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3 Steps to Cultivating an Effective EdTech Culture in the Classroom

3 Steps to Cultivating an Effective EdTech Culture in the Classroom

Just adding technology to a lesson doesn’t make the lesson stronger or more valuable. Tech tools need to be intentionally integrated into the classroom.  Purposeful implementation and continual evaluation of the technology you use in the classroom will help you create a culture in which the use of technology is maximized to create high-quality learning experiences.

Here are three different ways to ensure that you’re cultivating an effective EdTech culture in your classroom—one that promotes both education and fun learning opportunities for your students.

1. Be Clear With Rules

While technology can be fun for students, classroom tools shouldn’t be used for communicating with peers the same way Facebook, Snapchat or Instagram are—the focus should always be on education.

Avoid this potential pitfall by hosting a class brainstorming session, where students help create the technology rules. This process will give them a sense of ownership and empower them to follow the rules that they created, as well as encourage peers who aren’t following the rules, to do the same. Some basic rules to include are:

• Use appropriate language with your peers
• Use articles and resources to back-up discussion responses
• Remember: This is our online classroom community, not Snapchat

Write these rules on a large poster board and hang them in the class. You can also add them to your classroom blog or any other online community where notes can be left.

2. Poll Students Often

While a tool may pass your initial inspection, it’s important to know what your students think of it. If they love the tool, they’ll want to use it more. When polling students about the tools they’re using, be sure to ask at least three basic questions:

• What is your favorite/least favorite feature of the tool?
• What is one thing you learned while using it?
• Did you like (insert specific feature that you thought would be valuable)? Why or why not?

Not only does this tell you how your students feel about the tool, it gives you a better sense of how they’re using it, while requiring them to think critically about something they consider a “game.” This creates an effective EdTech culture, where students are as critical of the tools they’re using as you are.

3. Assess Frequently (And Share Data With Students!)

EdTech tools make it easy for teachers to gather data about their students’ progress in nearly any subject. You can use this data to determine which tools are most educational and effective for you and your students.

For example, Accelerated Reader asks students to answer questions in multiple-choice format. While this tool is educational in that it’s holding students accountable for their reading, a similar tool, Whooo’s Reading, prompts students to answer open-ended questions, which requires a higher level of thinking. In this case, both products are valuable, but that one feature may make the latter platform better for your students.

To continue cultivating an effective EdTech culture, share the results of your data with students. Not only is it exciting for them to see how they’ve improved, but it also emphasizes on the educational value of these games and tools. Enhance this data sharing with offline resources that call students out for their great work, like:

• Reading certificates
• Award for highest overall test score
• Special incentive for using the tool x days in a row

Technology in the classroom is only as valuable as you make it. This means you should always be focused on purposeful use of tools, assessing progress, and getting feedback from students to determine what’s effective and what isn’t. Follow these three basic rules and both you and your students will reap the benefits.

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Jessica Sanders is the Director of Social Outreach for Learn2Earn. She grew up reading books like The Giver and Holes, and is passionate about making reading as exciting for young kids today as it has always been for her. Follow Learn2Earn on Twitter and Facebook, and send content inquiries to social@learn2earn.org.

Five Ways to Make Your Classroom a Learning Center

5 Ways to Make Your Classroom a Learning CenterMany classrooms display student work and decorations, but often the power of the classroom as a tool for learning is ignored. From the arrangement of seats and availability of supplies to the use of wall space, every aspect of your classroom can help promote learning. Use these five methods to stimulate your students’ minds by improving the space in which they learn.

1. Use your wall space to educate.

Each unit that is taught in your room gives you an opportunity to use your bulletin boards and wall space as a learning tool. Write important vocabulary term as a word wall. List key questions or learning objectives and refer to them as you teach. Find items in the news that relate to what you’re teaching and make a current events wall. Help Teaching offers free early education printables that not only spruce up any classroom wall, they also focus on the important information to be disseminated to the students. This is also a good opportunity for your students to communicate what they took from your time together. As the culminating activity of your unit, allow them  to create a wall displaying the major themes in a creative manner. Find more ideas how to engage students in hands on activities in 7 Tips for Learning with Kids.

2. Set up a learning center using old school resources.

There was no internet until I was in college so my elementary and high school research included a lot of library time. Most districts can’t afford to put multiple computers in each classroom, but you can make your own inexpensive learning center with encyclopedias. EBay has a 2008 set of World Book Encyclopedia for $160 or a 2010 version for $290. Subscribe to Time, Newsweek, or other magazines and make a reading corner. Your learning center can be also be the home for your classroom blog. All it takes is one workstation and a schedule for student writing and the kids will learn the benefits of writing about what interests them and leaving a positive digital footprint.

3. Embrace Makerspaces and Genius Hours

Makerspaces use a variety of tools to encourage students to explore or create. Some makerspaces are high tech, while others use no tech at all. Whatever tools and resources you include in your makerspace, the goal is to give students a chance to enjoy open-ended tinkering, play, inventiveness, and exploration.

Another way to give students a chance to explore on their own is by bringing genius hours into your classroom. During a genius hour, students are given time to explore a topic or complete a project related to their own interests. This time is student directed and can be held a few minutes a day, a few hours a week, or a few weeks a year. It’s up to you. To make both genius hours and makerspaces successful, you just need to be sure students are aware of the expectations for the time before they begin.

4. Display student grades on the wall.

Students like to see their grades as they are posted in your grade book. By posting them on the walls (by ID number or some other cryptic way to maintain privacy), the students will be more aware of their progress and position in the class. It also can act as a motivator to continue to perform well or to begin to achieve better grades.

5. Mix up seating arrangements often.

Changing the classroom seating arrangement and style is a wonderful way to being an element of surprise to your lessons and to accommodate a specific learning objective. Plan a discussion by organizing desks in a circle. Have students edit each other’s work by facing two desks together.

Bonus: Set up stations around the room.

Sitting in a chair for 45 minutes a day for an entire year can be boring. For lessons that require use of sources, documents, or visuals, have the students work in small groups that walk around the room to different stations. Each station contains a different visual to be analyzed and discussed by the group members. After a set amount of time, each student cluster moves to the next station. Use the Help  Teaching activity Which Continent Am I? by cutting out the continent descriptions and placing them around the room, or have the class create a story with a different student contributing each facet as the walk to the different stations around the room using the Help Teaching story organizer.

Not every district can provide their teachers with the resources to make a classroom a technological center of learning, but with a little time and creativity any room can contribute to a successful lesson or unit.

5 Ways to Keep Students Energized at the End of the Year

5 Ways to Keep Students Energized at the End of the Year
As another school year winds down, many teachers are faced with the same question: how do I maintain the energy level of my students as summer approaches? Keeping kids busy, interested, and involved is always a difficult task, but it becomes even more important as the view outside gets brighter. Try some of the five suggestions below to keep your students active, focused, and learning even as the sun shines outside of your classroom window.

#1 Get on your feet!

One activity that always gets the blood flowing is asking kids to move around the room to different learning stations. Each station contains a different task related to a conceptual or thematic assignment. After collecting data from each station, students craft a thoughtful answer using the evidence from each station. The kids get to move around for an extended period of time, allowing them feel more in control of the pace of their learning, while still reinforcing the skills of critical thinking. It also allows them to works in small groups in a more informal setting than the typical group activity.

#2 Today’s guest is…

A guest speaker can motivate students in ways that their everyday teacher cannot. Bringing in a dynamic expert in a field or subject that relates to your curriculum will enhance their content knowledge and also let them hear a different voice than yours for the first time in eight months.

Another method of bringing experts into your class is to use distance learning with programs such as Skype and Google +. Skype in the Classroom lists institutions that offer speakers and lesson plans that can be scheduled in advance, such as the National World War II Museum in New Orleans. Work with your guest to create a complete learning experience that will allow you to prep your students for their topic and also debrief after the speaker leaves.

#3 Now Playing!

There is a plethora of easy to use technology that allows students to create videos, newscasts, and reenactments. A flip camera, tablet, or even student cell phones can also record video to be uploaded to a third party website, such as WeVideo, for editing and professional touches. Using video to replace a traditional project or formative assessment allows the students to express their knowledge in ways that multiple choice questions do not allow.

#4 Collaborate!

Bulletin boards contain up-to-date assignments and student work, but they can also can serve as marker where you’re at in your curriculum. Have your students create artistic representations of recent content to be put on display. Give parameters as to what they can create, such as posters, charts, cartoons and the like, and give them the time and freedom to generate something that represents what they have learned. Allowing students to choose the direction of a public display motivates and energizes them to take ownership and pride over their learning.

#5 Hit the road!

Unfortunately, many districts no longer have the funds available for large scale field trips, but that doesn’t mean that you are chained to your classroom. There are likely many attractions, exhibits, and activities close by  Local history is an oft overlooked aspect of education. Look into the history of your town or city, and embrace it as a learning experience. Local non-profits can also help you to organize community service outings that would serve as character education and go well beyond the curriculum. Many excursions like these would only incur fees from your district’s bus company and go a long way towards keeping your students interested and making them a more well rounded student.6

#6 Spice things up!

Spice up a traditional story by adding movement. Have students make up motions to go along with a story. Let them rap a poem. Or bring in text that incorporates movement, such as a movement story. Even just having students stand up when answering a question or making them recite what they’ve learned while walking around the room can give them a much needed energy boost.

It’s impossible to push your students full throttle every day, but knowing when to push their buttons and create some enthusiasm for learning is important as the year winds down. Use the ideas above to reinvigorate their love of learning. And to get students moving in between learning activities, try incorporating some fun brain breaks into the class period.

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