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Samsung Solve for Tomorrowchallenges students in grades 6-12 to show how STEM can be applied to help improve their local communities. Spark a passion for STEM subjects, build critical thinking and leadership skills, and earn recognition for your school.
To connect or not to connect? That is the question. Actually, it’s not a question. Connection is an important aspect of every elementary classroom. What type of connection am I talking about? There is the connection that teachers need to make with each one of their students. There is the connection to the curriculum that educators need to hopefully create for their students. There is the connection between home and school that is crucial for student growth and achievement. Lastly, there is the connection between school and the rest of the world that helps take learning outside of the four walls of the classroom. The short answer is connection takes on many different forms, yet each type of connection is important for our youngest learners.
The other day I took my daughter to the park in our town. As I watched her proudly practice pumping her legs on the swing all by herself, I couldn’t help notice what the majority of the other adults on the playground were doing. They were all connected to their cell phone in some way. Two people were sitting by the sandbox talking on their phones while their kids played side by side with dump trucks and shovels. One dad was scrolling through his Facebook feed on his phone while his daughter kept running up the steps and sliding down the slide. Next to us on the swings, I saw two adults engrossed in their phones while casually pushing their children on the swings. Do we have a connection problem going on here? I would say so; we have become more connected to our devices and less connected to each other.
As I think about integrating technology in the elementary classroom, I believe it is important to keep my recent playground experience in mind. We are responsible for molding the minds of young children and preparing them to enter into a technology-driven world that is constantly changing and will look different by the time they graduate high school. We must figure out how to truly integrate technology so that it is a natural part of the classroom dynamic and not an add-on. We also need to make sure that we are helping kids connect with each other so that using devices helps to open up windows as opposed to the invisible walls that I saw forming around the adults on the playground.
How do we make all of the different types of connections that I mentioned earlier? As an elementary principal, I am challenged with trying to answer this question every day. I have learned that connection, in all forms, is key to education. I am in a new school this year and the first thing I have to do is build connections with the staff so that they trust what I am sharing with them. Then I need to teach them as much as I can about integrating technology into their classrooms. Before I can teach them, I need to make sure that I am continually educating myself on the current trends in educational technology.
It’s important to remember that staff are at all different levels in terms of “tech savviness” so knowing your staff and meeting them where they are (just like we would do with students!) is crucial to the process. It’s also important to help staff see that integrating technology is a way to level the playing field and meet the wide range of learner needs in each classroom. For example, are there struggling readers who still need to be a part of book club discussions and work on comprehension? Teachers should be aware of different audiobook options. Are there students who have difficulty with writing? Teachers should know about different speech-to-text options that are available. Are there students who have trouble attending and need a creative outlet? Teachers should be aware of how to utilize apps such as Clips on iPads; student engagement gets kicked up a notch when kids are able to collaborate and create their own ebooks. Are there students who do not always want to participate or speak in front of everyone else? Teachers should be aware of the amazing power of FlipGrid; when students are able to make video snippets and share their learning in a different way, they shine. When you are universally designing the instruction in your classroom, technology integration should be automatic.
I have an image in my head of what I hope technology integration looks like in every classroom. Thinking back on the playground image, I envision the complete opposite for edtech in elementary classrooms. As opposed to adults and children simply going through the motions in close proximity to each other, students and adults would be utilizing devices, incorporating technology tools, and sharing their learning in many ways. I envision a classroom environment where technology would be fully integrated, but it would not be what you see when you step into the classroom. What you would see is students connecting with each other, creating with each other, and engaging with each other. You would see students connecting with other students within their classroom, as well as students that are miles away. When true technology integration is happening, the actual technology should fade into the background. What you see happening is kids interacting in new ways with each other and with educators. To connect or not to connect? That is the question. The answer is always...use technology to connect.
Liz Garden is the principal of the Dr. Leroy E. Mayo Elementary School in Holden, MA. She has been an administrator for eleven years and taught at various levels before becoming an administrator. She blogs regularly for her staff at www.musingstomotivate.blogspot.com as well as for a group she helped form, www.momsasprincipals.wordpress.com. When she is not molding future minds as an instructional leader or trying out new tech tools, she is dealing with her reading addiction, keeping Amazon in business, listening to her musician husband sing, and chasing around her preschooler, Emerson! You can connect with Liz on Twitter @PrincipalGarden and on Voxer @PrincipalGarden.
One of the most powerful moments in my 22 years of teaching occurred on the last day of the school year.
During the first week of school, my students in rural Pennsylvania played a game via Skype with a group of students in a rural Kenyan village. During that call, they learned of a bridge in the village so dangerous that many children were not able to go to school because of it. Over the course of the school year, the children in Kenya taught my students how to garden. In exchange, my students designed and fundraised to replace that bridge.
Next week, December 3–9, students and educators worldwide are encouraged to spend an hour during the school week to explore the concepts of coding and computational thinking through Hour of Code. Code.org provides an opportunity for all learners, young and old, to explore something new and different.
In part one of this series, we discussed how implementing certain structures can help develop student creation as a learning method. The first three structures included precise scheduling, developing well-crafted scenarios, and offering students choice within their projects.
Let’s dive into the final three structures that help harness student creativity through project-based learning.