Schools increasingly require teachers to integrate technology into their classroom practice.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, integrating technology into classroom instruction has been a focus for schools across the United States. While some schools provide students with individual Chromebooks, iPads, or other hardware, others deploy online instructional platforms that differentiate content based on students’ understanding. Still, others use social media to reach students and their families, deploying technology to maintain a strong relationship between students’ schools and homes.
Ultimately, at the heart of these efforts is a desire to increase student engagement. Enticed by gaming consoles, social media platforms, and a host of other technology platforms outside the school building, teachers must increasingly compete with outside actors for students’ time and attention. Without a strong culture of student engagement, teachers can find themselves confronted with a host of problems. Students who aren’t engaged can tend to misbehave, compromising instruction for both themselves and the class as a whole. By embracing the benefits of educational technology, teachers can drive student engagement and ultimately enhance academic achievement.
For teachers who want to integrate technology into their classrooms, online instructional platforms like BrainPop are a good place to start.
For schools with a computer lab, a Chromebook cart, or ideally a 1:1 student-Chromebook ratio, online instructional platforms provide students with differentiated instruction in real-time, challenging students who typically zoom ahead of the rest of the class while scaffolding content to meet the needs of those who typically need extra time to master content.
Platforms like BrainPop and DreamBox, for instance, provide students with instructional modules tied to specific content standards. As students progress through a module or game, they’re presented with increasingly difficult (or easy) questions, depending on their content mastery, in a way that looks and feels less like a traditional lesson and more like a game. These and other platforms shift the paradigm of “school” for some students who are often unmotivated by traditional instructional methods. Rather than viewing learning as a chore or something with which they quickly lose interest, students who use platforms like BrainPop and DreamBox come to see it as an exciting challenge, one that adapts to their unique needs as a learner and also makes better use of teachers’ time: rather than teaching the entire class at once, a teacher who uses an online instructional platform can “float” from student to student to provide one-on-one interventions as needed.
Use interactive whiteboards to capture (and keep) students’ attention.
SMARTboards and other interactive whiteboards can similarly transform otherwise mundane lesson plans into visually dazzling displays that capture students’ attention. Rather than using an outdated textbook to convey a particular math concept, for example, teachers can project the unit’s contents on a SMARTboard and work out the relevant problems in front of their students. Instead of transferring the problem from the textbook’s pages to the board, teachers can use interactive whiteboards as a “shortcut,” decreasing the number of cognitive leaps students need to make to focus on the lesson.
Of course, students also relish the chance to use the SMART or other interactive whiteboards themselves. What might normally cause anxiety in a particular student (e.g., getting called on in the middle of class in front of her peers) suddenly becomes a fun opportunity to use a piece of educational technology.
Many interactive whiteboards also have built-in features teachers can use to store lesson plans, deploy content from multiple mediums simultaneously, and collaborate with other educators using the same board model. These and other features make interactive whiteboards a go-to educational technology item for teachers, many of whom are thankful to do away with the constant write-and-erase of whiteboards or, much worse, hold your breath, chalkboards.
Not able to conduct an in-person field trip? No problem. Teachers can integrate technology by using virtual reality tools.
Of course, interactive whiteboards are now often commonplace in classrooms across the country. The next frontier, virtual reality , is far less common but offers unprecedented opportunities for student engagement.
To take but one example: field trips. No more permission slips, chaperones, bagged lunches, or transportation arrangements are needed. Students can simply put on a headset and immediately find themselves situated in an unfamiliar culture or time period. For visual learners, in particular, virtual reality headsets allow them to learn in a manner that’s conducive to their information-processing needs. Rather than listen to a teacher talk and talk and talk and talk at the front of the room, these students can strap on a headset and explore their virtual environment at their own pace, navigating a country or time period they’re learning about in social studies or observing a faraway galaxy the class is discussing during their science block.
While VR headsets, of course, can’t replace all in-person field trips, they can help schools with limited funds or those without the logistical capacity to conduct traditional field trips.
Class blogs or Google Classroom features, when monitored, can encourage student collaboration and further integrate technology into the classroom.
Most students don’t need a crash course in how to use technology once they arrive at school. Indeed, children are likely to engage with technology long before they walk through the school building’s front doors. Because of this, teachers can often begin using technology in younger grades than they could previously.
One particularly popular classroom technology practice is the use of a class-wide blog where students can post-academic content and discuss topics with one another virtually. When properly monitored, these platforms can become sites of student engagement, allowing students to communicate with one another and their teacher outside the confines of traditional classroom instruction.
Google Classroom, too, has similar features that allow students to communicate with one another, the class as a whole, or their teacher. If while working on their homework, they’re stuck on a particularly tricky chemistry problem, for example, students can quickly send their teacher a message describing the challenge they’re facing. Rather than waiting for the next school day, raising their hand and hoping they get called on, or visiting a teacher between classes, students can quickly obtain the information they need and ultimately master content more quickly than they could previously.
Social media use is another way for teachers to integrate technology into their classroom practice.
Similarly, schools across the country at the class-, grade-, and school-level have used social media to communicate with students’ families. While schools have long used email to send information home to students, some families still lack access to reliable internet service or, more commonly, don’t often check their email.
By sending important announcements on multiple platforms to students and their families, school leaders can ensure that information on parent-teacher conferences, back-to-school nights, field trips, and even school closures get to families in a timely manner. Families also generally appreciate frequent communication. The more in-the-know they feel about their child’s school, the greater the degree of trust they tend to have in their child’s teachers and school leadership. Using social media as a family communication tool can help build relationships between students’ school and home lives that ultimately help enhance student achievement.
At the class level, teachers can use social media much like they would use a collaborative class blog. So long as proper monitoring systems are in place, the teacher can encourage students to communicate with one another on the class’s social media site, debating topics they’ve discussed in class or seeking help on tricky homework assignments. The teacher can also post student work samples on the platform, providing an additional avenue through which to engage students’ families.
Have students use Prezi or PowerPoint to create visually pleasing reports.
Finally, platforms like Prezi and Microsoft PowerPoint allow students to create visually appealing reports on any number of topics. Rather than a pencil-and-paper essay (which, of course, are still necessary in some instances), students can create animated presentations using these and other platforms. Adding animations to their slides, experimenting with different layouts, and ultimately presenting their research to the class gives students the opportunity to develop transferable skills they can use in later contexts.
For visual learners, too, Prezi and PowerPoint can prove more conducive to their learning style than traditional instructional methods, allowing for both more engagement and, ultimately, a greater degree of content mastery.
At CTS, we help schools integrate technology into their classrooms so they can accomplish their unique missions.
Comprised of former school operations team members and educational technology veterans, our team has the track record and technical know-how to help your school use technology to accomplish its unique mission. Interested in launching a 1:1 student-Chromebook ratio but unsure of how you’ll track and manage so many devices? We’ve got you covered. Want to keep tabs on the latest trends in educational technology but just can’t find the time in the school day? That’s our job. We take care of the technology so that you can focus on teachers and students. Contact us today to learn more about our managed IT services and how we can help your school accomplish its unique mission.