Utilizing Technology in the Classroom

Darrell M. West & Joshua Bleiberg’s article entitled, “Five Ways Teachers Can Use Technology to Help Students” is a great reminder of the numerous benefits technology can add to the learning experience of students, if utilized correctly. The article describes the United States’ resistance towards innovation of the classroom experience, stating that it still operates “under the antiquated needs of an agrarian and industrial America.” West and Bleimberg go on to argue that the government controls how schools are run “more than any other organization.” They state that by integrating technology into our classrooms, we are able to empower both teachers and students–and in turn–change the face of American education.

I completely agree with the article’s emphasis on choosing technologies that “enable teachers to do more with fewer resources.” Teachers should be incorporating technology that redefines (allows for tasks that were previously inconceivable–SMAR model goal) how the content and curriculum is taught and learned. It shouldn’t serve as a hinderance or a distraction to the learning, but rather, should add something that couldn’t otherwise have been added.

I also really like the idea of having students create online portfolios–even in the elementary school grades. This would be such a cool thing for parents to be able to view student work, and for a student to look back and reflect on at the end of the year. Students could add to it for coming years and keep the same portfolio through all their years of schooling. Edutopia has a great list of free student portfolio sites that you can use in your classroom.

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Cool Tech Tools in the Classroom

I’ve been amazed at all the cool things both teachers and students can do on I-Pads in our classroom. Here are a couple of my favorite tech tools that we use daily:

Every day, we keep track of student behavior on Class Dojo–an app that allows us to track student behavior points and contact parents about concerns or praises related to their student. It’s been a quick way to keep tabs on students (and a quick, easy way to keep their parents in the loop).

Our students love their Go Noodle dance breaks in the morning and afternoon. GoNoodle is a free site with lots of fun and easy-to-follow dance routines. This week’s favorite was “Bones”–a video of a skeleton dancing to a silly song. It’s a great way to give the kids a brain-break, while at the same time promoting health, wellness, (and fun!) in the classroom.

Finally, Pinterest has been a great tool for the teachers in the classroom to find creative, engaging games, art projects, and activities that go along with the content we are teaching. This last week, I used Pinterest with a group of students to aid us in the creation of a class pumpkin. We used the site to help us brainstorm how we were going to decorate our pumpkin.

All these tools have been a great asset to the teachers and students in our classroom, and I can’t wait to discover more tools to add to this list!

Assessments on Computers

This past week, our third graders took their first Bi-Weekly Assessment in the library computer lab. This was our first trip to the lab (sadly, both Library and Computer Class have been taken out of our kid’s Special’s rotation due to lack of funding). After finding a working computer for each student, they attempted to take a computer version of a math assessment in which they had to create arrays (a visual representation of a multiplication problem using dots or x’s), drag answers to the correct place on the screen, and type out sentence explanations of their method to solve a problem (all on computers that they have yet to be taught how to use). Needless to say, it was a bit of a train-wreck. We have the luxury of having three teachers in our classroom, and I still felt there were at least ten students with hands up the entire time, waiting for our help. Some students moved rather effortlessly through the assessment, but many struggled to type and use the tools of the assessment correctly. Many students expressed deep frustration at not knowing how they were supposed to complete the assessment and show what they know.

Reflecting on this experiment, I can see a number of benefits and downfalls of online assessments. Some of the benefits include: improving students’ ability to use technology, it’s able to be quickly graded electronically (if it’s multiple choice–ours wasn’t), it will save paper, it can save time (if students can type faster than they can write–not true for my kids), and some students may be able to focus better and use the tools on the computer better than they could using paper and pencil (i.e. highlighting key words, taking notes on the side, marking answers to come back to).

However, in the case of our students, their lack of computer training really deterred from the purpose of the test itself–to find out whether students understood concepts relating to multiplication and division. Most students were confused as to how to use to test tools and fill in their answers, and it would take hours of practice and training (which could be valuable if we have the time available) to get the students to a prepared level. Doing multi-step math problems on a computer is challenging for some students, so I wish the test was more clear about them being able to work things out on pencil and paper. Finally, it just highlights the technology gap that is striking across this country–why punish children who don’t have access to computers–for the sake of having everything on computers.

Digital Divide: this article outlines just how much the technology gap affects students in the classroom

Standardized Testing Online: this article gives a great narrative relating to the pro’s and con’s of online testing (including quotes from the very students using the online test)

“Were you raised in a barn?!” — Reflecting on my Own Views of Technology

I was raised by parents who held firmly to many of the ideals of their earlier hippie days. Thus, rather than growing up in the world of Rugrats, the Mario Brothers, and N’Sync, I was encouraged to spend my days playing outdoors, making art, and reading books. Later in high school, I was the last of my friends to have a cell phone (after swearing I would NEVER own one). Just this weekend, I was mocked by coworkers when they realized I have yet to own a smartphone (“were you raised in a barn?!”). All this is to say that when I think about the ways I will incorporate technology into my classroom, I realize that I need to reflect on the ways in which my own personal upbringing and skepticism of our society’s absolute reliance and fixation on technology will influence how I use it in my own classroom.

Obviously we live in a technologically-advanced society where it is a necessary and crucial for students to be taught to use and master various forms of technology. I was amazed when working with a fifth grade blind student last year just how much new technology has revolutionized her ability to thrive in a general education classroom. She relied heavily on her Apex (a Braille computer), her I-Pad (with numerous apps designed specifically for blind users), and her I-phone. She can easily text, email, and print using these devices–at nearly the same speed as her peers. It is remarkable to search through different educational websites and apps and see how many cool options there are out there. I look forward to seeing the ways that different technologies are used at my school, as well as reading about and exploring new technological tools this year.

Conversely, I hope I can continue to instill in children that while technology can in many ways enhance and add great value to each of our lives, there is a way in which an over-reliance on these tools and machines can at times lead us to miss out on the beauty of life. I once taught a lesson on Thoreau to my 9th grade English students where they had to sit in silence outside for one hour–entirely disconnected from any piece of technology and from each other. They were encouraged to listen, observe, and draw or write about the nature surrounding them. Before the lesson, the students complained and whined to no end. “This is going to be horrible, Ms. Lanctot! What am I supposed to do with myself? I’ve never had to go fro that long without my phone or talking to someone else!” At the end of the hour, we came back together to reflect on the experience. Students shared that they were surprised how refreshing and relaxing it was to just have time to think and process and observe without any distractions. They asked if we could have an hour each week to “do the Thoreau thing.” All this is to say that I hope I can find a balance in my classroom–that I can use technology to add value, creativity, and peeked interest to the learning environment, while also finding spaces to give students a time to disconnect and “de-screen” in order for them to potentially see the world around them in a different light.

These are two great resources I will use as I seek to find this balance:

Edutopia Blog on Finding Balance Between Technology and Teaching

(“Ultimately it’s not about how many apps we integrate, but about providing our students with the best access and opportunities to contemporary learning resources.”)

Catapult Learning Article about Technology in the Classroom

(“A study conducted by MIT found that students can remember only 10% of what they read, 20% of what they hear and 50% of what they see demonstrated. But when they’re actually doing something themselves—in the virtual worlds on iPads and laptops – that retention rate skyrockets to 90%.”)

Wow!