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While edtech tools are in most classrooms, not every educator understands how to use technology in meaningful ways. Before becoming Hāpara’s Community Development Manager, Heather Rentz was an Innovation Coach at Buffalo Trail Public Schools. Her role was to support educators in innovative practices. Student engagement was the main driver to teaching the learning outcomes, and Heather helped educators do this with technology. Read on to learn how to use technology in the classroom to truly engage students.
1. Use technology to dive deep into the learning process
Heather emphasizes that technology should be purposeful, with a focus on curriculum.
She also says, “Technology should supplement, not replace, an educator.” When technology is used in this way, educators become guides as students explore and dive deep into the curriculum.
“Technology should supplement, not replace, an educator.”
For example, Heather’s team at Buffalo Trail Public Schools used robotics and coding to teach the learning outcomes. When students completed a project, they created a summative piece tied to the curriculum. Students explaining their learning and how they were able to meet the outcomes. Therefore, the goal was not just to build a robot or code an activity. The goal was for learners to explain how they did it, reflecting on their learning process and the ways they met the learning outcomes.
2. Engage students and motivate them to learn
When the Innovation Coaches brought robotics and coding into the school division, this technology was new to everyone, but it ended up deeply engaging students. They were excited to learn new concepts using robotics and coding as the conduits.
Before Heather was the Innovation Coach, she also taught French to learners in grades one through sixth. She incorporated interactive activities, music, dance and plays to teach the language, and learners took advantage of technology like WeVideo to perform and edit the plays. Learners also had the option to create audio recordings for a voice-over story or digital animation. Everything was then placed into Google Drive. Giving her learners a chance to incorporate technology opened their world to something different. It completely changed the program around, and kids became motivated to learn French.
3. Upload all learning materials into one digital spot
While Heather’s French learners added all of their content into Google Drive, as the Innovation Coach, she and her educators upgraded to Hāpara Workspace. This technology gave them one spot to upload all learning materials for a single lesson or project. Educators could add digital resources and assessment pieces, and learners could submit assignments.
Some of the content they added to a Workspace included links to Scratch and Tinker, individualized lessons, Seesaw reflections, steps for an entire project or supplemental videos. Learners, for instance, could upload a video with their final project or summative reflections directly into a Workspace. They could also get feedback from peers and their teacher. In one case, learners designed a boat for a waterproof robot, and classmates and their teacher added feedback to documents in the Workspace.
When any learner visits a Workspace, they see lesson or project goals, multimedia to help them learn, Google Drive activities, rubrics and even enrichment activities. Educators can share the Workspace link or add it to an LMS. Or learners can click on the Workspace in Hāpara Student Dashboard, which is an online school planner that pulls together all of their Workspaces and Google Classroom content.
4. Create opportunities for collaboration
One of the main ways Heather and educators in her school division used technology was for collaboration. Heather started by reaching out to educators who would be interested in trying something new alongside her. As they integrated robotics, coding and Workspace, Heather worked side by side with educators to support learning happening in the classroom. Students also worked in a variety of differentiated teams to explore concepts, build, solve problems and meet goals.
When an educator creates a Workspace, any other educator can make a copy of it and modify it to fit their learners’ needs. Schools also have the option of adding their Workspaces to a private library where teams can collaborate on curating Workspaces or creating lessons, units or projects. Plus, they can add Google Drive files for learners to collaborate on, with the option of creating a copy for each group in the class.
As a coach, Heather also helped staff members collaborate on a Dash and Dot robot project to build interactive towns. These were drawn on pieces of butcher paper where the robots would describe the town’s history and buildings. This team-building exercise gave them the chance to have fun together and strengthen their relationships across the school. If you want to try a similar activity at your school, you can upload the professional learning content into a Hāpara Workspace for staff members to access.
5. Empower learners with voice and choice
Not all students can express themselves and showcase their learning with pen and paper. Technology gives every learner a voice and the opportunity to show what they know in innovative ways.
Because Heather’s team added all projects and lessons into Workspaces, it was easy to give students choices in how they showed their learning and explained it. When you add content to a Workspace, you can allow students to directly upload their assessments, whether it’s a video, a Google Slides presentation, an audio file or a link to an app. They can also add resources they want to share with the class into the Workspace, if given the option.
Educators can also quickly create groups in Workspace and assign content and activities to specific groups. Groups can be based on interest or ability to differentiate instruction.
6. Use technology for critical and creative thinking
Technology can also help learners think critically and creatively and solve problems together. Another project Heather supported was with the fifth grade team. Learners used a circuit board with blinking lights to sew bookmarks. They were engaged and also had to think critically through the steps of a process that was new to them.
Grade 9 learners in Buffalo Trail had to use creative thinking in robot relay races. With an obstacle course taped to the floor, teams of learners coded robots to go through the obstacle course as quickly as possible. Although this was a larger class of close to forty learners, they were all engaged at the top of Bloom’s Taxonomy.
One group of learners coded their robot before the other teams in the class did. Instead of sitting around bored, they were motivated to learn more. On their own, they decided to explore an enrichment activity and learn how to code Python. Neither Heather nor the teacher knew how to use Python, but because the group was invested in their learning and engaged with the technology, they were excited to push their learning further.
Technology can also bring out learners who don’t typically stand out during traditional class activities. By selecting technology that allows for critical and creative thinking, learners with different talents will shine.
7. Let students become the experts
Like the Python coding example, educators don’t have to be experts in how to use technology in the classroom. Learners are able to become the experts in the room. lf educators are transparent with them and say, “Let’s try this together,” students will be excited to step up and take ownership of the learning process. As a coach or teacher, you can also pair a stronger learner with one who needs more support or put together a group with different skill sets.
Learners are able to become the experts in the room. lf educators are transparent with them and say, “Let’s try this together,” students will be excited to step up and take ownership of the learning process.
8. Fail forward and learn to explore
Heather also says that when it comes to using new technology in the classroom, it’s fine for the process not to be perfect. In fact, students will learn more deeply if they need to problem solve along the way.
On that same note, you don’t need to start using technology in highly creative ways right from the start. You can start at the base level of SAMR, for instance, by choosing a straightforward type of technology, rather than jumping to the top. A basic example of the base level of SAMR would be replacing pen and paper exercises with Google Docs versions, where learners can give each other feedback. Then you would move step by step to incorporate more innovative technology that allows learners to create and have a voice.
9. Use technology across subjects
An even more meaningful way to meet curriculum goals and student engagement is through cross-curricular projects. With robotics and coding projects, Heather not only supported individual classrooms but also cross-curricular teams, including music and high-level math. Some projects were even done between schools. In this case, learners would visit a Workspace to access their resources, including a link to collaborate over Google Meet.
10. Document the process
When using technology for hands-on projects, Heather encourages documenting the whole process from beginning to end with pictures and multimedia. Learners can add them into a Workspace dedicated to the project. This helps them reflect on their process and how they met the curricular goals.
In Highlights, a Chrome monitoring tool, teachers can help document the learning process by taking Snaps. These are screenshots of learners’ browsing and are a great way to show their positive choices during a project.
11. Give feedback (lots of it!)
As you use technology in the classroom, it’s important to give a lot of formative feedback along the way, not just at the end. This can be oral or formal feedback as a teacher or from peers. That way, learners can make changes, evolve their project and progress toward their goals.
Hāpara Teacher Dashboard makes it easy for teachers to give learners feedback. On one page, they can see all of their learners’ recent Google Drive files. So all they have to do is hover over a file to preview it, or click on it to open it.
In Highlights, teachers can see what learners are doing in their Chrome browsers. It’s a great way to check in with them and make sure they’re on the right path. From Highlights, they can send learners instant messages with feedback or close a browser tab with feedback.
12. Celebrate learning
Another strategy for using technology in the classroom is to celebrate learning afterward. Heather suggests inviting families, school board members, the principal and other teachers in the school. For example, one third grade class at Buffalo Trail used Makey Makey “invention literacy” kits, which are STEAM-aligned and combine art with science.
One group of learners designed a zoo and created pom pom animals with googly eyes and connected them to a circuit board to make the animals tell facts about themselves. For this project, the whole school came to tour the third grade projects and celebrate their learning.
13. Build capacity in the school
Using technology in the classroom also builds capacity across your school. That’s because educators who are more experienced can work with others to teach them and guide them.
Another way to build more capacity with technology is through professional learning. Hāpara offers one-hour Learning Bytes courses that cover each tool, including Workspace, Teacher Dashboard, Student Dashboard and Highlights.
Coaches and educators can also take the more in-depth Hāpara Champion courses with the option of becoming certified as Hāpara Trainers.
14. Start early
Heather points out that it’s never too soon to start using technology and talking about digital citizenship with learners. In fact, she worked with kindergartners and helped them explore digital citizenship topics. For example, they learned why they shouldn’t take just any photo from the internet and use it in a project by discussing Creative Commons and fair use.
If you’re looking for a way to start integrating technology into an early elementary classroom, Hāpara has a digital citizenship course for grades K-2 with activities for each grade level. As they explore the Workspace, students learn how to be safe, responsible, respectful and healthy digital citizens.
15. Incorporate technology on any school budget
Heather wants schools and educators to know that you can do all of this with any budget. There are tons of grants available, and parent groups can help. For example, if you’re looking to try robotics, not every learner has to have a robot in their hands. You can assign a robot to each group instead.
✔️ Remember that it’s not only about the technological process, such as building a robot or coding. It should be tied to the curriculum, and students should explain their learning.
✔️ Integrating technology should also be focused on trial and error and critical thinking as a life skill.
✔️ Using technology in the classroom doesn’t have to be perfect. Explore together and let learners step up as experts.
✔️ Edtech can help learners shine who may otherwise be in the background during traditional classroom assignments.