This fall, America’s classroom will be flooded with more technology than ever before as schools, teachers and organizations have requested and been supplied with the latest tools of student learning. For some, the influx of modern technology will be an exciting addition; however, for other less seasoned tech users, integrating technology in the classroom may seem like their worst nightmare.
If you fall into the latter category, let me encourage you to be bold! Give that new technology a chance! Whether it comes in the form of an interactive whiteboard, tablet, laptop or document camera, technology can have a profound effect upon the quality both teaching and student learning.
During my time as a teacher I was an avid supporter of technology use in the classroom, as I saw the impact it had on teaching and learning. Once you begin using technology you will wonder how you ever got on without it.
Here are just a few ways I found technology useful in improving education in the classroom:
Builds background knowledge
Like most teachers today, my classroom was often made up of a very diverse group of learners, ranging from gifted and talented, to special needs, to ESL. In addition, my student often had diverse experiences and so building background knowledge was essential to ensuring their success—particularly in reading, science and social studies.
Technology serves as an excellent tool for building this background knowledge as the internet connects us with a wide array of information, photos, videos and interactive materials related to any subject or question we can imagine. With the use of technology and the internet, students can build knowledge of people, places and things they may have never experienced otherwise. You would be amazed how much better students’ reading and comprehension of text and abstract concepts will be once they have sufficient background to support them.
Offers a variety of accommodations
Technology is also useful in that it can provide a variety of accommodations for students with different learning needs. For example, if students have difficulty seeing, screen size and print can be enlarged for ease in reading. There are programs available online or for the desktop, which can translate text to other languages or even read it aloud to students as they follow along silently. In addition, many programs and activities are interactive and allow students to manipulate objects while exploring new concepts in subjects such as math and science.
Differentiates while empowering students to take ownership of learning
With the wide variety of resources available online student can virtually be the master of their own learning—with little direction from their teacher—and most students are happy to do so. Materials, games and resources on every subject and level can be found online offering the perfect differentiation for every student. For the advanced student, they can deepen knowledge of a subject area enriching learning. For the struggling student, many resources are available to review concepts that are difficult. Either way the engaging nature of the technology based learning will help students to persevere in the task at hand and reach greater heights of achievement.
Teaches 21st century work skills
In case you haven’t noticed, technology is everywhere in the world and work today. Therefore, it is vital that students become familiar with and use technology on a regular basis, building skills necessary for life and work in the 21st century. The more students see their teachers using technology and the more opportunities they get to use it themselves, the less fear and inappropriate use will take place, because students will view technology as a tool for learning and work.
Tips for getting started with technology in the classroom
If you are new to using classroom technology, my first suggestion is to start small. Many teachers I knew who resisted using technology did so because they were overwhelmed by it. I would often encourage them to start with something simple—such as using a document camera to project a book they are reading aloud. This involves a fairly low level of risk-taking and you’ll be amazed at the response from students. Another idea is to focus on finding one website a week to feature in your lesson plans. Even if you’re a total klutz with the equipment, I guarantee you; the effort won’t be lost on your students. You’ll have them hooked from the first time the screen blinks on.
Get a mentor
If you know technology is not your strong point, there is no reason to struggle at it alone. Find a mentor—likely a young or new teacher at the school—and ask him or her to model a lesson using a piece of equipment, or suggest helpful websites you can visit. Chances are, he or she will feel thrilled that you asked and be eager to offer expertise. This kind of community sharing can also lend itself to stronger ties among staff members as well.
Become an explorer
Just as we want to encourage risk-taking in learning on the part of our students, we need to make sure we are fostering these attitudes in ourselves. If you are not comfortable exploring resources during class-time, take a few minutes on Friday afternoon or in the evening to just browse the net for goodies. Type in a question or keyword related to what you are teaching next week and see where the internet takes you. You can discover some pretty amazing resources this way which can be useful for years to come—plus they won’t take any additional space in your filing cabinet!
Allow students to teach you
They might be small but chances are, your students are more attuned to what’s available in the tech world than you or I will ever be. Don’t be afraid to probe students for information. You might be surprised that your students can teach you about learning. Plus this can serve as a nice relationship-building point making students feel their opinions are valuable.
Seek out additional training
For many teacher technology credits are a must for recertification each cycle. Take the time to explore opportunities which may help you to get to know technology resources which are available to you.