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6 Great Resources for (Digital) Organization in your Classroom

INTRODUCTION:

Recently, teachers have been reaching out to Gradeable with a specific problem: they are feeling overwhelmed with the sheer number of ideas and innovations that are suggested to them for use in their classrooms. With this sentiment in mind, I wanted to compile some resources for managing information by pointing you to some fellow teachers who have built similar systems for their own rooms. Here are six stellar tools to help you organize your ideas and beyond.

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1. Together Teacher

Together Teacher is a consultancy for schools and leadership teams on school organization and time management. While this consultancy might exceed your need, they also have a great blog on organization tools, and a wealth of resources for your classroom that are available to you if you sign up for their email list serve.

2. EdSurge Instruct

Staying curent with cutting edge educational innovations can often feel overwhelming, even if you are not a busy teacher on top of this. To keep myself up to date, I subscribe to EdSurge’s weekly newsletter Instruct, which compiles information for educators on education and technology use in the field (in a brief email). They also have a newsletter on entreprenurship in the field called Innovate that you can tack on with one additional click.

3. Dropbox and Mailbox

These two organizational tools help me organize, compile, and share files and email respectively. I love the ease of having access to my files from anywhere, and freedom from the sheer amount of paper that I would compile over the course of the year, especially in light of my transition to digital grading. The bonus? Having one account to access both tools (through DropBox).

4. The Organized Classroom

Charity Preston is a master blogger. Her blog is full of strategies for organizing your resources. I am an especially big fan of her Technology page on Pinterest, where she compiles digital organizational strategies around popular tech tools for instruction.

5. Edmodo

Edmodo is a great resource for educators, and if you are not using already, I would urge you to reconsider. Connect with fellow educators on any topic in the field, from technology integration, to math and ELA. In addition to subject content, you can also post questions to fellow educators for tips on professional development and organization.

6. Gradeable

Gradeable helps you grade faster by eliminating the time it takes to evaluate and record grades in paper, digital, or project-based grading. On top of this Gradeabe is also a great tool for managing student grades and compiling a strong record of your students’ succcesses and challenges, and communicating this information to parents and fellow educators.

Learn more about Gradeable’s digital product.

Get your FREE trial of Gradeable!

Keeping your room and information organized is no easy task. I hope that in reading this, you have gained a few important resources to manage your grades, tools, and digital files. Every educator can be an organized one with a few easy steps!

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ProTip Wednesday: Organize Teaching Files in 5 Steps

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The Teacher Desktop is almost as bad as the Teacher Window (20+ tabs in one window). Don’t wait to organize your computer files— start now! It’s easy to hide old lesson plans and PowerPoints in a folder, it’s not easy to find it again months later. As part of our summer of re-evaluation tips and tricks, the first step is to get organized. Summer is the best time to clear the virtual clutter and have it organized for the Fall.

Step 1. Centralize all the files

If you’re like me then you also have lesson plans on multiple flash drives and email addresses. When it comes to finding that one quiz you gave on the Atmosphere three months later, it’ll take awhile. To start the organization process, go through all potential sources that you have files, and save it all on your personal computer or hard drive. Be sure to look through:

  • Flash drives
  • Emails between co-workers
  • Google Drive
  • DropBox
  • Computer bookmarks
  • Evernote
  • YouTube
  • School computer
  • Online learning management systems like Edmodo
  • Online lesson planning websites like BetterLesson or Share My Lesson

And don’t forget to clear out your school computer before the district wipes your emails and computer for the summer!

Step 2. Create folders (please!)

Now that you have a slew of files, it’s time to organize them into folders. Turn on some music, bring out some coffee and place relevant files into their corresponding folders.

Tip! Don’t try to organize too deeply at this step. For example: Instead of making folders for Metamorphic, Igneous, and Sedimentary rock lessons, just make one for the Rock Cycle. If that’s too detailed, keep to big units. Don’t worry about re-naming or separating by pictures or Word documents—leave that for the next step.

Step 3. Organize, organize, organize

This step will take more time and consideration because this is a good opportunity to figure out what to archive, keep, or trash. According to MakeUseOf, file organization can happen several ways.

  • Organize by Category: Files like PowerPoint, Word Documents, PDFs, etc. For us teachers, this is not the most optimal way of organizing as we know that we have more PowerPoints than we know what to do with.
  • Organize by Date: Our teacher-in-residence and Head of Customer Success, Sheri, likes to organize her teaching files by date. Example: 020414PythagoreanTheorem (February 4, 2014) After 10 years, she says that organizing by date helps with pacing.

Other teacher-focused ways of organizing folders and files:

  • By Unit/Standard
  • By Semester or grading period
  • By Project
  • By Theme

Within these master folders, subfolders can look something like this:

  • Weather Cycle
    • Presentations
    • Lesson Plans
    • Media
    • Projects
    • Worksheets
    • Assessments

Check out how Kindergarten Works organizes their digital folders, along with graphics!

Don’t forget to re-name files with a uniform, simple, and easy way that is recognizable at a glance.

Step 4. Set up for success

The worst thing that can happen is if your hard-earned system dissolves due to disuse. Starting in the summer, get into the habit of moving files to their dedicated folders instead of letting them live on the desktop. Or you can try some of these other strategies:

  • Set up a “file organization” time each week, like Sunday mornings at 11am. That extra 10 minutes will keep your desktop clean, files organized, and sanity in place.
  • Use Evernote to clip interesting lesson plans, news, or media. The tagging feature will be useful to organize and find information when you’re fixing lesson plans in the future.

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Step 5. Clean up and back up

I’m guilty of keeping screenshots that I have no idea what I kept it for because it just lived on my desktop or Pinterest. Regularly vet your files and see what is not important. Also, back up files to an external hard drive or service like DropBox. Nothing can be worse than rebuilding an entire unit because of digital memory loss!

Tip! Using programs like Grand Perspective can give you an idea of which files are taking up large amounts of space. For example, after running the program, I realized that many of the videos I use for Presentations were taking up at least 10GB of space. I either kept it on my YouTube or exported to an external HD without compromising more space. You can also consider keeping a Picasa or Shutterfly account to organize pictures.

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Beyond the Red Pen: Joel, Middle School Math

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Introducing our newest blog feature, Beyond the Red Pen. Every Thursday, we’ll showcase awesome teachers, doing amazing things— and most importantly, their grading secrets so we can grow from each other. This is an effort to demystify teacher lifestyle and to pull us teachers out of silos and share trade tips and tricks!

Meet Joel, a veteran any first-year teacher would love to have as a mentor. From how to increase student motivation (hint: the candy man can!) and best places to find grading “zen,” Joel shares tips that all teachers can benefit from. Learn more about his classroom grading success! 

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What is your current location?
I currently work at an at-risk, Title I school in Las Vegas, Nevada.

What subject and grade (s) do you teach?
I teach Math 7.

What is your favorite teaching accessory?
I love all types of technology, including iPads, SMARTBoards, and responders.

Tips and tricks on making the best “teacher lunch?”
My lunch usually consists of something that I could eat or drink fast.  Maybe a sandwich, smoothie, or some days just a sugar-free Red Bull to keep going!

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Joel’s grading storage area. Students turn in their homework in their specific class bin.

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After assignments are graded, Joel stores student work in a filing cabinet for the grading period, just in case a student claims he/she turned it in.

What’s your favorite time to grade and why?
I find that I can generally grade the best in a nice comfortable chair or couch, or outside with a glass of wine!

What is your must have grading tool/utensil?
I like to use a pen that differs from the color that students use.  For math, students generally use pencils, so any pen is fine, though I prefer blue because my markings stand out.   A brand of pen that I really enjoy (though I am not opposed to any other cheap ballpoint) is the PaperMate Flair.

How do you find grading “zen?”
I will find a comfortable space, turn on background noise (TV or music from my phone), and keep something in my mouth to keep my senses occupied.  This may be gum or candy, fruit, or even some wine!

What is your super secret tip to grade faster that you wish all teachers knew?
Pick and choose items to grade, rather than feeling that ALL items need to be graded.  Also, don’t feel the need to grade ALL assignments that come across a student’s desk.   Teachers can save time by simply grading materials that they will use the data to base their planning and future lessons, or exams.  Assignments like homework that may be used for practice only can and should be graded or completion only. Students do not know that not everything is graded, and will still work hard!

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What is one strategy that has worked to increase student motivation?
The most valuable concept that has worked to increase student motivation is student self-accountability.   The students at my current site are able to access their grades, progress, and assignment scores from the tap of their iPads or smartphones.  Allowing students to access their own scores and progress helps them take more responsibility for their own learning.

What is the best teaching advice you’ve ever received?
Allow students time to practice!  Don’t lecture too much.  Engage students with colors, sounds, communication, and projects.

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Do you have specific teaching shoes? If so, what are they?
Ha ha!  Yes.  I like wearing Skechers shoes, from work shoes to fun colored running shoes.  Also, I usually wear funny socks to help build another fun bond with students who are into funny trendy socks this school year.

What’s the last thing you bought for your classroom?
The last thing I bought for my classroom were probably Jolly Ranchers as small, immediate rewards, or fun-sized bags of M&Ms for a math activity.  I have been told by my students that I am “The Candy Man.”  Ha ha!