When I mention Dropbox to friends and colleagues, I usually get one of two responses – a knowing smile and nod, or a puzzled and quizzical look. Whether you know what the program is, you have likely heard the name. But really, what is Dropbox?
Dropbox is many things — a multifaceted tool that’s so powerful, you’ll continue to discover new ways to use it. But the short and sweet of it is this: you can use it to store and sync documents and files across computers, tablets, and smart phones. I can write a lecture or lesson plan on my computer at home, put it in my Dropbox folder, and whoosh – it’s synced with my work computer. During my free period at school, I can open that file, make a few changes, and the changes are automatically synced with my home computer. It’s seamless, fast and free. Watch this and then read on to learn some of the ways I’m putting Dropbox to work in my classroom.
How Dropbox works
So, how can you use Dropbox as an educator? There are many ways that you can do this. One is to just manage your own material and make it more readily accessible. My PowerPoint presentations are very image intensive and quickly get over 20MB – not an emailable size (my server limits email space to 5MB). Rushing around in the morning, it’s easy to forgot to copy the new version of a big file onto my flash-drive. By keeping my lectures and other school materials on Dropbox, I always have access to the most recent changes.
Additionally, many applications that you likely use (Evernote, Things, 1Password, Elements, to name a few) have a Dropbox sync option. Check your favorite applications to see if they have a “save to Dropbox” feature. Since Dropbox works across platforms and devices, you can use a Mac at home, a PC at work (which I do), a Blackberry phone and an iPad, and you will have access to your documents on *all* of them (there are also Dropbox apps for iPhone, Android and Linux). Thanks to Dropbox’s syncing magic, your documents will be up to date at all times on all devices.
Using Dropbox with students
In addition to making your life a lot easier, Dropbox can be a great teaching/learning tool – and this is why I introduce it to my students. The first thing to do is to create a sharing folder for each class you teach so you can make information available to your students (PowerPoints, hand-outs, reading assignments, whatever).
You can call this folder anything. For my history classes, I usually use the word “share” and create folders with names like “Ancient History Share.” When you go to your Dropbox page on the web, this screenshot gives you some idea of what you will see.
Next step: Put your mouse over the folder and click on the arrow to the right – a drop-down menu will appear. Select “Invite to Folder.”
Next, you will get the window shown below. Input the email addresses of your students (this will also invite them to join Dropbox, giving you and them the free 250MB). You can also input a message like: “Accept this invitation to have access to our course materials.”
Once you have invited students, this becomes a “Shared Folder.” Whoever has access to this folder (everyone who has been invited and accepted the invitation) can add files, download content, and (whether you like it or not) delete content. However, only *you* (as the owner of the folder) can delete or edit out content permanently. If you want to check and see if there have been any inappropriate changes, click on the folder in Dropbox and then click on “Show Deleted Files.”
As the owner of this Dropbox account, you’ll be able to see what was deleted, when, and by whom. You can restore any deleted file or (if a student modified it) revert to an earlier version. I try to upload only locked PDF files to prevent students from accidentally altering content.
How do I employ Dropbox in my classroom?
I use Dropbox in a number of ways. Here are several:
- To store additional copies of hand-outs. Students know to re-download and print on their own here if they missed a hand-out due to an absence or simply lost it (no one ever asks me for another copy).
- To distribute PowerPoint presentations – most are too large for email.
- As a way for students to turn in homework assignments. It’s an easy electronic homework drop (compared to email) and will time stamp submissions.
Dropbox can also be a useful tool in managing student projects and presentations. In my classes students use Dropbox to submit the visual components of class presentations, for instance. It’s a huge time saver, as it otherwise takes several minutes for students to log in/out of their school accounts to access presentations. If you don’t have individual accounts, you’ll quickly find ways to let Dropbox help you work around that issue.
With Dropbox, I also can visually determine that students have completed a particular portion of a project or presentation assignment. Best of all, since all presentations are “turned in” to same same virtual place, every student can access his or her presentation via one log-in (a huge time saver when you’re trying to get through many presentations in a single 50-minute class).
Students catch on quickly
I began using Dropbox during the first weeks of school. By the end of the school year, I noticed that more and more students were using Dropbox on their own. They would store homework assignments there for easy access (many of my students have at least two homes, rotating between parents, and also need quick access to material while in school. Synching makes keeping up simple).
Students can use Dropbox on their phones to review handouts (rather than a print-out, ultimately saving paper). And many of them have begun to sync their files across multiple computers outside of school. A few have even demonstrated Dropbox’s features to their parents.
This isn’t a program you will have to teach your students to use. Don’t be surprised if in a few weeks, they’re showing you some tricks you haven’t even considered. That’s something I always encourage. (Any student who can show me a new ed-tech trick gets 5 points of extra credit.)
Dropbox is more of a mega-utility than a simple tool. It begs you to think up new ways to use it, in and out of the classroom. If you download a free copy of Dropbox via this link, you’ll get an extra 250mb of storage space for free. Install it on your computers and any other compatible devices. Play with it and see what it has to offer!
Editor’s note: This comparison of Dropbox and the competing Box service might be useful to educators.
An Organized Way to Return Papers
Submitted by: Jodi
To help students stay organized and clutter free, I have a place on a table in the back of the room where all the corrected papers get piled. Every Friday, I assign two students to sort the papers by name and they put them into folders that are also kept in the back of the room. On these folders I have columns. There is a column for the date, teacher comments, a behavior grade for the week, and parent signature. Once the folders have been stuffed, I quickly write my comments and the kids bring everything home. The folder comes back empty every Monday with a parent signature and response to my comment when appropriate. * This system is great not just for avoiding cluttered desks, but it is a quick and easy way to communicate with each parent on a weekly basis. If I have a note to send home to a parent, I put it in this folder and write in the comment space, “See note inside”. If there is a low test grade in the folder, to ensure that the student doesn’t “ditch it” on the way home, I write in the comment space, “60 on math test”. The parents LOVE this system too! * There are envelopes specifically designed for this system that you can purchase through most large school supply companies. The envelopes are called “HOME/SCHOOL ENVELOPES”.
Checking in homework solution
Submitted by: J. Litchenberg
Every morning my kids put their homework folder on their desk and have silent reading time. While they are busy with that, I take my checklist to each student and look at their homework. This way I can immediately see if their name is on it, if they’ve finished it and if they indeed brought it in. This method eliminates no-name papers, and the “I swear I turned it in” blues. I am also able to help those who didn’t understand the homework so they can get it done during recess.
Grade Level(s): K, 1-2, 3-5, 6-8, 9-12
Submitted by: Brenda
I got tired of students claiming –“I turned it in. You must have lost my paper.” After collecting an assignment, I automatically staple the stack together. That way, it is impossible to “lose” one student’s paper. If I “lose” one, then I lose all!
Submitted by: T. Martin-Odin Elem. Odin, IL.,
I use a communication bulletin board with all students’ names on it in bright colored and bold print. I cut 3 slits in the construction paper that is on the board by each kid’s name. I then slide paper clips in the slits. This way we can put tags by the child’s name by simply sliding it up underneath the paper clip. I have the following tags in a basket stapled to the the bulletin board …
- a red 5 minute tag for those who are talking during no talk time. They have to give up 5 min. of playtime. If more than one 5 min. tag is on the board by their name that day they have to write a note home telling mom and dad what is going on and have it signed.
- a blue “math helper” tag. The actual helper of the day chooses this person to hand out all math papers we will need to the kids’ desks while all others are at the meeting wall in the morning.
- a purple “unfinished work” tag This way anytime someone does not finish work before it is time to move on, they put a purple tag by their name, then take the paper back to my desk and place it in the “unfinished work” tray.
This has helped with organization of papers and classroom control.
Submitted by: Brandi Cueller
Collecting papers can be such a nuisance, especially with frequent no names. Next to your completed homework/assignment folder, place an attached highligher and pencil. Have the students highlight their name every time they turn something in. If they forget, they can use the pencil, and then highlight. It solves the no-name problem and the kids love to use the highlighter!
Finished Work and Work in Progress Boxes
Submitted by: Heather Clark
This tip will help organize morning work and independent work throughout the day. I used two shallow boxes (plastic baskets could also be used) and labeled one with “Finished Work” and the other with “Work in Progress”. I placed these boxes in front of my desk and as students completed their written assignment they put their work into the box labeled “Finished Work”. When time was up the students with incomplete work placed their papers into the box labeled “Work in Progess”. I would count both boxes to make sure all work was accounted for and allowed students with unfinished work time during the day to complete it. This method works really well for me because it helps eliminate papers being lost in desks!
Grade Level(s): 1-2, 3-5
Submitted by: Candi Adcock
Take 25 or so file folders and fold a posterboard in half. Glue one file folder on the top of the posterboard. Continue to lay the file folders on top of each other leaving the tab showing. When you are done, you should have 25 pockets to fit papers in. Label the tabs with student’s names. Lay it flat somewhere in your room that the children can reach. I teach my children how to file their own papers throughout the day. As I grade or check papers, I then return them to that child and they file it themselves. I never have to file one paper! On Fridays I pull the papers, staple them together, and put them in a pocket folder to go home on Mondays.
Submitted by: Amy Lipsomb
I use daily communication folders for my special education students. First thing in the morning they bring their folder and place it in their “mailbox”. I read any notes or information from their parents. During the day papers come from the office to go home or notes from me are placed into the child’s mailbox. At the end of the day the students are given a few minutes to put all their papers into their folders, ready for their parents to read. This cuts down on the amount of time I have to run around making sure those important notes don’t get lost on their way into the backpacks.
How to make sure everyone has turned in their paper
Submitted by: Unknown
During the first week of school I assign everyone a number. I usually just go down the roll book and assign the numbers in alphabetical order. I instruct the students that each time they turn in a paper the number should be in the right hand corner of the paper. When all papers are collected I put the in order and I can quickly check and see if anyone has not turned a paper in. This works great and is fast.
Submitted by: Linda Norman
I’ve had some success with an “I.O.U.” book! If a student does not have his/her homework, I request that they sign their name in my I.O.U. book, which is a 3 ringed binder with spreadsheets in it. I have columns labeled Name, date,assignment, made up? and a 4th column for my initials when (and if!) the assignment is made up. This way, students ‘acknowledge’ the problem, and there is almost never a complaint “But I GAVE it to you!”
IN / OUT BOX
Submitted by: Holly Wittenberg & Barbara Ewing
In an open file box I place hanging files that are marked IN 1st. hr., IN 2nd. Hr., and so on. Behind that group of files, I do the same with OUT 1st Hr., etc. This way students place finished work in the IN file, and I place corrected work in each hour’s OUT folder. A student teacher then passes back the work each day. I also color code my folders for each hour!
Inexpensive Mail Organizer
Submitted by: Mollie Mark
I found an inexpensive way to hand back student’s papers that is very easy and doesn’t take a lot of time or classroom space. I purchased one of those hanging file folder bins with a handle lid at Walmart (or Target) for about $4. I put a hanging file in it for each student with their name on it. When I’m finished correcting papers I put them next to the bin and my teacher helper files them away. At the end of the day the students empty their folder into their take home folder. I don’t have the problem of papers being shoved into desks.
Grade Level(s): 1-2, 3-5, 6-8
Keeping up with graded papers each week is less of a headache for me!…
Submitted by: Lisa Slaughter
I label a file folder for each student and place them in a deep box. I keep a shallow box next to it. As soon as I have graded papers and am finished with them, they go into the shallow box to be filed into the folders. This “center” can be manned by up to 2 students at any time (provided the students have all work completed!). The students have the chance to be responsible, learn filing skills, and help their teacher (!). It saves me time, as well. On Friday, I send all papers home. Even if we are short on time, “Viola!”, every paper is filed and ready for home!
No More No-Names
Submitted by: Unknown
An easy way to make sure the students have his or her name on their paper have them draw a shape beside their name before turning it in. So when you go to collect the home work tell the class to draw a happy face by their name (you can have a different shape for each day). This eliminates any “nameless” papers!
Submitted by: Tamie Clark, First Grade, Jackson Elementary
To help teach organizational skills and to keep track of unfinished class work, I use a file crate. Each child has a folder with his/her name and a number. If we run out of time to work on a project or paper, it goes in the folder until we have free time again. This also keeps papers from getting wrinkled and torn in the desks, or taken home by mistake. If you use a number system to sort and grade papers, you can also have each student write his/her number on the paper along with his/her name.
Using student numbers
Submitted by: Renee, 3rd Grade, FL
Because keeping up with papers from each student in each subject can be overwhelming, I’ve added onto the idea of assigning student numbers in the classroom. When students head their papers, they are required to include their personal numbers based on alphabetical order. At the end of the day, papers are collected and put in “ordinal position” by students. I have a quick record of which papers are missing. When papers are graded, student helpers file the papers in individual file folders for the students to check. The folders are kept in a basket in the back of the room and I don’t waste valuable time passing papers to students.
Weekly Progress Reports
Submitted by: Stacey Joy, 4-5 Grades
This tip works with all grade levels. I send home a Weekly Folder with a Weekly Progress Report for each student. The folder goes home on Mondays and the parent receives a report about the child’s behavior, homework, classwork, and all tests are returned from the previous week. The parents sign and return the folder and if they have questions or concerns, they address them to me on the report. This method eliminates confusion that parents may have about their child’s progress. It also lets them know that I care enough to take time on a weekly basis to communicate with them. My students love it and so do their parents!