I joke with colleagues that a criterion for acquiring a teacher certification is the ability to function as a pack mule. For years, I was one of those teachers who hauled multiple tote bags back and forth every day. I am continually looking for ways to put down a few bags. Below are five organizational tools that help me to stay organized so I can travel lighter.
I no longer haul my computer bag home every night. When I work on my home computer, I save my resources to a free online storage service, Dropbox, one of my favorite Web 2.0 tools. New users receive 2MB of free space, which easily holds my active folders and files, including lesson plans, SMART Notebook files, videos, sound files, and photos. You can earn additional free space by inviting friends and colleagues to become Dropbox users. Whenever I edit or create materials on my home computer, it is synchronized with my school computer and mobile devices. Dropbox is compatible with PC and Mac OS X, so I have overcome the problems involved with sharing files across operating platforms. You no longer need to keep a pen drive handy, either. Next time you want to share files that are too large for email attachments with friends and colleagues, use Dropbox. Once you experience the freedom and versatility of Dropbox, you won’t be able to live without it.
Digital calendars simplify scheduling and planning. No more carrying a datebook around. Currently, I use the calendar component of Microsoft Outlook, an email application. At the beginning of the year, I entered all the important dates on our school calendar: in-service days, vacations, grade due dates, etc. I also entered a tentative outline of my units for the year. It is much easier to drag and drop important dates or modify unit sequences than to rewrite them. Because our school version of Outlook is Web-based, I can access my calendar from any computer or portable device to schedule or modify appointments on the go. Like most teachers, I operate on a tight schedule that often surpasses the average school day. Most digital calendars will send email reminders, ensuring that you don’t overlook a meeting or event. There are options to print off daily or monthly calendars; however, most digital calendars allow you to share with friends and colleagues.
Before I used the Outlook calendar, I used Google Calendar, which offers the same versatile functions. The only reason I switched was because our school switched to Outlook, so it made sense for me to consolidate all my information into one location.
In the digital age, there is a plethora of resources we can use for teaching. Whenever possible, I buy teacher resources in digital format. I have a SMART Board to project my digital books and multimedia, so I use SMART Notebook as a digital binder. In addition to housing all my interactive SMART Board activities, I attach my teacher resources to the notebook file: lesson plans, student handouts, notes, Internet resources, videos, pictures, and flash and sound files. When I start a new unit, I simply save the notebook file to my Dropbox folder so I can access it from all my technological devices.
For those of you who don’t have interactive whiteboards, you might like LiveBinder, a digital three-ring binder stored on the Web. It is a great way to access your resources from any computer at any time. You can also share your resources with other teachers and students.
Social bookmarking has helped me to organize and preserve my favorite Web sites by storing them on the Web. Nothing is more frustrating than losing your favorites or your bookmark folders. I am a Diigo Education user. The Diigo toolbar, compatible with most Web browsers, provides instant access to annotation tools: highlighters, pens, and notes. Diigo user groups allow you to share resources with other educators and create student accounts so students, too, can collaborate and share Internet resources. It is a great way to teach students how to organize and collaborate on research.
Scoop.it is my second-favorite social bookmarking tool. It allows you to scoop resources by topic and publish them as a digital magazine. Once you create a topic, Scoop.it functions like a Web crawler, searching the Internet for recently published information on a topic. When you find a resource you like, capture the URL along with a summary of the site, videos, and/or images. There are options for sharing a Scoop.it topic, including publishing it on your classroom Web site, which is what I did when my students researched invasive species.
Evernote is a teacher’s best friend. It falls into the same category as Dropbox: it's a must-have organizational tool for teachers. No more searching for a sticky note that didn’t stick. Evernote functions like Dropbox, synchronizing your notes and to-do lists with all your computers and mobile devices with a click of a mouse. Like Dropbox, the app must be downloaded and installed, but once you do that, you will have your notes and lists wherever you go.
What is your favorite tech tool for organizing and simplifying your life?