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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3 Things It’s OK to say as a Teacher!

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3 Things It’s OK to say as a Teacher!

As a teacher and parent, I find there are many opportunities to be open and honest with students. By doing so, you can build a solid level of trust from which you can build a solid relationship. Many educators are afraid to be truthful with students for fear that they will hurt the fragile self-esteem.  How can we tell students that success is getting up one more time than they have been knocked down- if they have never been knocked down? How is a child supposed to build self-esteem without ever having to hear negativity? You see, it is not that you provide negative feedback, but rather what you follow-up your statement with!

  1. “You are being LAZY”- I actually had a principal who hounded me for over 3 years to “be more diplomatic” when I spoke to students and parents. During this time, not a single complaint was ever brought to her attention, as it was only her issue with me. She even gave me a book to read “The Myth of Laziness” by Mel Levine. (I don’t think she thought I would read it.) After reading about half of the book, which brought out some good points, I found a paragraph where the author had contradicted himself, highlighted it, and returned it after the weekend. The premise for her was that LAZY was a label, and I should use the word unmotivated as they could become motivated. In being a good teacher, I gave it a try for 2 weeks, with which my students and a parent (during parent conferences) stopped me and said “You mean (I’m being) LAZY”? YES, that’s EXACTLY what I mean! You see, it was not that I was labeling anyone, but just being truthful. The students and parents understood this because I would similarly praise students when their work was Spectacular or Excellent! The statement allows every student to know what you mean with clarity, and as long as you are praising their positive efforts, you have every right and student’s understanding that their work is unmotivating. 😉
  2. “I am disappointed with you(r actions)”- This is an extremely powerful statement to make when you have a great relationship with your class. Throughout any school year, there are so many A-HA moments and times to recognize positive behaviors that students revel in the wave of positive feedback. Especially in elementary school, students attend with the objective to be the best student and impress their teachers. Just walk through the hallways on the first day of school if you don’t understand this. If you are meeting your students at their level, and forging a relationship built on each student giving their best effort to improve everyday, then this one phrase is all you need to hit home an important point. This phrase MUST be followed with a sincere conversation about what disappointed you, and what the student needs to do to recover. It requires a true love of the student to then say “I am PROUD of YOU”! When you get to this point, your students’ trust in you, and will be motivated to do their best everyday (except for those bad days that always come along)! There truly is nothing more motivating for kids today than to have someone who is truly PROUD of them!
  3. “It’s NOT good enough”-  Whether you are talking about grades, effort, or attitude, there is nothing wrong with letting your students know the truth.  The truth is what they want to hear. they may not like it, but they will respect you more if you speak it. This is for every student at their level of failure. If a student gets a 90, everyone’s first reaction is to praise, however, a 90 score should draw a “It’s NOT good enough” for your best students. Why should your top students expect anything less? Didn’t you promise to push each and every one of them to reach their full potential? If the A student is short of a 100% due to a lack of focus, you must let them know. If your C student gets a C+, you must let them know how PROUD you are of them, but you must also motivate by letting them know not to be satisfied. To push every student at their level to become better and push their potential should be the goal in every classroom. It is only then that you are truly teaching to every student to give an effort that is good enough!

In the end, it comes down to the students. We talk about differentiated instruction- but this is a myth. There should never be any talk about differentiated instruction as the foundation of the job is built on the premise of doing so. If you are truly differentiating, it should be in your efforts to reach your students each and every day! You can talk about providing different content to your students, but the content is not going to change broadly. You can, however, change the attitude of which each student approaches learning!

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!

The Myth of the Quiet Class

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The Myth of the Quiet Class

The Tale of Two Classrooms

As you look into Classroom A, you notice the teacher up front teaching the lesson of the day. The students are seated quietly with their feet flat on the floor, and hands positioned on their desks. As a question arises, a select amount of students raise their hand, get called on, and answer the question.

As you enter Classroom B, you notice the teacher is walking up and down the aisles, periodically stopping at the board to write something down. The students are far from quiet, but respectful. Some students are standing in the back, and you notice that some students are sitting on giant balls and some are on a couch. When a question is asked, students are sharing answers with each other, and even answering aloud to the teacher.

Classroom A is the perfect classroom as presented on TV and in the movies. This is the way a class presents itself when the principal or other visitor is expected to appear when coming in for a visit. Is this how the public envisions the perfect classroom? If so, let me list why Classroom B is my preferred classroom, and a quiet classroom is far from the perfect classroom:

  1. A Quiet Classroom is NOT an engaging classroom: Students are in school to learn which requires them to be inquisitive. In a room where a teacher demands that students be quiet and respectful at all times, there is no room for students to grow.  There is a time and a place for students to be respectful and give their teacher their undivided attention, but we all know there are classrooms where this is expected for every minute they are in the class. I don’t call this the perfect classroom, but rather the quiet torture room- where students are assigned to a year’s worth of torture. “Do not speak unless, spoken to.” “Raise your hand if you wish to speak.” “I will not recognize you until you raise your hand.” At what point are students expected to take charge of their education? A student here is not engaged, they are simply in a quiet room.
  2. A Quiet Classroom is lead not by a teacher, but by a dictator. Literally and figuratively, the dictator will have full control of the class. He or she will be in charge and will dictate what each student will learn. They will not be questioned in what they teach, for questioning an idea or thought would be questioning their authority. The dictator here is simply nothing more than a live newscaster delivering the events while the students simply have no choice but to listen and accept the words being spoken.
  3. Lastly, A Quiet Classroom provides no feedback. I had a fellow colleague once ask me “Why do you allow your students to talk and answer out loud?” (followed by a negative comment about my teaching style). I answered, “Simple: My students are not afraid to be wrong. By answering aloud, they understand that they are letting me hear their thoughts as I teach. This in turn allows me to understand why they are getting things right and, more importantly, wrong. At times, listening to them has influenced me to rethink my predetermined thoughts. How are YOU able to determine if all of your students are learning if they are not?” I am not sure if she understood the question as she walked away, but truly, how could she? What does a teacher learn about class mastery by always calling on the student with the hand raised?

What do you hear happening in a Quiet Classroom? I remember the sounds that echo in the hallways of a school whether the classroom door was closed or not. Without stepping foot inside the classroom, you can tell if the students are engaged with a great teacher.  It is clear in the sounds that come from the room, the talking, the laughing, the questions, the questioning, and the answers. To a true teacher, it is the sound of perfection: Students engaged in learning through conversation with other students and their teacher!

As you walk through a school, truly listen to the classrooms as you pass by……..What do you hear?

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