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Engaging Every Student

February 16, 2022

3 Tech Tools I Can't Teach Without by Nate Ridgway

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Nate Ridgway

For me, teaching in a pandemic made me quickly realize I needed to find interactive tech tools. Sitting on a video call or looking at a slide deck can be great for a bit — but fatigue could set in if students do the same thing all day, every day.

Zooming can feel like watching a movie. We all can enjoy a film, but it's another thing entirely to sit and watch movies for seven hours straight. That’s like watching the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy back to back! And even though I absolutely love LOTR — which isn’t exactly an educational documentary — it’s still a tall task.

What if we could make those  movies interactive? What if we could change a character’s fate or choose our own adventures? What if we could change how a scene appeared?

Interactivity is crucial to keep students’ attention

Interactivity is a crucial component of instruction because it allows students to engage, retain attention, and even enjoy themselves while learning. I always try to think about my lessons taking place in a children’s museum instead of a high-end art gallery. In the museum, kids are encouraged to interact with their surroundings; in a gallery, no touching, playing, or talking is allowed. Which setting would your students prefer to visit?

With that in mind, here are three interactive edtech tools that I can’t teach without:

1. Pear Deck

Pear Deck is one of my favorite edtech tools and a go-to for thousands of educators around the world. And there’s a good reason why: it lets you turn any slide deck (Google Slides, PowerPoint) into an interactive lesson where students  can drag items, type responses, draw on slides, and much more. I love to use Pear Deck to build retrieval and metacognitive practices right into my lessons — which gives my students a chance to meaningfully process what they’re learning in real time.

There are many potential applications of Pear Deck beyond direct instruction. I’ve found it especially helpful for SEL (social-emotional learning), metacognition, and asynchronous learning.

Extra Resources:

2. Iorad

If you’ve ever had to explain a complicated step-by-step process to a student (or their families) and then found yourself repeating it just minutes later, I recommend giving Iorad a try. It’s amazing — and completely free!

Iorad is a tutorial builder that’s quite a bit different — and much better — than giving students a handout or a GIF.  Instead, Iorad produces a step-by-step, clickable tutorial that feels just like the real website or document. These tutorials only take about five minutes to make and are both shareable and embeddable in just about anything. Plus, they can be translated into hundreds of languages with word-to-speech assistance.

Other Ways to Use Iorad

  • Provide Iorads for asynchronous work as a “walk-through” or for your students when you need a substitute teacher.
  • Create a collection of Iorads on a “homepage” that shows students or families how to navigate your online course.

Link: www.iorad.com

Try a Tutorial Out: https://www.iorad.com/player/1602074/World-History-Topic-4-Pt--3---The-Incredible-Inca

3. Google Slides

Lastly (but not least), Google Slides might be one of the most flexible edtech tools ever created. And although it’s a presentation tool, it can be so much more than that. Here are some ways I utilize Google Slides to create interactive learning opportunities:

Creating Non-Editable Templates
Using the “Edit Theme” option in the menu, you can create a background that students can’t edit (perfect for graphic organizers, for example). Once finished, anything that students will need to interact with can be placed back on the slide itself. Remember, students don’t have to use text to respond — interactive elements can include audio (using apps like Mote) , icons, or pictures. All of these functions integrate seamlessly into Google Slides and are super student-friendly!
Give this interactive Slide Deck a try: www.bit.ly/indyurbanize

Create Kinesthetic Activities
Google Slides can also be used to create digital kinesthetic activities, which are perfect for having students practice meaningful learning in both the classroom and at home. Using the Non-Editable Template trick, you can have students sort traits onto t-charts, design Venn diagrams, and even play board games to process their learning. Here are three examples from my own classroom you can try:

T-Chart

T-Charts let students sort forces onto different sides, like in this example.

Venn Diagram

In Venn diagram activities, such as this one about Islam, students write characteristics of two categories, including where they overlap. You can also use the Venn diagram slide template in Pear Deck Templates for Science!

Board Games

What student doesn’t love board games? Try this civilization game with your class!


Embracing edtech is a win-win: easier for teachers, more fun for students!

As you can see, these three edtech tools do a fantastic job of making my job as an educator more interactive, streamlined, and effective. By adding some of these tools to your classroom, you might be surprised at how receptive your students are — and how much student participation climbs when you start embracing tech during everyday instruction.

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Nate Ridgway

History Teacher

Teaching From the Ridge

Nate is a tech-loving history teacher who specializes in lesson design, UDL, and differentiation. He is also licensed in Special Education Mild Interventions. Nate is co-author of Don’t Ditch That Tech: Differentiation in a Digital World, and his work has been featured in The New York Times and Washington Post. He was the Indiana Connected Educator of the Year in 2020 and holds an M.A. in History from the University of Indianapolis.

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