Julie Yandell is a Google Certified Trainer and teacher at Jefferson Elementary in Wichita Falls, TX. She has been teaching for 16 years. Follow Julie on Twitter at @YandellsPlace.
In Saguta Mitra’s Hole in the Wall Project, he famously demonstrated the game-changing power of technology: technology teaches kids how to teach themselves. The story goes something like this... in Kalkaji, New Delhi, in an expansive slum, a computer was sunk into the opening of a wall so that only the screen was visible from the street. The PC was available to anyone who passed by and had online access and several programs... but no instructions were given for its use.
What happened next was astonishing. Children came running out of the nearest slum and glued themselves to the computer. They began to click and explore. A few hours later, without any instruction, they had taught themselves how to search the internet and use the computer programs. Then something even more extraordinary happened… they started teaching each other how to use it.
As an educator and fifth grade teacher, I’m a firm believer that technology has a unique ability to spur this kind of self-organized learning. The way I organize my classroom in Wichita Falls, Texas is student-centered to facilitate collaborative, team-learning and to incite original thinking. I don’t dictate to the kids from the front of the classroom. I stand in the center - we use flexible seating - and make the experience about them. When students learn in this way, their own curiosity leads them. A hero of mine, National Teacher of the Year Sarah Brown Wessling, said a classroom should be about, “...a learner talking to a learner, a writer talking to a writer, and a thinker talking to a thinker.” Put simply, teaching is about getting the kids to engage with their own minds and each other. Technology in the classroom faciliates this in a way no other tool can.
Technology Means Better Preparation
In the workforce, students will have to know how to collaborate, think for themselves, and use technology on the daily. Ed-tech helps with this, which we see in the data alone: CompTIA’s study showed that 9 out of 10 students indicated that using technology in the classroom would be important to helping them get jobs in an increasingly digital economy.
I notice in my own classroom, when we started using Chromebooks and GoGuardian, kids had better retention rates and were more engaged with the material. We use programs like Google Classroom, and the technology enhances the lesson and learning. My students' scores keep increasing and they feel rewarded by their new technology skills. What’s amazing is that it’s also helped with state testing. There’s lots of pressure put on teachers to be attain certain scores in their classroom, and there’s some fear that technology might take away from prep. But it’s the exact opposite - tech brings both rigor and excitement to the classroom and it helps kids be successful when it comes to state testing. Tech even enhances testing: some students have limitations and have to take oral testing and technology facilitates that process. With GoGuardian Teacher,I was able to record myself reading the test, and the kids were able to listen to my voice- which they preferred because the recording was clearer and they were auditory learners.
Technology Means More Collaboration and Connection
Education isn’t just about memorizing facts and vocabulary words, it’s about solving complex problems and being able to collaborate with others. A recent assignment we did with our Chromebooks centered around Roald Dahl’s BFG, in which the students used context clues to create a dictionary in Google Slides. The use of Google Slides on our Chromebooks got the kids excited, and the project evolved to become more complex as they learned about the features of the application. Instead of each kid working alone on 10 slides, they formed groups and collaborated to make 40 page dictionaries with graphics. Technology spurs this kind of collaboration and creative problem-solving.
There’s also more collaboration in the teacher-student dynamic. When a child isn’t understanding a problem, I can collaborate on their screen and walk them through it, without interrupting the flow of the class. A great example of this was last year, I was sick for a few days, and I didn’t want to just leave the sub busy-work. With GoGuardian Teacher, I was able to teach effectively from home, and the kids could follow along on their screens as I walked them through the lesson. When I came back, we hadn’t lost a day of learning and were on track. This also built trust between me and my students: they saw that even if I wasn’t immediately in the room, I was still there for them. That’s the power of technology and its ability to keep us connected.
Technology Means Lessons Curated to Students' Needs
GoGuardian allows us to curate teaching to meet each kid’s individual needs: if the child is dyslexic, ADHD, or just, well, shy. For dyslexic kids, we use the dyslexic extension in Chromebooks. The GoGuardian software also allows us to monitor kids screens and see if they’re actively engaged in the material. For ADHD kids, who have difficulty staying on task, I can use the GoGuardian software to freeze a screen and send a friendly message to them to focus on the task at hand, or prompt them to get off the Pokémon page.
With GoGuardian, I can help a child when I see they aren’t understanding an assignment. I can help kids from my desk without everyone in the class knowing they're struggling or behind. This is particularly effective with introverted students who don’t want to draw a lot of attention to themselves, especially when they don’t understand something. GoGuardian lets kids learn at their own pace and enables individualized instruction. This also maximizes the efficacy of the teacher because it gives us the time to work individually with students who may be struggling.
GoGuardian and our Google Chromebooks have been game-changing for the kids in my classroom. I like to stay at the forefront of trends, and these tools are essential when it comes to equipping my students with essential 21st century skills, facilitating collaboration and meeting their individual needs. At the end of the day, teachers should try any tool that can reach a kid, promote self-organized learning, and inspire them to learn. I’m excited to continue to learn as well and explore new, innovative technologies that challenge the traditional concept of the classroom and put the focus on what truly matters: the student's educational journey.
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