How to Leverage Technology in the Classroom

My daughter, a first grader, keeps asking me for a phone. “So many kids have them!” and I wonder, “For what?” but I know the answer: for everything. Technology is everywhere. It’s in classrooms, churches, the bus, the dinner table. Everywhere. And rather than resisting it, there are some key things that teachers, in particular, can do to leverage the growing trend for electronic classrooms to work in their favor. Here are a few of those things you might consider:

1. Have a Clear Electronics Policy in Place

No matter how much you care about your students, as a teacher, you know realistically that if given free reign of a tablet or laptop, any kid from the age of 5 to 18 (and beyond!) is going to return the device at the end of the day with the thing loaded with a variety of farm heroes, exploding candies, pictures of doe-eyed kids with flower crowns…and not to date myself even further, but I have no idea what kids are playing these days. Whatever it is, without some clear boundaries in place, it’s not going to be what you’re teaching them.

So first things first, when you come to embrace technology in your classroom, lay out a clear electronics policy. What are the consequences of excessive or inappropriate technology use? What tools are okay to use and which are strict no-nos? If you hear technology knocking at your classroom door, it might be time to get together with your school or district IT professional and determine what constitutes “acceptable use” in your school.

2. Create Natural Consequences for Misuse

With any luck, your students are growing up in environments where they understand that every action has a natural consequence. According to Edutopia, “a disruption should always be a bigger headache to the student than to you as a teacher.” When our 6-year-old is acting out like 6-year-olds often do, my husband will sometimes say, “You better stop that or you won’t go to the park tomorrow!” This is frustrating because the consequence of her action is more of a headache to me than it is to her. No park tomorrow means “hang out with mom and push every button you know she has.” Kids need consequences that are relevant to them without putting a burden on someone else.

In a classroom setting, if a student is using technology for something other than schoolwork, the consequence might be that the device is taken away. If they use tablets to take notes, then the natural consequence of misusing it is that they have to use pen and paper. If students are using devices to create presentations, they have the option of completing the project at home or again, pulling out the stone-age tools of pen and paper and creating a rough draft that way.

3. Use Your Powers for Good

With recent hurricanes ravaging the south, and the strongest earthquake in Mexico in a century shaking up and destroying homes south of the border, there is no shortage of terrible things happening. People all over the country and all over the world need help, and no student is too small or too young to make a significant impact. Consider using technology to teach your students the value of humanitarian aid. No matter the subject you teach, there are things your students can do to leverage technology to help people around the world.

To cite a few examples, FirstGiving, Pledgie, and GoFundMe exists for purposes just like this. DonorsChoose is another one that is specifically for classrooms if you have a project that needs funding or just to raise awareness or bring support to fellow educators. Students can use these tools to create awareness of what is going on in the world, or they can use them to facilitate projects of their own.

4. Make Classroom Content Shareable

There are several examples of classrooms across the country that are doing this perfectly. Teachers are now posting documents such as syllabi online for parents to review. Some schools even offer parent accounts so parents can track their child’s progress. Even students are able to collaborate using cloud-based software to work on and complete projects together.

Students are going to need to be able to navigate software programs and share ideas as they go through school and beyond, and as they grow in their professions. Whether this looks like a classroom website that all students can post homework assignments or class notes, or a Facebook page where students can bounce ideas off each other, we have seen firsthand the significant results of educators creating and promoting shareable tech.

 

6 Internet Safety Tips for Teachers

An increasing number of elementary schools across the country have access to the internet. We live in a digital age and students need to learn about this valued tool early. As a teacher, your role is an important one: How do you teach kids about the valuable tool and resource that the internet is while leaving out all the bad stuff it can bring? Here are a few ideas.

1. Read and reference your school district Acceptable Use Policy (AUP).

First, make sure you are familiar with your school and district’s guidelines for proper internet use. You can either download your school district’s AUP online or get it from a school administrator. Besides informing you of what activity on the school computers is acceptable and what is not, the AUP will have great information you can use in your lessons on internet and computer use.

2. Teach students about legal issues surrounding internet use.

The internet is a massive tool and with that comes a lot of legal issues if it is not handled properly. Nowadays, every student knows what Facebook is. Most of them probably know how to unlock a smartphone or tablet, and many of them can open a webpage and play online games. But very few know about key legal issues related to their internet use. As a teacher, be sure your students are not just learning about how to use the internet, but also about plagiarism and copyright issues, Creative Commons, and how to effectively use the internet to perform research.

3. Have a lesson on internet safety.

Actually, have several lessons on internet safety. In this day and age, your students are not just accessing the internet from school under your ever-watchful eye. They may be accessing it at home or with friends, and they may or may not be supervised while they’re doing it. Make sure students are aware of internet safety issues and that you talk about it in each of your lessons. Websites such as the Federal Trade Commission and NetSmartz are good resources for additional tips and lesson ideas.

4. Know what they’re up to when you’re not around.

To speak to the previous point, students are not just using the internet at school. Keep informed of what students are doing online when you aren’t watching them. You can be more aware of issues your students are facing if you know what they’re doing when their internet use is unsupervised.

5. Protect your online identity.

As a teacher, you have a responsibility to be a role model to your students, offline as well as online. Make sure that you have strong passwords in place, and don’t put anything online that you wouldn’t want your students or their parents to see. Never add students or their parents as friends or followers on your social media profiles.

6. Have an open-door policy about cyberbullying and internet safety.

Ultimately, you need to be a resource for students and their parents if questions arise. A shocking 52 percent of young people in the United States report that they have experienced cyberbullying, and one-third of those kids said they had received online threats. If a student or their parents come to you with cyberbullying or internet safety concerns, make sure to address them. Get administration involved if possible. Encourage your students and their parents to talk to you if there is a concern about internet safety.

Essentially, teaching your students about safe internet use is extremely important, whether you are using the internet in your classroom or not. As a teacher, you need to be a trusted source for your students so they can stay safe—online and off.

Lesson Ideas: Blending Social Studies and ELA

One thing that we frequently discuss at Studies Weekly in our personal conversations, individual department meetings, and companywide events is the importance of social studies education. And why wouldn’t we? This is what we do every day.

To us, social studies is about more than teaching kids the states and capitals. It’s more than just learning the geography of your state or all the names and terms of the presidents. Incorporating English Language Arts into your social studies can and should be done as a richer education experience. Here are five ideas to blend ELA learning with your social studies lessons:

1. Act It Out

After reading their Studies Weekly booklets for the week, assign students a literary genre. They will then choose an article from their publication and present it to the class. For instance, they can write a poem about Christopher Columbus and recite it or act it out. Students can create a mystery story relating to the forming of their state, or a comedy sketch about the three branches of government.

Encourage students to get creative with props and the storyline, but remind them to showcase what they learned about their chosen topic.

This teaches the following ELA areas: Speaking; Writing; Reading; Listening; Analysis; Research and Citations; Art, Activities and Projects; Viewing; and Literary Genres.

2. Create a Video Journal

After reading their Studies Weekly booklets for the week, have them create video journals. This is easier to do if students have access to computers or tablets. If they don’t have access, they can create a storyboard of what would transpire in the video. The goal is not a perfect analysis of the event or the historical figure you are studying.

Video journals build fluency, prepare students for discussions, and help students practice conversation. They teach the following ELA areas: Speaking, Listening, Analysis, and Viewing.

3. Have A Debate

Set up a debate in your elementary school class. This is going to look different depending on which grade you’re teaching. A fourth grader’s understanding of the Emancipation Proclamation, for instance, will be a lot different from a sixth grader’s, but this doesn’t mean it’s impossible for them to learn it and talk about what they learned.

Have students on either side research the topic and debate the pros and cons, discuss the implications and originations of the subject, and try to come up with a compromise.

This teaches the following ELA areas: Speaking, Writing, Reading, Listening, Analysis, and Research and Citations.

4. Hold a Round Table Discussion

Have all the students choose one of the articles in the Studies Weekly booklet for that week. After thoroughly reading and analyzing the article and its subject, put all the desks or chairs in the classroom in a circle.

With their booklets in front of them, encourage the students to open up a dialogue about what they read. Encourage them to use other sources to pull information and cite from if needed to expound their point.

This teaches the following ELA areas: Speaking, Reading, Analysis, and Research and Citations.

5. Write to a Historical Pen Pal

After reading their Studies Weekly booklets for the week, have students choose a historical pen pal or when relevant, a current political figure.

Once a week, students will write to a historical figure that they have chosen to learn more about. Encourage the students to draw pictures or incorporate diagrams, and ask questions.

Once completed, pass out the letters to a different classmate and have them respond back as if they were the historical figure.

This teaches the following ELA areas: Writing, Reading, Analysis, Research and Citations, and Art, Activities, and Projects.