Teaching Opinion

Response: Effective Ways to Use Tech in The Classroom -- Part Three

By Larry Ferlazzo — December 21, 2012 9 min read
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(This is the final post in a three-part series on this topic. You can see Part One here and Part Two here)

Last year, Carla Arena asked:

How do teachers make informed decisions in relation to a balanced use of technology in the classroom?

I answered the question at that time, along with guests Richard Byrne and Marsha Ratzel. You can see our responses here.

However, since it was an early question that appeared when this blog’s audience was much smaller than it is now, I thought it would be worth highlighting it again for a follow-up response.

As I mentioned in Part One of this series, I won’t be adding anything new to my comments from last year in this new series. However, readers might be interested in a collection of resources I’ve compiled specifically for educators who are new to exploring ed tech.

I have invited several new guests to share their thoughts in this series. Last week, Sylvia Martinez, Tina Barseghian and Scott McLeod contributed their ideas. Part Two included responses from Gary Stager and Kevin Hodgson.

This final post includes pieces from educators Kathy Cassidy and Josh Stumpenhorst, as well as readers’ comments.

Response From Kathy Cassidy

Kathy Cassidy is a grade one teacher in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Canada. These ideas about using Skype with six- and seven-year olds are excerpted from her upcoming book, Connected from the Start: Global Learning in the Primary Grades, to be published in Spring 2013 by Powerful Learning Press. She blogs at Primary Preoccupation:

Many people assume that young children cannot participate online because they lack the academic skills to do so. If students can’t yet write, they reason, they can’t yet be effective internet communicators. This is untrue. Before each of us learned to read and write, we all learned to communicate through sounds, gestures and language. These skills are the only ones necessary to learn to communicate in cyberspace. You just have to choose the right tool!

Skype is an online service that allows anyone to make free video-enabled phone calls to any other Skype user in the world. That means a lot of possible connections. As long as the other classroom or teacher has a Skype account and an Internet-enabled device of some kind (computer, tablet or phone) you can connect your classroom to theirs.

In my classroom, we use Skype regularly to connect and “chat.” We have chatted about ocean animals with a kindergarten class in New Hampshire, asked questions of a geologist in Oregon, done reader’s theatre with a first grade class in Alabama and re-connected with our student friend who moved to another city.

By using this versatile tool, we have also watched as 12-year olds showed and explained the moon rocks they had in their classroom. My six-year olds have compared stacks of Oreo cookies with classrooms across the United States to help us develop prediction, counting, number-writing and other math skills. Best of all, we’ve gazed in wonder at livecam ocean views my prairie kids might never see in person.

The ways you can use Skype are really only limited by your imagination. To use Skype in your classroom, you need to have an Internet-enabled computer or other device (there’s a smartphone app), a microphone and a video camera. You can actually make Skype calls without using the video feed, but having a visual image of the person or persons you are talking to increases learning tremendously and is so much more engaging for little learners.

Go to the Skype homepage and download it for free to your computer. You should be prompted through each step to set up an account. Ideally, your first call should be to someone that you already know who is a Skype user. This takes the pressure off of you. Skype with a friend, and laugh as you learn. Skype has a search feature to help you find people you know. Maybe you have a friend who is a teacher in another school who is also interested in connecting his/her classroom. You can also visit Skype in the Classroom - it’s free to join and it gives you access to other registered teachers from every grade level.

To get started, just go to the teacher section and search by first, fourth, kindergarten etc. This will bring up all of the teachers who teach a grade similar to your own. Choose someone that looks interesting to you and send him or her a message explaining what you would like to do. If you don’t get a reply, try someone else. You have nothing to lose.

When you are ready to have your first Skype call with your class, here are some things that might help the experience to be successful.

  • Have a clear goal in mind. Introducing all the children? Asking them if they have any patterns in their classroom? Finding out what their weather is like? Practicing counting together? Extra questions that come up during your call are great, but start with something in mind and then you can be flexible if need be.
  • Talk to the students ahead of time about behavior. They will probably get excited and forget, but I still try anyway. I let all of my students have a chance to see what they look like on the camera before our first call each year so we can get used to that and concentrate on the purpose for the call.
  • If possible, hook your computer up to a projector so that all the children can see what is on the screen, even if they can’t see the monitor itself.
  • Give as many of the children as would like to a chance to talk, even briefly.
  • Keep the call short. It is better to have another one later and to end the call on a high note.
  • Talk about the call after it is finished. What did we learn? Did we use our best manners? What goals should we set for our next Skype conversation? Are there other things you would like to know about that class?

On one occasion, when I’d been asked to share ideas with some teachers in another country, I first talked to my students and we made a list of why the kids thought it was a good idea to use Skype. They easily came up with four powerful reasons. (1) You can find out things you didn’t know; (2) You can learn about other places; (3) You can meet people you didn’t know; (4) Other people can learn from you.

Out of the mouths of babes.

(Visit our classroom blog to find out more about how we’re using technology in primary school.)

Response From Josh Stumpenhorst

Josh Stumpenhorst is a 6th grade Language Arts and Social Science teacher in suburban Chicago, IL. He is the 2012 Illinois Teacher of the year, 2012 Illinois Computing Educator of the Year and an ISTE Emerging Leader in 2011. He blogs at www.stumptheteacher.blogspot.com and tweets as @stumpteacher:

First, let’s just get the obvious out of the way. There is no one best way to use technology in the classroom. Lots of people claim to know the best way in which to integrate and use technology in the classroom. However, what works in one classroom may not work in another. With that being said, here are a few specific things that I have found to be solid ways to utilize technology in my classes.

In my Language Arts class I am not a big fan of one size fits all assignments such as the traditional book report. Instead, I like to have students use a program called CrazyTalk to create animated dialogue between characters. It is facial animation software that allows students to animated images and pictures. Another favorite of my students is to create Hollywood style book trailers in the same format as a movie trailer. They can highlight key elements within the novels they are reading and engage in script writing and film elements. This can be done with simple Microsoft Moviemaker or just about any video editing software.

I also teach a history class in which students engage in all sorts of technology infused activities. I have students create rap videos and songs based on historical events of figures. One my favorite tools for this is UJam.com which allows students to record their voice and add music and other audio effects. Another activity my students like to do is create podcasts and commercials from historical events we are studying. For example, they do live reports from a battle scene in the Persian War. We have also done talk shows hosted and visited by various historical figures. This can be done with a webcam, a video camera, or even a camera phone. I often take it a step further and use the green screen in my room to actually put the students “there” in the historic locations of their reports.

One of my all-time favorite resources from a teacher perspective is screencast-o-matic which allows me to create review videos that I post on my YouTube channel. These become great resources for students reviewing at home or in study hall when needed.

As a teacher who also has a study hall class, I am often finding ways to keep students engaged in something other than bothering their neighbor. I have recently started using a site called Gamestar Mechanic which allows students to play and create basic video games. Some of the students have evolved and are using Scratch which is another good spot for basic programming.

Personally, I view technology as a tool that can be leveraged to increase learning in a classroom. The key is in how you use it and what you are hoping to accomplish with it.

Responses From Readers

Marcus Byrd @theTeacherAde:

I think you have already offered great advice for selecting technology to use in the classroom in your original post.

I would say that it is important for the tool to best fit the assignment. Earlier today Richard Byrne shared a nice technology for mixing video’s on youtube with audio on soundcloud. (Weavly.com if that sounds interesting to you.) That is pretty cool in itself but doesn’t lend itself to many projects in class.

You can’t use a technology just because it is cool and easy to use...it needs to enhance the lesson.

Andrea WilsonVazquez

Have students record, share, archive and reflect upon their learning via screencast.

21centuryteachr (Jody & Shara):

Seek out tech that enhances current curriculum - look for new tech that helps imagine curricular opportunities.

Thanks to Kathy, Josh, and readers for contributing their responses and comments.

Please feel free to leave a comment sharing your reactions to this question and the ideas shared here.

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The opinions expressed in Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.