Top 10 Gadgets for Teachers
My infatuation with gadgets and technology began long ago before there was even a thought in my head about becoming a math teacher. I might be dating myself with this reference, but I remember a time when there was no such thing as the Internet1 but even back then I was the proud owner of a Casio calculator watch and I was inexplicably attracted to anything with an LCD screen and/or some kind of electronic interface. Fast forward to 2016 and naturally, that infatuation has spilled into my teaching career to the point that I regularly get questions from my teacher friends about what gadgets I am currently using in the classroom as a teacher. Here’s a list of the top 10 gadgets for teachers that I personally recommend if you’re a gadget hound like me or looking for a gift for the technophile teacher in your life.
Top 10 Gadgets for Teachers
#1 Apple Watch (Or any fitness band of your choice)
This recommendation comes with a caveat: only get the Apple Watch if you can find it at a sub $300 price point. Why am I saying this? Well, because the biggest reason I am making this recommendation is for its health tracking features more than anything else. Although I teach math and not PE, I still try to be as health conscious as possible in keeping track of my daily physical activity (although I could be doing much better) and having an Apple Watch has helped me stay on top of my fitness goals in a way that I just wasn’t able to do before without it. In my opinion, the Apple Watch has the best user experience when it comes to fitness features. There are a ton of great apps on the iOS platform that offer 3rd party support for different niches in the fitness world, but even the default Apple activity tracker does a great job of tracking physical activity markers such as your steps taken, distance walked, heart rate, etc. However, like I mentioned earlier, if you can’t find it for less than $300, I would recommend going with a competitor like the Fitbit Charge. It’s less than half the price of the cheapest Apple Watch and pretty much does all of the same things that the Apple Watch does in terms of fitness features. It doesn’t look as nice as the Apple Watch and if I’m being completely honest, it doesn’t satisfy the gadget envy in the same way that an Apple product does, but if you don’t mind it, it does the job just as well without breaking your already meager budget as a teacher.
Recommendation: Buy only if you can get it <$300.
This is one of those recommendations that no one takes too seriously, but once you buy it, you wonder why you didn’t buy this sooner. Before the Cocoon GRID-IT! my backpack was a hot mess of tangled wires, adapters, pens and assorted writing implements, and gum. My wife is a neat freak and always avoided my bag like the plague because she did not want to deal with the technological junk drawer in my backpack. At the behest of one of our friends who is both a technophile like myself but a neat freak like my wife, my wife bought this for my birthday last month and I hate to say it, but my backpack is now tangle free. Everything has its own designated spot and it was actually kind of fun sitting there with all my gadgets and wires hanging out while I planned out what the most efficient layout possible. What’s more, the company that makes the GRID-IT also makes a backpackversion that has it built into a laptop bag. This is probably going to be my next bag once my current one kicks the bucket.
Recommendation: STRONG Buy. Great inexpensive way to organize your gadgets and accessories.
Believe it or not, my main workhorse is still an aging 11″ Macbook air from late 2011. It works fine and is plenty fast for what I need it to do. However, the only complaint I have ever had about it was the paltry 64gb hdd it came with. I’ve had to be super creative about what I wanted to save on the local drive itself and what I wanted to push up to the cloud on Google Drive, Dropbox, or iCloud (yes, I use all three). However, I recently found out about this that is a potential solution if you’re in a situation like mine. Now, if you’re a true Mac Fanboy you might note that the 2011 Macbook Air does not have a SD card drive. In that case, a SanDisk Ultra Fit 128GB USB 3.0 Flash Driveis probably a better choice. It’s just not ideal since it protrudes more than the PNY Storedge option.
However, if you do go with the PNY StorEDGE 128GB Flash Memory Expansion Module there are a few things to consider:
- Use this only as extra storage. DO NOT use put important OS level files or programs on this as there is always the chance that you might accidentally pop it out in the middle of a read/write cycle which is a big no no in the world of file storage.
- Think twice before using this on a Mac. I have read some reviews recently about using these on Macs because apparently, mounted SD cards in MacOS keep the OS running if plugged in which results in a HUGE drain on your battery.
Recommendation: Buy only if you’re desperate for space on your local machine and a stickler for aesthetics. Think of this as a USB thumbdrive you leave plugged in and forget about.
I had this gifted to me when I started my teaching career and I remember not thinking much about it at the time. Boy, was I wrong. I dont know what it is about my teaching style, but lets just say you might as well glue this to my hand because I pretty much dont teach without it now. At this point, you might be thinking to yourself, “But Matt, why this one? Arent wireless presenters a dime a dozen?” and you might be right. In fact, if you asked me when I initially was gifted this wireless presenter, I probably would have agreed with you. However, I have presented in front of enough teachers and professional development events that I have pretty much used all the different types of wireless presenters out there and I still think this is the best out out there.
Without getting into too much detail, this Logitech Wireless Presenter is a great size, fits well in the hand, doesnt over-complicate the button situation, has a built in laser pointer that has proved handy on more than one occasion, and only takes 2 AAA batteries that I replace maybe once a school year. I really have no complaints about it and dont hesitate in recommending it.
Recommendation: Depending on your teaching style YMMV, but if you dont have one, its a solid tool to have in your teacher-toolbox.
Here’s another unsung hero when it comes to recommended gadgets for teachers. I don’t know how exactly to say this nicely, but you NEED speakers in your classroom in 2016. Nobody tells you this, but you will not get by with only the speakers on your laptop. No, I don’t care how loud you think your laptop is, you need some kind of sound system for your classroom whether you like it or not. The ONLY exception is if you insist on being the uncool teacher who basically runs their entire classroom through the textbook and still use a chalkboard and overhead projectors to teach your class. But, if you are a teacher who wants to live in the modern age, a good sound system is worth its weight in gold. I regularly use music to mark transitions in class routines, show informational youtube videos, and let my students choose the music (from an approved list) to listen do when they’re doing group work or a whole class activity. A good set of speakers makes this a much better experience than just using your stock laptop speakers or not having sound at all.
Now that I’m done ranting about the need for a good set of speakers for your classroom, it’s hard to beat this bluetooth solution from Amazon. It’s cheaper than almost all of its competitors, it has great battery life, designed pretty well, you will never have to worry about wires, and for the money it’s hard to beat.
Recommendation: What are you waiting for? Buy this immediately if you don’t have one.
#6 Label Maker
Out of all the recommendations I’ve made so far on this list of gadgets for teachers, here’s the one that I think is the best bang for your buck in terms of value per dollar in my opinion. Although that sounds a little hyperbolic, its strangely satisfying how labeling things ends up being to the point that you start labeling things that don’t even need labels, but you do it anyway. It makes your folders look more professional, your cabinets somehow seem neater, and for whatever reason, I’ve gotten more comments from other teachers about having a well organized room after buying and using a label maker which is weird because I’m normally anything but neat.
I actually don’t have the label maker I have listed here, but buy whichever one you can get your hands on or inherit from another teacher. I had one years before I started teaching and its still going strong. This one just happens to be the best seller on Amazon right now.
Recommendation: A label maker isn’t a necessity but it magically makes your classroom seem more organized than it is. Buy it if you end up getting a spare Amazon gift card or two during Christmas.
Why get an Apple TV for your classroom? Well, it definitely shouldn’t be to play Netflix (unless your school allows it once in a while). The reason why I use an Apple TV in my classroom is because Airplay (which comes built in) is a stupidly simple way to project what I’m doing on my laptop and/or iPad onto the screen I’m projecting in front of my class. What’s more, if you are in a 1-to-1 device classroom using iPads (as I was one summer… it was so nice… and so sad when it ended) it’s so nice to project student work onto the screen using Airplay and let that lead into whole class discussions about what they’re observing on screen. I might have to write a whole other blog post on the wireless setup in my classroom but at this point, I can’t imagine not having this in my teacher toolbox.
IMPORTANT!: I’m recommending you get the 3rd gen Apple TV because of its discounted price ($69) compared to the newer 4th gen apple TV which costs more than twice that ($150). For the purposes you’re going to be using it for in the classroom, the 3rd gen Apple TV is more than capable to do everything I’m going to recommend you use it for.
Recommendation: This one isn’t a necessity at $69 but if you can get your hands on a used one or a hand-me-down from someone who is upgrading to the latest Apple TV, do it.
#8 Tylt ENERGI 5K+ Battery Pack“>Tilt ENERGI 5k+ Battery Pack
Out of all the gadgets I’m recommending on this list, this definitely belongs in the “Want” category more than any other thing on this list because you definitely don’t NEED an external battery pack. That being said, even as a teacher, I have had my share of moments when my phone battery just wouldn’t last an entire day. Normally, that doesn’t sound like it’s that big of a deal, but two years ago, there was a scary incident at the school I was working at where we were in full lock-down mode for a few hours (not to worry, it was a false alarm). Let’s just say that having a fully charged phone came in handy to call the wife and let her know why I was going to be a little late coming home and the ONLY reason I had a fully charged phone that day was because I had my external battery pack handy.
I don’t actually use the battery pack I’ve linked here in favor of a bigger external battery that I keep in my backpack. However, the one here has built in cables that take care of the tangled cable business we’re trying to avoid as gadget hounds and the price is right too.
Recommendation: Definitely not a “need”, but if you can afford it, it’s a handy thing to have just in case your phone runs out of juice unexpectedly.
#9 LaCie Rugged Mini“>LaCie Rugged Mini USB 3.0 HDD
In a world filled with cloud storage options like Google Drive, Dropbox, and Box.com, an external hard drive is a nice thing to have around just in case you don’t have access to the internet or if you’re like me and are always running out of room on your local machine. I don’t have a ton of saved lessons like some teachers I know, but I have enough that I’m proud of and don’t want to risk losing just because I didn’t take the proper precautions to preserve a digital copy in multiple places.
This one from Lacie is pretty bulletproof and durable and I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending it to people.
Recommendation: If you have a lot of valuable files or past lessons or videos you want to have available, get an external HDD. Bonus points if you pay a little more to get the solid-state version.
#10 Toshiba Chromebook 2“>Toshiba Chromebook 2
If it wasn’t clear to you from before, I’m a pretty hardcore Mac Fanboy and love everything about Apple’s design philosophy and its trajectory as a company. The huge downside to anything from Apple is its steep price tag and I can appreciate how hard that would be on a teacher’s budget. While that financial aspect is a large part of the reason why I’m recommending the Toshiba Chromebook 2 as your go-to device for your classroom, I would go as far as to say most people wouldn’t even notice the fact that this is a Chromebook and not a fully fledged laptop in the traditional sense. Factor in the fact that this is a third of the price of Apple’s cheapest laptop offering, I wouldn’t hesitate getting one myself. It does everything you need a laptop to do in a classroom and at the price point, it’s hard to beat. There’s a reason why Chromebooks are becoming the defacto device of choice in schools across the country.
Recomendation: A definite “buy” depending on your circumstances. If you are in need of a laptop to use in the classroom, this does everything you need a laptop to do in the classroom, and the price is hard to beat.
Got any recommendations of your own? Tweet your recommendations at me @mathmattics and let me know!
Shocking, I know.↩