All Aboard the Technology Train
On any given day as I sit on a commuter train, I notice that the books and magazines people used to keep themselves occupied with while riding to work are gone. Books have been replaced with Kindles®, Nooks® and iPads®. Magazines have been replaced with Pinterest, Instagram, and Twitter.
When I look around at any major event I attend, both professional and personal, it is guaranteed that the room will be lit up with smart phones recording, taking photos and posting to social media platforms. When something exciting happens, when we are bored, when an event is so “epic” that we feel like our world needs to know, our first instinct is to get on our cell phones, put it on social media, or text it to a friend.
Our students are no different. In fact, cell phones and social media comprise most of their world. According to a new study from the Pew Research Center, “91% of teens go online from mobile devices at least occasionally. Among these, 94% go online daily or more often.” You can try to stop them, but inevitably, kids are going to find a way to go on their smartphones at every opportunity. It’s their way of life, supported by the technological advances that have created the world we live in. In our classrooms, we can either jump onto the technology train with them, or be left behind on the platform, waving while the kids speed away.
How can we adapt to the technology needs of our students without creating a pathway for them to spend class time playing games or streaming movies? Here are a few fun and safe ways I’ve found to incorporate technology to the classroom.
Make online assignments engaging for students
In my classroom, the excitement on my student’s faces when they know we are going to use Chromebooks®, is unbeatable. These are the days I know my students will have the best behavior, because they know the consequence of misbehaving is losing their Chromebook and having to write their assignment by hand. Most schools block social media and many websites deemed inappropriate for student use. Schoolwide website blocks can be useful, and do stop some students from playing games during times when they should be engaged in classroom activities. However, many tech savvy students find ways to get around those blocks and play Minecraft© anyway. I was a teenager too once. I understand the need to do exactly what the teacher tells you not to do. My solution is to create engaging assignments that allow kids to explore the internet safely. Introduce webquests that allow the students to click links of your choosing. Incorporate videos and interactive learning games that appeal to visual learners. Have your students complete their assignments on Google© classrooms, so that they can’t lose their work and can share it with you for instant feedback while working on it. Choose topics that students are generally interested in and allow them to have a choice in how to present their findings. When students can choose their assignment, engagement increases.
Reward hard work with “choice” time
The first question my students always ask when they see the laptop cart is “Can we have free time?” Once you open that Pandora’s box, students will rush through their work so that they have time to play games. As an educator, sometimes I reward my students who genuinely work hard, and allow free time on the internet for the last few minutes of class if their assignment is complete. In order to create a safe space for students to have “free” time, I created what is called “choice” time and allow students to explore a series of websites acceptable for in class use. The websites MyMathUniverse or coolmath, are sites where students can practice math while playing games, or try freerice, where students can practice vocabulary and correct scores earn donations of rice to nations in need. We play review games together on Kahoot!, that creates a competitive environment to motivate learning. My students love playing games, especially when the game is popular with their friends. Get to know your students. Find out what technology motivates them. Research it, and then find a way to incorporate it into your classroom as a reward for hard work.
Teacher websites can create a pathway to accountable learning
It wasn’t until I went to college that my professors started having websites with links to everything I’d need for the semester. Now, teachers of all grade levels have websites that appeal to parents, students, and other educators. Having a class website is key to keeping parents and students in the loop and holding students accountable for their time online. On my classroom website, students can access the homework and guided notes for the week so that if they lose their copy, they can immediately print a new one. Dogs can no longer be blamed for eating my students’ homework when another copy of that homework is easily printed from the internet. With the click of a button, my students can contact me through multiple channels.
Students and parents can email me, call or text me on my Google voice phone number that I set up specifically for classroom use. They can go through extra help and practice resources before the tests that I post online, find information on our school events, and access my Google classroom page to upload their assignments from home if they didn’t finish them in class. Parents can read about our classroom, contact the me quickly and efficiently and help students navigate through learning from home. And, with teachers posting many of their classroom resources online, it is easy for other educators to collaborate, borrow ideas, and tweak lessons to fit their own classroom needs.
Technology is now one of our biggest assets in the classroom. When used correctly, technology can create efficiency and motivate students to become independent learners. In this global society, it is important to adapt to changing technology needs, but more importantly, it is necessary to teach our children to stay focused, and use technology in a positive way.
About the Author
Sari Goldstein is a graduate from the Pennsylvania State University with a degree in political science and a minor in psychology. She spent most of her 3.5 years in state college, PA, but also spent one semester studying abroad in Barcelona, Spain. After graduating from college she began working for Teach for America in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system. She teaches middle school language arts, and is hoping to continue making a difference in the lives of students nationwide. Her passion is creating educational equity and higher literacy rates within Title I schools.