As the 2010-2011 school year comes to a close, I wanted to reflect on the technologies that have had the biggest impact on teaching and learning this year in our district. Some are primarily teaching tools, while others have had a huge impact on the way kids learn and demonstrate their learning. In no particular order…
- iPad & iPod Touch. I’ve owned an iPod Touch for sometime now (1st generation), and I love the device. Still, the first time I got my hands on aniPad, I was somewhat, but not overly impressed. It was shiny and from Apple, something I am admittedly susceptible to as an official cult member. However, the earliest apps I tried were somewhat less than dazzling. What turned my opinion quickly 180° was what I observed when I took the iPad home and put it in the hands of my then 6- and 9-year old children. The little digital natives snatched it eagerly and set off to exploring, needing no instructions from their digital immigrant father. They navigated, opened, and mastered apps with incredible ease and enthusiasm. A similar experience has occurred in an increasing number of classrooms in Birdville, and schools are using Title 1 and grant funds to add the powerful tools as viable solutions in an economic climate that makes traditional computers (and their pricy software, especially) less so. As an elementary computer, especially, there is nothing out there as perfectly suited. As an example, my first grade teacher wife uses 2 iPads in her literacy program. Students read along with interactive Dr. Suess books (and others), practice writing words and constructing sentences, test their spelling knowledge, and create stories. Her only lament is that she has just the two, and she has plans to add more as soon as possible. Oh, and I should mention that the apps have become more amazing, as developers have figured out the best ways to take advantage of the iDevices’ capabilities.
- Interactive Whiteboards. Some in the educational technology world lament (even loath) the use of IWBs as being too teacher-centric, proposing that money would be better spent on student devices. While they make strong points in support of their case, such an argument stems from the misguided belief that the teacher should never be the central focal point of the classroom. Reality is quite different, and there is a vital role for teachers to play, at times, as the “expert” sharing knowledge. It also fails to recognize the ways IWBs can be used by students as active participants in lessons, simulations, games, etc. In Birdville, the numbers of IWBs is currently fairly small but growing, with at least 4 elementary schools now having them in every classroom, and numerous other campuses making plans for similar implementation. Teachers frequently say that the boards have increased attention and engagement, and that they have become critical tools used every school day.
- Cellphones. This technology continues to be controversial, but it’s impact in many classrooms is beyond debate. Teachers are taking advantage of the ever-increasing numbers of students coming to school equipped with pocket-sized computers more powerful than what was on our desktops just a few years ago. They are already Internet-capable and have text-messaging abilities, offering another tool for communication. And, as an added benefit, today’s phones have still and video cameras that exceed most of the available cameras from only a few years back. These features make cellphones useful for information gathering, communication, collaboration, and creativity. The knock on cellphones in our district continues to be their role as a disruptive force, as students in many cases have yet to discern what appropriate, educational use looks like. Because of that, many teachers still ban their appearance in their classrooms. Still, the numbers of teachers embracing their use is steadily growing. For more information on our efforts, visit our mobile devices blog.
- Blended Classrooms/Online Learning. Birdville has had online courses for several years now. These were typically the traditional, 100% online type, however. More recently, we are experiencing a steady growth in the numbers of teachers who are finding ways to take traditional, campus-based courses into the online world. Tools being used range from district-hosted Moodle servers to online resources such as Edmodo and Facebook. Students engage in discussions, download notes and assignments, view teacher-created videos or playlists, and more.
- Web 2.0. This overlaps a little with the category above, but it is much broader. The biggest distinction here is the way that our students’ use of Web 2.0 has enabled them to created endless amounts of content on the Internet. Students are telling stories, using tools like Storybird, VoiceThread, and Animoto. They are collaborating using tools such as Wallwisher, Todaysmeet, and Google Docs. Wikis and blogs are giving students the opportunity to share their knowledge and their writing skills with an authentic audience, adding meaningfulness and motivation to their learning. YouTube is being embraced as a tool for creativity, sharing classroom/campus events, and knowledge-gathering. What is truly exciting is that such tools are really no longer seen as novelties. Rather, they are becoming as commonplace as pencils or textbooks in many of our classrooms.