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A Primer on Educational Technology: 5 Terms Parents Need to Understand

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This back-to-school season, students more than ever are arriving to classrooms equipped with digital devices and learning tools. Apps, videos and other online resources that can be accessed from iPads, Androids devices, Chromebooks and the like are profoundly impacting the learning process.

While many elementary, middle and high school students are already accustomed to technology-enabled classrooms, educators continue to incorporate digital learning innovations into their teaching styles. Even the most tech-savvy parents can find it difficult to keep up with all of the trends and terminology.

To that end, it might help to do a little bit of homework and read up on how lessons are delivered and knowledge is exchanged in many classrooms today. Here are five educational technology terms and trends every parent should understand.

Flipped Classroom

As we all know, kids with access to tablets, laptops or virtually any connected device understand how to find and watch videos online. Inspired by organizations like Kahn Academy, teachers can easily (and inexpensively) screencast their own videos around lesson plans and topical lectures. These videos typically include audio narration, virtual whiteboards and complementary images and animation.

Teachers are now assigning their students video lessons via email, storing them in Dropbox or Google Drive, or posting directly to YouTube or Vimeo. This is "flipping" the traditional teaching model, reserving classroom time for facilitated group projects and individualized instruction for students who tend to absorb different concepts at their own pace.

Which brings us to...

Personalized Learning

Not only can technology accommodate more direct interaction between teachers and students, but more quickly and accurately assess if and to what degree a kid is understanding a particular lesson or concept. There are now thousands of apps and digital learning tools designed to assess everything from reading comprehension to calculus to foreign language fluency. Students shown to have difficulty picking up particular topics can spend more time on interactive quizzes and personal tutorials, while others can move on to the next subject or chapter. There are also tools that identify how children best learn, whether visually, auditorily, or perhaps through gamification. Individuals learn differently and at their own pace. Part of teaching moving forward will be to identify the best mix of digital learning tools for each student.

STEM, STEAM and STREAM

It's no secret that the highest paying jobs in the 21st Century typically require a fluency (if not mastery) of science and mathematics. From coding courses in elementary school to high school robotics teams, schools are encouraging and implementing STEM-based programs and extracurricular activities that focus on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Newer variations of STEM that attempt to weave in liberal arts principals include STEAM and STREAM, which emphasize Art and Reading.

Frances Judd, a long-time kindergarten teacher turned educational app developer and maker culture evangelist, described each new method of science and technology-based learning in a recent interview with ABC News. One component of STEM often overlooked is the multimedia fluency skills involved in knowing how to use and control the apps and devices that deliver all of the important math and science-oriented content. In this respect, it is advantageous for students to learn from the technology that they will eventually reinvent.

Common Core Standards Alignment

Parents who send their kids to public schools in most of the country will hear a lot about the Common Core State Standards Initiatives over the next school year and beyond. Like it or not, schools are aligning their math and english language arts curricula around the Common Core, which emphasizes analytical and critical thinking skills to solve problems. There are thousands of apps, videos and digital learning tools (in addition to textbooks) that claim to teach particular Common Core-based lessons.

One new service, Verizon Educational Tools, identifies and showcases the best apps and videos that teach Common Core standards. Developed by Appolicious, Verizon Educational Tools gives Report Cards to thousands of iOS and Android apps (as well as educational videos), and lets users browse by device, grade level and subject. Parents and teachers can also search for apps and videos based on particular Common Core Standards. I recently demonstrated the service during an interview ABC News.

Device Agnostic Learning

Not every school (or household, for that matter) is beholden to one type of Internet-connected device. A high school student, for instance, may carry around an Android phone, use the family Windows-based personal computer at home and access to an iPad in the classroom. While videos and websites are essentially ubiquitous across all devices, many apps are native (and often exclusive) to one device or mobile operating system.

Increasingly, services like screencasting app Explain Everything are becoming device agnostic and accessible across iOS, Android and Windows devices. However, not every educational app and software developer has the resources or commercial motivation to expand beyond one platform or device. The good news is no matter which one or combination of devices you own, there is an unprecedented wealth of educational resources available.. There are also great services to help you identify which apps, videos and online tools are the best for your kid.

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