I read a blog posting all about technology not engaging students. The argument of the posting was that content drives engagement and not the technology. I’ve spent the last few hours engaging in a pretty hefty love/hate argument with this posting. On one hand I do agree, albeit only slightly, that technology does not engage students, teachers do. Yet, even as I typed that, my brain was yelling at me stop writing!
I am the teacher. The state creates the standards. Yet, I am tasked with presenting it. I choose to use technology because…dare I say it…IT ENGAGES LEARNERS. I have no idea about the students being taught in that article, but my students come from all walks of life at varying levels. I have very few intrinsically motivated students. Most have tuned all teachers out before they walk in the door. The sad part is that I have seen teachers approach them with a “my content is the end all be all” approach and the bottom line is that it doesn’t work. The fact is that just as times have changed since the days when WE WERE SELF MOTIVATED, so have students and their learning styles. My students are more concerned with the cell phones in their pockets, the parties on weekends and the video games they go home to than learning about how to factor trinomials and solve quadratic equations. Yet, they run to my room every class period eager to learn because they are curious as to how they might learn that day. Let me be clear…this does not describe EVERY student…just mine.
With that said, my job is to get my students to understand what I am teaching…to take this well planned content and provide them with opportunities to actively learn it…to ENGAGE. Technology, if done the right way, STUDENT CENTERED, does just that. Here’s how I do it:
I don’t get to make decisions about what tools our school purchases and I’ve been in the position of wondering why in the heck a purchase was made. The SMARTboard was never a part of that argument. I love my board because I love what it enables me to create. Bottom line is that yes, kids get bored if you teach the same way every single time with content that is teacher driven versus student. Guess what, that is no different than if you teach with overhead and transparency. As a matter of fact, most are ASLEEP before you pick up a marker. The key here is to MIX IT UP! Utilize the SMART exchange, the lesson activity toolkit, gallery essentials and your creativity. Limit yourself to a maximum of 2 instructional slides, the rest of your slides NEED to involve your students. Get those kids out of their seats and involve them so that they understand. Don’t plan 50 minutes of lecture. I use snippets of interactive content which involve a couple of slides of instruction with a few slides of student interactivity. I may do a few of these a day and my students LOVE it. (Their words…not mine)
Engaging a Full Class with Limited Technology
Whether your tech access includes one board, a few computers or even a few handheld devices, approaching this type of technology with an entire class must be well thought out and planned. What I’ve found is that the highest outcome has a direct correlation with the amount of collaboration. With one interactive whiteboard, teachers can plan full class activities that involve students utilizing the board quickly one at a time or as a part of whole class game activity. In addition, teachers can create small group centers with board activities being one component where students utilize the board in small groups.
Handheld devices can be utilized the same way. I just completed a series of IPad lessons where students worked in small groups creating videos explaining what they’ve learned and guess what…students were engaged with the technology.
Measuring the Engagement
The bottom line is that what we create in our classroom is opportunity. We can choose to use tools that are a part of our student’s daily lives to increase engagement or we can alienate certain types of learners by not using it. My theory is that we have the technology and students are using the technology…what’s the harm in adapting my teaching style so that 21st century tools are integrated instead of ignored?