It’s that time of year — “Best Gifts List” season (try saying that ten times fast!). This week I’ve noticed a lot of creative lists for niche audiences such as “The Best Science Gifts for the Coolest Geeks You Know” and “The Best Travel Gifts for the Explorer in Your Life.” So I thought I’d create a list of gifts that any tech-savvy teacher would love to receive this holiday season.
My list is comprised of (1) gadgets I’ve personally used or (2) gadgets that have received numerous positive reviews. I’ve also tried to include reasonably-priced options. I mean, what teacher wouldn’t want a Makerbot 3-D printer (starting around $1,375) or an iMac with Retina 5K display (starting at $2,499)?! But let’s be realistic.
If there’s a gadget, app, or piece of software not on my list that you adore, let me know!
Top to Bottom, Left to Right:
The Joby GripTight GorillaPod Stand ($16) serves as a tripod for numerous mobile devices. The clamp-style mount expands to 2.8″ wide, which holds many iPhones and Androids (though NOT the iPhone 6 Plus). The flexible legs can either sit on a flat surface or wrap around objects like poles or railings. The clamp mount can also be removed to reveal a standard screw that fits many SLR cameras. I have used mine while recording myself teaching as well as recording student presentations. If the GripTight GorillaPod isn’t big enough to hold your mobile phone, Joby offers an “XL” model that will hold the iPhone 6 Plus and other phones 2.7-3.9″ wide.
Quirky is known for designing products that are incredibly simple but so useful, making you ask “why didn’t I think of that??” Cordies ($8) are a great example. This piece of weighted, rubberized plastic keeps your frequently-used cords within reach, preventing them from sliding off your desk or nightstand when disconnected. Genius.
I don’t know about you, but my travel carry-on quickly becomes a hot mess of tangled cords and missing adapters. The Cocoon GRID-IT Organizer ($13–$18) is made of interwoven, rubberized elastic bands, which can hold a variety of objects in place. When I travel, I stick all my charging cords, Mac adapters, and portable hard drive in this thing and they stay put! Cocoon also makes a version that can hold tablets.
Kingston’s 32GB DataTraveler USB Flash Drive ($12) has over 4,000 5-star ratings on Amazon.com for good reason. It’s sturdy, small, cap-less, with a key ring. Kingston offers 8GB, 16GB, and 64GB versions as well.
The Lightning to USB Cable by AmazonBasics ($14) is significantly cheaper than Apple brand charging devices, which typically cost between $30 and $80! But many third-party accessories don’t completely charge iOS devices or allow for proper syncing. AmazonBasics, however, is Apple MFi certified, which means the cable is guaranteed compatible with iOS devices. What a steal!
If you have an iPad and use it while teaching, I strongly recommend you purchase a case with a hand strap, especially if you’re accident-prone like me. There are many options available, but I like New Trent’s Gladius Case for iPad Mini ($32) or Air ($45). The case itself is sturdy, water resistant, and comes with a kickstand while the strap is leather and rotatable 360 degrees. It’s easy to hold and makes me feel more comfortable carrying it around the classroom.
Mac users are still living in a PC world, so we’ve learned to always have a variety of adapters in our laptop bags. I always keep Mini-Display Port to VGA ($29) and Lightning to VGA ($49) adapters in my backpack and extras in my office. Overpriced? Definitely. But you can never have too many.
Speaking of not having enough adapters, I often have too many devices and not enough outlets (a ridiculously first-world problem, I know). The Belkin SurgePlus ($22) has three outlets, two USB ports, and surge protector, plus it can swivel and lock into four different positions. It’s great to have at home, in your office, and to throw into your suitcase when traveling.
I could wax poetic about Evernote for days. Whether you’re composing a to-do list, compiling research for a manuscript, or bookmarking an article to read later, Evernote ($45 one-year subscription) stores every bit of writing you can imagine. While my colleague’s Evernote account is an organizational masterpiece, mine is the equivalent of your junk drawer at home. But I’m okay with that. Every article, website, or image I come across that may have a place in a future class, I send to Evernote and retrieve later from any computer or mobile device. It’s amazing.
Pay phones don’t seem to exist in many places anymore. So when your battery dies, you have to hope a kind stranger will let you use their mobile phone. For those rare emergencies when I can’t get to an outlet or the power goes out, I like to have Jackery’s Bar Premium External Battery ($30) on hand. It charges both iOS and Android devices, adds 200-300% extra battery life, and is small enough to put in a carry-on or glovebox.
Whenever I profess my love for SMORE, folks assume I’m talking about the campfire treat. They wouldn’t always be wrong, but this time I’m referring to the digital flyer creator. SMORE ($59 one-year subscription) is incredibly user-friendly and creates eye-catching flyers. As an instructional technologist, I use SMORE to advertise upcoming events and create step-by-step tutorials, which can include images and videos. I can then post my flyers to social media, embed them in emails, or even print them.
As an avid user, I love the idea of wearing a little Twitter bling. These necklaces are a lighthearted way to advertise your handle and possibly get more followers. I’ve seen them at conferences and, of course, social media savvy celebs wear them. Silver and gold varieties are typically between $50 and $100 while acrylic ones are often much cheaper, like this $18 one I found on Amazon.com. If you’re looking for something fancier, “Survival of the Hippest” make very attractive sterling silver, 14K gold, and rose gold necklaces and bracelets.
If you’re interested in flipping your classroom, looking for a fun student project, or wanting a unique way to introduce yourself to your students, look no further than PowToon ($24 one-year subscription). This Web-based tool allows the average person to create professional-looking, animated presentations. It’s significantly less expensive than Go Animate and more dynamic than Power Point. I’ve watched some wonderfully entertaining lectures and sales pitches on the PowToon website.
If you really admire a teacher and have the funds to reward their hard work and dedication, these gifts are for you.
Many conference hotels are limited in the number of rooms they can equip with projectors for presenters to use. So if you’re looking for a travel-friendly option, AAXA’s P4X Pocket-Sized Projector ($300) may be just what you need. Since it fits in the palm of your hand, it’s not going to be as powerful as a Smartboard projector, but it still puts out a clear image and is easy to carry around. But keep in mind, because of its small size, it uses micro-ports (micro USB, micro-SD, mini-HDMI, and 24-pin VGA) and will likely require an adapter to connect your iPad, iPhone, or laptop.
I’m a bit conflicted about the Sqweezel. Considering it’s simply metal and plastic, its price is perplexing. But I sure do love mine, so I’m still going to include it in this list. The Sqweezel ($59) clamps to the edge of my desk and holds my iPad Mini, allowing me to more comfortably accomplish a variety of tasks without having to hold the device. That’s all it does. Nothing else. Is that worth $59? Probably not…
If you evaluate or participate in any form of public speaking, a Swivl Robotic Platform should be added to your wish-list. Whether you want to capture your lectures, practice a sales pitch, facilitate teaching observations, or record student presentations, the Swivl ($395) will make life easier. Simply position your mobile phone, tablet, or video camera on the platform, put on the lanyard, and watch the Swivl follow you around the room. Like most tracking devices, it isn’t perfect; so if you move very quickly, there may be a slight lag time. But for your average lecture or presentation, it works wonderfully.
Finally, for anyone in higher education, whether you’re a struggling grad student, underpaid adjunct, exhausted tenure-track prof, or professor emeritus, the Chronicle of Higher Education ($89 one-year subscription) is a must-read. I am particularly partial to the blogs Lingua Franca, ProfHacker, and Wired Campus. Reading these blogs inspires me to completely overhaul some aspect of my teaching about every other month (and that’s a good thing).
What’s on your holiday wish-list?