Today teachers are given many edtech advancements – student devices, interactive AV tools, digital curricula, online resources and more. These tools promise “engagement” and “interactivity” in the classroom, but both require some savviness from teachers. As a library and instructional technology consultant, and previously as a media specialist and educator, I’ve been challenged with finding ways to help educators use these technologies to create learning opportunities that resonate with students. This means creating lessons that immerse students in their learning and do so in a way that brings concepts to life. These authentic learning experiences are priceless.
So how can teachers create these priceless learning experiences in their classrooms? Here are some innovative lessons I’ve used to train educators to use the technology in their classrooms. They use a classroom projector for more than displaying presentations during lectures.
Videoconferencing with Industry Experts
Free videoconferencing software makes it easy to connect with experts from around the world. It expands the classroom beyond its four walls so students have access to people they may never meet physically. For example, I had a classroom of fifth graders videoconference with Kate DiCamillo, the author of Because of Winn Dixie and the Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. The class had been studying her and reading her work so we wanted to give them the opportunity to directly connect with her. Watching the students talk to one of their author heroes and ask her about her struggles as a writer and her writing process was inspiring. There was this incredible vibe in the room when she was done. They all wanted to be just like Kate.
Your virtual guest speakers don’t have to be famous. You can connect with all types of experts via social media and the internet. You can even connect with your students’ family members for a virtual career day. The goal is to connect students with people they couldn’t meet in their current physical space. If you can’t bring the student to the expert, you can bring the expert to the student.
Collaborative Writing and Art with Google Tools
Not every teacher understands the collaborative nature of Google’s suite of apps. Teachers may have heard of Google Apps, or even used them themselves, but many don’t see the power of using them instead of a normal word processor. In workshops with teachers, I show them how anyone in the document can see what participants are writing, commenting and editing in real-time. That’s when they have their “ah-ha” moment. Educators create lessons on collaborative storytelling, practicing editing skills, and more. Another Google App some educators may not know about is Google Draw. It’s cloud-based like Google Documents or Google Sheets, but it allows students to collaboratively create online drawings. Students can show their thought processes and learning through graphing, mind mapping, illustrations, storyboards, and more. All students can be in the document or drawing at the same time and by projecting the process in the classroom, the class can watch the final masterpiece unfold in real time. What’s great about any of these documents is they are living documents. You can share access with all students and they can continue to edit or contribute outside of class as long as they have an internet connection.
My previous district, Livonia Public Schools, uses Epson BrightLink interactive projectors which give teachers more collaborative flexibility. Students can contribute to the collaborative piece via their Chromebooks from their seats or they can come up to the whiteboard and contribute using the interactive pen directly on the wall.
Genius Hour Projects
If you’re unfamiliar, Genius Hour was an idea originating at Google. The company allows employees to spend 20 percent of their work week working on their own passion projects, as long as it benefits the company. Google initiated this practice because when individuals are allowed to work on something of interest to them, productivity increases. Google tools, including Gmail, Google News, Google Glass and other innovations are all the result of employee passion projects. This idea applies for Genius Hour in the classroom. Individual students or small groups choose a topic, research it and find a problem, design a solution, and then present their solution. It’s very student-led.
Using a projector is useful for the presentation portion, of course, but using an interactive projector for the design portion inspires students to lead constructive feedback sessions on their prototypes all by themselves. Students use the interactive pens to annotate designs, take notes, highlight important features, and more.
More than a Shiny New Tool
New pieces of technology, including Chromebooks or interactive projectors, may be shiny gadgets when they first enter a classroom, but we need teachers to remember they are so much more. It’s not about the tool alone. It’s about finding the “why.”
Judy Bowling is a library and instructional technology consultant at Wayne County Regional Educational Service Agency in Wayne, MI. Bowling was previously a media specialist at Livonia Public Schools in Livonia, MI.