Teachers are at the forefront of kids' educational experiences, and it's now incumbent on them, as well as parents and school administrators, to provide children with the guidance and technical skills they need to succeed in their connected future. Through the use of technology as both a learning tool and a subject matter discipline in and of itself, there are a number of new ways that teachers can inspire kids to learn. Here are 10 ways to use education technology to promote enhanced classroom learning:
Embrace Connected Learning - The concept of "Connected Learning" is at the center of a new theory that champions say "is a model of learning that holds out the possibility of re-imagining the experience of education in the Information Age" that draws on "the power of today's technology to fuse young people's interests, friendships and academic achievement." According to Dr. Mizuko Ito, a leader in the field of Connected Learning and a professor at the University of California, Irvine, and cultural anthropologist of technology use, examples of Connected Learning are when a teacher may ask a student to do a report on their favorite video game, or if a kid who likes to draw on the computer creates the signs and banners for a classroom party.
Share Content Online - Whether it's posting videos to a private channel for class members and parents to see, using Google Docs to share materials so students can collaborate on a shared project, or posting homework assignments to a class website for everyone to access, using technology as a tool demands a base level of proficiency from students that they'll need to continue to build on.
Have Fun with Twitter - For classes with kids over 13, consider using Twitter to contact well-known personalities or to create hashtags about a relevant classroom topic and see if you can spawn participation from external parties. You may be surprised at just how much support and interest your students can garner from the community at large, or who's happy to hear from them - all of which reveal how the power to make valuable new contacts and influence the world is often waiting just one click away.
Use Video Chats - Use videoconferencing solutions such as Skype to connect with faraway experts or other classrooms for an online meeting via webcam, letting children share their experiences, make new friends around the world, and engage in distance learning. All provide opportunities to teach your kids basic rules and etiquette for teleconferencing online, such as when and how it's okay to connect, as well as how to act when you're on camera, especially if sessions are being taped or recorded.
Create a Class Blog or Wiki - Encourage kids to respond to in-class lessons or current events and topics, and devise a system for posting thoughts, news or impressions of them to a class blog or Wiki. Kids will love improving their creative writing skills and seeing their work appear online, and parents will love being able to feel more connected to the classroom. As the school year progresses, it's often great fun to watch a class' page fill up with posts and discussions, and see kids, parents, and educators engage in more frequent and ongoing dialogue.
Put Together a Podcast - Have your class take turns reading passages from a book, or schedule and record a discussion point based on your curriculum or a specific topic. Not only will you show kids how easy it is to broadcast thoughts to the world, but also provide handy references - e.g. recordings of recent lessons - if they or future students would ever like to go back and review them.
Use Pinterest - Create a private board on Pinterest to share snapshots of classroom activities, projects, and field trips, or encourage parents to connect and find ways to help show their support for the classroom. Pinterest is a great, visual medium with lots of creative ideas that can encourage kids to share insights into their world and try new projects, and give parents an easy way to share recipes, photos, and other fun pick-me-ups or supplements to current class projects.
Create Interactive Maps - Whether it's marking locations of family trips, tracking the progress of Flat Stanley with the official App or simply identifying state capitals, consider using an interactive map to which children can pin their thoughts or exploits. These tools may also offer multimedia elements such as photos, videos and street-level views, so kids can discover fun facts about faraway places or get an up-close look at distant locales discussed during geography lessons.
Harness the Power of Excel - If working with kids on a mathematical or budgeting exercise, have them work with a spreadsheet program like Microsoft Excel to promote understanding of both simple and complex calculations, as well as how such tools can be used to enhance productivity. You may be surprised at how well basic financial planning concepts take when you focus on real-world scenarios - e.g. saving for desirable items like iPads or new cars - and break down what level of earning, savings, and credit it may take to purchase each using formulas that kids help create.
Promote Greater Good - If there's an international, national or even local need for charitable donations or disaster relief, classrooms can use online tools to solicit and track charitable donations, or spread awareness for these causes. Sites like FirstGiving or Pledgie can help teachers use technology as a complement to cause-based learning. Helping kids create social awareness, all show how high-tech solutions can be used as a tool for kindness, understanding, and good.