEM, social studies, reading, writing, health, and arts. In its grades 4-5 lessons, BrainPop adds resources for English and music, as well. The service even provides a program for ESL students with proficiency-based learning in grammar, listening, reading, writing, and vocabulary.
Ideal for: K-5 teachers seeking tailor-made learning games which can be created by students or teachers in minutes
What it does: A “kahoot” is a multiple-choice learning game which students or teachers can quickly create. Kahoots can feature videos, images, or diagrams and can be used in conjunction with other students across 180+ countries.
Teachers say: “My kids LOVE this! We create quizzes and they play as a class and answer questions to any topic we have picked. There are premade ones as well to make life even easier.” (Azadeh B. from Laguna Beach, CA)
Ideal for: K-5 teachers seeking fun and efficient ways to test student progress in various subjects
What it does: As the most popular online educational service in the US, Quizlet boasts more than 20 million student and teacher users monthly. This multipurpose tool allows students to play learning games; create flashcards; collaborate with their peers; and assist in the mastery of virtually any school subject in an engaging manner.
Teachers say: “I use this in math every day to give the kids a break and do math in a fun game-like way.” (Azadeh B. from Laguna Beach, CA)
Ideal for: K-5 teachers seeking an all-in-one student quiz platform
What it does: Students login from their own devices to answer prepared questions or ones created on-the-fly. Teachers enjoy a detailed tracking system for concept mastery; grading tools; a learning community with other teachers; and a resource board for standardized educational materials.
Ideal for: K-5 students who want to create “galleries” of their work for their parents (and each other)
What it does: One teacher described this as a “virtual picture gallery” which allows students to easily share photos of their art, writing, and other projects with their peers and parents. It captures multimedia student work and aims to engage student reflection on past work and to give students an audience for their accomplishments through a dynamic microblogging platform. Seesaw reported that 99 percent of teachers who had used the service would recommend it to a colleague and planned to use it again.
Ideal for: K-5 teachers seeking a social learning network with all-in-one classroom management features
What it does: Edmodo boasts several capabilities and came strongly recommended by two of the five teachers surveyed. It provides unlimited storage and the ability to create classroom groups, issue assignments, schedule activities, manage concept progress, and share information with parents to reinforce learning at home. It can be integrated with G Suite and other services.
These are only a few of the recommended online resources for elementary school teachers in 2017. In addition to the above software, learning platforms, and applications, the five surveyed teachers offered some of their go-to blogs, must-follow social media accounts, and other valuable resources:
Finally, the US Department of Education (2017) provides a list of online schools at the K-5 level which can assist underserved communities or students who are unable to attend traditional brick-and-mortar institutions. Alternatively, these schools have online material which can supplement an at-risk student’s curriculum. These groundbreaking schools include: