Special Report
Student Well-Being

Students Seek the Right Digital Fit

By Michelle R. Davis & Katie Ash — March 14, 2011 5 min read

When high school student Teila Allmond was told by her social studies teacher she could choose to study the history of just about anything for a class project, she knew exactly what she wanted to delve into: sneakers.

The senior at Philadelphia’s Science Leadership Academy works at a sneaker store and is fascinated by shoe trends and their influence on pop culture. A classmate, senior Danielle Duncan, also was interested in what was hip, so they paired up to study “the history of cool.”

Together, the two students created a 10-minute documentary on what has been considered “cool” over the decades, how it has changed, and what has influenced fads. They experimented with video styles, incorporated old video clips, and used the school’s professional-grade video cameras and editing software to polish the presentation.

But that doesn’t mean their teacher, Douglas Herman, has set off an academic free-for-all in his classroom. Before the project, the students had to complete a more structured assignment in which the topics were more limited and covered important historical events. Herman helped guide the students to trusted research sites for the more structured assignment, and helped them organize and weigh the importance of the data they collected.

With the “history of cool” assignment, “once I picked my topic, everything opened up to me, and it felt more enlightening than academic,” Duncan says. “Before that [assignment], we had to write a 10-page paper with an annotated bibliography on the atomic bomb, and it was so difficult to push out those 10 pages.”

Allmond agrees. “When it’s your choice, you become more passionate,” she says. “And with technology there are so many new things you can do. You can present things in multiple ways that are less linear. It’s so much more innovative.”

Today’s students are often called “digital natives” and feel more comfortable with technology than many of their teachers. So it makes sense that students are using the same technology to personalize their own learning experiences.

“If the student is able to work on something they care about, their passion comes through in the way they talk about it, present it,” and the amount of hours they put in,” says Herman, who teaches U.S. history and digital video production at the Science Leadership Academy. “I’m a firm believer that it doesn’t have to be done one way.”

‘Relevant and Useful’

While students have always been able to use their creativity to approach learning in different ways, experts say technology is allowing them to push the boundaries even further and faster than ever before. In addition to traditional essays, students are creating websites and films, writing scripts, and recruiting friends and family members to act in videos. They’re using social-networking tools to help teach each other new skills and reach out for assistance from their peers. And they’re using gaming to help express creativity, while also incorporating academic concepts.

Many students use those technologies daily outside of school, and it just feels familiar and right to access them for personalizing their own education, says Molly Schroeder, a technology-integration specialist for the 8,000-student Edina, Minn., public schools.

Until recently, all 4th graders in the district were required to do a state research project and create brochures on their respective topics. But recently one of the students questioned why someone would want a brochure instead of just going online.

“It was a great learning moment for the adults,” Schroeder says. “The kids have probably never even used a brochure. They always go online.”

Now each student creates a website for his or her final product instead. “The kids needed something that was relevant and useful for them,” says Schroeder.

Technology often provides that link for students, helping them understand how what they’re studying can be applicable in their lives.

Hal Scheintaub, who teaches conceptual physics at the Governor’s Academy, a private school in Byfield, Mass., makes the connection between physics and students’ own lives through gaming. A three-week project in his class teaches students to build physics engines into their games to make characters move, turn, and accelerate. They must place their characters on a screen using various coordinates and other physics concepts to make those characters move.

“They end up with these really, really rich games that are very personal,” Scheintaub says. “They reflect their personalities like any work of art.”

This year, two girls used physics concepts to create and program a game in which a worm’s family disappears, and the worm has to interact with good characters and avoid bad characters to go up levels to reunite with its family.

Two boys who are frequent gamers created an action scenario in which the main character battles zombies. But they had to figure out how to program the character to turn 180 degrees to see zombies creeping up behind him, which involved complex physics and programming work.

“It was really awesome, and they got that idea from their own games [they play at home],” Scheintaub says.

‘The Right Direction’

Students adept at using social networking are also pushing the boundaries of incorporating those skills into their own learning.

At the Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School, a pre-K-12 private school with 1,250 students in St. Louis, students often employ social-networking tools like Twitter, Edmodo, Diggo, and Ning in their curriculum.

For example, says Elizabeth Helfant, the upper school’s coordinator of instructional technology, students use a Ning site as a book club for students to discuss what they’re reading or what they’d like to read.

But educators caution that just because students may be skilled at using technology to personalize their own education, it doesn’t mean teachers should take a hands-off approach. In fact, students say they appreciate having a teacher to guide them even more in how best to implement the technology, how to find trusted online sources of information, and how to organize and present that information.

“Teachers here keep us going in the right direction,” says Allmond of the Science Leadership Academy.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
Interactive Learning Best Practices: Creative Ways Interactive Displays Engage Students
Students and teachers alike struggle in our newly hybrid world where learning takes place partly on-site and partly online. Focus, engagement, and motivation have become big concerns in this transition. In this webinar, we will
Content provided by Samsung
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Classroom Technology Webinar
Educator-Driven EdTech Design: Help Shape the Future of Classroom Technology
Join us for a collaborative workshop where you will get a live demo of GoGuardian Teacher, including seamless new integrations with Google Classroom, and participate in an interactive design exercise building a feature based on
Content provided by GoGuardian
School & District Management Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table With Education Week: What Did We Learn About Schooling Models This Year?
After a year of living with the pandemic, what schooling models might we turn to as we look ahead to improve the student learning experience? Could year-round schooling be one of them? What about online

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Student Well-Being Children as Young as 12 May Soon Be Able to Get Vaccinated
The Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine is safe and effective for 12- to 15-year-olds, and that age group could be vaccinated before next school year.
6 min read
A clinical research nurse prepares to administer COVID-19 experimental vaccine to a volunteer at a clinic in London.
A clinical research nurse prepares to administer COVID-19 experimental vaccine to a volunteer at a clinic in London.
Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP-File
Student Well-Being Opinion How Can Students and Educators Make Sense of a Year of Loss?
Spiritual traditions offer tools for facing the past and shaping a better future, writes a scholar of religion.
Roger Brooks
5 min read
A student walks across a sunrise to a new beginning
Mary Haasdyk for Education Week
Student Well-Being Opinion Why the Myth of the Lazy Genius Is So Harmful
We shouldn’t assume that girls’ hard work is compensating for a lack of "natural" talent. Talent and hard work aren’t mutually exclusive.
Andrei Cimpian
2 min read
Images shows a stylized artistic landscape with soothing colors.
Getty
Student Well-Being Opinion City Year CEO on Supporting Students Through the Pandemic
Rick Hess speaks with City Year CEO Jim Balfanz on how members serve as "student-success coaches," even amidst the pandemic.
6 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty