Technology in the Classroom: Bridging or Widening the Gap?

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The ability to engage our students with technology, devices and apps, in the classroom is undeniable. Witnessing students who are engaged in activities that are only available in a technology environment can be inspiring. Students who are collaborating on a group essay, in real-time, with a student that is presently sick at home- was once thought to be impossible. So what could possibly be “Dangerous” about the current and future environments of our classrooms?

America’s development of our educational system has been one that continually adapts to deliver the vision that everyone is entitled to an equal education. From urban to rural educational systems, and everything in between, there are legal battles to ensure that our youth is grounded on equal footings to make the most out of themselves- no matter what their background and where they grow up. While we have succeeded in many areas to level the playing field, it is common knowledge that there continues to exist a gap in education when it comes to wealth.

As we look to technology and the World Wide Web to provide content and information to anyone, anyplace- we must be conscious that while the claims of opening the playing field and bringing global competition may be true, this playing field is only open to those who can afford the equipment to play. Comparing the sporting world to the educational classrooms, one can clearly see the danger I am referring to.

When you look at the sporting events that are truly open- Football, Basketball, Baseball, and Soccer- one can clearly see (just drive by your local fields/parks) that any child can afford to participate in these sports by simply getting equipment, make shift equipment if needed, and a group of kids. in comparison, select sports are still exclusive and not truly open to all- Golf, Tennis, Gymnastics, and Hockey. Whether a need of wealth for equipment, access to playing surface, or both: these sports are predominantly participated by players who have access to the funds to do so.

The same can be said when we compare technology in the classroom. Walk into the classroom of an affluent neighborhood, and you are almost guaranteed to see some form of a 1:1 environment. Can we say the same if we are to tour our urban area schools? Where are we likely to experience a Google Expeditions lesson taking place? While the message being sent is to open up experiences for those who normally couldn’t afford it, is this the experience being delivered? Which environment can afford the iPhones necessary for 25-30 students in just one classroom to go on this Expedition?

While I applaud the creation of Google Expeditions, iPads, Chromebooks, GAFE, Office365, and the countless Apps that are beneficial to teachers and the classroom- I will continue to advocate for the use case where by all students are able to take advantage of these advances in technology to better themselves and the world around them! There are advantages that wealth provides, however, we must limit this divide in our classrooms. We must be attentive to providing every student the opportunity to an equal education with technology.

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Thank You!

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What is Wrong in this Viral Picture?

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Many of my colleagues in education have praised pictures like the one above. A similar picture depicts a teacher chalkboard with cell phones lined up along the bottom ledge, each placed within a box labeled for each student. The premise is built upon taking attendance efficiently, while garnering the smartphones away from each student to then have their undivided attention! The added bonus is to eliminate the aggravation of having to deal with cell phone distractions throughout the classroom period or day.  What a fantastic way to efficiently and effectively handle multiple tasks, and eliminate the stress of cell phone disasters in today’s classrooms!!

Actually, if you are cheering for teacher’s who are implementing these types of routines, then you are doing the students and their education a disservice! Teachers who feel that an implementation, like the one pictured, is necessary are only trying to hold on to being the sole expert in the classroom. This mentality is literally “Old School”, and needs to stop. By taking away the technology, one can reason that each student is also having their education taken away from them. The smart phone is a tool that needs to be required in classrooms for students to learn information from, and also to create content to show what they are learning. Engagement is imperative for the classroom of today and tomorrow, and the use of proper tools for their future is important.

If you are truly looking for innovative ways to efficiently and effectively handle multiple tasks, why not have students engage with an App to take attendance, allow students a constant flow of information to enhance lessons through the web, and finally challenge your students to use Apps to create content to show mastery of the lessons being taught? By working with technology, not against it, your students will feel empowered to be engaged in your classrooms like never before!

Top 5 Social Apps with Uses in Education

So we all understand that kids live in Apps, but so do we! Why fight the transition to the digital age, when you can embrace it, and encourage your students to be more engaged in their learning? Your students are not only engaging in content, but more importantly becoming creators of it! Here is my list of the Top 5 Apps that can be used in education with all of your students:

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Musical.ly– an App that allows creation and sharing of short 15 second videos. Popular amongst kids to record videos of them lip-syncing or dancing to songs. Collaboration is possible through a unique duet function. There is functionality that can be used within a classroom experience: 1. Student Speeches. There are speeches available (like Martin Luther King Jr) which students can produce videos on. Allow your students to be creative in producing a great lip-syncing speech! You, or they, can also create your own audio byte if you want. 2. Allow your students to create 15 second lessons learned bits. Ask your students to show you what they learned in the day’s lesson! Empower them to show you what came across as the top learning objective! ***Caution: This app is rated for ages 12+ due to some access to inappropriate content/vocals. Like any app, it is important to talk with users about proper use and appropriate content.

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Instagram– an App that allows creation and sharing of pictures and short videos. Allow your students to submit creative assignments, or to work collaboratively on problems. Today’s collaboration was once (and still is by many) considered cheating. Allowing students to post pictures and videos of problems/work to get feedback from classmates can provide a great environment of helpful engagement. It is up to you, the teacher, to facilitate the proper use.***Caution: This app is rated for ages 12+ due to some access to inappropriate content/vocals. Like any app, it is important to talk with users about proper use and appropriate content.

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Twitter– Yes, Twitter. With the use of #hashtags, you can create a lively environment where your classroom in engaged in and out of school. Just as Twitter is being used with TV, news, and presidential speeches, you can use twitter to gain immediate feedback during lessons! By simply creating #hashtags, your students can engage and provide feedback to the #causeandeffect lesson that can be used during and after school, or any day there after. By creating a #hashtag, you are creating a real-time discussion board for your students to participate in, even if students come to you in different periods throughout the day! As a teacher, you will be given direct feedback on your lesson, and more importantly, on what your students are understanding.

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MineCraft– Imagine your students being able to create a virtual world, and then being able to give you a guided tour within it! MineCraft is the virtual Lego’s set. Users are able to create landscape, buildings, rooms, furniture, etc. From Mathematics to Architecture, there are many applications that can be focused on here. Users are able to open up their “worlds” to other users, which allows a fantastic option for true collaboration in development. My daughter, at the age of 13, used Minecraft to begin creating her future. With a love of gymnastics, she designed and built her future gym that she would like to own. From layout to equipment, she was able to plan, critique, revise, and finalize her dream gym. Inspire your students to create and build their futures!!

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YouTube– We all know what Khan Academy can bring to a student, but do we believe that 5, 10, 15, even 20 minute lessons are truly engaging with today’s students? Many ask, why not create your own videos as teachers? Simple- who has the time to create and edit a 20 minute lesson? With the attention span of students shrinking, there is a new phenomenon that every teacher can engage with- Minute Lessons! With a simple download of YouTube and the YouTube Capture App, you and your students can create and publish quick 1 minute lessons for everyone to view. By limiting it to a minute, you and your students are forced to get to the point, and relay the main objective or lesson learned in the delivered message. Want a way to collect summative information on a lesson? Why not have students create and submit a 1 minute summary of your daily lesson!

What Will Teachers Focus On Returning From Winter Break?

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Returning from Winter Break is always a whirlwind time for all involved in education. Parents, teachers, and students are experiencing the mixed feelings of the anxiety of having to return to the repetitious school day and the excitement of returning to the school day. So with the beginning of the second half drive to the end of another school year, just what should teachers be focused on?

There will be a variety of ideas and thoughts that will come to mind: State Testing, Projects, Teaching to the Test, Differentiating Instructions, Curriculum Planning, Data Analytics, Assemblies, etc….

Here are the Top 5 Focus Points for the Best of the Best Teachers:

  1. The Students
  2. The Students
  3. The Students
  4. The Students
  5. The Students

Contrary to the media and public hype around everything that is outside of the teacher’s control, it is only the focus on their students that your true teacher understands that they can control! With only 180 days to be a positive influence in the education of each child, and knowing they are in the second half stretch, the best teachers know that they must focus on the needs of each child to inspire them. It really is that simple!

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An Apology to Current Generations (Teachers and Students) in Education?

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As you walk into your classroom for a new year, excited and inspired, I want to apologize for the days you are destined to experience. Through no fault of your own, your classroom has been set up for failure.

It has nothing to do with the seat you will sit in, the desk you will use, the lack of technology, the old textbook, nor the artistic bulletin board for sure. You will hopefully still have a room filled with love, kindness, creativity and inspiration!

However, there are many who have come before and now lead you blindly into the future….Many who have been taught by old school word of mouth, or writings in text…..Many who continue to declare your learning environment to be uninspiring, to be failing….

Continue to declare your schools to be failing

Continue to declare your teachers to be failing

Continue to declare your parents to be failing

Continue to declare you to be…………..

Failing in a classroom THEY are failing to transform.

They talk about a “Flipped Classroom” as if it is transforming, but yet it has existed since the textbook was brought into the classroom. Do you remember having to read (learn) Lesson 2 at home to discuss the next day? placing the lesson in a video format may make it more engaging, but not transformational. Hopefully you have a teacher that will use technology for communication while you are outside the classroom to better inform him/her what you are and are not learning.

They also talk about “Station Rotation” as if it is also transforming, but yet, every elementary, middle, and high school has used some form to differentiate instruction. Simply bringing technology into the mix does not make it transformative. Hopefully you have a teacher the will use technology to make the stations engaging and efficient so when you are on your own in a small group, you are making the most of your time there.

Every student and teacher is asked to look into the mirror and judge the reflection, so look into the mirror and tell me what it says about you! Are you a Failure? I know NOT! You are a generation with more knowledge at your fingertips than any generation prior, and you use it! Whereas I learned in an offline world filled with deceit, you are tasked to learn in a world filled with deceit, both offline, and online! Whereas I grew up being careful of other who were two-faced, you are learning to be judgmental of many who remain faceless behind the screen of their computer! You have to adapt in a world that is changing EVERY DAY! Be Proud of Yourself!

In fairness, let’s ask the so-called experts to do the same and take the time to look into the mirror and tell us what they see? In true irony, the P.A.R.C.C. reflection clearly spells what their statistics mean. As for the Smarter Balance, better known as S.B., initially the reflection is clear that they too are full of it. You see, YOU are not a reflection of your test results, and neither are your teachers. Both you and your teachers are a reflection of your hard work and dedication to your education. Their test can only evaluate your effort on that particular day of testing. Their test can only evaluate how you answered their questions on that day. Have you ever panicked and did poorly on a test? Have you ever had at-home factors negatively affect you in school? Where it fails is its lack of ability to evaluate you or your teacher as a person, the drive to be better, the ability to overcome obstacles, and the pride you have in your heart!

I sincerely apologize for the failings of the older generations to provide you with a better learning environment. We are trying. We will get it right. As students and teachers, make sure to focus on the task at hand inside of your classroom! Keep your nose to the grindstone, stay inspired, and be Proud of your work!

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I am looking for submissions from anyone willing to share your stories of inspiration in Education!!

Email me at ojlowe@optonline.net