Pedagogical purchases

Bargains on school supplies? There’s an app for that


Back-to school shopping is a lot like Black Friday. But instead of insane deals on cutlery and flat-screen televisions, colored pencils and protractors are what’s flying off shelves. 

The hustle and bustle to get ready for school is a responsibility shared not just by parents, students and teachers, but at many levels of preparation. 

Such shopping needs are coming into the digital age with a number of apps, like one from Teacher Lists, which allows teachers to upload supply lists to help parents know what they need and don’t need through participating stores like Target, Walmart, Office Depot and Amazon.

“Let’s bring it into the digital age,” said John Driscoll, president of the Massachusetts company, which boasts 1.6 million supply lists. The average list contains about 17 items, although some teachers tend to over achieve. 

Schools like Riverdale/Kingsbridge Academy and P.S. 95 Sheila Mencher already have lists through the app. But Teacher Lists is not the only app in town.

Carolina Castro prefers Ed Puzzler to gear up for the school year. Another free service for teachers, Ed Puzzler allows the RKA earth science teacher to start creating assignments for the fall while still enjoying the summer. 

Teachers pick an educational video through the app, which they then mark with questions. Students must answer the questions in order for the clip to move forward. It’s a way for teachers to gauge understanding of what they’re learning in the classroom. 

When it comes to supply lists, Castro prefers to give students details of what they need in the fall. It doesn’t cause too much fuss since her supply list is pretty basic, with only a few outliers like lots of paper for note-taking and colored pencils, which students need to draw diagrams.

“It’s really helpful to have a lot of diagrams and have this big push for art into science because a lot of students tend to understand the concepts better in that fashion,” Castro said. 

However, when it comes to additional supplies for her diagrams, Castro can always count on RKA’s parent association to have her back.

“The PTA can be wonderful and have always sponsored any supplies that I needed and a lot of models in the classroom,” she said. 

In addition to her central supply list, Castro also brings her enthusiasm into the classroom, something which she believes helps ease her students back into school mode. Summer is not just a time for Castro to recharge, but also to talk with her colleagues about what it means to be a teacher, and what it means to them as educators.

“I try to build that level of interest in the first couple of days, and that kind of reels them in,” Castro said. “I kind of share with them what I’ve done in the summer and share my enthusiasm and all the activities that I want to do.” 

One of those activities Castro wants to do with her students is attend the No Barriers Summit, a four-day educational event in the city that focuses on innovations and studies dedicated to helping create a world that is accessible for people with disabilities. RKA was invited to participate in the summit because of their participation as youth cohorts in the Global Impact Challenge last year. 

Their team, POW — People Obtaining Wisdom — received an honorable mention at the challenge, but impressed organizers enough they were invited back as youth cohorts, Castro said. 

Another event to look forward to is the Earth Science Projects/Initiatives, sponsored by the Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory. Once again, RKA students will participate in the Day in the Life of the Hudson River project where they test samples of water. 

Preparation goes beyond just school supplies for Castro. It also includes a certain attitude as well — not just on her part, but on her students as well.

“I expect them to have an open mind, and be willing to try something new and be willing to fail,” Castro said. “The goal is not to always get an answer, but to see value in the actual process and to go through the process as authentically as possible. 

“When we teach science we are allowed to be curious about something, and we’re not always trying to get the right answer, but hopefully the right questions.”