Online Tools You Need for a Successful Back To School

It’s that time of year, everyone! If you’re like most people, the new school year along with the challenges it throws your way, may bring up some feelings of worry, or even dread. Emotions like these can usually be attributed to feeling unprepared, having apprehensions surrounding grades, and really just wanting to savour the last few days of summer break. But when equipped with the proper tools, we have the power to unlock limitless potential. This is why in this week’s Back-to-School series post, we will look into 7 online apps and resources you need in order to have a successful school year, covering areas including Time Management & Productivity, Studying & Supplemental Education, and Student Wellness.

Time Management & Productivity

Time Management and Productivity are undoubtedly the most important aspects of a successful school year, with them having a strong influence on both a student’s academics and their personal life. However, these also tend to be the hardest ones to master, which is why the three online tools below are well worth looking into!

Google Resources:

Out of all of the resources that Google Workspace offers, both Google Calendar and Google Sheets have proved themselves in the arena of time management and productivity. And although there are plenty of other digital planners out there, these serve as highly effective platforms mainly due to allowing users to customize them to their liking and their time blocking feature. Time Blocking, which has been somewhat of a buzz word recently, will be mentioned quite a few times in this section so let’s dive into what it really is.

Time Blocking is a time management/productivity method that requires you to divide your tasks into blocks of time throughout the day, with each block representing either a specific task or a group of them. For example, let’s say I have to create biology notes, complete my math homework, study for a French test, answer emails, and go to set extracurricular meetings all between the hours of 10:00 AM and 11:00 PM. Using time blocking, I would first dedicate areas to the meetings that are already set in terms of timing, work on biology notes from 1:00 PM to 2:30 PM, answer emails from 3:00 PM to 3:45 PM, complete math homework from 4:00 PM to 6:00 PM and so on. This is effective because it holds a person accountable for time wasted through “student maladies” such as procrastination, rather than having an open-ended to-do list that leaves them jumping from one task to another and then back to the same task throughout the day. Also, through setting a time period in which a task is to be completed, time blocking teaches people how to set realistic time management goals and work to achieve them.

Since both Google Calendar and Google Sheets give users the ability to time block, they are definitely high on the list for resources in this section! However, these resources both have their advantages and disadvantages. For instance, although Google Calendar works with many different integrated systems like Zoom and Google Classroom and allows you to filter task-types in your daily schedule, its customization options are quite limited, with colour-coding each time block being one of the only ways to make your calendar truly yours. Contrastively, the Google Sheets “Schedule” template that is designed for time blocking not only gives users complete creative freedom with colour, font, layout, and more, but it also offers notes and a to-do list section below it! To see a good example of what time blocking looks like in Google Calendar, click here. Also, to see an example of how Google Sheets can be used to manage your time, click here (use a personal account to open). Again, both are great resources! Choose one that would work best for you!

Todoist:

Another great way to maximize productivity as a student is by using to-do lists. If you’re someone who gets overwhelmed by their workload, forgets to complete important tasks, and struggles to meet due dates, a to-do list is the first major step towards leading a successful school year. These lists of wonders have been shown to improve memory, make a workload seem more manageable, and even increase motivation and productivity.

Todoist is a pretty amazing online platform that not only creates to-do lists, as one would presume, but it also allows users to set daily tasks and organize them into projects. From here, the tasks can be organized even further by priority, labels, and filters. Tasks can also even have subtasks and descriptions added to them, making something as simple as a to-do list all-encompassing in the best way possible! Additionally, users of Todoist are able to not only have a section where they can see the tasks needed to be completed the day of, but also view a calendar outlining all upcoming tasks that they have set. To make things even more interesting, however, the platform allows you to set productivity goals and tracks them daily, weekly, monthly and/or annually (depending on your subscription plan) by assessing task completion.

Something else I find very distinct to this platform is how users are able to collaborate with each other to complete tasks! You can actually share a project with other Todoist users and, as a team leader, assign tasks to different people! This really comes in handy when you have to work with others on a school project, when you are a leader of an extracurricular activity, and more! However, if creating a structure on the platform from scratch seems daunting, they have got you covered! Check out the hundreds of templates offered on their website that are bound to meet your productivity needs! To get a better idea if Todoist is right for you, watch this short video of a medical student giving a tutorial on her use of the platform! Also, be sure to check out Carl Pullein’s Youtube Channel where he posts tons of videos explaining how he has made use of Todoist!

Fact: Todoist is one powerful tool! It understands wording in tasks and intuitively schedules them based on this. For example, if you were to make a task such as “Read 40 pages of a book every Monday for 6 weeks” the platform would recognize the vocabulary indicating recurrence in the sentence and automatically set the task to repeat itself in your to-do list for the next 6 Mondays. Incredible right?!

Notion:

Of course Notion is going to be a part of this section. If you’ve never heard of it, get ready to have your mind blown. Notion is an online platform that is pretty famous among students! It is exactly what it describes itself as: an all-in-one workspace. What sets Notion apart from others is that its users are able to fully customize their workspace so that it suits their needs completely. Although the first tools discussed in this section are also customizable to a degree, Notion takes it to a whole new level with users being able to use beautiful (or custom) covers, change font and text size/colour, edit their page format, and more! This experience only becomes elevated when you discover the focus that Notion places on collaboration and teamwork. Users can add different people to their Notion workspace and send them direct tasks/information using the “@” symbol!

Something else that makes Notion particularly unique compared to other platforms is the different ways in which it allows you to add content. Once in the workspace, users can create “blocks” where they will be able to organize/keep information, and these blocks come in MANY different forms so that Notion meets every user’s needs. Examples of blocks include plain text, to-do list, quote, table, calendar, media (which allows you to embed many forms of media into the workspace), board, mention a person, reminder, equation, and much more! So whether you’re using Notion to plan your day, to take notes for Physics class, or work with a group, they provide all the digital tools you could possibly need to be successful.

Tip: If blocks get cluttered in your workspace, you can actually select them and drag them to a new spot! The other blocks will recognize this and automatically adjust their appearance to accommodate for the change in format.

Additionally, the way that Notion is designed so that a user’s creativity is their only limit to taking the most advantage of it also has its benefits! By being able to use customized cover images and fun emojis/icons while designing in-depth databases and pages that maximize your productivity, Notion is quite a pleasure to use which, in turn, motivates students like you to use it more! It’s a productivity platform that makes you want to study… need I say more?

I hope I’ve captured even a third of what this tool is capable of, but to conclude this section, here are some cool Notion templates that you can take a look at! Also, be sure to look into Notion’s very own templates here and check out how this medical student uses Notion here!

Studying & Supplemental Education:

edX:

As a student, you’ve probably heard of many platforms where you can take an online course or watch a ton of videos, either to learn about something you’re interested in or to help you out in school. Some popular ones out there are Khan Academy, Coursera, Udemy, and Wave Learning. And while all of these are excellent learning tools, one more to consider might be edX, an incredible education and learning platform that was founded by Harvard and MIT. edX has partnered with over 90 of the world’s top universities, NGOs, and corporations to deliver an outstanding source of supplemental education, including Ontario’s very own University of Toronto! It’s from institutions like these along with Harvard, UC Berkeley, Princeton, and even Oxford University where the free online courses edX provides are sourced.

The education platform offers students over 3000 courses in an array of subject areas including biology, medicine, social science, math, engineering, design, economics, music arts, literature, and much more! If you’re wondering, edX courses vary in difficulty levels which is why few have prerequisites. But, for the most part, anyone can engage in this learning opportunity! Further, the way one of these courses looks may vary depending on whether the paid, “verified,” version of the course is pursued rather than the free “audit” one, but they are generally made up of weekly modules with pre-recorded lectures/videos that you can watch on a schedule or at your own pace. Also, as part of the course, students are required to complete readings, participate in student discussion forums, and complete homework assignments as well as quizzes and exams. Some cool courses I came across include “Essential Human Biology: Cells and Tissues,” “Anatomy: Human Neuroanatomy,” and even “Creative Coding.”

Now you may be wondering what the difference between the verified and audit versions of an edX course is. Well, with the paid version, you are granted unlimited access to course material (even after it ends!), a certificate upon completion of the course that you can share (great for Linkedin!), and all of the assignments and assessments you do in the course are actually graded. While the free version does NOT offer these three features, it still — like the verified program — provides you with an educational experience from world-class institutions and universities along with edX support. It’s tough to say how much the verified version costs because of how pricing varies amongst courses, but expect to pay anywhere from $50 up to $300 for one. If you’re thinking about using edX as a resource for extra knowledge, however, the free version it offers is still a great option.

Something I personally like about edX is that it offers both instructor- and self-paced courses which, as a student, definitely comes in handy. With the former, you will have to follow a set schedule with due dates for all assignments and assessments and the course will end at a set date. This type, of course, is usually taken under the verified version. With the latter, however, you can study the course material at your own pace and complete work any time. So, if you are thinking about taking an edX course, it does not have to be another one of your responsibilities as a student. Rather it can be a great learning opportunity.

Quizlet:

Quizlet is an online tool that makes your studying experience interactive, engaging, and more efficient. Let’s start off by explaining its study sets and how their use ties into an effective study tactic called active recall, the stimulation of the memory for a piece of information. Once you join Quizlet, you have the option to add classes to your account and, within them, create learning aids called study sets. This entails adding a group of terms or questions and attaching a meaning or answer to each one, like “Mitosis” and “A process where a somatic cell divides into two identical daughter cells.” From here, you can use them in the variety of features and games Quizlet offers to help you study: Flashcards, Learn, Write, Spell, Test, Match and Gravity.

Quizlet’s most popular feature, Flashcards, is where users are shown a “card” for each term, and then, as their memory is stimulated for that piece of information, they can flip over the card and see the definition they attached to it while making the study set. The Write feature works very similarly to this, but instead of flipping a flashcard to see the definition, they will have to type an answer to the question/prompt/term they added to the study set and see if it is correct upon submission. However, although they are different, active recall is involved in both learning activities. Another aspect I like about these is that you can track your progress after completing them. This way, you know what to focus on in the future.

Something else about Quizlet that makes it effective is the sense of community among its members. As a user, you can actually view and use other members’ study sets as your own! For example, imagine you have an anatomy test to prepare for, but you are not necessarily interested in creating a study set for yourself. Well, you can actually just search for a study set created for the course, use it as if you made it yourself, and even add it to the class you created upon registering to log it away for future use! So whether you want to use Quizlet as a study aid or a means of supplemental education, it is truly a great resource to try out.

Fact: There is a feature where, if you know the date of a certain test, you can add it and Quizlet will prompt you to study and get you where you need to be in time for it!

Student Wellness:

DayOne:

Journaling is an activity known to be one of the most effective ways to reduce stress, something most of us students deal with regularly. This simple act of writing down feelings, thoughts, goals, and/or plans, has been found to elevate mood, improve cognitive function and memory, boost creativity, and counteract some of the stress symptoms we experience. Although many apps/platforms have tried in the past to create a perfect platform for journaling, only one has achieved insurmountable success: DayOne. Using this tool, there are many ways in which users can actually journal, with the platform giving them the option to insert text in the form of bulleted/numbered/interactive lists, plain text, quotes, and even code! However, the potential DayOne has doesn’t stop there. In terms of media, it allows users to add images, videos, audio recordings, and handwritten notes or drawings!

Something else that makes DayOne so distinctive from other journaling platforms is the experience it provides its users! When making your journal entry, you can give the app access to different things so that when you look back at it in the future, you will be able to see the location at which you made the entry, what the weather was like, when it was last edited, your step count that day (if your device has a motion processor), and even what music your device played as you typed! Further, you can add more to your entry’s “context” yourself by adding some tags you’d like it to be associated with and what activity you were doing.

As a user of the platform, one feature I think is particularly useful is the calendar view, in which DayOne displays a calendar with highlighted areas to indicate that an entry was made that day. This has helped track my journaling habit immensely and has, ultimately, put me on the path to a more stress-free daily life.

SleepScore:

It goes without saying that getting a good night’s sleep is critical when aiming to be not only academically successful but also healthy. When in school, we can definitely lose sight of what is more important to take care of. Luckily, great resources such as SleepScore are here to help! SleepScore is a sleep monitoring app that goes beyond what others like it are capable of. With its ability to track and measure your breathing rate and body movement, the app can actually give its users some insight into every stage of their sleep. Some data this feature provides includes how long it takes users to fall asleep, how long they remain in deep and light sleep, how long it took them to wake up, full sleep duration and more! In addition, when using the free version you can view a record of your sleep for seven days at a time!

Another feature that makes SleepScore special is how it allows you to set sleep goals and track your progress through your score. It also puts you on the path to achieving them by providing personalized advice and recommendations based on the collected data mentioned above as well as products they think would improve your sleep.

As a student, you’ve probably heard of many platforms where you can take an online course or watch a ton of videos, either to learn about something you’re interested in or to help you out in school. Some popular ones out there are Khan Academy, Coursera, Udemy, and Wave Learning. And while all of these are excellent learning tools, one more to consider might be edX, an incredible education and learning platform that was founded by Harvard and MIT. edX has partnered with over 90 of the world’s top universities, NGOs, and corporations to deliver an outstanding source of supplemental education, including Ontario’s very own University of Toronto! It’s from institutions like these along with Harvard, UC Berkeley, Princeton, and even Oxford University where the free online courses edX provides are sourced.

The education platform offers students over 3000 courses in an array of subject areas including biology, medicine, social science, math, engineering, design, economics, music arts, literature, and much more! If you’re wondering, edX courses vary in difficulty levels which is why few have prerequisites. But, for the most part, anyone can engage in this learning opportunity! Further, the way one of these courses looks may vary depending on whether the paid, “verified,” version of the course is pursued rather than the free “audit” one, but they are generally made up of weekly modules with pre-recorded lectures/videos that you can watch on a schedule or at your own pace. Also, as part of the course, students are required to complete readings, participate in student discussion forums, and complete homework assignments as well as quizzes and exams. Some cool courses I came across include “Essential Human Biology: Cells and Tissues,” “Anatomy: Human Neuroanatomy,” and even “Creative Coding.”

Now you may be wondering what the difference between the verified and audit versions of an edX course is. Well, with the paid version, you are granted unlimited access to course material (even after it ends!), a certificate upon completion of the course that you can share (great for Linkedin!), and all of the assignments and assessments you do in the course are actually graded. While the free version does NOT offer these three features, it still—like the verified program—provides you with an educational experience from world-class institutions and universities along with edX support. It’s tough to say how much the verified version costs because of how pricing varies amongst courses, but expect to pay anywhere from $50 up to $300 for one. If you’re thinking about using edX as a resource for extra knowledge, however, the free version it offers is still a great option.

Something I personally like about edX is that it offers both instructor- and self-paced courses which, as a student, definitely comes in handy. With the former, you will have to follow a set schedule with due dates for all assignments and assessments and the course will end at a set date. This type, of course, is usually taken under the verified version. With the latter, however, you can study the course material at your own pace and complete work any time. So, if you are thinking about taking an edX course, it does not have to be another one of your responsibilities as a student. Rather it can be a great learning opportunity.

There you have it! An overview of some amazing student resources in the different areas of what it takes to lead a successful school year! For everyone feeling anxious or worried about how this year will look like, remember that everything will turn out okay in the end. Stay tuned for next week’s Back-to-School Series post where we will explore another side to the journey students take as they enter their next year of education. Good luck everyone!!

About the Writer: Hassan Hassan is a Grade 11 student from Brampton, ON passionate about writing and STEM. With a strong commitment to helping others, he plans to pursue a career in medicine and enjoys participating in activities related to the field. An interesting fact about him is that he aims to be fluent in French by the time he graduates high school. In his free time, you can expect to find him reading, planning his day, volunteering at his local hospital, or binge-watching The Office. Find him on Instagram @hassan05_ as well!

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