Our school district recently embraced the move to Google Apps for Education (GAFE). The standard training has been rolled out involving Gmail, Drive, and Calendar. I have been profoundly amazed at how long it has taken for many of the staff member to become comfortable with the expansion of technology available to them. After nearly 18 months, many teachers haven’t even opened their Drive and cannot figure out how the make a copy of a shared file rather than asking for permission for access. This is especially frustrating considering I am on the team in charge of training the staff this year. But putting the frustrations aside, I have been able to dive into some of the more intricate ways of using the Google apps for my own class and productivity.
My most recent discovery is using Google Apps Scripts in conjunction with forms and spreadsheets to automate some of the menial tasks and paperwork that takes up so much of our days. Below is a script I wrote recently to create calendar events using data from a spreadsheet. One way to utilize this script is to have students sign-up for times to meet for help or reteaching/retesting either directly on the sheet or through a form. Then a couple of times a week you run the script and it creates the events on your calendar. Keep in mind, I am definitely not a coder and there are probably many ways to improve my script. This is my first one and I am pretty proud of it because it works.
In the last digital education post we discussed using social media in the high school classroom as well as a tool for connecting people to the school. It’s often been a fearful thing for secondary schools to embrace social media because of the dangers and negative connotations that are often associated with it. For some reason, many tech tools are approached the opposite way in school, and sometime with dangerous consequences. Teachers can be so enthusiastic to use the newest technology that they rush into implementing it into a lesson without giving thought to its usefulness or effectiveness. Here are a couple of things to think about when vetting new technology for your classroom:
- Does the technology enhance the learning experience? Examples of enhancing the experience would be providing information about the topic that otherwise wouldn’t have been available, providing access to more and varied points of view, giving the opportunity to collaborate and share ideas, or allowing the student to present their ideas or knowledge on the subject in a different way. Of course this is not an exhaustive list of ways that technology can enhance the learning experience but it is an important questions to ask to avoid it cause distraction or perhaps taking more time to teach the tool than it’s worth.
- Is this use of technology giving the students useful tools for later in life? When we’re searching for the newest, greatest app that will catch every students’ attention we can miss fact that “older” technologies are still very relevant in the business/career/college world that we are preparing students to enter. For example, using a program that creates and interactive bell curve with different colored shaded areas and animation can be engaging and fun. But perhaps teaching students how to create an engaging presentation of their bell curve by using excel might be more applicable to their life. Nothing against either method…just something to consider.
- This is my favorite and one that I see most often in practice. Is this just a really expensive worksheet with better graphics? If students are answering the same questions that are in their math textbooks but are typing the answer on the screen of an ipad for the reward of a digital ribbon then the technology is not having an impact on their learning. Yes, it may be more engaging at first. It may hold their attention for a few moments longer. However, it is not better than an engaged teacher with tangible lessons that gives their own form of a digital ribbon with words of encouragement, praise, and guidance while asking deeper questions along the way.
As we search for ways to help us engage the digital youth in and education system that they do not see as relevant let us not forget that technology is a tool. It must be used in the hands of skilled craftsman in order to make any lasting impact on students. The finest, most well-made paint brush does little unless in the hands of an artist. Technology is not here to replace great teachers. It is here for great teacher to use in great ways.
This is the first of a multiple part series on technology in education. I call it digital education rather than digital learning because technology can play a major role in our schools in ways beyond instruction and learning. Much of the focus in the media lately has been digital instruction with massive open online courses, open source materials, blended instruction, or bringing gaming into the classroom. This will be a part of this series but not the entire focus. Technology can be used in schools to improve communication, organization, efficiency, promotion, and so much more.
I have recently served as a co-chair for an action planning team in our building. Our focus was to develop the part of our school’s strategic plan that focused on increasing or improving digital learning in the classroom throughout the school. Our successes, but more importantly or struggles and challenges, have prompted this series to discuss how districts (mine included) can use technology to improve the lives of students, teachers, and administrators and how they may be missing the boat by getting in their own way.
Part 1: Social Media
The first area of technology where schools desperately need to catch up is the area of social media. When Facebook first became popular across the country and could be accessed by high school students, school administrators freaked out. Our first reaction was to block everything. How strong can we make our filters? How can we monitor students every move online? That turned out to be a way of thinking that set secondary schools back several years when it came to technology innovation. To this day most social media sites are blocked on school networks. The rational behind it is completely logical. It is a distraction. It can be used to communicate inappropriately. It can (and is) used for cyber bullying and harassment. So the question remains, how can schools harness the tremendous power of social media to make a positive impact on students?
- School promotion. The school administration, athletic teams, co-curricular organizations, many of the individual classes and teachers, and service groups should all be participating in promoting their organizations or causes through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, blogs, and all other media that may be available. The most effective way to do this is through school-side organization with common hashtags or similar-themed pages. Research tells us that a more engaged student body will connect with their school and grow strong bonds which leads to higher achievement in the classroom.
- Organization. Schools, especially large schools, have so many things going on and so many moving parts that they community and even the students have a hard time keeping track of everything. A well-organized social media plan will work to provide needed information to students and parents about all that happens in the school. Everything from club meeting times to parent-teacher conferences to this season’s basketball schedule can be distributed easily with the right social media outlet.
- Classroom engagement. Teachers should not be afraid to bring these sites into the classroom for instructional purposes. Just recently I did a discovery activity with my 10th grade geometry students. They had to measure certain lengths and angles in a trapezoid and come up with their own general properties about a trapezoid. The catch…they had to tweet their answers using a specific hashtag. I had a feed of the tweets projected onto smartboard and we discussed some of them as they popped up. Did they use of Twitter teach them the properties of a trapezoid? No. But it did spark conversation and interest that otherwise would have been difficult to come by with that activity and gave them something that they hadn’t necessarily seen before.
While there are challenges that remain in utilizing these technologies in schools and teaching students how to use them appropriately, they are a fixture in everyday life for our young people. To ignore that is to skirt our responsibility as responsive educators. If you have a unique story of how your school or district uses or misuses technology, email or tweet at me or just leave a comment below.