Communicative and Collaborative Tools in the Classroom

The idea of “21st century learning” and “21st century teaching” has manifested itself across the world.  The most critical aspect of this educational style is to utilize communication and collaboration tools in the classroom.  These tools have the power to transform education in numerous ways.

Communication and collaboration allow teachers and students to effectively work and share ideas outside of the classroom.  This allows students to work in a more comfortable environment where they feel less stress about incorrectly answering a question in front of their peers.

Improved communication and collaboration also help the teacher determine where each student stands, on specific concepts.  This helps foster a more individualized environment in the classroom, and allows students to get the appropriate help they need to succeed.

Another important aspect these 21st century tools carry with them is the opportunity for parents to gain insight on what their child is learning.  With tools such as Google Classroom, and all the applications incorporated within it, parents are able to keep tabs on their child’s performance inside of the classroom, while staying up to date on the latest lessons, projects, homework, and other various assignments.  Parents can play a very influential role in their child’s life.  The more aware they are, the more they can help their child with the concepts they struggle with, improving the child’s overall performance.

Another example of a technology I can see myself employing is a classroom-based blog.  I would keep the prompts simple for the students to understand and respond to, and they would reflect on the lesson taught that week in class.  This allows students to share their opinions about the concepts, helping me get a better understanding of what went well and what did not, as well as how comfortable each student was with the specific topic.  These blogs will also be available for parents to view, allowing them to be in-sync with that which their child is learning.

21st century communicative and collaborative tools have the ability to re-invent and improve learning and teaching world-wide.  By taking a more individualized approach, teachers are able to reach out to the students needing it.  These tools also allow parents to be more involved in their child’s education, giving the child another source of help if needed.  This technology has great potential to re-shape present-day and future classrooms.

Advertisement

Software & Apps & Games… Oh My!

Educational software, apps, and games–much like other technologies applied in classrooms–have great potential to promote student learning.  These tools broaden students’ knowledge in several subject areas.  Generally speaking, software lays the foundation for the apps and games.  Countless categories of educational software–such as Skills-based Learning, Productivity, Visual Thinking and Concept Mapping, and Simulations and Virtual Reality–perform different functions, and stimulate different styles of learning in the classroom.  Depending on the type of software, apps and games are purposefully incorporated into lessons as “enhancers” and, of course, to keep the students engaged without getting bored.  Numerous different types of software, apps, and games are used in conjunction with each other to foster an efficient learning environment for students.

Unlike traditional teaching methods, academic software, apps, and games promote individualized learning by encouraging students to learn at their own pace, without feeling subordinate to their peers.  These technologies also diversify the ways in which students learn the material.  For example, some students may find it beneficial to learn math by playing games online, using sites such as Weebly, or Mr. Nussbaum, while others prefer to use apps on devices that accommodate them, such as Visnos.  These specialized, digital tools are highly accessible, and allow students to master the specified subject areas taught during class-time both inside and outside of the classroom.

As a future elementary educator, I believe incorporating technologies, such as games and apps, is extremely advantageous to young children learning an assortment of different subjects.  Before the students start diving into these new technologies, they must first learn how to properly utilize these tools.  Elementary students, especially in the lower grade levels, are notorious for this behavior.  A recurring theme in my last couple blogs—Digital Citizenship—is highly important for students of this age, and it cannot be stressed enough.  These kids are so young and inexperienced with these new forms of technologies, that the likelihood of their security being breached is very high.  Prior to students adopting these technologies inside the classroom, they must learn both how to correctly use them, without abusing the privilege.

Once students develop a sense of familiarity with these technologies, it’s time to play!  After learning about different kinds of software, apps, and games, I have a better sense of which will be the most constructive to exercise in the classroom.  Presumably, elementary students will not be highly accustomed to these categories of technology, so I plan on keeping them simple to navigate, while enhancing the overall lesson and helping the students to learn.  Take reading fluency and creative writing, for example: Without technology, students will most likely be assessed by reading from an informational prompt assigned by the teacher, or writing a short story using sensory words and colorful language.

Technology allows students to go “above and beyond” on assignments.  ColARmix is one of many examples (and personally, my favorite) on how students can enhance their creative writing skills.  ColARmix turns students’ coloring pages into a 3D image that performs specific tasks, depending on the picture.  Students then present their pictures with its movements in front of the class, creating a story to accompany it.

 To help students with reading fluency, I will have my students use Flocabulary, which is an interactive tool that allows students read about a specific topic–for example, the Industrial Revolution—and the app will transform their words into a Hip-Hop Remix.  This makes students learn the material while they enjoy and learn their songs.

Several forms of software, apps, and games help promote student learning in a number of ways.  Looking forward to my teaching career in the future, it is of utmost importance that the technology being incorporated into my classroom will improve the lessons as well as the students’ knowledge.  Personally, I would prefer if the digital tools I employ in the classroom are entertaining to the class.  I believe that the earlier students engage with these technologies, the sooner they will learn to love learning, and become eager to explore new concepts on their own.

Bringing the World-Wide Web into the Classroom

The Internet is one of the most — if not the most —  expansive sources of technology available to us.  If used properly, the Internet in the classroom has a great potential to promote student learning.  It allows everyone to access information quickly, conveniently, and, most importantly, virtually at no cost.  The Internet can be used in countless ways to promote student learning in the classroom.

Google is one of the most powerful, beneficial tools the Internet has to offer when it comes to promoting student learning in the classroom.  One of the most advantageous tools Google offers schools is Google Apps for Education, or GAFE.  GAFE offers student’s unlimited gigabits towards the entirety of Google Applications, such as Gmail, Google Drive, Google Calendar, and Google Sites.  These sites will help me, as a future teacher, to effectively communicate with students and their families; while helping students stay organized, collaborating with each other and manage their homework and various other assignments.

Since these students will only be in elementary school, their Google account will be monitored by their parent or legal guardian.  They will be given the student’s username and password, allowing them to gain a better understanding of what is being covered in class on that specific day, and when homework and other numerous assignments are due.  I believe that when parents are cognizant of their child’s responsibilities inside and outside of the classroom, they can better monitor and ensure that all the work is done on time and to the best of the child’s ability.

Another surprisingly useful tool that will help to promote student learning in the classroom is YouTube.  Utilizing YouTube, I will be able to post content such as a tutorial video, which explains how to do the homework from the previous night.  While the video is playing, I can circulate through the classroom and provide additional help to students needing it.  This will allow me to save time during the overall class period.  YouTube will also provide the means to introduce students to new assignments that require a different medium of technology.  Students can watch the videos on one medium, while simultaneously working on their assignment.  YouTube will afford students the opportunity to access the materials from class, both inside and outside the classroom.

I believe that Internet incorporation within the classroom has the potential to expand and promote student learning.  The Internet provides students with unlimited access to almost anything and everything imaginable.  With the world at their fingertips, it is my job as an educator to enforce digital citizenship and responsibility, and to certify the students’ safety.  The Internet is comprised with millions of constructive tools that will help teachers connect with students and their families.

Digital Citizenship and Responsibility

Technology’s capabilities have made vast advancements since I was in grade school.  The use of technology was rarely considered in the classroom for the purpose of enhancing lesson plans.  Fast forward a few years, and teachers everywhere are making great strides to acquire, learn about, and utilize the latest technologies. They realize that this generation of students has a high degree of familiarity (and comfort) with technology, since the majority of them have “grown up” using some form of technology.

Currently in our culture, it seems that children start using technologies–such as tablets or smartphones—once they learn how to walk and talk.  It almost seems as if these intricate technologies are “hard wired” into children’s brains shortly after they are born. Children may be familiar regarding how to use these technologies; however they remain unaware of the dangers of it, as well as the responsibilities that accompany it.  I believe that if I plan to incorporate technology in my lesson plans, it is imperative to teach my students about Digital Citizenship.

I will be teaching early elementary students and I believe this is a crucial age for learning the responsibilities that come with technology.  When given certain technologies, little kids like to explore them on their own before being instructed on how to handle them.  Technology is a very powerful tool, and as Spiderman says, “With great power, comes great responsibility.”

It is my role as a teacher to instruct my students on the dos and don’ts of the technologies they will use.  Safety of students is the top priority of teachers, staff and administrators.  Technology is one of the most common resources that has the ability to put students’ safety at risk.  By following and teaching my students about the Nine Elements of Digital Citizenship, I believe that the students can remain out of harm’s way and that the lessons they learn about Digital Citizenship will resonate and remain with them throughout their lives.

Students are never too old to learn about digital citizenship and responsibility. It is better to learn these nine elements in school, rather than making a careless mistake using technology.  Technology is very powerful and, if not handled correctly, can severely damage one’s life forever.

Critiquing Elementary Lesson Plans

The first lesson plan I am going to critique is geared towards elementary students, covering figurative language.  I believe that the use of figurative language and creative writing is an extremely important topic that students should learn early and continue to develop as they grow older.

This lesson plan is very effective; it clearly states the objectives, procedures, and how the students will be assessed at the end of the assignment.  The lesson plan also connects with the Common Core State Standards for language arts and writing by demonstrating an understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.  The objective of this lesson plan is for students to do the following:

  • Create a PowerPoint show illustrating two types of figurative language. As an alternative, students will use an interactive online tool to create a similar slideshow presentation, using a site such as Zoho Show. (This site is easier to use than PowerPoint, and free.  Zoho Show also allows students to collaborate, even on different computers with a simple URL address).
  • Demonstrate understanding of personification by creating and interpreting simple examples.
  • Demonstrate understanding of alliteration by creating and interpreting simple examples

The lesson plan continues with a list of materials needed to complete the assignment as well as procedures for the students to follow.  Students will review the concepts of alliteration and personification using different interactive websites provided by the teacher.  They will then start to model their project following the slide requirements for their slideshow, also provided by the teacher.  Before the students begin working on their computerized slideshow, they will need to start brainstorming creative examples of both alliteration and personification using idea cards that may be either digital or non-digital. Once students complete the foundation of the assignment, they are ready to begin their projects.

Depending on students’ familiarity with technology, they have the option to start their power point from scratch, or use a pre-made template.  Each slide should contain examples of alliteration and personification.  Students should also color code and underline the word being personified (on the personification slide) and the alliterative letters (on the alliteration slide). If this project is completed on Microsoft PowerPoint, students will travel from computer to computer and look at their classmates’ projects.  However, if students completed this project using Zoho, they will be able to give their presentations using the interactive SMARTBoard, where students can narrate their own presentations.

When assessing students, the teachers must ensure that students demonstrate that they are comfortable using PowerPoint or Zoho software, and display proficiency in the specified content areas.

I think this lesson plan has the potential to be very beneficial for students.  It not only enhances the level of collaboration among and between students, but also helps facilitate the students’ learning from each other.  What I also find valuable about this lesson plan is how it purposefully integrates technology, and can easily be comprehended by students in elementary school.

Another lesson plan I am going to critique is one that I observed – personally — at the AT&T Classroom.  Before I continue, let me tell you a little about the AT&T Classroom.  It is located on campus at Kent State University that elicits 21st century learning.  The classroom is equipped with technologies — iPads and laptops available to every student — as well as a large interactive SMARTBoard, an Apple TV, and a digital presentation station.  Local teachers bring in their students for a half-day, daily, for six weeks during which they utilize these digital tools.  For more information regarding the AT&T Classroom, visit the AT&T Classroom website.

This lesson plan is also geared towards elementary students; however in this lesson, students are learning about coding and programming games.  This lesson is technology-based in which students use their iPads and the app “Hopscotch” to create their own games.  To learn more about this app, visit the “Hopscotch” website.

As I observed this lesson plan, I noticed how clearly the instructor related it to the students.  The objectives, procedures, and assessment were precise, unambiguous, and easily understood by the students.  The objectives of the lesson are quite simple:

  • Students will code their own game by following along with the instructor’s step-by-step instructions
  • Students will demonstrate their knowledge in game coding using “Hopscotch”

It is now time to get to work.  Since the students are only 7-8 years old, they are unable to completely code games by themselves, so they follow along with the instructor while he/she demonstrates the step-by-step process.  This process is very sequential and it is crucial that students pay very close attention.  Students create new rules — such as “move forward 100” or “jump at 500,100” — to move the different objects in the game.

Once the students have completed the coding process, it is time to try out their creations.  They are assessed on this assignment simply based on whether or not their game works properly.

I find this lesson plan very valuable to students.  Not only are they introduced to new technologies, but they are also learning and understanding complicated skills.  As technology keeps improving, the demand for people who are able to demonstrate coding skills increases tremendously.  Without the implementation of technology in this lesson plan, kids would not get the hands-on experience, or be able to fully understand the process of programming and coding games.

Integrating Technology in the Classroom

In our dynamic, technology-saturated world, it seems like a “no-brainer” to incorporate technology into classrooms.  Young children are adapting and attaching to these new technologies faster than adults; so why not try to create a fun, beneficial learning environment with these technologies?

The problem with this strategy is too much of it can be a (potentially) bad thing.

Technology is a tool for learning, it is not the learning itself.  Technology does not have to be incorporated into lesson plans unless, of course, it has the potential to make the lesson more effective and efficient.  Students must be engaged with the technology, not distracted by it.  I plan on teaching young children ranging from first to third grade, and it is my job to enforce that.  Since my major does not require a specific concentration, I hope to incorporate technology into all subject areas, as applicable and necessary.  Technology will allow students to learn the material in a fun, more interactive way but will also enhance their skills within the 4 “C”s.  Technology will allow students to be creative and share their ideas with one another and possibly with other students, internationally.  Different classrooms have different learning principles that help to intensify and reinforce a student’s learning experience.  Inside my classroom, I feel as though it would be appropriate to employ behaviorist learning principles.  These principles include:

  • learning is a passive process and is the result of a stimulus-response cycle
  • teaching and learning strategies focus on creating opportunities for students to perform for rewards and avoid negative actions.

In my experience, both inside the classroom and out, I found that young children tend to learn more efficiently when given a reward for their good behavior.  Behaviorist technologies are very simple, advantageous, and enjoyable for young children as well.  Examples of these technologies can be found at http://www.funbrain.com.

The use of technology has the opportunity to transform learning throughout millions of classrooms.  However it cannot and should not be the focal point.  Although I am an advocate for technology for learning, I am also an advocate for the “old-fashioned” way of teaching.  Bill Gates brings up a great point in his quote:

“Technology is just a tool.  In terms of getting the kids working together and motivating them, the teacher is the most important.”

Teachers play such an important role in a child’s education, and no form or amount of technology can ever completely replace them.