3 Techniques to Master When Bringing Technology into the Classroom
The problem for many educators is that even if they feel comfortable with technology, they have no precedent for what a technology-focused lesson plan looks like. An "analog person" teaching youth in a digital world wants to help their students, but is using old methods with new tools—and it doesn't seem effective.
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For the analog educators out there looking to blaze a path into the digital future for their students, these are the techniques to use when teaching with technology.
Activities should focus on students using technology actively. Don't treat the computer like a lecture replacement, but as a tool needed to accomplish a task. Put students in groups and give them a goal to work towards in their own way.
Education is moving in a direction where students are spending less time being lectured to and more time actively using their creativity to complete projects. According to the National Education Association, the skills 21st century students need are critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity. Students develop these skills by working together to complete projects.
For example, if you're a math teacher teaching perimeter, you could have students quietly go to a website to do math exercises. Or you could put them in groups and tell them to draft a floor plan for their own food truck, using technology to research what goes into the truck.
Put students in groups. Have them achieve something. Be active.
If you could be a fly on the wall of a classroom using technology, the fear is that you'd see kids playing Flappy Bird, watching teen idols on YouTube, and scrolling through memes on Instagram. Computers are necessary tools now, but they're also hyper-distraction machines. A distracted student isn't a student contributing to their class, and a student who doesn't contribute leaves feeling like the class wasn't worth it, even if they were the ones distracting themselves.
This is why it's critical to form a strategy to maintain control in a classroom with technology. If you try to compete for attention against the computer, you will lose. Instead, work to develop a style where there's very clear teacher time and very clear computer time.
Teacher time is when the focus is all on you. You're lecturing on information the students will need to complete their task, or you're explaining the task itself. At this point, students shouldn't even have a computer in front of them. If they do have a computer, have them close it if it's a laptop or turn off the monitor if it's a desktop.
Computer time is where you cede all control of their attention. You've already given your lecture, you've explained the task, you've said all you needed to say. Now you open the gates and let them free. If you've done it right, students will work collaboratively to create something all on their own. If you haven't done it right and find you need to speak again, it'll take a heroic effort to get their attention once more.
Every teacher these days has experienced a situation where the downtime from one activity or lesson to the next derails everything. Let's say, for example, you give a fascinating lecture on penguin anatomy. You explain the group project your students will do today. You point to the board and tell them to go to the URL you wrote on the board and then ... chaos.
Jenny got the URL immediately. You tell her to wait for her group to get there. Jerome raises his hand and says it won't work. Hezekiah's computer froze. By the time you've helped everyone, Jenny's given up on the lesson and started researching Elvish grammar.
Downtime destroys technology-supported lessons, and you should strive to decimate downtime at every turn. Teaching a good lesson is like telling a good story; there's a flow to it. When you interrupt that flow, students lose interest in the lesson. Have you ever tried teaching a lesson after returning from a fire drill? It's time to break out the Heads Up, Seven Up.
Fortunately, there are ways to avoid downtime. If you know you want to show a video, load it ahead of time, or, better yet, download it and have it ready to go.
Getting students on the right page is time-consuming. There are a few ways around this. The best is to have a program, such as an LMS, that allows a teacher to curate learning experiences, share digital resources with students, communicate with everyone, and assess and grade learning from within an academically-focused space. Some of these solutions are free for teachers to use.
If you are looking for something more “bare bones,” however, the simplest solution is to create a teacher website. There are many tools you can use to create a free website, for example, Google Sites or Wordpress.
Once you have your digital space, part of your class preparation will be to upload to the site any URL or other electronic resource your students may need for that lesson's task. Then, in the classroom, get students into the habit of automatically going to your site first thing when they get onto their classroom computers.
Treat technology lessons like a task-based learning project and maintain student focus and you'll be well on your way to preparing students with the 21st century skills they need.