All Aboard the Technology Train

If you are age 35 or younger, you can stop reading this post now:  This post is written for us “old fogies,” especially those of us who have come to use computers late in life.  

If you’ve been teaching for 20 years or more, you may be surprised how tech savvy your students and their parents really are.  Most parents with elementary age kids were born in the mid-80s or later, and have spent most of their lives with access to laptops, the Internet, and digital tools.  They aren’t intimidated by it, and in some cases, they expect you to use technology to reach them.

If you’ve been resistant to get on board the “technology train,” rest assured, you can learn.  I am half a century old (!) and have learned to embrace technology out of necessity, and then out of appreciation.  After I got over the initial hump, I began to learn that most technology is relatively easy to use, once you start.  Just getting going is half the battle.  Use YouTube as a resource.  There are fantastic tutorials online there (and in other places) to show you how to get up to speed quickly.  A peer or friend can show you too, but I’d recommend the “hands on” approach.  You’ll learn more quickly and completely if you’re the one making the mistakes and being forced to figure things out.  If you get stuck, simply Google your question, and an answer is probably a click or two away.  

Once you’ve mastered the basics, technology is a great way to involve parents.  Using email is certainly an essential mechanism, and it has the most privacy controls, but social media has a wealth of potential too.  computee.JPG Create a class Facebook page, Instagram or Twitter account (or whatever the latest social media fad is by the time you read this post.)  Students can even get involved in creating or sharing content (as long as you monitor their activity.)  If you think videos could be fun and effective, consider setting up a class YouTube or Vimeo channel.  Please note: for any social media projects or online activities, it’s important to get parents to grant permission or sign a general release.

These ideas also create a unique opportunity for parental involvement and volunteering.  A busy professional may not have time to volunteer in the classroom during the day, but putting in a few hours during their off time to update your Facebook page or add pictures to your class blog is a wonderful way to get them to participate.

Once you’ve established your communication outlet(s), you can use them for these and other ideas:

  • Send updates to parents about class activities, special announcements and upcoming lessons.
  • Research and suggest apps for parents to download for students to use.
  • Send an article or link to parenting tips on blogs and online publications.
  • Record lessons or special activities and upload to your video channel; send links out for parents who aren’t able to attend.
  • Set up a Shutterfly, Flickr, Google Drive or Instagram account share pictures.
  • Learn to create QR Codes to make it easy to share links and connections.

To make it easy on less-savvy parents, you can always print out copies of the information and send it home with the kids or through traditional means.  

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How to Make a Difference in the Classroom

What is a teacher’s job?  Educating students is the simple answer. But shepherding a child through an understanding of subject matter isn’t simple.  If that’s accomplished, and you stop there, you are doing a disservice to your students.  Taking it to the next level can be daunting, exhausting, and demanding, but it’s the route to making a difference in the classroom.   

Once there’s a basic mastery of the subject, students must be taught how to apply content to their world.  Young learners typically take facts at face value, and haven’t yet learned to question, probe, and expand their viewpoint.  The teacher’s job now becomes more than shepherd — it’s sherpa — leading the learner into new encounters, broader perspectives, and unchartered paths.  

How do you do this effectively?  First, it’s important to help students identify their learning style.  Provide different activities for the same learning objective and typically they’ll move toward their preferred style.  If not, you can assign a range of activities and assess their success with that particular style.

Second, explore techniques with your students that build connections. Teach them how to study and investigate their world. For example, remember when you were a student, and you’d think “When will I ever use this?”  As a teacher, every lesson plan should have that question answered before you begin teaching it.  If you can articulate real-world applications for the facts you are sharing, your students will more readily understand and more quickly make the knowledge their own. 

In time, as students begin to own their learning and see school as a doorway to the world outside, you will spark their imaginations and curiosity.  The student who learns how to learn is the student that become self-sufficient and accelerates beyond their baseline. This objective is the teacher’s real job, and the key to making a difference in the classroom.