Earlier this month I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the Technology for Teachers conference hosted by our elementary teachers’ union. Since then, I feel like my ideas about technology and how I use it in the classroom have completely shifted. In fact, I am so excited about some of the things I’ve realized, I thought I’d write a blog post, so that others who might feeling reluctant or overwhelmed about technology might see it in a new light too.
First of all, let me begin by saying that I am fortunate enough to teach at a school with 1:1 iPads. That being said, this is the first year the students have had individual iPads and, for me, it’s been a huge learning curve. When they were initially given to my students, I was admittedly nervous. Like all new things, I wasn’t sure how they would fit into my classroom, how I would manage them, or what I would use them for. I also knew that the students would likely be able to use them better than I would and that made me uneasy (handing over control is never been something I’ve been good at). Nonetheless, I decided from the beginning to go in with an open-mind. I chose to look at the arrival of iPads in my classroom as an exciting opportunity to learn and grow which I knew it would be. And what an adventure it has been!
So now back to what I’ve learned since attending ETFO’s T4T conference. The realization that I had come to is that I’d basically had my students using their iPads as glorified notebooks. Instead of writing on paper or in a notebook, they’d type their assignments in Pages or Google Docs. Instead of looking at a word problem in a math textbook, I’d snap a photo of it and upload it to Showbie for them to look at. (By the way, if your school doesn’t have Showbie, you must check it out now! It’s a game changer!) Instead of standing in front of the class and tasking about subject-specific content or reading out of a text book, I’d upload a video or take a picture of a text and send it to my students on their iPads. In a nutshell, I was using the iPad as just another way to deliver content to my students.
But as most of us now know that teaching is no longer just about standing at the front of a room delivering content. Our students are no longer seen as just retainers of information. We all remember the days of memorizing content to pass a test and then forgetting it immediately after. Education now is a lot different. Yes, kids have to be presented information. But they are also taught to think critically about information they receive. They are taught to question, analyze, infer, make connections, evaluate, and draw conclusions. When there’s information they aren’t sure about, they are encouraged to ask questions, and to seek out answers to their questions with the guidance of the teacher, rather than the teachers simply providing all the answers. In addition to this, students are taught to defend their beliefs, to prove their answers, to explain how they know, and to justify their responses. These are all critical skills that students will need in the future.
What I learned at the conference is that the iPad (or any device) is the perfect tool for building these essential, life-changing skills within our students. It’s a tool for building a term that’s been coined the 21st-century competencies. The Ontario Ministry of Education produced a document about 21st century competencies that you can check out and which explains them so much better than I ever could. Essentially though, these competencies are a set of crucial skills that our students are going to need to be successful in the future – things like critical thinking, problem-solving, communication, creativity, innovation, entrepreneurship, collaboration, and global citizenship.
Since the conference, I not only have a better understanding of 21st century competencies, but my eyes have been opened to just how useful digital devices can be to building these important. skills. I am now starting to understand and see how I can help students access content and information but then have them create something to demonstrate their understanding. They are so engaged and excited about sharing their learning in digital formats. I’m now having them share their thinking and questions on online platforms that allow them to collaborate and feed off each others’ ideas. I now get to stand back and watch fascinated as kids help each other navigate apps and websites and learn from each other rather than just learning from their teacher. Most importantly, this is just the tip of the iceberg. That’s the thing about technology. There are so many things we can do with it. Sometimes it can be overwhelming and even scary, especially if like me, you have little to no experience using it in the classroom. But I urge you to stay open-minded and to slowly begin to learn if you haven’t started yet. Start with one app or one program. Learn how to use it and show it to your students. Or better yet, throw it at them and have them figure it out. Often times students are way faster and better at figuring these things out, then we adults are. If I can let go of that control and hand it over to my students, I know anyone can! I am sure you will be just as thrilled as I am at the exciting changes the addition of technology can make to your classroom!
I’ve listed below a few of the apps/programs that my fifth grade students are currently using and loving. For some, this will be a basic list and may even be “old news”. But I know there are many others out there like me, who are overwhelmed by all the new technology, and aren’t really sure where to start. For me and for my students the following have been a great starting point – I can’t wait to continue to learn and grow with them as creative, collaborative, engaged, innovative, digital learners and citizens!
Let me know what you think and what other apps or programs I should be using in my classroom!