Creative Ways to Weave Technology into Lesson Plans
Teachers share success stories and tips for jazzing up your lesson plans using classroom tech you already have.
When it comes to teaching, there’s a lot to juggle: students, parents, principals, paperwork and a little thing called learning. While you and your colleagues are trying to balance everything, there can be little time to incorporate new ways of using technology.
We polled your fellow NEA members to see what kinds of technology they have in their schools and have gathered lesson ideas, along with some helpful implementation advice, for the top five most common types: desktops, interactive whiteboards and smartboards, laptops, document cameras and iPads.
Develop a plan, then decide which technology makes sense
Last year, Kerry Gallagher, a public high school history teacher in Reading, Mass., did what many teachers still consider unthinkable: She took her classroom paperless and earned the 2014 Yale-Lynn Hall Teacher Action Research Prize.
“It doesn’t matter what technology you implement, what matters is the instructional setting and the reality you want to create,” says Gallagher, who spoke at the Yale School of Management’s 2014 Education Leadership Conference. “It’s about deciding what will work for you and your students and giving it a shot.”
For Gallagher, that means starting each ninth and tenth grade history class with a smartboard question—How did Martin Luther get his ideas to go viral during the Reformation, for example—for her students to answer over the two to four days the lesson is being taught.
Students use their iPads and a variety of online tools to consume and produce content to answer the question. “Their notebook is cloud-based in Evernote,” she says. “They start a new note, like starting a fresh sheet of paper in a 3-ring binder. They copy the down question and scan in a QR code.”
The QR code leads to related content that Gallagher had previously researched. This content downloads to the student’s iPad and includes video and audio clips, class notes, podcasts and articles. As Gallagher walks around the room answering questions, students watch and read the materials in groups or individually. At the end of each lesson, the students produce some type of original content: videos, articles or even annotated historical photographs that display what they’ve learned.
“If we are preparing kids for the real world, why not integrate what the real world has to offer,” she says.
TOP FIVE TOOLS
Even if your classroom doesn’t have the newest technology and can’t go paperless like Gallagher’s classroom, there are still other ways to get creative in your lesson planning.
Gallagher says to start by asking yourself: What kind of paper activities can we replicate with technology to make students more efficient and allow them to think more creatively and collaboratively?
Desktops and laptops
While laptops are more portable then their fellow desktops, both have similar attributes. Don’t use these devices just to type up papers. Start thinking in media-rich collaborative formats that can involve social media, Gallagher says. These are great for giving students access to cloud-based tools and other resources on the internet.
In Chicago, John Boggs, an English teacher at Consuella B. York Alternative High School, plans on using laptops in the near future. He wants to help his incarcerated students create more interactive memoirs by turning their writings into PowerPoint presentations that include hyperlinks and images—a slideshow format where students can narrate their essays.
“Technology is a great amplifier, but don’t let technology drive your instruction,” he says. “Let your instruction drive your use of the technology.”
For younger children, Dana Cook, a pre-kindergarten teacher at Deer Path Elementary School in Cary, Illinois, says connecting her desktop to the classroom television has greatly changed her ability to create more engaging lesson plans. She’ll pull up YouTube video for “good morning songs” her students can sing. Or if she needs to quickly adapt a lesson plan, she types in a topic within Pinterest’s search bar to find fast ideas.
She tried this after her young students became fascinated with the color of golden leaves during a fall walk, so she quickly looked for more visual information on Pinterest to teach her students. “Pinterest has revolutionized some of the early childhood programs,” says Cook, who teaches a blended preschool class for 3- to 5-year-olds. “Especially if there is a teachable moment.”
Even if your students don’t have mobile devices, there are plenty of online tools that can be used via laptop or desktop.
Consider using free tools like Google+ to connect your class virtually or using Quizlet, which can be used on a mobile device or the web and helps teachers create flashcards, tests and games for various lesson plans.
Interactive Whiteboards (IWBs) and smartboards can be a great way to involve the entire classroom in collaborative problem-solving through interactive lessons and activities.
When hanging a smartboard or whiteboard, find a place where all the students have equal access to it. “Just don’t put it in front of the classroom because it then becomes a focal point and you’ll end up lecturing,” Gallagher says. Instead, invite the students to come up to use the board, every day when possible, she says, by creating materials or opportunities for students to manipulate things with interactive games.
For ready-made lessons plans, try ABCya.com for young students and Readwritethink.org and phet.colorado.edu for students in higher grades, says Ben Rimes, a K-12 Instructional Technology Coordinator at Mattawan Consolidated School in Mattawan, Mi.
Another teacher, who responded to the poll, raved about the intuitive Notebook software from SMART Technologies, which allows this teacher to create interactive files for free. A Spanish teacher said she uses her Smartboard to ask students poll questions, which they have to answer using their cell phones on TodaysMeet, a microblogging backchannel chat platform.
Although interactive whiteboards and other devices have replaced document cameras in some districts, many educators still use these devices to annotate papers in front of the classroom.
When Boggs first started teaching, he’d initially thought telling his students to write a one-page essay was enough. After watching a video by Kelly Gallagher, a high school English teacher and the author of Readicide, Boggs changed his opinion and began using document cameras. He now models how to write an essay in front of his students, talking them through his actions. “I demonstrate my thought process to my students like a cooking show,” he says. “It’s a gradual release of responsibility. I do it, then we do it, then you do it and practice together in small groups.”
Document cameras are still great at the early elementary level, Rimes says, where teachers can display a picture book they are reading or where they want some hands on learning before show-and-tell.
A music teacher who responded to the poll uses a document camera to project music, worksheets and articles to avoid potential copyright violation issues.
IPads are ideal for creating a more collaborative environment. Kerry Gallagher says she was able to go paperless once she was able to get a grant to purchase 10 iPads to supplement her 25-student classroom, where students can bring their own devices.
Start with a small number—three to five basic apps—Gallagher suggests. “Make sure the kids are good with those apps and have a basic comfort level with how the iPad works,” Gallagher says.
Her suggestions: the Google Drive Suite, Evernote and Sketch, which can annotate images and political cartoons, and some type of video creation app like iMovie (which is paid) or a free app like Videolicious, Magisto, Educreation and Animoto. She also likes Chatterpix, where a line can be drawn across an image, like a historical figure, to make a mouth talk. For a history lesson, she has asked students to do this and answer, “What would Anne Boleyn say about Henry VIII?”
Gallagher says there is an assumption that all kids are “digital mavens.” But then there’s a kid who comes into your classroom and says, “I’m really bad at technology and I’m going to do poorly in your class.”
The key is to reassure that student with a comment like, “I’m going to teach you and you’re going to be fine” and to work with that student until they are comfortable.
Her other piece of advice: Make sure parents are constantly aware of what you are doing, especially if you are publishing student work to a public site. Talk to your school district about media permissions to make sure you are covered. Gallagher sends out emails once a week to parents about what is being published.
Since most students already have a social media footprint, Gallagher says, “most parents are thankful their child has an online footprint of academic work.” But for parents who are concerned, Gallagher sets a student’s personal classwork blog to private, so that only she, parents and the student can view it.
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