Here in Birdville, access to technology is precious. In most schools, teachers and students are competing for time in a single lab or with a laptop cart with an entire campus, often of 700+ students. Like most schools/districts, a 1:1 program isn’t in the cards for us in the near future. Given such limited resources, it’s a significant testament to our teachers and students that they make it work as fantastically as they do. They make lemonade from lemons routinely. The fact that access to technology is so precious may actually have an unintended positive effect, actually. Because so many classrooms can’t even expect weekly access to computers, the Internet, printers, etc., teachers have to be extra judicious about how they use their time and resources. A great number make it count by foregoing routine, mundane use of technology in favor of high-level, meaningful stuff. The following suggestions are based upon my observations of teachers and students doing the really cool and powerful things that maximize the potential of our limited resources.
- Start at the top…of the taxonomy. Create, evaluate, analyze. Choose student outcomes that are high-level first, then see if technologies can get them there. Here’s an example. A guiding question for a 3rd grade science unit reads as follows: Describe and give the names of simple machines. Where can they be found in real life? The action verb here, describe, is at the understanding level of Bloom’s Taxonomy, so students would clearly be meeting the objective by creating a photo slideshow, including labels/descriptions, of images of simple machines found in their homes or schools. However, understanding would be deepened by using Lego robotics to create a machine that will perform a real-world task or by using a tool such as Golems or Scratch to design a machine incorporating simple machines (all at the create level of Bloom’s). Tablet computers offer many animation creation apps that can provide students similar opportunities for designing and sharing practical applications of this learning outcome.
- Don’t just report–solve. Inquiry, problem-based learning, project-based learning, challenge-based learning–whatever the name, the central idea behind such concepts is that students are asked to find answers and solve real problems. Rather than giving a report on global warming, for instance, students might be asked to create a web page promoting the responsible use of natural resources or a video explaining reasons why fossil fuels continue to be the predominant source of energy worldwide. These types of activities require students to gather information from a variety of sources, examine often contrasting facts and opinions, and synthesize everything into an effective product.
- Encourage collaboration. And by collaboration, I mean real interaction, sharing and critiquing of ideas, and contributions by students with differing perspectives. Tools such as wikis, email, Skype, and other communication/collaboration technologies allow students to expand this and work with students from a more diverse community. Skype in the Classroom and ePals are just two of a growing number of resources that help teachers facilitate this.
- Choice. Back in the early days of classroom technology, students had few options when it came to the products they would create. Today, however, the possibilities are vast, and this offers opportunities for students to create projects that are suited to their personal learning preferences and interests. Teachers can facilitate this by introducing students to a variety of possible tools and allowing students to select the technology that will produce the most effective end product.
- Assess authentically. Use rubrics to give students a clear picture of what constitutes top-quality work. If students are involved in the rubric creation process, all the better. Rubrics provide students a means to self-assess their work and progress, as well. Rubistar is an “old” tool that continues to be one of the easiest to use resources for generating new rubrics quickly or finding existing ones suitable for many technology-rich classroom activities.