Spring Digital Learning: Global Connections & Students as Creators Dr.Daniel Downs

Our world is changing. We are adapting to new technologies, new required skills and constantly shifting our understanding of how technology changes what is possible in the world. As educators, it is more important than ever to support our students to recognize this expanding world of technology in a safe and thoughtful way. One of the primary roles that technology has played in education is that is has enabled students of all levels to envision themselves as digital creators. I wanted to share some of the digital learning infused projects in the North Reading Public Schools that have been completed in the past month that support students understanding of the global classroom and their inherent nature as creators. Please feel free to view samples and photos of these projects on our April Share located at http://bit.ly/aprilshare

Spanish teacher Maggie Miller completed an amazing lesson with her 9th grade Spanish class with the assistance of a Kathy Dasho K-12 Digital Learning Specialist. The class conducted a Google Hangout with a school in the Dominican Republic and during this online hangout students were able to connect with their pen pals and ask a series of questions. Students during this lesson were expected to speak entirely in Spanish and utilize the webcam to be able to view and interact with the students in the Dominican Republic. This was an exciting lesson which connected two worlds’ together and enabled students to improve their fluency with a foreign language. It was truly a great example of a global classroom.

At the Batchelder School 5th grade students have been introduced to the digital tool Canva in their Digital Learning block. Canva is a graphic design tool which enables students to make their own infographics by providing an interface to create a background, add icons and use a range of shapes and styles of text. The 5th graders assignment was to create an infographic about a World Explorer and define the explorer’s country of origin, country sailed for and their impact in the world. This tool enables students to become creators and supports their ability to research and explain their learning with graphics.

In the Middle School World Language Department Ms.Houghton and Ms.Lahaie  worked on their Mi Familia project with the support of middle school Digital Learning Specialist . The Mi Familia project has students utilize web based digital tools to collect and upload images family images to Google drive and use Google Docs web based text editor to describe their families using the Spanish language. The final project was a digital board created by the students using Thinglink.com.

Thinglink.com acts as a virtual poster board that has links to sound, images and text. Students can share the link to their final project to teachers, family and friends to show off their work. This project greatly enhances students’ connection to their language learning by connecting their descriptions of their family. This lesson improves their fluency using a non-native language during their presentation as well. The students’ use of a range of digital tools also supports their adaptable use of technology in the classroom.

In the Middle School robotics classroom Charles Osgood has been working with students on implementing the engineering design process with students. Utilizing a “Speed Maze Challenge” students learn about gears and how to use the engineering design process to assist in solving real-world problems. One of the central components of this lesson is that students are able to review and understand the drive ratio of a transmission and be able to create engines that can meet different speeds. Teacher Charles Osgood was recently named the MassCUE Featured Educator. See the link here or the April Share link above for more information.

The Spanish 2 honors course in the high school students used the Pixntell app to create videos in which they narrate slides that are responses to questions around the Spanish speaking country’s geographical location, local food options and experiences of navigating in a Spanish speaking country. The Pixntell app enables students to create a presentation and narrate over the presentation and record the combined audio and video. These types of projects support the students’ ability to apply research skills in the content area and share their learning and fluency with the language. Students can also authenticity describe their research discoveries and drive the depth of learning.

Assisting teachers to support teachers with engaging and creating with digital tools are the Digital Learning Specialists. Beyond the time in the dedicated blocks in the elementary schools and classroom integration at the middle and high school they support teachers at adapting to new skills. In April, elementary Digital Learning Specialist Sam Anthony provided a multi-session professional development for teachers at the Little School on using Google Apps for Education.  Multi-session tiered trainings like Sam Anthony’s support teachers’ ability to embed technology into their lessons successfully. Each month the Digital Learning Specialists are providing a range of professional development to provide support to teachers to try new tools and enhance their instruction with technology tools.

These are just a few of the in-classroom projects and technology integration which are bringing students and teachers together to expand learning opportunities with digital tools each day. Digital Learning is more than the tools in the classroom, it includes how these tools are embedded and into lessons and support the instructional goals of learning the content. In North Reading we are supporting students as they begin to connect with the larger world around them and support them with the tools and skills to create, collaborate and engage in their world.

Art Of The Push In: Helping Teachers Identify Tools When They Need Them

Teachers will not always give clear signals as to when they need help from an instructional technologist or specialist. Teachers who in the course of their busy day are learning new tech skills, teaching their lessons and managing their classroom. They aren’t going to just come out and say “can I learn that new tool that you tried to share with me last week?”  One of the first goals of any good instructional technologist is to have five to six strong tools that can have a variety of impact in different classrooms in their back pocket and be ready to present this tool in less than 30 seconds. The opportunities mount and over time develop organically over time into shared experiences with successful technology use.

Most teachers are only going to be open to a referral to a new tech tool or resource for about 1-2 minutes before they are going to need to get back to their class. In order to introduce a new tool and show teachers how it can improve a specific part of their instructional practice it must fulfill an immediate strategic need to satisfy a larger curriculum based goal. Ideally, In the past it has been tools like Google classroom or Dipity Timeline Maker or even tools which make sharing web resources more easily into new opportunities with teachers to sit down with them and share how these tools can streamline instruction with technology.

As an instructional technologist or technology coach you will never know when you are going to be put on the spot. You don’t know if you’re going to be in a classroom that will require a guiding supportive hand to the needs of the teacher or be called upon to be the lead teacher. You also don’t know if the teachers going to be fully receptive to what you’re going to show them. The trick in getting many digital learning initiatives off the ground is connecting the teachers with people who can enable them to experiment and work with teachers to support higher level use of technology in their classrooms.

Often called “pushing in”, instructional technologists or tech coaches are often asked to come into classroom and assist the teachers with learning tools on the fly or sometimes with lessons planned in advance. “Pushing in” needs to be meaningful, and ideally support the teacher at a critical point that the instruction ties with the technology and the core content. The circumstances of a “push in” are also ideally brought on by district initiatives which support tools which enhance the teacher’s instruction. An instructional technologist needs to be an active and involved participant in the school culture as well. Always on display, a instructional technology coach must show their confidence with tools and their willingness to jump in to fix or troubleshoot issues to set the model standard for teachers. Developing a variety of different relationships is essential, confidence to share knowledge with staff, administration and technology leadership assists in acquiring buy in on implementation of tools that scale teachers growth. They must go  into offices, classrooms, libraries and a range of other environments to work directly with staff and students to help them achieve their goals.  

Supporting the teacher to the point in which they can take the technology on upon themselves is the priority. Instructional technology specialists and coaches are not there to handicap them; they should provide so much support that they feel like they could do the lesson themselves. They should leave teachers feeling confident with technology, answer their questions and provide support and help teachers embed their use of technology tools into instruction. Conclusively, this process is more of an art than a science and it depends on how the coach cultivates relationships in their schools. And, as always, they should be nice!!