25 Next Gen Tools for the Inquiry Classroom

Next gen tools provide meaningful ways teachers and students can explore, question, reflect and share–leading to Deeper Learning and blended and personalized opportunities for students. Here are 25 ideas for using next gen tools this year in your classroom.
Rich Content. Next gen tools provide rich content for blended blocks of social studies, science, and math and help spur thought-provoking discussions, Socratic Seminars, writing prompts, and opportunities for extensions into real world settings. The tools below are multi-disciplinary and multi-sensory.
1. At Lego, it’s all about the building and students using their hands to create (and destroy). Great ideas include designing simple (and powered) machines and teaching students the art of storytelling are all inside this online catalogue for using Lego in the classroom, preschool on up.
2. Discovery EDU has free teacher resources aligned to CCSS using Discovery Channel’s rich multi-media content.
3. PBS for Educators has their Point of View series which includes video content for the older set, SCI girls promotes STEM, and there’s an updated Daily News Story to keep students talking about current events. (A recent post features a video titled “Ferguson residents speak up around protests” along with discussion questions for students.)
4. Over at NASA, students can create their own podcasts using NASA technology, there are plenty of STEM resources, and NASA provides lots of career information, scholarship opportunities, internship opps, and even has student ambassadors.
5. Big History Project offers free, open source curriculum perfect for World History, Science, or a block for grades 7-10, and beyond- even parents can sign up! Lots of extension activities, students watch videos, read texts, and write all while learning 13.8 years of history! Hear more about what teachers say about Big History.
6. Nat Geo for Teachers offers lesson ideas like “World Population and Wealth Distribution Using Cookies”. You can use multimedia to teach complex topics, encourage inquiry, and more.
Simulations Learning. Realistic simulations and games-based learning are here and they revolutionizing the classroom. These create massive engagement opportunities for the digital set and offer rich hands-on learning experiences.
7. Canvas is offering free MOOCs for students and educators including one on how to teach Minecraft in the classroom.
8. The US Navy has STEM apps that simulate what it’s like to be in the Navy and take students on nautical adventures.
9. The US Army does also here.
10. PhET from the University of Colorado provides free, interactive, online physics and chemistry simulations- think video games- for students to simulate landing on the moon or understanding how our solar system works.
11. We are still a huge fan on in person shadow days and internships, yet orgs such as United Teach provide cool ways for students to experience careers virtually. You can sign up for this as a volunteer and share your passions with students, or sign up as a teacher and connect your students virtually to people in a variety of careers. Expose your students to careers and adults doing cool stuff. Remember: we still encourage the real thing. This is a great idea for students in remote areas, for those are working on projects that need an adult mentor, or for students with niche interests. United Teach makes these types of connections possible.
Coding. We know the stats: Coding jobs are prevalent, and the field is growing fast. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, two of the fastest-growing occupations are in computer science and related fields – these fields are anticipated to grow by more than 50% in the next three years. We’ve written a lot about coding including this Smart List that highlights 10 coding organizations you need to know.
12. Code.org has tons of teacher and student resources for you to get started on coding, and this org leads the way in promoting Hour of Code.
13. We highlighted Apps for Good in a recent post about projects that combine humanities with coding. Great organizations that get our kids thinking about social justice issues and designing code are models for content integration and PBL.
14. Over at Code HS, they have everything you need to learn computer science at school or at home. They have various course options including web design and professional development for educators.
Project-Based Learning & Design Thinking. Real-world PBL approaches allow students to explore their own interests through authentic projects, ideally real-world and supported by mentors. Design Thinking projects are one approach to PBL that’s highly engaging, where students walk through a specific DT process to come up with innovative solutions to tackle problems and questions. For profiles of exemplary PBL schools, see Deeper Learning for Every Student Every Day.
15. Big Picture Learning, a network of schools across the US and internationally, takes PBL and personalization to another dimension. Around since the 90s, BPL schools understand “one student at a time” and “personalized” learning in ways others are only beginning to think about. BPL has 13 new guidebooks available on project based learning, individualized learning plans, college and career readiness, the importance of noncognitive skill development and more.
16. At Educurious, they combine online PBL courses with their expert network of people in various professions and careers.
17. IDEO is a design firm where you can learn more about Design Thinking, a specific type of PBL that focuses on empathy research and design for the user experience, from watching this video of IDEO re-designing the grocery cart. They also have a toolkit for teachers.
18. The D School at Stanford also has resources for Design Thinking in the K-12 classroom.
19. The folks at Leadership + Design offer excellent hands-on professional development opportunities for educators to do Design Thinking over the course of a weekend or week-long intensives.
And let’s not forget tools for Presenting, Pinning & Portfolioing.
20. Portfolios: Check out eduClipper and Pathbrite.
21. Pinning: Tools for teachers and students include Tackk, Pin Resource to standards with MasteryConnect, share what you know on Learni.st, and of course Pinterest.
22. Storytelling: Head on over to Storybird and this take this storytelling course on Coursera.
23. Presenting: Have your students make digital posters from Glogster (also see 30 apps for sharing, showing & tracking).
24. Publishing: Here are some ideas for publishing: Edublogs, Kidblog, and Blogger (and check out 10 reasons for students to blog).
25. And finally, clearly falling into the category of “you can find anything on Google”, Google has an extensive library of searchable lesson plans that encompass all of the above and more. You can find lesson plans for coding, PBL, Design Thinking, Games-Based Simulations, and Rich Content (and way more). Happy googling!
Instructure is a Getting Smart Advocacy Partner.
This blog is brought to you by Big History Project as part of a series. For more stay tuned for the Getting Smart on Big History bundle and see the other posts in this series:
Life’s Universal Themes Capture Student Engagement
Top 10 Reasons to Use Big History Project in Your Class This Year

Bonnie Lathram

Bonnie Lathram is a student advocate and former teacher.

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