By Maggie O'Brien,
By Rachelle Dene Poth
As we head back to our classrooms and prepare for the upcoming year, there are many things we need to consider. A few of my reflections are: What worked well last year that we should continue and build upon? What did not work well that perhaps we can set new goals for this year? And what are some new ways to engage our students in learning that will best prepare them for the school year and the future as well?
I believe that our most important step is to focus on relationships and getting to know our students so that we can determine the best methods and tools to provide for their learning in our classrooms. There are a lot of strategies and methods that we can use such as blended learning, project-based learning, design thinking, STEM and STEAM curriculum, to name a few. Each of these offers many benefits for learning which is more authentic and meaningful, and also provides students with the opportunity to take the lead in their learning paths. Using some of these strategies or digital tools leads to higher student engagement as well. But how do we know where to begin?
Starting from the first day of school and being consistent each day after, we should greet students at our classroom doors as they arrive. Acknowledging all students is an important part of creating a supportive space for learning in the classroom. We can build those relationships and then take the opportunity to try different ideas and ask students for their input. As educators, we must encourage students to take some risks with learning, to set goals for our class, and to build their own support network with their classmates. It may take a little planning and time, but there are easy ways to get started, some which do not require any technology and others which help to introduce digital tools that students can choose from throughout the year.
Start by connecting
In my classroom, we use a lot of digital tools and the reason is that many help to facilitate faster and better communication and promote collaboration within our classroom. There are some tools we use that enable our students to connect globally, which promotes more authentic learning that becomes more meaningful for students. Using different digital tools to facilitate these connections and implementing different teaching methods such as blended learning and project-based learning extend the opportunities for students to design their own learning path. They can choose what to explore and how to represent what they have learned.
How do we find the right tools?
My first recommendation is that educators talk to PLN and colleagues about specific needs in a tool. Some considerations are:
We have a responsibility to provide these experiences and more for our students. Regardless of the approach, whether through blended learning, project-based learning, or even as part of a STEM or STEAM curriculum, there are some tools that have been quite versatile for my students in these areas and that can promote more student engagement in learning.
Here are some digital tools that can be used in many ways, and in particular, to have the students create with and build their technology skills as well as social-emotional learning skills in the process. Each of these are easy to get started with and can be a good way to kick off the new year with some new ideas.
Blended and Project-based learning tools:
Connecting is important
We have the opportunity to learn so much from our students. Beyond the courses that we teach, we must take the opportunity to extend the learning that happens in our classrooms. There are many digital tools available that amplify student learning and promote student voice and choice. When deciding on something to try, think about the benefits that it can provide. In my own classroom, these are some of the tools that I have used for teaching students in my Spanish classes as well as students in my STEAM course on emerging technology. We have connected globally, truly empowering students with real-world learning experiences and building their SEL skills through these connections.
In alignment with future-ready goals and the ISTE standards, I find that providing these tools as options for my students helps to address these standards and expands how, when, and where students learn.
By taking some risks, we can set a good example for our students. We model a growth mindset for our students and create a space where they can thrive. The beginning of a new school year is a great time to try something different to spark student curiosity and excitement for learning.
About the Author:
Rachelle Dene Poth is a Foreign Language and STEAM Teacher at Riverview Junior/Senior High in Oakmont, PA. She is also an Edtech Consultant and an Attorney. Follow her on Twitter at @Rdene915
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