There has been a lot of discussion about screen time, iPad usage, traditional versus new teaching strategies. The debate really centers around the how and why implementing technology can help our students. Smartphones have been around for 10 years now, but in education, the shifts are vastly different within our classrooms. How do we use, integrate, and engage learning with the newest technology?
How can we close this digital divide? According to the US Department of Education, there are seven ways to help close the digital divide. Here at Schuylerville Central School District, we have been working to close this gap using professional development, class activities, and administrative support to make sure what we are doing fosters learning for our students. These lessons have encouraged students to collaborate, communicate, create, and think critically in ways that were not available to us just 10 years ago.
The 7 shifts:
1. Interaction with Experts
We all know that our students are more connected than ever before. They consume social media platforms like Instagram and Snapchat. Our students are connecting through images, videos, and audio in ways that would have looked like something out of a science fiction novel when we were in school. As teachers, we know it’s imperative that we help our students navigate this new frontier. That is where the interaction with experts can really come in. Authors, industry leaders, and other schools can connect together on collaborative projects. Our teachers in first grade came to a professional development session on using BreakoutEDU recently. BreakoutEDU is an immersive learning game platform that engages participants to work together to solve clues and think critically. Each lock combination has to be solved based on puzzles, clues, and activities. These teachers were challenged to a Breakout based on the book “The Dot” by Peter Reynolds. The night before the session I sent a tweet out about their willingness to try something new. Peter Reynolds tweeted back that evening with encouragement. It was exciting to see an author engage with us in our endeavors. By connecting through social media your educators and students can see how the work they do matters.
2. Global Connections
Our students live in a small community but are connected globally through several school endeavors. My first connection happened three years ago when I was teaching 6th grade. I was in a chat and connected with a woman who was teaching at an international school in Vietnam. We agreed to do a book together, explore poetry, and have our students connect through the app Edmodo. Students created videos, asked questions of each other, and learned about how schools look in different parts of the world.
Last year students in first and fifth grade at our school connected with a school in Mississippi on a Global Kahoot. Through Skype, we played the same Kahoot game on math and science topics we were covering in our classes. Our third grade participated in a Mystery Skype with a school in Ohio. Students had to study the US map, come up with questions, and use their critical thinking skills to try and guess where in the US the other school was from. This year our 5th and 6th grade are connecting with schools around the world on math topics using Flipgrid. Each week I post a new question that our connected teachers have posted on a shared Google Doc and the students record a video explaining how to solve the problem.
The rigors of our curriculum sometimes make it difficult to keep the creative piece in the lesson, and yet, it’s the most important piece. Using apps like Buncee, Adobe Spark, Aurasma, and Pic Collage make it so easy for students to use their digital skills in creative ways. Our students from kindergarten on up are creating new book covers, creative presentations, augmented reality images, and so much more.
Schuylerville uses the Units of Study Writer’s Workshop program and our students creating digital storybooks based on their narrative writing. They took pictures of their pages and read their stories aloud using an app called Shadow Puppet. They added covers using Pic Collage and Buncee and shared their stories with their class through Seesaw. Another had them creating images that show what they learned about vocabulary.
4. Peer Collaboration
The G Suite for education has opened up many doors for collaboration. Our high schoolers are creating collaborative charts in history classes, our middle schoolers are doing flipped learning in math which allows more time for group activities, and our elementary students are working on collaborative projects using Seesaw. Using feedback from their peers keeps students engaged and fosters success for all learners. Students use Padlet or Nearpod Collaborate boards to share their thoughts, their learning, and their work.
Our fifth grade used the Wonder Workshop robots for a variety of lessons across the curriculum. Groups had to communicate and collaborate together to complete tasks such as coding their robots to march in unison and play songs on their xylophone, to launching their robots into ‘space.’ These lessons were challenging and required the students to work together, to communicate, and collaborate in order to complete the tasks.
Four years ago my students and I decided to try the Hour of Code through the code.org website. It was an incredible experience for our entire middle school. We all learned some new skills, heard from the pioneers in the field, and explored new career choices for the future. One student, in particular, blossomed in unexpected ways. English was his second language, he struggled socially and was disengaged academically. The day we visited code.org changed how he communicated, how he viewed his education and gave him a direction for the future. It was his ‘light bulb’ moment. This boy realized that he was good at coding and solved all of the levels in record time. He became the classroom expert and started helping others. The best part was he was smiling, and communicating in ways he never had before.
For me, that first experience transformed how many of my future lessons would run. I infused coding into my ELA classes and created a curriculum for all subjects. I often present at conferences on why coding should be a part of every class. Our students are coding from kindergarten on up using online programs, apps on their iPads, and robotics. One of the lessons my students and I created together is featured in the book Code in Every Class.
6. Immersive Simulation
Students love playing games, they love talking with each other, and they are engaged when something is fun. Games have a place in our classrooms and are easy to include with the many apps and websites that allow learning games to have a place. Our students play Kahoot and Quizizz often for formative assessment. They create Quizlet decks and then challenge the class using Quizlet Live. Students play trivia games on Flippity, and they race to unlock the locks on BreakoutEDU and digital BreakoutEDU.
One fun challenge for students was using measurement with the Sphero robots. Fourth and sixth grade students had to figure out how many centimeters their robot would have to travel in order to make it through mazes. It was made more challenging for students based on how many turns the robot needed to make.
7. Media Production
Social Media is one of the newest challenges teachers face today. How our students communicate on these platforms is vastly different than how we require them to write in school. But there are ways to use social media for good. This year at Schuylerville, our middle school students started the year with a digital citizenship lesson about being a consumer of technology versus being a creator. We talked about how we use technology, how it can be used properly and developed a plan as to how we were going to use social media for good. Students have an open Google Classroom where they can post positive thoughts, celebrate successes, and share ideas with each other. So far, the students have created a Padlet of quotes that mean something positive to them, or motivate them, and a Padlet of anti-bullying posters. Students are using their computer classes to create passion projects with a goal of helping others. This is just the start of our students leading with kindness, and using social media as a platform for spreading positivity.
Simply consuming technology is not enough for our students. Using it to create, to collaborate, to communicate globally, and to spread positivity will make our students not only ready for their futures, but they will have the toolkit for success today. Implementing these seven areas to close the digital divide in our school has made a great impact on their learning, and has empowered our students to drive their own education. But the biggest gain comes from seeing their smiling faces, their desire to learn, and to try. It is planting the seed for a love for learning that can last a lifetime.
Laurie Guyon is an integration specialist K-12 for Schuylerville Central School in upstate New York. She is a Google Educator, Apple Teacher, Flipgrid Educator, Buncee Ambassador, Seesaw Ambassador, Nearpod Educator and PioNear, an EdTechTeam Teacher Leader and Blogger, Tynker Blue Ribbon Educator, Amazon Inspire Innovator, Recap Pioneer, and a member of the NYSCATE Social Media team. Laurie has presented at NERIC Technology Awareness Day, NYSCATE annual conference in Rochester, NY, Learning with Innovative Technology conference, and the NYS Middle School Association annual conference in Saratoga Springs, NY. She has taught workshops at Skidmore College on integrating technology in literacy and teaches classes with the Greater Capital District Teacher Center.