As an educator, I believe that every lesson should come alive and connect with students on a personal level. I also believe that all teachers should have a drive in connecting with their students. It is up to teachers to ignite a spark that is going to catch fire with their audience. Just like a fire needs fuel, oxygen, and heat to create a spark, a teacher needs to test out different combinations of ingredients to catch the interest of their students. For me, technology has been the spark to ignite learning and innovation in my classroom and on my campus. With the inclusions of technology in our everyday lessons, we are being given amazing opportunities to reach the “unreachable” – to reach those students who have not yet discovered the joy of learning. Our goal is to create a spark and have it spread across not only our campus, but our district, state, and the country as well.
As educators, we need to be leaders and innovators both in and out of the classroom. Change doesn’t come from institutions. Change comes from individuals who buck the system and don’t accept the status quo. When individual teachers take risks, others take notice and a movement begins. Yet change can bring about fear of unknown challenges ahead. When we ditch that fear, anything is possible. We search for and create lessons that allow us to discover the best ways to engage our students while building upon our high goals and standards year after year. We strive to create student-centered lessons, and where appropriate, integrate technology into the classroom to help limit distractions, as well as motivate and engage our students to learn and create. As an educational technology innovator, I strive to encourage my colleagues to integrate more ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) standards into their direct instruction, which incorporates not only common core standards but also integrates tools, strategies, and ideas to draw students into learning, collaborating, and creating. The implementation of technology is a critical need in the 21st-century classroom, increasing student learning during instruction in the midst of our fast-paced digital world.
In our ever-changing digital society, the modern classroom has become a breeding ground for distractions or boredom for thrill-seeking youngsters. Many classrooms have become a place where students fiend for their digital media fix, only to be told to put their devices away. How can we for a moment believe that because a bell rings our students’ digital life comes to a pause? These distractions can also arise from the improper implementation of technology by educators, stemming from a lack in professional development practice, and in turn resulting in loss of interest from the students, who then resort to using their own technology during class in improper ways. To limit distractions in our classroom environment, we must present information in ways that will truly engage our students. It’s not about changing the ways we teach our students, it’s about changing the ways we REACH our students. Utilizing the tools our students use for communication outside the classroom inside the classroom provides a great opportunity to reach them. This task can prove to be beneficial when realizing each student learns at a different pace and in different ways. We wish to create a non-static environment, rich with ever-changing student options, incorporation of differentiation, and one that encourages a project-based learning/collaborating mindset which our students need. The goal is to have our students become the creators of content, not just educational consumers. Students need to become so engaged that they can’t help but to pay attention in class. In this “living classroom” setting, information is constantly being supplied to, or discovered by, students through many different mediums, all the while allowing the lesson to be malleable from hour to hour, period to period, and day to day. These living classrooms create an environment where students do not have the time to become distracted or bored. It is up to us as teachers to create an educational space where our students can’t help but become collaborative communicators emboldened by the opportunity to become creative citizens full of curiosity.
In our ever-changing world, it is becoming more and more evident that no student should be utilizing more technology outside the classroom than they are inside of it. We should not be overlooking the strengths that our students have been cultivating since birth. Technology is a known commodity to our digital natives, and to tell them they are not allowed to use it is analogous to tying their hands behind their back. The use of technology in our classrooms can empower teachers to engage and motivate students using the most advanced and appropriate technology the world has to offer, using the tools our students have grown up using. Through the integration of technology, we can become a new and different kind of teacher- one who takes problems head-on with a fresh set of eyes, who does not back down from a challenge because they deem the situation to be too hard. We have become educators privileged with an opportunity to share with many of our students the joy of learning for the first time.
By all means, I am not saying technology is the savior of education. I am also not saying that a completely digital classroom is the answer. What I am saying is that a blended learning classroom is what we should all strive for. I understand the studies that state handwritten notes are shown to provide more memory retention than typed notes, and I agree with the studies. However, I do not believe these studies are completely applicable to all the uses of technology available to classrooms today. We are not talking about a student in solitude typing away as a teacher lectures. We are talking about students collaborating, sharing, communicating, and creating within our classroom walls and beyond. I am saying we should encourage our students to complete a sketchnote by hand, but then UPLOAD those notes to a blog or resource where ALL students can see, learn, and utilize them. I am saying we need to let our students read and highlight an article, but then have them share their thoughts in a digital backchannel, collaboratively create a presentation, then screencast their findings to the class and to the world. By including technology in the way our students learn, we are building a community, opening communication, displaying citizenship and encouraging meaningful social interaction through digital media, exactly the same way our students LIVE their everyday lives. Students now control their own learning. As educators, we need to cultivate student differences and allow them to thrive the best way they know how. Technology has changed the world in which our students live, so why can’t it change the classrooms in which they learn?
As educators, we need to remember that using multimedia and technology is a great addition to traditional methods, but all technology should be looked at through the goals and achievements you have in mind for your students. Going digital does not mean going 100% paperless. Going digital means to begin to leverage the digital techniques our digital natives are already using outside the classroom walls. As stated before, studies may show writing notes to be more effective than typing notes, but that is not what we are doing here. In fact, the integration of integrated/manipulatable/hands-on technology use is still in its infancy and studies are just beginning (such as the study HERE). Data is hard to gather based on the many variables at play with technology use, such as the tools being used, who is teaching/implementing the technology in the classroom, and the activity being studied. Blended learning is the best model to look at when implementing technology into the classroom. Correct use of technology in the classroom allows for the instructor to make the learning more meaningful by allowing their students to interact with the lesson, not just consume it. It allows the students to become creators of content, not just members of a passive audience. When used correctly, technology can become a powerful tool to enhance and empower student growth. Anything new can cause a pause in our educational community, but remember – no one ever created change by following the status quo. We need to be leaders in change, but you can’t be a leader if there is no one following you.
Through learning to implement new technologies in the classroom, we can consistently uphold our mission as educators: to be lifelong learners and to prepare our students for tomorrow, not just for today. I consistently try to honor our mission by creating meaningful multimedia videos through apps like EdPuzzle, creating engaging assessments using Kahoot and Quizizz, creating interactive digital labs and presentations allowing collaboration through Formative and Nearpod, enhancing student voice through screencasts or Flipgrid, and Interactive Digital Readers (IDR)/ Interactive Digital Notebooks (IDN) using the power of Google’s GSuite tools, following AVID and ISTE standards. You can even smash them together to create the ultimate APPsmashing lesson, an amalgamation of awesomeness!
If you are reading this and are saying to yourself “This seems like a lot of work”, then yes, you are correct. No one ever said making a difference would be easy. Anything worth the time is also worth putting in the effort. Once you start seeing the power of incorporating technology through blended learning lessons, you will never see technology as one more thing to add to your plate. You will begin to see that technology IS the plate! You will no longer see technology as another brick in your lesson, but rather, it becomes the mortar holding the lesson together. I know change is hard, but as educators, we have pledged to be lifelong learners. We have pledged to be the best educator we can be, not for awards or accolades, but for the advancement of our students. John Dewey said it best over 100 years ago, “If we continue to teach our students today the same way we did yesterday, we are robbing them of tomorrow.” Change does not mean we are doing anything wrong, it only means we have a chance to do more for our kids. By producing meaningful and engaging experiences for our classes, and through the use of our online collaborative environments, we can continue to provide positive experiences, increasing engagement, motivation, creativity, community and a continued joy of learning in this 21st century.
Joe Marquez is a leader and technology coach for the Clovis Unified School District. His innovating spirit, outgoing attitude, and outrageous personality has earned him the coveted titles of Certified Google Innovator, Certified Google Trainer, Common Sense Ambassador, Apple Teacher, and Microsoft Innovative Educator. Joe is an Adjunct Professor for the Fresno Pacific University Educational Technology Master’s Program and guest instructor for the Fresno State Teacher Track Academy and Teachers Pathway T.A.C.O.S (Technology, Aerospace, and Collaboration Opportunities in STEM) Summer Institute. Joe is also the Founder of the professional development site www.SonsOfTechnology.com