Convincing my students to work with new technology is a snap — if the laptops are on their desks, they are usually happy and productive. But recently I presented the wonders of technology to a tougher audience: older folks in a retirement community. Although they came willingly to my presentation, which was part of a series on keeping their brains active, I heard a bit of grumbling along the lines of, “This is about technology? I’m not staying,” “I don’t even have a computer,” and “I hate blogs!”
I knew they had recently learned about the power of positive thinking, so I focused my presentation on how they can take advantage of technology to improve their own lives. And as I spoke, I realized that those same benefits are what make new technology vital to my classroom today. If you’re a teacher who has wondered if it’s worth the effort to make new technology part of your classroom, I encourage you to consider these powerful perks:
1. Collaboration: working in groups is tricky when my 8th graders are crowded 32 students to a room. When they drag their desks into groups, they are crammed so close together they have a hard time focusing on their tasks. But move those same groups online, and magic happens. Students collaborate on writing projects, literary analysis, and more, and they aren’t distracted by the cute boy next to them, the annoying girl behind them or the soon-to-ring lunch bell.
Although most retirement communities offer a wide array of activities to keep residents busy, those unable to drive or without family nearby may feel cut off from the outside world. On a ning or a wiki, though, they can join like-minded folks working together on a common project.
2. Audience: as a student so honestly said to me, “No offense, Mrs. Bradley, but if our friends are going to read our work on the class blog, we are going to spend a lot more time proofreading it than if it’s just you reading it.” Posting their writing on a blog or wiki meant that my students’ peers would see their work, and this shift brought about profound changes in my students’ efforts. They spent considerably more time proofreading their work, reading it aloud (as I had been begging them to do all year), and making sure it was as good as it could be before they clicked that magic button that would publish their writing for all their classmates to read.
The senior residents I spoke to told me about a Life Stories class they had taken, where they learned to write short memoirs. I encouraged them to start their own blogs so they could publish these stories for family and friends to read. They were nervous about putting their writing online, so I showed them how they could set their blogs for various levels of privacy, giving them control over their growing audience.
3. Connections: when my students joined National Novel Writing Month, they discovered an international online writing community of other students also attempting the crazy challenge of writing a novel in a month. They found that their teacher wasn’t the only one who thought this would be fun; in fact, their teacher was one of many worldwide riding the novelist roller-coaster. And when they encountered writers’ block, they chatted online with other writers in efforts to break through their blocks and write again. Thanks to writing online (with Google docs) and joining the NaNoWriMo challenge, my students connected with each other, with students in other classes, with teachers, and with writers around the world. And that’s pretty powerful.
Students aren’t the only ones connecting with others online. Senior dating sites and high school reunion pages are keeping pace with the teenagers, and suddenly a whole new world opens up to those willing to take a peek.
My fourth powerful positive of new technology is so exciting that it needs its own post. I’ll save it for next week — just in time for <gasp> the new school year.
So why do you love new technology in your classroom? How does it improve how you teach and how your students learn?