You probably knew your future teaching-self would utilize technology in your classroom, but I don’t think anyone could imagine the pandemic of 2020. As I’m writing this, nobody really knows what returning to school in the fall will look like. What we do know is that we are going to need technology more than ever before. Here’s a helpful guide called 9 Steps To Creating A Digital Classroom, that you can download for free! I also know that you want to stick with one (maybe two) classroom app so your kiddos are not bouncing back and forth between programs. The hardest part is trying to figure out the difference between digital platforms so you can choose the best classroom apps to use.
What’s the difference between each classroom app?
In this first part of my series of the best classroom apps, I’m going to disassemble four different classroom apps, Seesaw, ClassDojo, Remind, and Class Tag.
Seesaw Classroom App
I am a Seesaw teacher through and through. I recently became a Seesaw ambassador, which was a pretty big deal and gives you a premium version of the app. However, if you’re just learning how to use the Seesaw app, the free version has more than enough. In my opinion, this is the classroom app that will give you the most bang for your buck.
What does Seesaw for Teachers look like?
As a teacher, you will have a method to assign activities, record videos, and interact with your students and parents. The Seesaw activity library has thousands of lessons you can assign to your students. Teachers Pay Teachers has Seesaw activities added daily. I recommend learning how to create your own activities to cater directly to your own lessons. During our e-learning, this has been a lifesaver for me, as I was able to make activities for what we were currently studying.
I also use Google Classroom, and the two are easily interchangeable. Google Slides with links directly link into Seesaw. If you want to know more about Seesaw, here’s a link to a post of 7 Seesaw App tips you might not already know. Kris Szajner also has a helpful YouTube channel dedicated to using platforms such as Seesaw for your classrooms. If you want to learn how to make engaging Seesaw activities, check out his tutorials here.
I was honored to do a quick Seesaw tutorial for Kayse Morris (my teacherpreneur spirit-animal). You can watch it here to learn how to get started.
Seesaw is completely free. Seesaw Plus has a free 60 day trial, and after that is $120 a year. If your school adopts Seesaw for Schools, Seesaw Plus is included. Here is a chart that shows you the breakdown of the advantages of both.
As a teacher, you can post videos everywhere! It can be a message to your students and their parents in the inbox or it can be for instructional purposes. You get a limit of 10 minutes, but you can upload files from other places such as YouTube or Screencastify.
Seesaw has a class blog feature as well. Anything you choose can be published onto the class blog, and your kiddos can comment on each other’s work. Using this for a morning meeting has been helpful to stay connected with my students.
What does Seesaw for Students look like?
When a student logs onto their Seesaw class app, they will see their journal, activities, inbox, and a blog if you choose to set one up. Your students will see their own work, any messages from you, and any activities you assign. They have the opportunity to add extra photos, videos, or notes. If they need to have directions repeated, they can replay your audio directions.
Students can also choose their own animal avatar or upload their own pictures. I allow all my students to choose the same animal if they choose. Last year I had six unicorns. It’s just a little thing that helps the kiddos take ownership of their journal.
I encourage my students to send me a message on notes anytime they wish. Do you remember being six years old and wanting to tell your teacher EVERYTHING? Here they still have the chance to tell me that they lost a tooth, or in this case, that they liked the Jack Johnson Recycle song I sent them for Earth Day.
Anything that a student posts must be approved by you, unless you turn that setting off. They can also “like” and post comments on their classmates’ work in your class blog, but you can choose to turn this feature off if that’s something you don’t want to encourage. I have this feature turned on for our distance learning, but I’ve had past years where the amount of “likes” one received or didn’t receive became a problem.
If you make a Seesaw class blog, you can add their activities directly to the blog with one click. This has been a lifesaver for maintaining our classroom community.
Teaching Your Students How To Use Seesaw
You will need to teach your students how to use the app, even if some of them have used it before. It’s important that they learn how you expect them to utilize the tools, as well as how to be responsible. I made a Seesaw Scavenger Hunt which I’m sharing with you for FREE! This is a list of the components that your kiddos will learn on Seesaw to prepare them for any lessons or activities you’ll assign. Click on the picture to grab it today!
What does Seesaw for parents look like?
It is easy to connect a parent to their Seesaw family app with an email link or a QR code. Once they’re connected, they will see their children’s posts AFTER you approve them. They will only see their own children’s journal, and not their classmates. (Bonus cameo of my dog, Mollie as an example).
I usually get a high percentage of parents downloading the Seesaw family app. The QR code is ready to go for Back to School night and I really push the importance of logging on.
Parents have told me time and time again how much they love the Seesaw app because they can see their kiddo’s work in the classroom. It’s also helpful to be able to communicate with me on the same classroom app, rather than leaving Seesaw to contact me using e-mail or another platform.
However, the Seesaw inbox is where I found the only drawback. When you post an announcement to the whole class, it goes into the same feed as private messages. This can be confusing at times because they’re all lumped together. Later, I’ll show you how ClassDojo does a better job of separating the two.
- Student Portfolios: Students can draw, type, take audio and video recordings. Teachers can upload activities, and students will complete them. Activities can be tailored to fit your exact curriculum. There are multimedia options, such as drawing, video, photos, and notetaking.
- Teacher uses: Activities can be customized and organized into folders.
- Parent communication: Parents can communicate with you and their children on the Seesaw Family app. They can see the work that their students complete in class. They can comment on their child’s work, which the students love.
- Ease of Use: Basically if you can use Facebook, you can use Seesaw. The help website provides a useful search bar, and usually comes up with an answer right away.
- PROS: You can upload any template you wish for students to respond digitally.
- CONS: There isn’t a classroom management feature. (See ClassDojo)
Overall, for all the things you need for a classroom app, Seesaw does it all. There are others you can use, but since Seesaw is so easy to use with so many different components, I stick with it for simplicity.
ClassDojo Classroom App
This classroom app started as a behavior tracker for classroom management, but has recently added a student portfolio portion as well. There is a social-emotional feature, and a lot of really cool videos on growth-mindset, empathy, and student mindfulness. There are little monster avatars, which are super adorable, and there are posters and materials that match the monster theme for display in your classroom.
What does ClassDojo for teachers look like?
Once you enter your students into your account, you can customize your behaviors and assign or remove points. I would be wary of using this as negative reinforcement. The research shows that it doesn’t improve behavior in the long run. I would only remove points for missing homework, but not for behavior.
Just like Seesaw, you can assign an activity in a student’s portfolio. The tools are photos, videos, drawing, and a journal. You are limited to a blank template, however. Videos cannot be uploaded, and instructions cannot be recorded. However, I really like the communication aspect of ClassDojo. You can send private messages to students as well as making class stories. Imagine it’s instagram for your classroom. I like this part better than Seesaw, as they’re separate and the messages and pictures you might want to show everyone aren’t mixed together.
What does ClassDojo for students look like?
Students have the chance to create their own monster avatar. They are actually really cute. Within their journal, they will see both their reports and any activities that you have created.
What does ClassDojo for parents look like?
Parents can see their children’s reports and activities as well as communicate with you. There is a direct message feature separate from a “class story”. This works better than the Seesaw messages. If I want to send a message to all the parents with pictures of our apple orchard field trip, it doesn’t get confused with a private messages. The communication in ClassDojo is much more user friendly. Think about your Facebook account where you can see a feed of posts, but also have a private inbox. (Bonus cameo of my cat, Roo as an example).
ClassDojo Classroom App Overview
- Student portfolios: Basically the same with Seesaw, but you cannot upload your own activities. This is the main reason I prefer Seesaw. ClassDojo has the students starting from a blank page only. You can add written directions to their portfolio, but not a template, and no audio directions. If you’re not ready to upload templates, then this shouldn’t be a problem for you.
- Parent Communication/Class Blog: Parents can see their children’s activities and behavior reports on their ClassDojo app.
- Classroom management feature: There is a neat points system. You can customize your account for both positive and negative points. However, I would caution using thisas your only behavior tool. Imagine you are a struggling student who gets points taken away, and the student next to you has 100 points and gets to help in the library. Is that going to help them be confident in class? I used my negative points primarily for missing baggie books.
- Ease of use: Just like Seesaw, this classroom app is simple to use. Parents have all of it within one app, and students can move through their portfolio easily.
- PROS: The social emotional portion is great, and the portfolio, blog, and parent communication is all in one app.
- CONS: You cannot upload your own template or record your own instructions on student activities.
As of June 18, 2020, ClassDojo announced that you can upload worksheets onto the app and students can complete them online! This is just rolling out, so I don’t know what it will look like yet, but this is good news for the ClassDojo fans!
Remind Classroom app
The primary function of remind is parent communication. Students can join as well, and it can serve as a group text for information and updates. I don’t use it for my first grade class, but I’ve used it when I coached Girls on the Run. My own kids have it with their high school teachers and coaches. No more excuses about “I didn’t know”.
- Ease of Use: Once it’s set up, it’s easy, and the app is simple to navigate. You can either get notifications through the app, through text, or through email.
- Parent Percentage: I had 100% parent participation when I used this as a coach. Once you enter in the parent’s phone numbers, you can flood them with reminders to join.
- PROS: Instant communication. One year, there were bad storm fronts moving in the morning of the Girls on the Run race. I was able to instantly give all the parents updates. I don’t know how I could have managed without Remind that morning.
- CONS: It’s communication only. No student portfolio, so if you choose this you’ll need another classroom app for student work.
Class Tag Classroom App
This is a new program that I haven’t used yet, so I can only give you an overview of what I see on the surface, but it looks pretty cool!
Class Tag is similar to Remind in that it’s a communication platform directly to parents. The difference between Remind and Class Tag is that there are more ways to communicate with parents. For example, on Class Tag you can send a file to parents to sign up for something (field trip, parent teacher conferences etc) and they can sign up ON the app. You don’t have to mess with notes or phone calls back and forth from home. Class Tag also has a blog for classroom pictures and updates. It looks interesting enough to try, I may give it a shot this year just to see what it’s all about. I especially like the idea of using it for parent teacher conferences. If you use Class Tag, and can clarify how it works, put it in a post below and I can update this!
- PRO: Looks like this classroom app has everything you would need to communicate with parents.
- CON: No student portfolios.
Biggest tip I can give: Whatever classroom app you use, make sure it works for your needs and the needs of your students and families. Pick the ONE thing that you’re going to use it for the most, and find the classroom app that does it best. For example my ONE thing using student templates for their portfolios. Seesaw does it best. So the rest of the features work just fine for me.
One last thing…
We’re navigating through some new and difficult waters. At this moment, we don’t know what our upcoming year will look like.
So whether you are a total tech newbie, or a savvy tech savant, this guide to creating a digital classroom is going to help you navigate through some of the new changes in education. With 9 essential tips to get you started, 5 tutorial videos, and 4 workbook pages, this is going to start you on your way to becoming confident with technology.