Classroom Technology is More than Games

DSC_0632If you are in a classroom that uses 1:1 mobile devices, I hope you have experienced an amazing transformation in the way that students and teachers are able to participate in learning.  In my 15 years of teaching, nothing has changed my perspective and approach more than the moment when my students all received their own personal i-Pad.  I have heard a lot of tech experts talk about how important it is to be a paperless classroom.  While this is a novel and green idea, that’s not my goal.  Don’t get me wrong.  I have definitely printed fewer documents and I have mad love for the environment.  But my daily goal is to harness the power of technology in order to enhance the way my students learn, share, and explore in my classroom.  Whether your classroom has i-Pads, chrome books, or BYOD; the potential for a revolutionary change in learning exists!

With the help of the i-Pad, I am able to explore pathways of communication that were previously unavailable.  One of my favorite relevant apps is edmodo.  It is like Facebook for the classroom and it is definitely our home base.  I use it to post directions, assignments, links, files, electronic quizzes, pictures, and videos.  The difference maker, however, is that students are also able to make posts.  With edmodo, I can ask a question to the class and everyone can answer at once.  The important thing here is that everyone can answer.  As the teacher, it is my job to find out what my students know.  Asking a question and simply calling on a few students until I hear the answer I’m looking for is superficial and ineffective feedback.  Providing a quick, efficient method for all students to participate provides me with a greater insight into what each student can do.  It makes it possible for me to plan more effective lessons because I know where each student needs me to guide them.

Allowing students to post on edmodo also levels the playing field.  As a former student, I know that in most classrooms it was easy to hide during lessons if I just kept quiet.  My experience as a teacher has shown me that the shy student who never raises his hand to answer a question suddenly finds his voice on a mobile device.  Since edmodo chats are electronic, I also have a record of students’ answers.  This  allows me to go back later and “review the tape” in order to analyze performance.  Teachers worried about students simply copying an answer that has already been posted can adjust the setting s to moderate all posts.  To be honest, I haven’t had that issue in my classroom, but I get that question a lot.  What I’ve witnessed is that students feed off of each other and it leads to some magnificently engaging, electronic discussions.  After all, I do not want my students to simply know the answer.  I want them to demonstrate learning by being able to talk about it.

Mobile devices have enabled me to considerably change the way I assess my students.  Using the socrative app, students can take quizzes and immediately receive feedback.  I consider myself to be a quick grader by returning assignments and tests the next day.  But I simply cannot compete with immediate results.  Technology wins.  I still give old-fashioned tests with paper and pencil.  But by consistently embedding short socrative quizzes in my lessons, I am able to plan more effectively and better meet the needs of my learners.  I can differentiate my teaching because I know the specific needs of my students in real time, before I continue.  The icing on the cake is that my students usually think we are playing a game when using socrative.  I obviously don’t mind.  Socrative also stores results for each student which can be accessed at any time.  In other words, pull them up at conference time or copy and paste them into your grade book for a minor assessment.

Edmodo is also great for assessment.  My 3rd graders learn quickly how to access files, write comments, and post pictures and videos in edmodo.  Students can post videos of themselves performing a task, reading for fluency, or explaining how they solved a math problem.  Students can post pictures of science projects, completed word sorts, or multi-step math problems that require drawings.  These methods lend themselves to being more authentic and revealing than a multiple choice or short response test.  One such example occurred when my students were studying the properties of shapes.  I wanted to see where they stood in their understanding of squares.  My task was for them to find a square in the classroom, take a photo, and post it to edmodo with a description of what makes it a square.

Some students nailed it.  Others were missing information about right angles.  Others still forgot to mention 4 equal sides.  Not only did I know who knew what, but I was able to pair up students who mentioned sides, but forgot angles with students who did the opposite.  They compared pictures and words and there were a lot of “oh yeah, that’s right” kind of moments.  Not only that, they were teaching each other. Win-win!

Nika squareMy favorite evidence of knowledge from that activity came from the girl who found a square, photographed it, and then said she really wasn’t sure.  On a multiple choice test, she could have very easily gotten it correct.  She knew what a square looked like, but her depth of knowledge ended there.  Her picture and caption helped me understand exactly where she and I needed to go next in her learning journey.

I love collaboration and discussions in my classroom, especially when students are leading the way.  So, during math lessons I often ask my students to work in groups to solve word problems or multi-step problems.  I give them paper and markers because they still love these supplies.  They talk it out, work out the problem, and show all their work.  Since they’re using markers, they get into it with the drawings and explanations.  Then one member of the group takes a picture of the finished product and posts it to the edmodo feed I began specifically for this task.  As a class we are then able to view every groups’ response in my edmodo feed displayed on the SMART board.  Right away.  Together.  Large!  It is big enough for all to see it easily and we can also continue to write on it.  The discussion continues about each one, and I can even leave a comment.  For the paperless fans, I guess it helps me save on my chart paper.  But the idea here is that we save time trying to stick it to the wall somewhere and we are able to view it even larger on the screen.  There is also an added element of excitement due to the fact that students are taking a picture which shows up on the screen.  It also saves the work to be viewed again later because it is in everyone’s edmodo feed.

groupThe use of mobile technology has infiltrated the environment of my classroom and I love it.  It’s not about adding an app to the end of a lesson or playing a game to review.  It’s about changing the way things are done.  My students are so familiar with mobile devices that they even make lunch choices electronically using the socrative app.  My star students showcase their items and pictures with their own classflow lesson.  Sometimes I even give directions without saying a word by merely holding up a little sign with the edmodo label on it.  Paper still exists, but technology is alive and gaining momentum.  Feedback is immediate.  Communication is constant.  Students are engaged and empowered!

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