As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, schools across the country are forced to reckon with a different kind of school year. Some school districts, colleges, and universities have fully opened to in-person classes with safety measures in place. Others have transitioned to hybrid models or moved entirely to distance learning. Regardless, teachers who have never taught online courses continue to need access to resources as they grapple with keeping students engaged in online learning and the possibility of future school closures.
As a college instructor with over 20 years of experience teaching at all grade levels, this crisis affects me too. I spent my summer investigating various resources to use with my college students and home-school my preschooler. The university where I teach has long used Blackboard, a common learning management system, making it easy to shift lessons online. Yet our small liberal arts college has never focused on online learning. That means I, like many teachers, have had to learn from scratch how to leverage online tools. To add to the confusion, I have students attending in multiple ways — entirely in person, hybrid, and fully remote. Many school districts have opted for the same — which means teachers are pushed to the limit trying to meet different students’ needs.
Compounding the situation, while many companies offered free or low-cost access to their resources during the emergency shutdowns in the spring, many of those offerings are no longer available. Companies have begun to realize the pandemic isn’t going away anytime soon and have had no choice but to move back to charging for their services.
But fortunately, teachers can use many remaining free or low-cost resources to keep students engaged and make delivering lessons easier. And that’s especially helpful for teachers and schools whose budgets are often strained even in the best of times. As a bonus, many of these resources can help parents forced to decide whether to home-school their children due to the uncertainty surrounding the academic year. They’re also useful for private teachers hired by a group of parents to educate their children in an isolated pandemic pod.
Student Access to Resources
Before deciding which tools to use for remote learning, it’s first crucial to know what kind of resources your students have access to. For example, according to 2016 statistics from the National Center for Children in Poverty, 39% of U.S. children live in low-income families. That could mean your students don’t have access to computers or a reliable Internet connection. Reliable Internet access is also an issue for students who live in rural areas. And that can include some international students unable to travel to America and forced to take all their courses online. I have a couple of international students who live in areas without stable Internet access.
It’s also possible the pandemic’s disruption to normal life will prevent students from meeting during regular class times. Parents’ schedules may interfere with those of younger students. And older students may have to help care for younger siblings home from school or become caregivers for relatives who are severely ill. Additionally, they may be sick themselves. Or they may have to work to help out families suffering from pandemic-related job losses.
While you may not have much choice in whether you teach in-person, hybrid, or remote courses, it’s worthwhile to know what situations your students are facing before deciding on remote teaching tools and methods. So start first with polling them. Depending on your students’ ages, send them or their parents a simple survey using a tool like Google Forms. Also send a copy by snail mail, if possible, as those without Internet access won’t be able to use an electronic form.
Be sure to ask:
- Do you have home access to the Internet?
- Do you have reliable access to a computer, laptop, tablet, or smartphone?
- Do you have access to your textbooks?
- Are you able to meet live during your regular class schedule or do you need recorded videos and materials you can access at any time?
For any of your students who need temporary help with Internet access, both Comcast and Spectrum offer low-cost Internet services to qualifying families. Unfortunately, the discounted access comes with slower speeds. So if you have any students forced to rely on it, be prepared to be understanding and flexible with their situation.
Additionally, Comcast offers new Internet Essentials (their low-income program) customers free Internet access for the first two months if they apply before Dec. 31, 2020. And Spectrum is now offering 60 days of free Internet access at regular speed for instructors at any grade level, including college, regardless of income. Free Internet from Spectrum is also available for all households with students in grades K-12 and college students. But the offer only applies to those within Spectrum’s service area and who don’t already have a Spectrum account. After 60 days, the regular rates apply. To enroll, call 844-310-1198.
Many school districts that serve low-income students are giving free laptops to all. And many colleges and universities are offering a “free” (included in their tuition) laptop to all enrolled students. But if a free computer through their school isn’t an option, students or their parents can contact their local department of health and human services, which may be able to help. Or try a charitable organization that gives away donated computers to low-income families. Some to try include:
- Computers with Causes gives away free computers to qualifying families.
- Notebooks for Students offers discounted computers to students of all grade levels, including home-school students.
- The On It Foundation offers free computers for low-income students in grades K-12.
- Jump On It Program offers steeply discounted computers and a layaway program for anyone with a low income.
- Everyone On offers low-cost Internet service through a variety of providers to low-income individuals and families. (Note these are the same slower speeds and prices offered by Spectrum and Comcast.) It also offers discounted computers to qualifying low-income individuals.
- With Causes supports multiple charitable causes, including computers for schools.
If students choose to go this route, warn them to look out for scammers offering free computers. They should always check to make sure they’re applying with a legitimate and reputable organization before giving any personal information. Unfortunately, coronavirus scams are common.
Utilizing Your School’s Available Resources
Most colleges and universities and even many K-12 schools already have a learning management system (LMS) for delivering course content online, such as Blackboard, Canvas, or BrightSpace. Even if you haven’t utilized it much, know that these platforms are fully equipped for handling all your online teaching needs, from delivering teaching materials and video instruction to facilitating group discussions and collaborations.
Familiarize yourself with all the available features of your school’s chosen LMS before turning to another tool. The familiarity students already have with the platform can help ensure a smoother transition and prevent the anxiety and frustration they may feel at having to learn dozens of different tools for each of their classes.
If you’re not familiar with all the features or well-versed in how to use them, support staff can help you. If your school’s support staff is overwhelmed, YouTube is a great resource for video tutorials on how to use the tools of each LMS.
All-in-One Learning Management Systems
Even if you’ve never taught remotely, the principles of both online and in-person teaching are roughly the same. For both, you need a way:
- To deliver your course content to meet your course’s learning objectives
- To keep your students engaged so learning can take place
- For students to turn in assignments and take tests
- To provide regular and consistent feedback
An LMS can do all this on a single platform without the need to rig a bunch of unrelated systems and tools. If your school doesn’t currently have one in place, take a look at one of these available options.
Blackboard is one of the predominant platforms used by colleges and universities to manage both online and in-person classes. It enables file and resource sharing as well as class interaction through discussion boards. With the Blackboard Collaborate tool, teachers can create a virtual classroom complete with real-time videoconferencing or recordings students can view at any time. Plus, teachers can create assignments and tests and have grades automatically added to a grade book with the parameters you set.
Blackboard is not a free or low-cost LMS for schoolwide use, but if your school isn’t already equipped with it, you can try it for free with your own classes through Coursesites.
Canvas is another LMS in widespread use among colleges and universities. It’s also well known for its ability to differentiate and scale instruction so you can tailor learning to individual students’ needs. That makes it an especially useful LMS for K-12 as well. As with Blackboard, it’s not a free or low-cost tool for schoolwide use. But if your school isn’t already set up with it, you can try Canvas for free with your own classes.
3. Google Classroom (G Suite for Education)
Google’s G Suite for Education is an always-free resource for teachers that gives students access to Google’s complete suite of tools, including Google Docs (word processing), Sheets (spreadsheets), Slides (presentations), and Hangouts Meet (video chat). These tools make it easy for students to collaborate on assigned group projects. Plus, it allows for easy feedback with suggesting mode (similar to track changes in Word) in Google Docs as well as the ability to leave targeted feedback with detailed comments.
Additionally, it provides education-specific tools like assignment and grading capabilities. These pair with your school’s LMS through a tool called Google Course Kit. But you must contact your school’s administrator if they haven’t already enabled it in your LMS.
4. Microsoft Teams for Education
The Microsoft Teams for Education offers schools an online classroom that’s always free for all schools and universities and uses Microsoft Office 365 (which is also always free for schools). The all-in-one platform offers the ability to create assignments, track grades, create and share resources, and collaborate on group projects.
Additionally, using Microsoft Office 365, you can record audio to go with PowerPoint slides, a helpful tool for delivering on-demand lectures. You can even create a timed recording that automatically advances slides in time with your lecture.
Moodle is an open-source learning platform designed to provide educators and students with a single integrated system for all their classroom needs. As an open-source platform, its software is always available for anyone to download and use for free. It includes collaborative tools like discussion forums and wikis, file sharing, assignment creation, and grading.
Like other all-in-one learning management platforms, Buncee gives teachers the ability to create online lessons using text, audio, video, and links to additional resources. You can use the classroom dashboard to track assignments, and students can collaborate in shared spaces.
Additionally, it integrates with Microsoft Immersive Reader, which allows students to read at their own pace in a way that’s comfortable for them — making it an ideal tool for differentiation. Buncee also provides the ability to communicate with kids and parents easily. Buncee is free for individual use and easily pairs with Google Classroom. Teachers can also check out their remote learning resources page for teaching ideas and lesson plans.
While not an LMS per se, Clever allows teachers to pull together all the online resources they use into a single sign-on portal. That means they can piece together the resources that work for their unique lesson plans while giving students a single place to sign on. That simplifies online learning and reduces any confusion caused by having to utilize various sources to complete lessons.
Additionally, Clever now integrates with Zoom, so you can deliver lectures live and students can access them through Clever’s portal along with any other resources you choose to use. Clever is always free for use by all school districts, but your district admin should check the technology requirements.
Tools for Delivering Course Lectures
Even with an LMS, there are occasions when you need to turn to other resources — especially when it comes to fostering student engagement.
For example, the most significant difference between in-person and remote learning is real, live face time. For students, face time beats out reading a lesson online because it keeps them actively listening and provides the opportunity for discussion. For teachers, it allows us to get real-time feedback on our lessons and gives us the ability to gauge students’ understanding. The tools you can use to deliver live lectures can include audio recordings to go along with PowerPoint slides, videos students can watch when they’re able, and real-time virtual classrooms.
Zoom is a videoconferencing tool that allows you to bring together a classroom of students in real time. You can use it to facilitate discussions or give lectures and enable students to ask questions, either directly or through its integrated chat feature. Alternatively, you can use Zoom to record a video of yourself giving a lecture or record your live class — complete with class discussions — for absent students to watch when they’re able. If your school has Blackboard, you can even upload your recorded video to its LMS.
Additionally, Zoom videoconferencing features the ability to share one’s screen and host breakout rooms — perfect for dividing students into small group discussions.
You can sign up for a free basic account, and for specific countries affected by the virus, Zoom has lifted the 40-minute time limit for educators using the basic account. But you must request it through a verification form.
Another videoconferencing tool for teaching online, Webex has some unique features. In addition to creating a virtual classroom space, teachers can upload reading material for students to go over before class meetings and post discussion questions. Plus, with Webex Teams, they can post homework announcements and reminders and even create spaces where students can work on collaborative projects on their own.
Webex always has a free basic version and a free trial for more premium features.
10. Smart Learning Suite
Smart Learning Suite, from the makers of the Smart Board, is a virtual classroom that allows you to deliver a live lesson or integrate materials from Google Drive or Microsoft Office for student-paced learning. With live lessons, students can ask real-time questions, participate in active discussions, do small-group work in collaborative spaces, and even take quizzes. With self-paced learning, teachers can upload video and audio recordings, have students complete interactive games and quizzes, and submit assignments.
Smart Learning is CARES Act-eligible. So if your school received funding, it can use it to pay for a membership to the learning platform.
Loom is a tool that allows presenters to record video to go along with their lessons. You can appear inside a tiny “bubble” near the bottom of the screen, while students follow along with the presentation slides. The advantage of this over merely recording audio to go with each slide is the feeling of connection seeing your face can give students. In a time when experts are recommending we socially isolate ourselves, you can’t oversell the benefits of that.
Loom is now offering its tool for free to educators forever.
12. Slido for Education
Brand-new virtual classroom tool Slido integrates with PowerPoint presentations, Google Slides, and Zoom videoconferencing to foster student engagement. Teachers can create quizzes, run polls, and ask questions of students during slide presentations and videoconferencing. And the unique interface allows teachers to see and keep track of answers without leaving their slides.
Resources for Course Materials
While students complete lessons from home, they continue to need access to course materials. Online textbooks and other resources make that easier. Not only do students not need to worry about getting a hardcover book, but many online options are also interactive. They allow for electronic note-taking, answering questions, and social reading.
13. Cengage Unlimited
While more a resource for students than teachers, it helps to keep in mind what different publishing companies offer for students when it comes to assigning textbooks — especially for college professors who can make their own choices. Cengage Unlimited offers subscription pricing for about $120 per semester, including unlimited access to all Cengage textbooks (which students can access electronically).
Additionally, the textbooks integrate with most LMSs for interactive learning — including the ability to design your own study path for students to follow with links to learning activities. And while it’s not a low-cost option, it is substantially cheaper than buying multiple hardcover textbooks, which typically sell for $100 or more each.
14. Lumen Waymaker
Lumen Waymaker is a resource for using and managing college-level open education resources (OERs), materials free for use by students and professors. For students who don’t have access to textbooks, teachers can find course-specific OER reading material to meet their learning objectives. And Waymaker helps make the process of planning online classes even more accessible, as you can choose from predesigned courses complete with lessons, materials, assignments, and quizzes and tests.
Teachers get free access to the platform, but student pricing is $25 per course per semester. However, that may still be more affordable for many students than the typical cost of a physical or electronic textbook. And teachers get the added benefit of a platform that helps them deliver online lessons.
Instead of traditional textbooks, Kognity provides interactive electronic texts in a range of IB (international baccalaureate) subjects complete with videos, animations, and auto-correcting quizzes. Their features include embedded videos, sliders, and diagrams. Plus, teachers can track whether a student has read a selection and assign quizzes and assessments with teacher-chosen questions. Kognity is another resource schools need to sign up for so teachers can use it, but if you use and implement it across several subjects, the cost could be as low as $15 per student per year.
16. Project Gutenberg
This virtual library includes access to more than 60,000 free books students can read on an e-reader, such as Kindle, or online. Most of the materials are in the public domain, so they’re free to access and use. And for teachers and students without other access to textbooks, Project Gutenberg gives them the ability to find books on virtually any topic. It’s also an excellent resource for home schooling. Since anyone can access the library, they can find free reading material for their children’s instruction.
HippoCampus.org is a library of more than 7,000 videos covering 13 subject areas to use in your lesson plans with middle school through college-level students. Teachers can even set up playlists of videos for their students to watch. HippoCampus is always free to everyone. That makes it useful for home-schooling also, as parents can use the resources to teach their middle and high school-age kids.
18. Merlot Simulation Collection
The Merlot collection of OER resources includes thousands of free, discipline-specific learning materials, learning exercises, and content-filled webpages. These are curated by education experts, assembled into content collections, and extensively annotated. Additionally, each resource has a brief description and a peer-review rating and is searchable by keyword.
From the main page, you can search for what you need by subject, keyword, grade level, and type of material — including lessons, assessments, course modules, presentations, tutorials, videos, hands-on activities, OER articles, and OER textbooks.
19. Actively Learn
Actively Learn integrates with Google Classroom to provide thousands of texts, videos, and simulations to use in social studies and science classes for all grade levels. It’s always free for teachers.
20. ABCmouse.com Early Learning Academy
Teaching little ones from a distance is especially problematic, as they’re the least independent and most in need of hands-on, focused learning. For those teaching preschool through second grade remotely, ABCmouse.com offers more than 850 self-guided lessons across 10 levels and five subjects: literacy, math, science and health, social studies, and art and music. A companion program focuses on teaching English as a second language.
ABCmouse.com for Teachers is always free for teachers to use in their classrooms. However, to assign it to students for home use requires an ABCmouse.com for Schools account. A schoolwide account is not free, but it doesn’t cost much per student. The price per student depends on how many students will use the account — with the per-student cost going down as the number of students increases. Contact ABCMouse for Schools for an exact quote.
ABCMouse.com also makes an at-home version for families, which costs $9.95 per month. The program is especially ideal for parents home-schooling little ones who can’t sit for long periods. I used ABCMouse.com this summer with my preschooler, and it kept him engaged in learning for a few hours every time he used it.
21. Adventure Academy
This massively multiplayer online game by ABCmouse.com is perfect for keeping kids engaged and entertained while at home. Plus, it gives kids something they’re likely missing from in-person classes: social connection. Students ages 8 to 13 can play games covering a range of subjects, including math, reading, social studies, and science. They can have fun and interact socially with other students playing the game while learning material in various subjects.
Adventure Academy does not currently offer schoolwide accounts, although schools can purchase accounts for individual students. Because there is no bulk discount, it’s only a low-cost resource for home-schooling parents or teachers in pandemic pods. Adventure Academy comes with a free 30-day trial. Thereafter, it’s $9.99 per month for up to three children. If you plan to use it long term, you can save money buying a six-month plan for a total of $29.99 or an annual plan at $59.99 per year.
From the makers of ABCMouse.com, this comprehensive digital library offers books, magazines, and comics for kids ages 2 through 12, making it a practical replacement for closed physical libraries. Teachers can also monitor what and how much their students are reading.
Access to Reading IQ is free for teachers, and they can use it in their classrooms as well as assign home reading for up to 40 students enrolled in their classes. However, that only applies to teachers employed by a verifiable educational institution. For home-schooling and teaching in a pandemic pod, you must sign up for a standard account. You can try Reading IQ free for 30 days. Thereafter, it’s $7.99 a month for up to three children.
Math, social studies, and English language arts teachers can use Edulastic to create online tests and quizzes drawn from a vast question bank. Additionally, they can embed video, audio, images, links, and notations. And it integrates seamlessly with Google Classroom.
Edulastic always offers free basic teacher accounts. The basic account includes premade assignments for your subject (which you can customize with your own videos), a standards-aligned question bank, and syncing with Google Classroom. It also includes free state test prep that auto-grades for you. Teachers and schools can upgrade to a premium account to unlock features like read-alouds, test security options, and in-depth reports.
Additionally, teachers can download free diagnostic exams to quickly help identify gaps in students’ learning from last year or reverse learning regressions during extended school breaks.
24. Purple Mash
This British education company hosts games and creative learning experiences for elementary-level math, spelling, and writing. It includes teacher and student tools to set tasks, write blogs, and interact with one another. These tools can help foster student engagement as well as supply materials for learning.
Purple Mash is offering free 30-day trials during the pandemic. After that, the cost starts at 450 pounds (around US$580) per year for school use, depending on the number of students. And students can access the program for free from home, so teachers can assign homework. Additionally, they offer a wealth of free resources for teachers, including lesson plans. For a home-school account, the cost is 30 pounds (around US$39) per student per year.
25. Kids Discover Online
Kids Discover Online is a library of science and social studies articles for elementary and middle school students. It allows differentiation by reading level, meaning teachers can use this material with various ages and skill levels. While there is a cost involved, it’s relatively low — $4 per month for individual at-home access, $7 per month for a home-school account that includes up to five kids, and $12 per month for classroom use.
26. Discovery Education Experience
Discovery Education Experience from the Discovery Channel provides online textbooks, multimedia content, and lesson-planning support for teachers in subjects including science, social studies, and math. The site employs online “techbooks” — a digital textbook filled with virtual activities as well as hands-on learning.
As students in K-12 districts don’t typically buy their own books, the district would need to sign up for them. However, the cost is typically about half that of hardcover textbooks. The average cost of a hardcover textbook, for example, is $70 per student. But according to School Library Journal, Discovery Education Experience’s techbooks are $45 to $55 per student for a six-year subscription. Plus, they come with the added benefit of more interactive features to foster student engagement.
Checkology is ideal for high school and college social studies and English teachers planning lessons around news literacy. Designed by the News Literacy Project, it includes videos and lessons with embedded comprehension questions and an emphasis on understanding the role of journalism and identifying misinformation. Teachers can choose from a collection of premade lessons centered on topics like the First Amendment, the media as a watchdog, understanding bias, spotting misinformation, and looking for evidence. Additionally, Checkology provides a wealth of teaching resources, including lesson plans, for teachers of all grade levels.
Checkology is free for all users.
Class Participation & Engagement Platforms
Providing access to materials is one thing. Keeping students engaged and actively learning outside the structure of a traditional classroom is another entirely. Plus, interacting with other students is a crucial part of the learning process. It exposes students to others’ ideas and inspires them to think critically about their own.
You can use any of the tools for creating a virtual classroom environment to foster interaction. Many live meeting tools can break students into smaller discussion groups inside private, virtual “rooms.” And videoconferencing allows teachers and students to contribute their thoughts to classroom discussions. In fact, anything you can do in a “real” classroom, you can also do in a virtual one: engage in a classroom debate, collaborate on group work, play games, give presentations, or take a virtual field trip.
In addition to these, there are numerous online tools specifically designed to foster classroom participation and engagement.
Perusall is a social e-reader. It gives students the ability to read a text together by adding group annotations. Students can see others’ notes and insights and add their own. They can also respond and interact with others’ annotations, helping each other learn.
Perusall is always free to use with your own materials or OER. Using its library of texts requires students to pay the regular price for the digital book. Institutional licenses are also available.
This open-source annotation platform lets students annotate any text anywhere on the Web for social reading. Students can highlight text, add commentary, and share it with the class. It combines the ability to use readily available materials for student reading with conversation-starting student insights and collaboration.
Their non-LMS app is always free for use. It works as a Google Chrome extension, Bookmarklet (for use with other browsers, such as Firefox or Safari), or their proxy server Via (where you can paste any link on the Web to make annotations and notes). To integrate Hypothes.is with your school’s LMS, there is typically a charge. (Contact Hypothes.is for exact pricing.) However, Hypothes.is is offering its software free for school use through the remainder of 2020.
30. Pear Deck
Pear Deck allows teachers to create interactive lessons, prompting students to answer questions during lectures to keep them engaged and listening. And it integrates with other electronic classroom tools like Google Classroom and Microsoft 365. Pear Deck has a basic version that’s free for use and includes all these features.
Additionally, teachers can upgrade to a paid version to unlock premium features like adding on-the-fly questions, providing individual student feedback during lessons, and creating student progress reports. And they have a schoolwide option that includes integration with a school’s LMS.
Parlay encourages rich online conversations among students through its interactive discussion tools. These include discussion prompts that encourage critical thinking and a roundtable feature that lets students contribute their thoughts anonymously and receive peer feedback.
Parlay has always had a free trial version with no time limit, including up to 12 roundtables and integration with Google Classroom. To unlock Parlay’s full features, including unlimited roundtables and students, teachers need to pay a subscription fee of $160 per year. And for schoolwide use, which gives all teachers access, the cost starts at $3 per student per year.
Flipgrid allows students and teachers to record short videos to share to document their learning. It’s essentially a social media platform specifically for use in the classroom. Flipgrid is always free for educators with either a Google or Microsoft account.
Virtual Field Trips
Even if in-person schooling is taking place in your district, most field trips are out for now. In many areas across the country, museums and other venues are closed. Yet providing opportunities for hands-on learning plays a role in keeping students engaged. Fortunately, there may be one silver lining to pandemic learning — museums worldwide have opened their doors to virtual tours. That means your students can get access to places they may never have otherwise.
33. Google Tour Builder
Teachers can also use the capability of Google Earth to lead virtual field trips to almost anywhere in the world. Google’s Tour Builder lets you build your own multimedia lesson combining text, pictures, and videos along with Google Maps to create an immersive storytelling experience.
Students can research the locations of famous scientific discoveries or other historical events, tour geological features like volcanoes, visit a famous museum or sports stadium, or learn about indigenous peoples and cultures. Best of all, it’s a free feature of Google Education.
34. Google Expeditions App
The Google Expeditions app also allows students to take virtual field trips, but with the added component of augmented and virtual reality. That allows students to take a “field trip” inside the human body, the Jurassic period, or outer space. Google Expeditions partners with some of the world’s leading museums and publishers to provide content, including National Geographic, The American Museum of Natural History, and the Guggenheim.
Google Expeditions requires users to download an app onto a mobile Android or Apple device or a computer using the Chrome operating system. You can purchase additional tools, like VR viewers, but these aren’t required. And the app itself is free.
35. Virtual Art Museum Tours
Arts students can participate in remote classes by listening in on video lectures and scanning and uploading artwork. But, if you’re looking for other ways to engage students, try assigning a virtual tour of a world-renowned art museum. For example, students can virtually tour the Louvre and get up close and personal with famous works of art like the Mona Lisa.
Additionally, K-12 teachers can schedule a virtual group tour through the Guggenheim. The one-hour tour highlights three to five works of art, and you get a personal guide who will engage students with questions that foster conversation and exploration.
And on select Thursdays, anyone can participate in a virtual view of the Museum of Modern Art. These curator-led virtual tours take viewers inside individual exhibitions to highlight favorite works from the collections. They also share artists’ voices through recorded video, feature articles, and live conversations.
36. Virtual Field Trips
Virtual Field Trips allows kids to explore the world without leaving their homes, perfect for a time of practicing social distancing. K-12 students can experience sites worldwide with curriculum-specific lessons in social studies, life science, geography, and ancient civilizations. Plus, the videos align with specified national and state standards.
While not free, the cost is relatively low at $45 per year for a teacher and all their students. Additionally, schools can sign up for a schoolwide membership that includes all teachers and students (up to 500) with unlimited viewing for one year for $350. The cost for 500 to 1,000 students is $500 per year. And schools for schools over 1,000 students, the price caps at $1,000 per year — meaning you’ll never have to pay more than $1,000 no matter how many students your school has enrolled. All of these pricing tiers work out to less than $1 per student. And there’s nowhere local you can take students for as good a deal.
37. Free Concert Livestreams
Keep students engaged and appreciating music with free nightly livestreams from The Metropolitan Opera in New York. The opera house streams encore presentations from their award-winning Live in HD performances on their website, and each presentation remains accessible until the next night’s livestream.
Special Resources for Arts Courses
Some subjects aren’t well suited for distance learning. Music classes that require ensembles to play or sing together, dance classes that require physical movement, studio art classes that require hands-on instruction, and theater classes involving the close interaction of multiple players and back-of-house personnel are all extremely difficult to adapt to online learning.
That will force many teachers to rely on more traditional classroom teaching methods. For example, a music class might have to listen to music rather than play it. But there are at least a few resources available for arts courses to get students through an online academic year.
38. Adobe Creative Cloud
Adobe Creative Cloud includes a collection of software used for video editing, Web development, and photography. And it’s one of the top programs — and by far the most popular — for graphic design. Although the program is ordinarily pricey, Adobe offers a 60% discount for students and teachers, bringing the cost down from $52.99 per month to $19.99 per month. And now through Nov. 27, 2020, Adobe is running a Black Friday sale that allows teachers and students to save up to 70%.
Additionally, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing need for access to teaching resources, Adobe is offering discounts tailored to students’, teachers’, and campus’s individual needs. That includes a lower minimum requirement of students and lower monthly price. Adobe also offers free education resources for teachers, including lesson plans, courses, blog posts, and on-demand webinars.
Dancio offers online instruction in dance techniques from some of the world’s best dance teachers. While not a substitute for in-person practice and performance, it offers a monthly subscription that allows students to stream unlimited classes for $19.99 per month.
MusicFirst is the only online LMS for teaching music at all grade levels. Even if band practice is on hold, students can still work on music theory, notation, and sight-reading. The cost of the LMS is $9 to $10 per student per year, depending on the plan.
Even with online teaching, students can continue practicing their instrument at home. They get access to thousands of titles to practice playing, and they can receive instant feedback using SmartMusic’s tools. Additionally, students can practice sight-reading and access music to accompany their playing. Plus, teachers can track students’ progress, share music notations for assignments, and record grades in an integrated grade book.
SmartMusic offers a free 30-day trial. After that, teachers can continue using the platform for $80 per year. And the program becomes cheaper with more teachers or students. With at least three teachers or 25 students, the cost reduces to $40 per year.
42. YouTube & Social Media
For any performance-based course, YouTube offers a free solution: have students record short performances and post them to a channel you create specifically for the course. YouTube allows you to adjust privacy settings, so if students don’t want their performances to be public, you can adjust the setting so only you and their classmates can view them. Even better, most learning management systems — including Canvas, Blackboard, and Moodle — allow you to upload videos. So students can discuss and critique performances right in the LMS.
Posting video recordings is also a way to share productions with audiences that otherwise won’t get to enjoy them. For example, if you usually direct a school play or musical in the fall or spring, students may not be able to perform in front of a live audience. And even if your school still plans to allow performances, they may limit audience sizes, and family members that typically attend might not be able to. But the school can record students’ performances and post them to a social media platform for their families to enjoy. Alternatively, you can adapt performances into radio shows or even short films. As NPR reports, many schools made these adaptations to their normal stage performances in the spring of 2020.
Special Resources for STEM and Lab-Based Courses
As with many arts courses, lab-based science courses are difficult to adapt to online instruction. Lab courses, by their nature, require hands-on learning, including performing experiments and interacting with materials. Plus, experiments often require scientific equipment that’s difficult to access outside a classroom laboratory.
This reality requires teachers to adapt their courses to what they can teach remotely and get creative about covering the rest, including using virtual lab options like online simulations.
43. Mystery Science
Mystery Science is a resource for mini-lessons and hands-on experiments for grades K-5. Their library of science lessons features tons of hands-on learning aligned with Next Generation Science Standards and Common Core. In response to the pandemic-related school closures in the spring, Mystery Science combed through its lesson library and pulled the ones that are easiest to reproduce at home at home and ideal for distance learning.
These include mini-lessons like “Does Hand Sanitizer Kill Germs?” and “Were Dragons Ever Real?” And they also have ideas for at-home science experiments like “Could You Build a House Out of Paper?” and “How Could You Send a Secret Message to Someone Far Away?” Plus, they offer digital handouts and assessments and integrate with Google Classroom.
Teachers can access up to 200 lessons for free through June 2021. But if you enjoy using it, it’s relatively inexpensive for unlimited access. A home-school membership is $69 per academic year for one household. A teacher membership for one classroom of up to 35 students costs $99 per year. And schoolwide and district memberships are both currently $1,249 per year until Jan. 15, 2021, when the price returns to $1,499 per year. Schoolwide and district memberships include unlimited access for an unlimited number of students and teachers.
44. National Science Digital Library
The National Science Digital Library (NSDL) provides access to a wealth of mostly OER resources with an emphasis on the STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering, and math). The collection contains descriptive information about educational resources on other sites around the Web. These sites provide the information to NSDL to enable an organized search of educational resources. Some of these include digital labs and simulators.
It also includes hands-on science experiments, videos, engineering challenges, craft activities, and even classroom posters. The service is free to use and allows searching by grade level, Common Core, and state standards.
45. PhET Interactive Simulations
PhET includes free simulations for physics, chemistry, Earth science, biology, and math for all grade levels, from kindergarten through college. Simulations allow students to learn math or science in an interactive, video gamelike environment. They get the benefit of learning through exploration and discovery without having to work with physical materials.
For example, students can conduct experiments with balloons and static electricity using the computer as if they were playing a video game. Or they can build a molecule, test acid-base solutions, learn about density, play with lasers, or learn about the greenhouse effect.
46. Home Experiments With Household Materials
When there’s no other way to teach a lesson than with physical materials, opt for designing simple experiments with easily findable objects, like an observational nature hike for Earth science or geology.
Alternatively, search online for experiments students can perform using readily available household materials. Science Fun for Everyone features many fun elementary school experiments that use common household materials like candy, vinegar, oranges, and even jack-o’-lanterns.
Students can video-record their experiments and upload them to your school’s LMS.
47. Hands-On Labs
When all else fails, you can resort to custom lab kits.
Hands-On Labs is a fee-based service that works with faculty to create custom online and hands-on lab kits for your courses. Prices vary from kit to kit, as the materials supplied depend on your experiment, but Hands-On Labs gives you the ability to customize kits according to your budget. Additionally, Hands-On Labs is a fully equipped LMS for teaching online lab science courses. And it can integrate with Blackboard, Moodle, and Canvas.
If lab kits are still too cost-prohibitive for your students, consider conducting the experiment yourself during a virtual class. Students still benefit from seeing the experiment performed, even if it isn’t possible for them to do it themselves.
Holding Office Hours
In these times of high anxiety and social isolation, what students may need most isn’t perfect instruction, but connection, empathy, and care. Let them know you’re still there for them by providing ongoing office hours. Using a videoconferencing tool like Google Hangouts Meet or Zoom, you can connect with students and their parents in a way that feels more personal than an email.
48. Zoom’s Waiting Room Feature
The Zoom waiting room feature allows you to hold open office hours with a single meeting ID you provide to all students. It admits only one person at a time into your “office.” If you’re with a student and another arrives, they can’t automatically join the private conference in session. Rather, Zoom directs them to wait until the previous student finishes. Once that student leaves, Zoom admits the next student on the waiting list.
This tool is free to use with a Zoom membership.
49. Google Calendar & Google Hangouts Meet
To schedule individual office appointments instead, make use of the appointment slots feature of Google Calendar, which you can use without signing up for Google Classroom. This feature allows you to reserve blocks of time during which you are available for appointments. Students can sign up for one of the available time slots directly through Google Calendar, and it will show up in their Google Calendar as well. You can then videoconference using Google Hangouts Meet. Note that you still need to send them a link and instructions on meeting on Google Hangouts.
Slack for Education allows students to converse with their teachers via text. That’s ideal for students who prefer to chat in real time with their teachers but would rather not have roommates or family members listening in. Teachers can opt to set up a time for texting or keep Slack open on their web browser (or download the app) and receive notifications whenever a student sends a question. They can also post their own notifications for the class and set up channels so conversations can be public (for the whole class) or private with each student.
And for teachers who can’t be stuck waiting for students who may not come during open office hours, there are apps available for iOS and Android. But don’t worry that you’ll be disturbed at all hours of the day and night — Slack gives teachers the option to snooze calls and notifications when they want to be out of the office.
Additionally, the app gives teachers and school administrators the ability to converse via text just like they would in the teachers lounge or department meetings. And it can help keep members of student clubs and organizations in contact with one another. That includes an option to make phone calls through the app.
Standard pricing for Slack is $8 per person per month. But Slack offers 85% discounts for schools and members of educational institutions — like teachers and student clubs.
Now is unquestionably a difficult time for all teachers. We’re grappling with learning new methods of teaching and keeping students engaged. But we’re forced to teach each of our classes in three different ways to accommodate every learner — whether they’re in-person full time, part time, or entirely remote. It’s like having three full-time jobs, and it’s a huge ask. And for that alone, every teacher deserves a giant raise — or at least a spa day.
And while we each enter the field not for the money but for our passion to serve students, it’s essential during this time to remember to take care of ourselves too. We can make ourselves crazy trying to learn new technologies and figuring out how to reach every student. But in the end, the best strategy may be to keep it simple. Adopt one or two new technologies that seem as though they’ll work best for your subject area, your students, and your style of teaching. Experiment with just those, gather feedback, and if they’re not working, only then try something else.
Fortunately, unlike during the emergency closures in the spring of 2020, we have a little more time and a little more room to experiment.