Educational Technology’s ‘Sphero’ of Influence Extends Beyond the Classroom
“Miss Brown, can I stay in at break and code?”
This is hands-down the most frequently asked question in my classroom. I have had the pleasure of teaching the same core group of students for the past two years. Now that they are in Grade 6, I can confidently call them true 21st-century learners, as I have witnessed their passion for all things EdTech grow in leaps and bounds. From hesitant and sometimes reluctant learners, they now take for granted that technology will be integrated into all aspects of their classroom learning and they have come to embrace and enthusiastically engage with the challenges it presents. As well, they are now regarded as technology ‘experts’ within the school and are often asked by other classroom teachers to assist their students in learning how to use EdTech tools. My ability to foster and help my students develop 21st-century competencies is a direct result of their willingness to try new things, experience challenges, and grow as global citizens.
The EdTech tools that I initially selected for my students’ ‘toolkits’ in Grade 4 were Makey Makey and Ozobot. These technologies are relatively easy to use and provided my students with their first opportunities to share their learning in new ways. When paired with a foundation of sound pedagogy, and purposeful, focused use, technology can amplify curriculum content to reveal, and ultimately, showcase, the depth of my students’ knowledge and understanding. They have become efficient investigators, digging deeper, making richer connections and going right to the (primary!) source. They ask ‘thicker’ questions and have a louder and more confident voice about social and global issues.
My students were first exposed to the Scratch platform last year when they were in Grade 5. As part of The Learning Partnership’s Coding Quest, led by Cliff Kraeker (@kraekerc), a retired TVDSB Learning Technologies Coordinator, they had the opportunity to develop an arcade game based on a curriculum topic—in our case it was Human Organ Systems—and present it at a board-wide arcade showcase held specifically for junior division students.
This year, we have continued to use Scratch in many ways. Recently, during our 2D Geometry unit, I gave my students a ‘Polygon Passport’, created by Steven Floyd (@stevenpfloyd), and the accompanying challenge of making these shapes in Scratch. To be successful, they had to adjust their coding script for each one in order to create the next shape. This activity provided many entry points to accommodate all learners and the process provoked and amplified deep mathematical thinking about the geometric properties of individual shapes and the similarities and differences amongst them.
Following this activity, my students spent some time examining the polygons and they used the SPRK Lightning Lab app to code various shapes: right trapezoid, rectangle, regular hexagon, and scalene triangle. They identified the geometric properties of the shapes and then used the Sphero to ‘check’ their work, watching to see if, after they had written the code, if it was able to successfully trace the outline of the shapes that they had made on the floor with painter’s tape. Students had to consider many things as they wrote code for the Sphero to trace their shapes, such as the types of angles found in their polygons, the number of congruent sides, and the speed at which the Sphero traveled as it outlined their shape.
Responsible and purposeful use of technology in the classroom can help to set students up for success beyond its walls. In my experience, integrating EdTech tools into my teaching practice has strengthened cross-curricular connections and applications for my students, broadened and deepened their critical thinking skills, and has made what they learn in the classroom more relevant and authentic to their 21st-century lives. I am so excited to come to school every day to inspire their zest for learning, their motivation to try new things and their desire to say no to status quo. I believe that the opportunities I have seized to incorporate EdTech tools into my classroom teaching, as fluently and seamlessly as possible, has helped to launch, support, and strengthen my student-driven inquiry program. My efforts have, in turn, enhanced the engagement of my students as they recognize the important role they play as meaningful contributors to their own learning, both within my classroom and outside of it.
Katrina Brown (@katrinabtvdsb) has been a classroom teacher with the Thames Valley District School Board for the past 15 years. She has spent the majority of that time teaching Grades 7/8 but transitioned to the Junior Division in 2015. This is her first year teaching Grade 6. She has presented workshops with Jayna Basson (@JLBasson) on how to integrate technology into an inquiry-based classroom to help develop critical thinking skills and promote global citizenship. Her primary focus is using inquiry as a means to dig deeper into the curriculum—an inch wide and a mile deep, to be precise!—using EdTech tools to amplify student voice through purposeful, student-driven choice.