I get a lot of questions from readers about what tech ed resources I use in my classroom so I’m taking a few days this summer to review them with you. Some are edited and/or written by members of the Ask a Tech Teacher crew. Others, by tech teachers who work with the same publisher I do. All of them, I’ve found well-suited to the task of scaling and differentiating tech skills for age groups, scaffolding learning year-to-year, taking into account the perspectives and norms of all stakeholders, with appropriate metrics to know learning is organic and granular.
Today: Organizing your classroom
18 webinars (more added as they become available), approx. 30 minutes each, show how to set up your classroom to be tech-infused.
“tailors instruction, expression of learning, and assessment to each student’s unique needs and preferences.” — ISTE
If you think it sounds like differentiated instruction, it does with this caveat: Personalized learning is student-directed, student-paced, and designed for each learner.
Why switch to personalized learning?
There are many reasons to take a deep dive into personalized learning. Some schools realize students aren’t learning to their full potential. They see this not just in test results but in student response to the grade-level curricula. They feel it is unrelated to what happens to them outside of school. We as teachers know that math and science can easily be taught using real-life experiences in lieu of a textbook. The problem in the past has been convincing our learning partners of that truth. Now, anecdotal evidence shows that well-delivered personalized learning encourages excitement about learning, improves test scores, and leaves students wanting to learn even complicated math and science topics.
New teachers quickly realize that one size doesn’t fit all in the classroom. Students are wonderfully different in the way they learn, listen, and absorb. While teaching to the majority sounds good superficially, let’s look at the math:
A majority is 51%
That means 49% may not get what you put out there.
The popularity of personalized learning makes it abundantly clear that those numbers just aren’t good enough anymore.
Luckily, there are lots of options. Over the past months, I’ve cataloged many of those for you in short articles that provide an overview, pedagogic characteristics, and educational applications. If you’re wondering what you can change about your teaching so that you reach more students this year, check out some of these amazing options:
Homework has come under fire the last few years as data surfaced that seemed to support the conclusion that homework is a waste of time. The traditional goals — that homework reinforces school work, provides additional practice on difficult topics, and involves the family — seemed to fall away under the onslaught of naysayers and their numbers.
To many, the shortfalls mean homework should be excised from the education experience. To me, it simply means we teachers must update it — not eliminate it.
If you are committed to the value of homework, here are six suggestions for how to make it more aligned with student education goals:
Make homework relevant
Duke University Professor Harris M. Cooper, says (paraphrased in parts):
Really good homework assignments in subjects such as math and science … highlight skills children use in other areas of their life — sports, games, and everyday tasks like grocery shopping with their parents. A really good teacher is one that takes the skills that [their students] are learning … and uses homework to show them these are the skills they need to enjoy things they do even more
As a teacher, own that. Make homework tie into other parts of a student’s life. After all, isn’t that exactly what education is supposed to do — prepare students for life?
When I went to school, it was all about the 3Rs, desks in rows, and a teacher lecturing from the front of the room. The past decade saw significant improvements in the application of technology to learning and 2017 became a tipping point where embedding technology into education finally moved from fringe to mainstream, remaking classrooms in the image of the future. Following is a list of fourteen such changes that have set 2018 up to be the most student-centered, transformative year ever.
1. More Chromebooks than iPads
Chromebooks and iPads have become the two most popular digital devices in classrooms (with laptops, 2-in-1 devices like Surface Pro, and Macs next). Because they serve significantly different student needs, it seemed they were destined to share the education market. What changed in 2017 is that 1) Chromebooks improved considerably from when they first entered the education market. They are now more durable, easier to use and access, and continue to be a low-cost serviceable option. 2) Cloud storage became common and affordable (or free). Classrooms now are more likely to store student files in the cloud (OneDrive or Google Drive for example) than on school servers allowing students to access their work from school and home. This is the Chromebook’s sweet spot–it predominantly works in the Cloud. What was a disadvantage five years ago is now an advantage.
Vivek Singh and his colleague, Ilya Mishra, are new contributors to Ask a Tech Teacher who specialize in online learning and educational technology (more on Ilya’s bio below).
I know you’ll enjoy their thoughts:
To be an integral part of this relatively young digital age, it is imperative for educators to keep up with the technological advances in every sector. A Columbia University research found that, on average, students taught through online learning techniques performed modestly better than those learning through classical classroom approach. In lieu of several such factual findings, educators have begun implementing a novel methodology, such as using blended learning software, that has transformed the rather archaic and mundane ‘classroom teaching’ into a revolutionary educational experience; enter the world of Blended learning.
The predominant limiting factor related to the classical ‘classroom teaching’ approach has been, at times, boring monologues by the educator that not only lead to a monotonous atmosphere, but also restrict a much-needed quality student-teacher interaction that solidifies learned concepts. Blended learning overcomes this limitation by reducing the need for homework, and provides course content to students via the internet. The educators get more time for discussing queries and doubts and the students can be better engaged in activities related to the topic being taught online. Think of this as a flip between what was considered as ‘homework’ and ‘classwork’ in the classical teaching approach.
An article published in the Journal of Social and Behavioral Sciences indicates an increasing tendency to implement blended learning as a favored pedagogical approach due to the evident benefits it holds. There are innumerable advantages of such an advanced teaching approach.
Finding webtools for high school classes requires a different set of metrics than those that apply to lower and middle school searches. Teachers who specialize in preparing students for college and career instinctively want tools that extend learning, support lesson plans, and simplify concepts taught in the curriculum. Of course they do! By high school, the pressure to prepare students for their future is immense. This is the final chance to provide students with the knowledge they require to succeed in the game called life.
Let me put that in pedagogic terms. If you’re familiar with the SAMR Model, you know it refers to the way technology tools can be used to enrich classrooms. This starts at a basic level of replacing traditional tools (like an atlas) and ends where technology provides experiences students couldn’t get without technology. Here’s how it works:
S (Substitution) — use technology in place of a traditional tool. For example, take notes digitally rather than with paper and pencil
A (Augmentation) — technology functionally improves the traditional learning approach. For example, notetaking may include audio and images as well as text
M (Modification) — use technology to enhance learning in ways that weren’t possible before. For example, students can share their notes and comments with each other creating a collaborative and energized learning environment
R (redefinition) — students use tech tools to accomplish learning that wasn’t possible with the traditional approach. For example, students use interactive maps to explore a geographic environment as though they were there.
The high school teachers I know want tools that contribute significantly to a student-centered learning ecosystem and that enrich learning with experiences they couldn’t have without the technology (modification and redefinition). They aren’t interested in replacing the usual tools or facilitating rote drills. Time is too short and the consequences too significant. To that end, here are six worthy websites and digital tools that will make high school classes more engaging, more effective, and more student-centered than ever:
Here’s an interesting article on what tech may go away by 2019. This is from Steven Wesley, guest blogger for Ask a Tech Teacher and ESL teacher, with intimate knowledge of tech used in the classroom. I think you’ll enjoy his thoughts:
Technology has permeated every pore of our lives today, and education has been no exception. There are so many useful educational tools and apps out there which can help teachers connect with their students in a much better way. With all the techs available, there has been a debate whether schools as we know them, as well as the role of a teacher, will become obsolete. While the latter is not going to take place, some shifts in education are bound to happen with old technologies giving way to new. Let’s see which ones won’t make it in 2018.
- Desktop Computers
Today, smartphones and tablets are cheaper than ever; moreover, their prices are going to decrease which means that desktop computers, as well as computer labs, are about to become extinct in schools. As a teacher, it will save me plenty of time, because I won’t have to deal with lots of login information due to many students using the same computer. With each student having their own smartphone or tablet and Wi-Fi present in every school, they can log in and receive a more customized learning experience. The same thing will happen to laptops.
- On-Premise Software
According to James Hutton, an IT specialist for Essay On Time, on-premise software will be on its way out after 2018:
“On-premises software requires teachers to install the same software on each computer inside the computer room, which is incredibly time-consuming. Another downside of this is that students can’t use the software while they are at home in case they need more time with it. It will be replaced by software that is installed inside the cloud and all students will have to do is log in and use the application at any given moment.”
The poster child for a cutting-edge classroom over the years has included computers (back in your mom’s schooldays), iPads (a surprisingly long time ago), 3D printing, Maker Space, and G Suite. By now, those have all been mainstreamed, with savvy parents asking, “What else do you offer?” Now, the most popular ending to the sentence that starts, “My school actually has…” is Augmented Reality. Augmented Reality (AR) is exactly what it sounds like — students learn more about what they see. Using reality inspired by their lesson plan, teachers expand it — supersize it — with motion, color, websites, audio and other pieces that enrich the experience. When students unpack learning via augmented reality, they want more, don’t want to leave, and are willing to solve complex math problems and understand deep concepts just so they can see what else comes with augmented reality.
As an affordable boost to educational engagement, AR in theory takes students into Harry Potter’s world where school hallways are lined with interactive paintings. Using an Android or iOS AR app, students aim it at an image (called a “trigger”) and reveal deeper content layered on top of the physical world be it a student’s discussion of a book they read or the inspiration behind their artwork. What makes AR different from QR codes or other embedded link technologies is that the AR content is superimposed onto existing materials in their own real-time environment.
How’s it different from Virtual Reality
If you ask any group of people about AR, most will conflate it with Virtual Reality (VR). While VR is a wonderful education tool in its own right, there are important distinctions between the two. Kathy Schrock, Adobe Education Leader, Google Certified Teacher, Sony Education Ambassador, Discovery Education STAR and a DEN Guru, and columnist for Discovery Education (just to name a few of Kathy’s accolades) said it best:
Augmented reality layers computer-generated enhancements on top of an existing reality to make it more meaningful through the ability to interact with it.
Virtual reality is a computer-generated simulation of real life…It immerses users by making them feel they are experiencing the simulated reality firsthand.
If you use the VARK model of Student Learning, you know why I’m excited about it. VARK started as a questionnaire to help students and teachers understand their best approach to learning but has since become more of a guideline for teaching and learning. The questionnaire is deliberately short (thirteen-sixteen questions, depending upon which version you take) in order to prevent student survey fatigue.
The acronym VARK refers to four learning modalities — Visual, Auditory, Reading/Writing, and Kinesthetic. Though often classroom lessons focus on the Visual, with a bit of preparation, they can be taught using all four modalities thus accommodating students who learn best in a different way. Why go through this extra effort? VARK’s creator, Neil Fleming, explains it this way:
- Students’ preferred learning modes have a significant influence on their behavior and learning.
- Information that is accessed through students’ use of their modality preferences shows an increase in their levels of comprehension, motivation, and metacognition.
For me, that extra time and effort is a no-brainer. Let me back up a moment and explain how I got to that point. I realized after a few years of teaching that something was wrong with the methodology I had been taught. Lots of clever, smart kids weren’t getting what I was putting out. I taught in a way that addressed how the majority learned (because that covered most kids, didn’t it?) but that turned out to be more like a plurality. Or less. In fact, where that plurality of kids might be the biggest group in the class, those that weren’t learning in this prescriptive manner was an even bigger group. To say it another way:
What the Bell Curve considers the “typical student” was always far outnumbered by those who weren’t.
Interestingly enough, Dr. Fleming reports that Kinesthetics (the K in VARK) is the most common learning style though not the most common teaching style.