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Top Ed Tech Trends for 2017

Students wearing VR headsets

Now that you're settled into the new year, it's a good time to start thinking of ways you can improve your classroom. With technology making huge strides every year—every month, it might seem—there are some great educational tools you can get your hands on. To help you find the tools for you and your students, here are some of 2017's top ed tech trends and what they can mean for your classroom.

Explore with Virtual Reality Tools

Virtual reality (VR) can provide your students with engaging opportunities to see things they can't see in their own backyard. There will likely be a cost to implement virtual reality into your lessons, but the benefits may be worth the price. If your school or district can swing it, Nearpod, a company that offers multiplatform educational tools for teachers, has a VR subscription service that includes more than 100 virtual field trips and lessons. Your students could visit locations like the Louvre, Hong Kong, and Egyptian pyramids—all places you can't reach in a school bus!

Joanna Beck, a middle school science teacher in Georgia, said being able to use Nearpod's VR lessons to take her students on great adventures made her feel like Ms. Frizzle from The Magic School Bus. Teachers can even build their own interactive lessons; Lia Gyore, a fourth-grade teacher in California, uses the VR experience in subjects like math and reading. Pricing for this service varies based on class size and service package.

If you're a science teacher, Science Buddies also has a whole section on VR project ideas that you can access free of charge. While hands-on learning is the preferred method for scientific experimentation, using virtual and augmented reality in place of some costly experiments is a great option. You can even turn virtual reality into a fun activity by having your students create their own VR headsets using cardboard they bring in from home and a fairly wide variety of smartphones, like in this CNET tutorial.

Let Nepris Connect You with Industry Professionals

Ed tech tools can make collaborative projects easier by allowing students to share documents, notes, and information in and out of class. They also offer the opportunity to collaborate with experts in the field. Nepris is a platform that allows you to connect with an industry professional who does the kind of work your class is exploring. Your students can participate in live industry chats, learn from actual experts in specific fields, and even take part in real-world projects with experts. (I've even served as an expert for a writing session with gifted fifth graders.) These connections allow your students to receive advice on their ideas and input as they progress through the assignment you've given. As a bonus, they can see what it's really like to pursue some of the professions they might already be considering. The free basic Nepris account gives you access to one live session and one live industry chat, and the Platinum Plan is $149 annually and gives you unlimited access to live sessions and industry chats.

Make Your Own Apps

In light of the global push to bring code into students' lives, you'll probably be seeing much more programming being introduced in core subject areas. Rather than writing a paper or giving a presentation after completing a unit, you can ask your students to write the code for a game that could teach the same subject matter to a different group of students.

Students can use a free, open-source service like MIT's App Inventor to create apps that they can not only share with their peers, but the whole world. The software uses block visuals to help beginners better understand the language of coding. There are also free videos and tutorials to help you and your students use the tool, and MIT even hosts events to help train educators on the software. The end results can be pretty cool! For example, a seventh-grade science class at Deerfield Community School in New Hampshire wrote a series of apps to teach younger students about water. Sixteen-year-old Alberto Suárez created an app to showcase the poems of Manuel María for Galician Literature Day, and it's available for download on the Google Play store.

If you decide to try any of these ideas, or other educational technology, you might have to switch up your classroom design. Look for new furniture options that allow you to better group students in pods for collaboration, create open spaces when needed, and assign quiet spots for individual study—one high school in Illinois was completely renovated to ensure that the entire building was a collaborative learning space.

So, what ed tech trends are you looking forward to integrating into your classroom?