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So you’ve got your Google Classroom (and/or Canvas) all set up and integrated with your Savvas Realize standards-based content delivery but little did you know you might be missing a few extra teacher tools to round out your virtual teaching. This year I am scheduled to teach virtually from home until at least February! In a normal school year, I would be rushing out to the shops buying enough pencil sharpeners that are strong enough to survive the year but still safe enough to not chop off a finger. In a normal school year, I’d buy a new set of chair bags and I might also buy 400 dry erase markers because Lord knows:  THEY. ARE. ALWAYS. MISSING.  This year, however, when it comes to additional supplies what do we order?  Do you even get to order?  Is there even money in the budget?! 

If there is one thing for sure during this time, it is that we don’t have a grasp on what the daily details of our lives will be in 6 months.  For a teacher that is tough, but when it is time for kids to come back into the room, we’ll figure it out then – we always have.  For now, if your school’s budget is amendable, and if you’re teaching virtually in some way, here is a practical quick list of items that I’ve asked my principal to purchase for the upcoming 2020-2021 school year: 

1. Gooseneck Phone Holder with Clamp:

  • Your phone is all you need to film yourself.  Even if your laptop has a camera, filming videos on your phone will always be helpful, simple, and engaging for your students.  I love to film in different spots and using a phone holder that can clip onto the edge of anything and adjust to different angles is crucial.  Make sure you order one that can stretch to the size of your phone.  You should be able to find these for under $25.
  • An easy alternative is a tripod with an expanding phone mount.  These are often great because they come with a Bluetooth remote to start and stop your recordings. 

2. USB Phone Cable:

  • Getting a cable that plugs your phone into your computer is a huge plus! If you’re using Quicktime you can actually plug your phone in and display it on your screen.  This would allow you to share anything that is on your phone or switch your phone into camera mode and now your face is displayed on the screen.  This will let you have your face on the screen when you are sharing other media on your screen through Zoom or MS TEAMS.
  • Using Quicktime will also allow you to screen record, making this a great way to deliver and record instruction.  Display your phone, put it on the camera, pull up your content, and record the screen.  This cuts down on tons of editing or trying to turn PowerPoint into a video tool – which it is not!

3. Mic for Your Phone:

There are two options here, both you should be able to find one at a high quality for around $40.  With either option, I would recommend NOT getting a mic that is solely for your phone – meaning the plug is made to plug into your phone.  The mic should have a regular headphone audio plug.  You can then get an adaptor for less than $10 if you need to plug it into your iPhone Lightning jack.  The one I ordered actually came with an adaptor.  This will give you more flexibility so you can plug the mic into your computer or your phone, depending on what you’re recording or working on.

  • Your first option would be a mounted or tabletop mic, one that you and the students see and you can speak into.  It will pick up more around you but can be in the way depending on the type that you get.
  • Your second option would be a lavalier mic, which just means that it is a small mic that clips onto your shirt.  Your range on this mic will be limited because it is clipped on you, but the quality is great, and it is what professionals use for hands free interviews – you will most likely need hands free! 

4. Headset Splitter Cable:

  • If you are going to use a mic, you’ll often find that the plug on your laptops is the same for headphones and mic.  This means you couldn’t wear headphones if you’re miced up -I don’t like that.  A splitter plugs into your one computer plug and will now give you a separate plug for headphones and a separate one for your mic. 

5. Video Lights:

  • The lighting in our houses is completely weird and not made for filming.  You can order a set of tabletop LED video lights for $35 or buy a lamp and some super bright white bulbs and see if you can make it work.  I’m ordering the LED and will probably spend a bit more to get ones that are on tripods instead of tabletop size, those are running for about $50.

6. 1TB Flash Drive:

  • Most of us do have a shared drive such as OneDrive or DropBox, but you really should have all of your work backed up personally.  With the amount of video you’ll be working with this year, don’t keep it on your computer’s hard drive.  Flash drives are large enough these days to store all we need.  The one I ordered was $36 and has a key ring.  If I need to work on my school computer or personal laptop or if something goes down – I’m covered and can work anywhere.

7. Multi-Color Dry Erase Markers:

  • I still anticipate writing on a dry erase board.  Whether it is me standing at a board or working on a small one I hold up – This is one of the best ways for kids to see your writing clearly and quickly. (I do have other solutions but check out my Tech Recommendations article for those)
  • Stick to dark colors and thick markers. 
  • I would also recommend small pieces of plexiglass for you to write on, instead of the whiteboard that will often block your face when you’re showing.  You can get a frame from the Dollar Store and pull that out or get a small precut piece from Home Depot for less than $5.  Visually having a board that students can see through helps keep them engaged and seeing your face. 

8. HDMI Cable:

  • I plan on plugging my computer into my TV when I have my full class on a digital call.  I want to be able to clearly see them all, not squint at 25 faces on my 13” laptop screen.  That is just a $10 HDMI plug or if you’re super fancy you can cast your computer to your TV but I doubt any principal will pay for an Apple TV or Chromecast for you. 

If you were to get everything on this list, it would probably come in around less than $200 but you would be set up to professionally handle the virtual classroom you’re about to live in.  In a normal year, both you and your principal will spend that ten times over.  Try something new this year, go out on a limb, and put in a purchase request your principal never thought they’d see. 

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Thomas Dennison

Thomas Dennison

5th Grade Teacher

Note: Fresh Ideas for Teaching blog contributors have been compensated for sharing personal teaching experiences on our blog. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer or company.