I've never met a teacher who didn't spend personal time and money shopping for classroom resources. By contract, I begin work in two days. I spent the afternoon picking up some last-minute items.

In order to purchase items, they need to fulfill at least two of three criteria:
  1. They must enhance student learning
  2. They must increase classroom efficiency
  3. They must be cheap (i.e. under US$1.50 per student)
Plain-Colored Cotton Material
The purpose is to increase classroom efficiency. When I interview for teaching positions and am asked my biggest weakness, I tell the committee I don't change bulletin boards. If I have to choose between planning, teaching, assessing, communicating with parents, and changing bulletin boards, the bulletin boards lose.

That said, it is important that bulletin boards look fresh. Cotton material stays bright for years - sunlight will not dull the color. My favorite color is black because borders and bright letters pop. I attach boarders that can be used year-around (I might change the border for Christmas).Material is also an example to the students of ways in which we can use less paper. Cotton fabric is inexpensive - especially since it can be used multiple years.

Plastic Sunglasses
I do my best to teach student to keep online identities private. When taking whole-class pictures of students for my class blog banner, I think it would be both safe and "cool" to have students wear sunglasses. Then they can cop their best "spy" poses for the shot.

I went to the HK$10 (US$1.28) store and bought 23 pairs of dark glasses that I will keep and use every fall.

The sunglasses increase efficiency because my ten-year-old students do not need parent permission to create avatars on sites like Voki where the terms of use state that the service is for children 13 and older.

When asking questions in class, I call on students randomly. To facilitate the random questioning, I write student names on chopsticks and draw the chopsticks out of a jar. I feel strongly about not having students raise hands. If I call on students who raise their hands, I give other students permission to not participate.

While the same thing can be accomplished with popsicle sticks, the chopsticks have two advantages. First, chopsticks are culturally relevant in my teaching context. Second, the cheap, wooden chopsticks have a flat top. I color the tops - red for girls and blue for boys. I can then make sure I'm calling on even numbers of boys and girls.

I also use chopsticks for grouping students - it's quick and easy to grab names.

iPad Applications
I downloaded Stick Pick because my jar of chopsticks is not always within reach. More accurately, I lose my jar as often as I lose my coffee cup (once or twice daily). I dislike interrupting the flow of a lesson to ask Has anyone seen the chopsticks? 

On the other hand, I carry my iPad with me as I teach so that I can make quick, anecdotal notes on observations. Stick pick will allow me to call on students randomly when my chopsticks are out of reach. I will still use chopsticks for student grouping and I will encourage substitute teachers to use chopsticks to call on students. Tick Pick is a great back-up.

Confer was a lifesaver last year. While the US$9.99 is a bit steep, the cost averages out over time. Confer is useful for taking anecdotal notes, especially in literacy. I've tried to keep running records on students using notebooks and post-its, but I lose paper. Who has time to sort, organize, and file at the end of each day?

When I add a student note in Confer, I input or re-use a tag, a strength, a teaching point, and a next step. These are recorded and seen when I meet with the student for subsequent conferences. Even better, I can export all the notes to a Google Spreadsheet. The spreadsheet becomes my template for written comments at the end of each semester.

Final Thoughts
Looking back over my list, my purchases mostly met criteria for efficiency. I'm okay spending a little extra to have a life outside of the classroom. What are some of your end-of-summer purchases for the classroom?

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Tags: efficiency, technology


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