By Rachelle Dene Poth,
By Rachelle Dene Poth
There are a tremendous amount of digital resources available to teachers today. Within seconds, teachers can find websites, images, documents, videos, learning tools
We can use technology to reach more students, build relationships, understand student needs faster, and help to prepare students for their future through technology. Not everyone is comfortable with technology and for some, it might be easier to stay with the traditional methods. However, the best part of trying some new tools in class is that we can learn with and from the students. We don’t want to use a digital tool just to say we are integrating technology into our classroom. So how should we start?
One of the best ways to start is to think about the purpose for using technology. What is your goal for adding a new digital tool and how will it benefit students? How will using the digital tool improve or enhance the learning experiences that you are currently providing for students? These are the questions that I asked myself when I started and that can perhaps help you in your own journey. I recommend focusing on these same questions with each new digital tool or method you consider.
Benefits for learning
The benefits can be great when technology is used with purpose and leveraged in a way that is comfortable for students and teachers. It can be overwhelming when getting started if you try to take on too much at once. So focus on one area and start with that. When I first started using more technology in my own classroom, I chose to start with some assessment and game based learning tools like Kahoot, Quizlet and Quizizz, because I wanted to be able to provide feedback in a more timely manner and I also wanted the students to interact more with the content. The next step was creating interactive lessons using tools like Nearpod or Formative, that included activities and even videos for students to watch. I hoped that it would help students learn better and enable me to facilitate more in the classroom and have more time to interact with students. It definitely did.
I continued to work toward mixing in-class activities with some online learning components. When I got started, I did not recognize that what I was doing then was considered “blended learning.” Blended learning makes it possible for students to work at their own pace, it is more personalized and flexible. By using digital tools and different strategies, we can meet students where they are
Knowing what works best
Teachers are good at determining what might work best or have the most benefits for the students in each course, but it is also important to hear from the students themselves about their experiences. By including the students in some of the decision making, and asking them directly what helps them to learn better, teachers can differentiate the instruction and provide appropriate opportunities for all students. Student voice is so important and their opinion of the tools used in the classroom can provide valuable information and different perspectives. It is definitely worthwhile to take some time to ask them what they think.
Getting their perspective and giving them choices
I was curious to know what my students thought about having different choices. What helps them to learn? A few years ago I started by offering a variety of options for how to complete a project, or for homework practice such as creating a game, participating in an online discussion, and even got them started with blogging, all in an effort to make learning more personalized and meaningful. With each new method or tool, I first explain the “why” behind it and emphasize that I want to know their thoughts about it. Here are some of their comments.
“I believe technology is an important part of learning and it enables students to have a choice in how to do projects, homework assignments or other classroom activities. I can be creative and innovative.” Another student said, “having different choices of the tools to use for our project made it easier to find something that I was interested in and comfortable using.”
Student Voice: It does matter and why teachers should listen
It is clear that students have opinions about technology and its benefits. Having a choice in how they learn and the opportunity to interact with different digital learning tools and styles, are important for the students of today. As teachers, not being afraid to try new tools and give students more choices will empower our students, promote their curiosity in learning and show that we value their feedback. These effects will positively impact students and can lead to greater learning potential.
Quick ideas to get started
The best part about many of these tools is that there are lessons or activities available in the online library of each digital tool. Because finding time can be an issue for teachers, it's good to know that there are already some resources available, making it easy to at least try several of the different tools out at first. Another option is to encourage students to create games or lessons, which will provide an even more authentic way for them to practice and master the content material. It will also add to the resources available for all students in the classroom.
A few tools to get started with
Kahoot is a game based learning tool that can be used to assess students and even as a quick way to engage students with new content material.
Quizlet is a versatile learning platform that provides different tools for students including flashcards, audio, practice tests
Quizizz is another game based learning tool that can be used as a game played in class, as practice or as a solo game. There are many public games available, or you can quickly create your own by choosing from a variety of ready-made quizzes.
Formative is an interactive tool that can be for running a live lesson in class or shared as a practice,
Nearpod is a tool for creating interactive lessons which can be assigned as a
EDPuzzle is available with YouTube videos, you can create an interactive lesson by selecting a video and then adding in different open ended or multiple choice questions for students to respond to as they watch the video.
In the end
It can be a challenge but it is worth the time invested. As teachers, we want to provide authentic and meaningful opportunities for our students and with so many choices available, figuring out where to start sometimes is difficult. The best advice I can give is to keep the end goal in mind and focus on the why behind the digital tool. Decide on an area of your instruction that might benefit from opening up the learning space for students and then give it a go. Be sure to involve students in the process and when you feel ready to add something else, let the students be the creators too.
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