Teaching Over Technology – How to Talk to Your Digitally-Distracted Student

Word Association is a fun game. Player #1 says a word – banana, for example – and Player #2 says the very first word that comes to mind – split – and so on. If I were to start this game with any given parent or teacher, it would very likely go something like this:

Me: Black…
Me: Face…

And so on. Years ago, the word “black” would most likely have triggered words like “white” and “board,” but today the more likely association is “berry,” referring to one of the leading brands of do-it-all devices making their way into the hands of people all over the world. Here in the United States, some of those people are school-aged children and teenagers, members of a generation born well into the computer age. Consequently, both teachers and parents are finding it increasingly difficult to fight – let alone win – the battle for kids’ attention against an opponent that is constantly growing, improving, and becoming easier to access: technology. As students gain better knowledge of – and easier access to – devices such as MP3 players and smart phones, they focus more on their digital activity than on their schoolwork, whether at home or in the classroom.

Often referenced since its publication earlier this year, a study conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that “heavy media use [among youths aged 8 to 18 years] is associated with several negatives, including behavior problems and lower grades…confirm[ing] the fears of many parents whose children are constantly tethered to media devices.”

Unfortunately, the prevalence of these devices in our society is growing by the day, and the younger generation is gaining the upper hand as they enter into adulthood, thanks to a familiarity with modern technology gained far earlier in life than is the case for their predecessors. Nonetheless, many (if not most) adults use some type of media device on a regular basis, and of these adults, it’s the parents of very young children who seem to be the cause for concern – at least for child development experts.

Fear not, parents and teachers! While technology is inevitably reaching more and more children each day, your ability to help these children, these students, is as strong as ever. In fact, there is no need to think of your effort as a fight, and no need to think of technology as an opponent. Remember, you have the advantage of knowing how society was able to function without smart phones, MP3 players, and laptops, as well as how society is able to function with them. This frame of reference gives you the ability to teach your kids what you already know: As much as society grows and changes in order to better itself and preserve its existence, there are certain things that remain the same over time, like the foundations of a well-rounded education.

Consider using educational games and learning aids to help you get started – work on them with your kids at home, or your students in school. Did you know that you can use the newspaper to teach reading skills? Brush up on current events while spending valuable and productive time with your child. It’s simple, effective, and beneficial for everyone. Why stop there? By teaching children to think critically about the commercials they see on television, along with other types of advertising, you’ll help them develop the media literacy that will, in turn, help them develop into better-functioning adults.

Finally, remember that in order to reach students on this level, you must lead by example. More often than not, “do as I say, not as I do” proves to be an ineffective approach to both teaching and parenting, which in this case means one thing: Put down the BlackBerry!

Technology in the Elementary Classroom

Remember sitting in a classroom with your classmates, all facing the chalkboard, listening to the teacher drone on and on about the chapter you had just read? That classroom is a distant memory.

Today’s classroom bares little resemblance to even the ones of a decade ago. Now you see student sitting in peer learning groups, researching and taking notes on laptops or tablets. Interactive projectors have replaced the drab and dusty chalkboard. Read along lessons have are all but lost, in it’s place bright and animated websites, which bring history, science, and math alive. But is this transition a good thing?

Some would say abandoning book learning does a children a disservice. That students will have no appreciation of knowledge gained from research. That information is too easily attained and necessary skills are not being taught.

But it’s a simple fact that the children of today’s world do not know a world apart from technology in the classroom. Their lives are emerged within all the knowledge of the information aged, right at their finger tips.

But it’s not just to the benefit of the student. Technology brings with it huge advantages to parents and teachers. For example, with the right programs, children’s time on task and progress can all be monitored, in real time with enormous amounts of statistical data that can be analyzed in such a way as to help individualize their educational path.This immediate feedback also serves to bridge a connection to the student and adult, so that they both immediately see the fruits of their knowledge and hard work.

With many of the tools available to students today, they can communicate their knowledge in a multitude of ways. No more do children have to rely on one method to reveal how much they have learned. With computers and tablets, students can put together slideshows, movies, or even create websites. Today’s student can even miss school and be all caught up by the time he arrives back at school.

Finally, technology has given parents and students alike a more efficient way to communicate. Homework can be posted online, conferences can be held via email or visual calls, and students can even contact teachers after hours if their homework for the evening is bogging them down.

All in all, technology has only diversified the educational world. Bringing out new strengths that were previously gone unnoticed. It’s given children direction and allowed them to learn and respond to what they have learned more efficiently.

Your Lesson Plan – Integrating Classroom Technology

Considering that we are now nearly a decade into the 21st Century, its surprising that many teachers still come up with lesson plans that are identical to any given lesson plan from the 19th Century. Maybe that’s a slight exaggeration – perhaps a lesson plan from the 1950s would be a kinder description. For many teachers, new technologies are something of a challenge and can feel risky.

It is important that all teachers learn how to use new technologies into their unit and lesson plans. New technologies, such as blogs, YouTube and social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook can all be used in the classroom by a teacher who has learned how to fit their use into a lesson plan. Even not-so-new technologies such as video can be built into a lesson plan.

All too often, however, the typical video lesson plan involves just plugging in the machine and pressing play. This sort of “lesson” might be all right for a relief teacher or for someone who is filling in a slot at the end of the term (and the teacher is snowed under with papers to grade, so he/she takes advantage of the quiet produced by a video playing for a lesson to do a little marking. Don’t do this!

But this is not the best way to build a lesson plan around a video to maximise the learning potential of video, let alone newer technology. Video, as you probably know, can be fitted into any of the classic slots in a typical lesson – as a way of piquing interest, as a way of delivering the main content of the lesson, as material for analysis or to which the key learning points can be applied, or as a way of summing up the lesson.

Now, if you’ve managed to master these late 20th Century techniques and fit video into your lesson plan, you can apply them to newer technologies. But how?

Well, the most obvious online tool for adding new technologies into your classroom is YouTube. YouTube clips come in nice bite-sized pieces that make them perfect for classroom application. No fooling around with fast-forward or rewind buttons to find exactly the clip you need – it’s all there ready to go, complete with the controls for pausing and rewinding, should you need them. And if you have used a YouTube clip in your lesson plan, don’t forget to give the URL to your students so they can view it again… and again.

The biggest step to overcome when trying to incorporate new technologies and tools into a lesson plan is learning how to use the tools. Many teachers feel at a real disadvantage if their pupils are more at home with applications such as Facebook but the teacher is not. Teachers should take the time to upskill regularly in the area of new technology, just as much as they should take the time to familiarise themselves with topical issues and ideas in the world of education.

Often, taking the first step is the hardest part. It’s especially hard if you feel like you’re the only teacher in your school to try fitting new technologies into your planning and classroom delivery.