Digital Tools in the Classroom

Especially now, with the rise of technology in the classroom, teachers have practically unlimited methods for teaching, assigning, and grading student work. Features within forums such as Google Classroom, Flocabulary, Read180 Universal, PowToon, NewsELA, etc., allow for student choice, engagement, and differentiation. While the options and methods are seemingly unlimited, there are a few things to consider when it comes to utilizing classroom technology effectively.  

To ensure that the digital classroom is an asset, instead of an obstacle, for students and parents, educators will want to address the following concerns before planning and implementing:

  • Is the technology adding to the student’s understanding of the material, or is it simply technology for technology’s sake? If teachers cannot readily identify how the digital tool is adding a layer of complexity, relevance, choice, or differentiation, then the tool may be better utilized for another task. What we do not want is for the learning to be secondary to the digital forum. For example, if students are using PowToon or Prezi for an assignment, then the objective should be something related to summarizing, paraphrasing, simulating cause and effect, etc., since those are skills that the digital tools support. Those two particular digital tools are more geared towards public speaking or presenting, so an objective for speaking and listening should be a component, as well. 
  • How much scaffolding or frontloading will the technology involve? As teachers, we know that time is limited, as we are constantly moving students from one skill to the next. A worst-case scenario would be for the digital tool to become a “time-suck” in the unit. More than anything, the technology should be comprehensive and user-friendly, so that it does not become an obstacle for students to demonstrate mastery.
  • How much of the student’s grade will be determined by the proper use of the technology? Again, if the objective is for students to relay research that they have gathered in a focused and organized way, then the technology feature is simply a small aspect of that task. Consequently, if the objective is for students to construct a timeline of a story and present the animation, then the technology becomes more of a vital component. 
  • Can the use of the digital tool be optional? Another recommendation when considering student choice is to provide the option to not use the technology to demonstrate mastery. For some students, technology can be scary because of their unfamiliarity with it. For others, computer or internet access at home may not be a possibility. Teachers should be wary of only using digital creations or submissions, as this would mean that some students can only work on an assignment or project in the classroom—not at home. 
  • Are my digital posts, grades, and assignments easy to access and displayed clearly? When using a digital classroom like Google Classroom, teachers should be sure to make their digital forum as accessible and transparent as possible. At open house or parent conferences, teachers should consider inviting parents to sign up to the virtual classroom. This provides parents with their own means of logging into and monitoring the virtual classroom. Guardian access also allows parents to set email alerts anytime a new announcement, assignment, or grade is posted. This means that parents receive notifications in real time, as opposed to having to wait for their child to bring home the new assignment or rubric. Guardian access also allows teachers to post entire lessons, documents, and reading to the classroom. This type of transparency provides parents with a peek inside the day’s activities and lessons. With documents posted, there will also be a backup option for parents if their child has lost or forgotten the paper copy.

Integrating Technology in the Classroom: High School

The widespread use of technology is a pivotal factor in today’s classrooms. By high school, students are expected to proficiently access information in the digital world. It is truly unbelievable how much digital information is being presented to students in and out of the classroom. For digital instruction to be effective, however, it must be planned for and utilized with specific and deliberate purposes. Technology should be integrated as a means to engage, enrich, and extend learning objectives for students on a regular basis. So, what specific skills should high schoolers attain before graduating? Let’s take a look.

Technology Skills for College and Career Readiness

Typing skills are one of those abilities that many people disregard. While most schools have done away with mandatory typing courses as a graduation requirement, the skill is more valuable than people think. Not only does the one-finger “pecking” appear juvenile or unprofessional, but it is also not efficient. Especially when students head off into the world of higher education, they will need to be able to type with precision and ease for lectures, papers, research, etc. The great news is that technology has greatly improved the methods for building standard typing skills. With games, races, and levels, students are much more engaged and able to easily track their improvement.

Email and technology etiquette is also up there in terms of skills that high schoolers should acquire before graduating. The key here is that, by high school, students have been completely immersed in the informal realm of texting and social media. With all of this connectedness comes the likelihood that high schoolers have gotten comfortable with internet “slang” or informal communication styles. Between the emojis, neglect of appropriate punctuation, and familiarity with an informal tone, students are often ill-prepared to correspond professionally via email. That said, content area courses should be sure to address the need for a formal tone and appropriate formatting when it comes to email in the academic or professional realm.

Research skills offer huge benefits to students, no matter what career goals they may have for the future. The truth is, research is not just limited to college coursework—we perform research every day in our personal lives without even realizing it. Effective research skills ensure that the information collected and created by students will not only hold up, but help to grow their understanding of a concept.

Proofreading and editing is another digitally-based skill that high schoolers would be wise to master. Of course, the crutch of spellcheck has resulted in today’s students being somewhat lazy in terms of editing abilities. The best way to improve proofreading skills is simply to practice it. There are many editing forums and technologies that greatly assist in the process of self-checking and peer editing.

Integrating Technology in the Classroom: Middle School

The use of technology is a pivotal factor in today’s classrooms. Students are expected to proficiently access, analyze, and create using digital tools, even at the middle school level. Information, apps, and tools are everywhere—it is truly unbelievable how much digital information is being presented to students in and out of the classroom. For digital instruction to be effective, however, it must be planned for and utilized with specific and deliberate purposes. Technology for technology’s sake is not beneficial to student learning. Instead, technology should be integrated as a means to engage, enrich, and extend learning objectives for students on a regular basis. So, how can this be accomplished in middle school?

By middle school, students have been introduced to plenty of educational digital forums. Middle school educators must continue to teach students how to be digitally responsible. Parents and teachers are well-aware of the fact that adolescents are connected to all things digital on a grand scale. The unavoidable truth that comes with digital technology use in classrooms is the fact that students become immediately immersed in a world with few boundaries. The impulsive and somewhat self-absorbed mindset that comes with the adolescent years also presents the issue of cyberbullying, which has become a simply newer and easier way to hurt peers. Luckily, schools have made it relatively easy for teachers to monitor what students send, copy, post, or type. In addition, technologies such as Lanschool allow teachers to monitor exactly what each student’s screen looks like, and close it out if need be. Teachers also have the option to screenshot a student’s screen in order to share a concerning incident with parents.

Managing Digital Footprints

Instructing students about their digital footprints is also important in middle school. Not only are students receiving information at rapid rates, but their own digital output is of major concern, as well. A digital footprint is composed of a person’s online actions and behavior. Middle school students must be taught that anything that we post on the web is permanent—digital footprints will never vanish. As many of us know, it is typical of adolescents to dismiss the concept of the far-off future. However, middle school is the opportune time to discuss the likelihood of severe consequences after leaving a negative digital footprint for someone else to stumble across, even years later.

Resources

Having successfully prepared middle schoolers with the knowledge of safety and security in the digital realm, teachers are then able to utilize technologies to enhance learning like never before. Free resources like instagrok.com, Padlet, Powtoons, and Adobe Spark allow students to research and create in a more interactive and creative way. Using Google classroom as the starting point for assignments and lessons incorporating technology, students are able to go out into the digital world and bring back information and material at an alarming rate. The idea of cooperative learning, student choice, technological creativity, and collaborative synthesis are all possible when using forums such as Google classroom to gather students’ ideas and creations.

Integrating Technology in the Classroom: Elementary

The widespread use of technology is a pivotal factor in today’s classrooms. Students are expected to proficiently access information in the digital world as early as elementary school. It is truly unbelievable how much digital information is being presented to students in and out of the classroom. For digital instruction to be effective, however, it must be planned for and utilized with specific and deliberate purposes. Technology for technology’s sake is not beneficial to student learning. Instead, technology should be integrated as a means to engage, enrich, and extend learning objectives for students on a regular basis. So, how can this be accomplished at the elementary level?

Cyber Safety

One essential concept for elementary students to learn is cyber safety. The unfortunate, yet unavoidable, truth that comes with digital technology use in classrooms is the fact that students become immediately immersed in a world with few boundaries. Aside from cyberbullying and cyberstalking, which have become simply newer, easier ways to spread hate, teachers and parents must concern themselves with protecting elementary-aged students from the vast information available. Luckily, schools have made it relatively easy for teachers to limit what students can and cannot access. In addition, technologies such as Lanschool allow teachers to monitor exactly what each student’s screen looks like, and close it out if need be.

An initial elementary lesson on technology use should involve safe searches, handling cyberbullying, and managing safe digital footprints—the digital output of a person’s online actions and behavior. Remind students, even at the elementary age, that everything we search, post, share, comment on, or “like” can be copied and shared with anyone.

Lesson Ideas

For elementary school, students may come into the classroom with varying familiarities when it comes to internet use. Begin with something simple, and allow opportunities for enrichment as students develop search skills. For instance, if students are asked to outline the week’s weather forecast, provide them with previewed links or suggested sites that remove ads and pop-ups. For the most part, schools’ firewall settings will alleviate this issue beforehand, but it is best to double check sites before pushing them out to students.

For students that are well-versed in the digital realm, allow them to complete something like the weather outline via Google classroom. Post a digital form of the graphic organizer as a Google document. Students with less familiarity with technology can use a physical paper copy of the assignment. This option not only incorporates student choice, but it also allows students to work on their comfort level and technology skill development at their own pace.

Another idea for using technology in the elementary classroom involves the common “word of the day.” Students can be provided with URLs for sites such as dictionary.com or merriam-webster.com in order to search their vocabulary terms. These sites also provide options to hear how the terms are pronounced and see examples of the terms used in sentences. Allow students to keep a running Google document of new terms with definitions, parts of speech, and sentences for context. Teachers can also “share” a document with the entire class via Google classroom, allowing students to add, edit, or comment as the class dictionary evolves.