The Beginners Guide to Incorporating Technology in Your Classroom
Incorporating technology into your classroom can seem like a daunting task at first. You may feel bogged down by worries like “What will I need to learn?” or “Do I have the resources?” or a fundamental “How do I get started?” Those of us who don’t need convincing that we should prepare students for an ever-changing world around them have an edge; we understand that technology inevitably moves forward and so must we. Therefore, there’s little time to waste in getting started and introducing it into our lesson plans! Fortunately, there’s no need to jump in head-first. Here are several ways to get started, without overexerting yourself or your students.
You’ve Got What You’ve Got
An understandable concern for many educators considering how to bring technology into their classrooms is whether or not they have the proper resources. I’ll begin by stating the obvious: we’re all in different situations, and some of us are more fortunate than others in their circumstances. That said, we encourage you to strongly consider what you do have, whether it be limited access to valuable equipment or, less obvious, a network of educators willing to help one another. These things can often be more beneficial than we realize.
Ironically, what keeps many educators from getting more involved with technology in their classrooms is a fear of learning. This may be because the idea of “fundamentally” changing the way we do our jobs is daunting. Well, of course, it is; but that’s not quite the case.
There’s a new business sector called “EdTech.” You may hear the term floating around from time to time; in fact, we here at Pixton are a part of it. The central idea of EdTech is that technology can benefit education, not take the place of it. Apply technology as you would a new tool in your arsenal. Naturally, a tool takes some effort to become adept with. But given time and practice, that tool can make life a lot easier. Used well, the new tool will even enhance the overall experience.
Start by incorporating activities into your classroom which are uncomplicated and practical. Rather than seek out new content within a new medium, use internet-based resources which are relevant to your current lesson plans. Here are several examples.
WebQuests provide students with classroom-based guides to use the internet for critical thinking and research purposes. In a WebQuest, the instructor creates a simple website (often utilizing Teacherweb or Questgarden) with the purpose of accomplishing a particular task. She then directs the students to her own pre-selected sources on the internet to accomplish said task. The appropriate process and method of evaluation are also laid out clearly for everyone involved. WebQuests avoid the practice of broad information gathering in favor of practical information use.
Virtual Field Trips
Virtual Field Trips allow classes to experience environments they might otherwise not get a chance to see on their own. Seek out relevant trips from such varied places as the Louvre to Mount Everest to outer space. Pictures, videos and/or interactive activities are combined for an entertaining and educational venture. Of course, a big upside to these activities is money and time saved. That said, their quality can vary; a little research will be necessary to make sure the virtual field trip hits all of your personal standards.
Google Lit Trips
Google Lit Trips offer students the opportunity to virtually follow the path of literary characters in a fun multimedia experience. Ready-made lit trips are available which incorporate 3d satellite imagery, multimedia information, and linked references. Students can “fly” from place to place while reading a story, giving a deeper, more culturally significant understanding of the narrative. Check out Google Lit Trips for numerous examples.
A Classroom Full of Authors
One of the wonderful aspects of new technology is that it offers students an exciting medium to produce and share their own content. We’re not talking about oversharing personal information for the world to see; we’re talking about using technology to promote a sense of community — one that starts in the classroom. We urge you to consider the following activities to help utilize your students’ creativity and be constructive.
A classroom blog can be a great way to engage students and encourage collaboration. A blog, at its core, is an online journal, and a very popular medium used to express thoughts and share information. In a school setting, they can be used to organize daily lesson plans, publish assignments, share resources, and generally encourage discussion among students; the content is entirely up to you. Use a single blog to keep things simple, or create multiple blogs for different topics. A shared blog with a particular theme can be a great way to keep everyone on the same page while generating interest. If you so choose, they can be accessed in and out of the classroom.
Sharing personal experiences had outside of school can help widen the natural scope of a classroom’s limitations. Offer opportunities which encourage journaling, photography, and/or sketching from life in the “real world.” These can then be organized into presentations to be shared with the class via the aforementioned blog, presentation software such as PowerPoint, or print. Tech is at its most useful when it becomes part of a routine, and making it both fun and habitual may be the most practical method of accomplishing this. Let them bring you into their worlds through the technology.
If you’re feeling ambitious, you can compile your class’s work and upload it to a self-publishing company (such as Lulu) to be made into a book. Seeing one’s work in print can have a powerful impact on a young student.
Here at Pixton, we’re firm believers in the power of storytelling. Storytelling is something we all respond to; it’s a wonderful way to learn from others, and being the one to tell them can be a special experience. Thanks to recent technology, sharing stories can become more immersive than ever.
Google Story Builder is a fairly straightforward, online application which offers users the ability to present a story via different characters. It’s a text-based tool which encourages creative thought, writing skills, and collaboration, the results of which are video stories that can be viewed by a wide audience. Add music for extra fun.
Storybird takes a different approach to storytelling. This application uses a large archive of inspiring artwork to help users springboard into their own stories. Students can arrange the art as they please, and add their own text to flesh out a narrative. In the “For Schools” portion, teachers can create and manage assignments which utilize the format.
Pixton was created with precisely this storytelling sentiment in mind. Students and teachers can create and share their own stories via their own downloadable comics. Customize characters, settings, text, panels and more. No drawing experience needed; we’re particularly user-friendly, so just click and drag away!
You’re Not Alone
Perhaps the most important thing to bear in mind is that your greatest asset here is other people. New technology in the classroom gives people something to discuss, share, and play with. It’s exciting. Take advantage of this, and remember that people like to support students and their communities. Start a network for yourself.
Local Support Network
Building a local support network for yourself can mean the difference between feeling isolated and feeling like part of a united cause. Reach out to your coworkers, neighbors, libraries, and local businesses. Seek out neighbors with common goals and a passion for helping others. Post on a local bulletin board, contact via phone or email, take a moment to visit, or simply strike up a conversation. They may be able to offer you new information, helpful ideas, and resources. Keep in touch and lend them a helping hand as well; we can all benefit from a friendly, supportive local community.
Personal Learning Network (PLN)
Personal learning networks bring like-minded people together to engage, share ideas and collaborate on activities in your field. Unlike a local support network, these connections can stretch beyond the bounds of your current locale. Join (or start) an online community that is relevant to your interests and goals; share your experiences, trade ideas, and answer/ask questions. Seek out people who reflect your own passions and can help you grow in your field. Other professionals and organizations can lend you an invaluable helping hand as you venture into new learning territories.
That said, don’t be afraid to share your success stories with the technology you use! Proudly presenting your students’ achievements may be the most effective way to advocate for more funding and opportunities.
It’s important to explore your available resources, particularly if you’re in a position to demonstrate to a young person the significance of doing the same. You may find these different methods of teaching your lesson plans spark new interest in everyone involved, and if you take the initiative to get started now, you can explore your options at your own pace. Find out what works best for you and your students.
If you’re interested in checking out what Pixton has to offer your classroom (and we’re proud to say it’s a bundle), sign up for a free trial of Pixton for Schools.