This week I’m visiting a K-6 staff to share my thoughts about the top 5 things teachers might like to try to enhance the technology they use in their classroom. I didn’t want this to be a walk-through of how-to-use a sampling of ‘tools’ so I’m trying to go with in the ‘big picture’ in mind.
The 5 things that I’ve chosen are enhanced by digital tools but relate more to 21st century pedagogy. I’d like to recommend that people check out the TPACK model that reminds us that effective technology integration happens when Content, Pedagogy and Technology come together. It’s not a new phenomenon that student learning improves in rich environments where a teacher is an expert in content, pedagogy and the tools they have available, but teachers need to be careful not to be wowed by new digital tools and neglect pedagogy and content. You can learn more about TPACK from Punya Mishra or from Sheryl Nussbaum Beach’s PLP group. (@snbeach)
1. Connect your classroom somewhere else in the world
This is not something new! Many of us who have been teaching for a long time have always used the community and the world outside of the classroom as an authentic audience for our students. Now, with the help of technology, we can provide that experience in a richer, easier, more immediate way. I urge you to use the communication tools you have available in order to push the limits and break down (or at least chip away at) the walls of your classroom this year! This kind of focus can happen with very little technology in your classroom – even one computer and a projector can inspire your students to learn from others and to share what they know with the world. Hopefully, this connection is set within a framework of inquiry-based learning within your classroom to make it even more meaningful.
A good way to start is to find another class interested in exchanging with yours around some topics that fit your curriculum:
International Education and Resource Network – iearn.org
Some of the projects I’ve taken part in are Machinto, The Teddy Bear Project, and My Hero, but there are many, many more!
2. Use non-linguistic representations
Robert Marzano (and others) are sharing research that supports using non-linguistic representations in developing content and student activities and assignments, something that continues to lag behind the dominant, linguistic (hearing or reading) mode in our schools.
Non-linguistic elements are mental images or physical sensations. Non-linguistic representations can be pictures, models, kinesthetic activities, graphic organizers, graphs, videos, drama performance, etc.
In fact, the more we can allow students to demonstrate their learning using BOTH linguistic and non-linguistic representations, the more engaged they become in constructing their own knowledge.
Technology can be a big help in this area:
- using digital images and multimedia sources for more powerful and differentiated content in our classrooms
- concept/mind-mapping software such as Inspiration or Smart Ideas
- multimedia tools for creating demonstrations of student learning (VoiceThread, MovieMaker, Frames4, PhotoStory3)
- filming student productions with digital tools
- integrating art, dance, drama and music in how we teach and learn with the use of digital recording devices
- using digital cameras to capture artefacts such as models, experiments, simulations
- data visualization tools
3. Try some comic-based software so that students can represent their knowledge and understanding in an alternate way
In Ontario, thanks to OSAPAC, every school has the opportunity to differentiate process and product by using Comic Life and Bitstrips For Schools to bring an assignment into the digital world. You might be surprised at how keen students are to do a little homework once you introduce Bitstrips, an online tool. It’s also a great place to try your hand at a social network within your classroom, teaching digital citizenship as students post and comment on each other’s comics. You’ll get a chance to moderate (or monitor) the comments that students are making, helping them to learn about giving and receiving positive feedback in a digital world. Give it a try!
4. Get students talking with each other
Technology tools can democratize your classroom and allow you to really engage students in that community of learning that you are trying so hard to create. They can offer the teacher an option to talk less, encouraging students to take the lead amongst themselves and with a wider audience. When we do this, we empower students to take charge of their own learning and become truly engaged, and we truly hear their voices and interests. There are many Web 2.0 tech tools that can make this happen (skype, google docs, typewith.me, tinychat, today’s meet, voicethread, blogs, wikis, twitter) some that can be simple, instant, easy to implement and maintain, others that can be more complex depending on your expertise and comfort level.
5. Learn something new along with your students
Take a lesson from the Google Corporation this year. Google encourages their employees to spend 80% of their time on core projects, and roughly 20% on “innovation” activities that speak to their personal interests and passions. These activities may end up benefiting the company, but more importantly they keep employees challenged and engaged in ways that aid retention and keep staff learning and growing. Try to find something in the classroom that interests you and model that excitement for learning something new with your students. Not only will learning something new help your teaching practice, but modeling how an expert learner plans, monitors and demonstrates their own learning is a wonderful example for your students. Go for it!
Your comment about learning along with student is extremely powerful and meaningful when working with technology. I consider myself quite knowledge with computers and technology but am humbled by the information that many of my grade 7/8 students know and share with me on a daily basis. The struggle for many is including them in the development of learning tasks or relinquishing the control totally to allow them to design their own opportunities.
One suggestion for this last point that I do with my class is to spend 15-20 minutes each day reviewing viral articles and videos that have hit the web. Many times I share the most recent TED video and discuss what I have learned from the presenter. An easy way to incorporate this idea into a class.
I think you’re making a really good attempt at knowing your kids, knowing what they are viewing online, and providing the opportunity to open up some great discussion. It makes me sad to think of the hours that kids are spending digesting content from the web without an adult to help them deconstruct and contextualize it.
I agree that they need to be more involved in their own learning…way to go!
Thx Brenda for this post.
Learning along with the student as a ‘co-investigator into some complex domain’ has often been extremely difficult to implement at the school level.
I believe that the ‘Google’ model you suggest is a powerful one. Students can be given curricular parameters (if one desperately feels the need to respect those expectations)! But this affords students the opportunities to delve into their learning in an intentional and passionate manner. Now that ‘metacognition’ is not a term that elicits raised eyebrows and disdain (like 20 years ago), I will say that these student-driven inquiries can lead to excellent discussions with students about how they approached their task – goal-setting (bottom-up/top-down), monitoring processes, and reflections about efficacy of learning strategies.
On another note – similar, but in a different domain – in the Computers in Education dept in the old North York School Board, we used to set aside 10 percent of our yearly budget to support innovative teachers and projects. This was a phenomenal success and, as a result, excellence was achieved, modelled, and shared across the district.
When management changed, this practice was stopped. All the money was to be directed into bringing everyone up to a basic level of competence. I referred to it as investing in reaching the ‘heights of mediocrity’. 🙂
Take the chance. Take the risk. Give your students – every student – the opportunity, as Brenda suggests, to ‘love’ learning by encouraging and supporting their natural ‘desire to learn’.
Thanks for your comments here! I love that idea of nurturing the innovative folks…good for you to have helped create that experience despite the later cuts. I believe our friends at WRDSB have a similar group of teachers that go to camp each year to learn some of the new stuff.
The heights of mediocrity are not acceptable for our kids or teachers…agreed!