When Erin Klein walked into her first classroom as a teacher, she noticed that the most advanced piece of technology in the room was an overhead projector.
She launched a fundraiser to get an interactive whiteboard in her classroom and immediately found that the level of engagement among her students increased dramatically.
Nine years later, Klein, 34, fills her 2nd grade classroom in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., with a wide range of educational technology that she says allows students to be the creators.
Her students do research on projects with iPads, create videos and slideshows, and experiment with augmented reality using apps like Aurasma. She also makes use of her school’s portable maker space carts to give students opportunities to tinker on projects. (There is no physical maker space in the school because “we don’t want maker spaces to be like what computer labs were,” Klein said. “We don’t want you to have to leave the room for the fun learning to happen.”)
“We never say that we’re going to integrate technology into the classroom—it should happen organically,” said Klein, who is a member of her school district’s Technology Action Group, which evaluates decisions regarding new and current technology within the schools.
Klein said before incorporating tech into a lesson, she asks herself two questions: Does this tool have a role or purpose in learning? And can we do something different from what we could not do without technology?
For example, Klein recently taught a lesson on persuasive writing. She taught her students the elements of persuasion and then assigned them to read a book and join together to create a persuasive commercial to get a friend to read the book. The students created a video for their commercial and then overlaid their video onto the cover of the book using an augmented-reality app. Other students could then view the commercial by hovering their iPad over the book cover.
Klein shares lesson ideas like this and resources that she uses in her classroom on her website,. She has more than 65,000 followers on Twitter and has traveled the country doing consultations and speaking engagements.
And at the Cranbrook Educational Community’s Brookside Lower School, where she teaches, Klein hosts workshops for other teachers on tying technology to their curriculum. “We can all figure out an app, but understanding how it enhances and fits the learning is a big difference,” she said.
Many teachers, she said, are afraid to try new technology out of concern that it might not work or something might go wrong. But taking risks in the classroom can pan out even if they fail, Klein said. Sometimes, she intentionally makes mistakes with the technology as a way of empowering her students.
“They see you make mistakes, they know it’s OK for them to make mistakes,” she said, adding that since students today are technologically savvy, it can be motivating for them to be able to correct their teacher.
And if something does go wrong, as Klein points out, “We’ve never always had technology—pick up the paper and carry on.”
Overall, she has found that schools across the country are “really moving forward” with their use of ed tech. The biggest challenge for schools is not having reliable access to the Internet, she said.
Most of all, Klein sees technology as a means to get students to think more creatively and to collaborate beyond their classrooms.
“Anything you can do to get your kids to collaborate and problem-solve—those are the biggest components employers are looking for in the real world,” she said.
For instance, last year, Klein’s students did a “book buddy” partnership with a 4th grade class at a school in Jackson, Mich. Her students read books to the 4th graders, and the older students in turn read excerpts of books to her 2nd graders. The students discussed the books virtually using a TodaysMeet chat room and had a Google hangout so they could see each other “face to face.”
Klein has dreams of taking such collaborative projects to an even higher level: She talks of using the classroom-communication service ClassDojo to work with students across the country or even internationally so they could share pictures or facts about their community and be exposed to a different culture.
While technology can be a powerful tool for learning, Klein cautions, teachers must get their students’ buy-in for projects to be effective. Teachers can find a great technology tool, but if students aren’t interested, there’s no point, she said.
“You need to incorporate the student voice because that’s the most powerful,” she said. “Try to involve passions and interests, because that’s where you’ll find the most success.”
Coverage of trends in K-12 innovation and efforts to put these new ideas and approaches into practice in schools, districts, and classrooms is supported in part by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York at www.carnegie.org. Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.