Teaching Opinion

Response: Using Ed Tech to Support the Learning Process

By Larry Ferlazzo — December 16, 2012 9 min read
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(This is Part One in a multi-part series on this topic)

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.

I won’t be adding anything new to my comments from last year in this new series, though since that time I’ve compiled collections of resources on what research has found about using tech in education and another one specifically focusing on its use with English Language Learners. I’ve also just published an extensive list of useful new Web 2.0 tools for education. You might find that information useful.

I have invited several new guests to share their thoughts on the topic in this series of posts. Today, Sylvia Martinez, Tina Barseghian and Scott McLeod are contributing their ideas. I hope readers will share their suggestions in the comments. A future post will include them.

Response From Sylvia Martinez

Sylvia Martinez is President of Generation YES (Youth and Educators Succeeding), a non-profit organization evangelizing student involvement in education reform through technology integration and service learning. In GenYES, students learn to use 21st century tools and technology to help teachers, peers, and their community improve educational opportunities for all:

The best way to use tech in the classroom is when the technology primarily supports the process of student learning, not the product. Sure, it’s easy to get excited when we find tools that make things easier, but we have to be careful about what’s getting automated. Tools that support deep student creativity may take more time to learn, but in the end, give students access to powerful, creative experiences. The learning that takes place on the journey is the real outcome, and a “push-button” tool deprives the child of that experience.

Just like the writing process depends on giving students time to edit and re-write, technology should enhance a student’s ability to dive into the process of thinking deeply about their own work. Editing, reflecting, tweaking, refining, and even starting from scratch are crucial elements of the learning process - saving time is not. Technology that gives students multiple ways to approach their own work means that students can develop fluency and ownership of their learning.

And if you are thinking, “Who has time to teach my students something complicated?” - I will suggest to you that complexity is different than depth. Sure there are tools that are not age-appropriate or just plain overkill. But educators often overestimate the extra time it takes to learn a new tool. Don’t try to front-load too much information about the tool to the students. Instead, introduce a small project for the students, give them the tool and let them work. Allow collaboration between students to share new discoveries. Encourage home-grown student experts who can answer other students’ questions. Time spent becoming fluent with a tool that has depth is time well-spent.

Response From Tina Barseghian

Tina Barseghian is the editor of MindShift, an NPR website that examines how technology is changing education, replacing familiar classroom tools and shifting the role of educators and parents. MindShift covers cultural and technology trends, groundbreaking research, education policy and progressive education ideas:

Over the past two years, MindShift has been digging into the subject of smart ways to integrate technology into classroom work. Larry Ferlazzo has compiled an invaluable list of criteria that can help educators make smart decisions, and we also raise some questions that may help guide decisions on time and money investment.

In the meantime, here are just a few tech ideas we’ve come across that seem to have found some success for teachers.

GAMES AND GROUP WORK. For those wondering what a game-based classroom looks like in a traditional school, take a peek into Ananth Pai’s third-grade class in Parkview/Center Point Elementary school in Maplewood, Minnesota. Using his own money and grants that he applied for, Pai has managed to round up seven laptops, two desktops 11 Nintendo DS’s, 18 games for math, reading, vocabulary, geography, and 21 digital voice recorders. Students’ reading and math scores went from below average for third grade to mid-fourth-grade level. Students compete in games with other kids across the world, learn about fractions and decimals by riding a virtual ghost train, for instance, work on their reading skills on sites like Razkids, figure out whether they can make a living by growing flowers, learn about their constitutional rights with the Go to Court Game, and so on.

LEARNING LATIN. Teacher Kevin Ballestrini turned his introductory Latin class at Connecticut’s Norwich Free Academy into an alternate reality with an online video game. The students’ job: to save the world by joining a shadowy organization on a quest to find the Lapis Saeculōrum that was part of an Ancient Roman society. “It’s a mix of a role-playing game and an alternate reality game,” Ballestrini says. Students play the role of Romans in a reconstruction of ancient Pompeii (or ancient Rome) and have to learn to think, act, create and write like a Roman in order to win the game. And those are the same goals of any introductory Latin course.

REACHING STUDENTS. In Ramsey Musallam’s A.P. Chemistry class at Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory in San Francisco, cell phones are a natural extension of the way he communicates with his students. As soon as kids walk in, Musallam sends out a text blast through Remind101, asking them a challenge question that’s related to the day’s lesson. “First person to tell me the units on K for a second order reaction gets chocolate,” he types and sends off. His students know he does this regularly, so they’re constantly anticipating the question during the day, in and out of class.

“Sure, that’s kind of cute,” he says, admitting that it can be seen as gimmicky. “But more importantly, in my mind that’s saying, ‘You’re carrying around something that I can contact you with.’ It’s a fun ways to stay motivated in our day, which can be pretty dry sometimes. It’s a chance to think about what we’re learning outside the context of state testing.”

CREATIVE PLAY. The online game Minecraft allows players to build their own digital world, brick by digital brick. Players must scavenge for resources to build things -- mining for stone to build buildings, mining for coal to build fire. Teachers like to use Minecraft because it’s a “sandbox” game -- it provides players nearly limitless freedom to build within it. As a player’s skill develops, the game’s complexity increases. Players can collaborate on building complex structures, use programming features to build contraptions, games, or compose music. Earlier this year, two teachers, Santeri Koivisto and Joel Levin, decided to make the online game Minecraft more accessible and to teachers and their classrooms. They joined forces to found MinecraftEdu, which now offers a plug-in that enables teachers to tailor the software to individual curriculum.

These are just a few examples of how creative educators are finding ways to spark students’ engagement and imagination with technology.

Response From Scott McLeod

Scott McLeod, J.D., Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Educational Leadership at the University of Kentucky and the Founding Director of CASTLE, the nation’s only academic center dedicated to the technology needs of school leaders. He blogs regularly at Dangerously Irrelevant and can be found on Twitter at @mcleod:

The power of curation

Most students need help learning how to get organized. And if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that most adults need help in this area too! One of the best ways to use technology in the classroom is to help students and educators learn how to curate and organize the information and resources that they find on the Web.

There are a number of different tools available for Internet curation.

Delicious, a social bookmarking service, remains a favorite of many. By adding the Delicious button to their Internet browser toolbars, students and teachers can quickly bookmark a web site, blog post, video, or any other resource that they want to access again later. It’s also easy to add keyword tags or notes to anything that they bookmark, which means that they can quickly create collections of things about which they’re interested or passionate. [Creating a new unit? Tag the resources! Doing a school project? Tag everything found online with a special class project tag! Found three new skateboarding or music videos and want to save them? Tag them!] Since Delicious is an online service, it is easy for educators and students to log in and access their bookmarks from any device. Plus, many mobile apps now have the ability to send directly to Delicious, which means that individuals can bookmark resources from their mobile phones or tablet computers too.

[TIP: Common tags that are used by multiple students and faculty members also are a great way to create collections of learning resources by unit, class, or subject area.]

Another useful curation tool for teachers and students is Evernote. Evernote is a digital storage tool that allows individuals to create and store notes, documents, web sites, and much more. Evernote is a very robust digital storage box that can handle nearly anything that students and educators may want to throw into it, including text, images, documents, audio, and video. Like Delicious, Evernote has buttons for Internet browsers that allow users to quickly ‘clip’ and save all or part of a web page. This is particularly useful for capturing online information that may expire or disappear later, because once you’ve captured something in Evernote, it’s yours to keep! Also like Delicious, Evernote supports keyword tagging which means that individuals can quickly label and categorize notes and other resources. Additionally, Evernote allows students and educators to create folders to further organize materials. Those folders can even be shared publicly online with other people. Evernote lives on multiple platforms and thus can be used on a desktop, laptop, or tablet computer as well as on smartphones. Everything in Evernote can be synchronized across devices, thus facilitating access at any time from anywhere. Evernote also has a very robust user community that shares tips on how to get the most out of the service.

There is a wealth of information available to us online. The challenge for most of us is how to organize and make sense of it. Mastery of digital curation tools is a critical learning need for both students and educators.

Thanks to Sylvia, Tina and Scott for contributing their responses.

Please feel free to leave a comment sharing your reactions to this question and the ideas shared here. As I mentioned earlier, they’ll be included in a future post.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at lferlazzo@epe.org.When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.

Anyone whose question is selected for this weekly column can choose one free book from a selection of seven published by published by Jossey-Bass.

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And,if you missed any of the highlights from the first year of this blog, you can check them out here.

Look for Part Two of this series in a few days....

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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.