Dan Ryder teaches high school English and humanities, but his students still wind up learning computer-aided design and 3D printing.

In his classes at Mt. Blue High School in Farmington, Maine, Ryder has students design and build 3D “fidgets”—small handheld toys for nervous fingers—after learning about the impact of stress and studying social entrepreneurship. Earlier in the year, students created and printed totems and other 3D representations of the works they are reading. But one thing Ryder won’t do, he says, is waste time with technology.

“My basic philosophy is what you hear most progressive tech integrator folks say—it’s got to be worth the time it takes,” Ryder says.

That’s a warning you’ll hear from many teachers working with technology—one that often comes from personal experience. “My biggest problem with technology is I’m always told it will take less time and it will make my job easier. It never does,” one teacher told us when we first started exploring how digital tools work in the classroom.

Things have improved since our original survey of teachers and technology use in 2013. As we’ve pointed out before, teachers are increasingly confident about the quality and usefulness of digital tools. Technology and tools have matured, and teachers have responded by putting them to use. Almost all (93 percent) of the more than 3,100 teachers we surveyed last year now regularly use some form of digital tool to guide instruction—although not all digital tools are seen as equally useful or effective.

What makes a digital tool click in the classroom? Here’s what teachers told us.

From the 2015 surveyTeachers Know Best: What Teachers Want from Digital Instructional Tools 2.0. Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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