Friday, May 29, 2015

An Evolution in Education: The use of Technology to Engage and Empower Students

It was almost two years ago when I reflected on the importance of integrating technology in the classroom. If my recollection is correct, I wrote that particular blog post because people were constantly asking me what the big deal was. They were reading and hearing about it but needed more information to be convinced that the integration of technology into the classroom/curriculum is as important as other high yield strategies.

As I re-read that post to prepare for this one, I have to admit that it was unsettling. What I had written no longer sat well with me. The unsettling feeling I experienced turns out to be a good thing. It was telling me that I have grown in my understanding of the use of technology in the classroom. I kept referring to the integration of technology as "revolutionary" in my blog post. I don't see that as the case anymore. Check out the following video called "This will Revolutionize Education" to see what I'm talking about:

As you saw in the video, many things (e.g. technology) were introduced in Education with the belief that they would would revolutionize it....but none of them have. What technology has done is help with the evolution of education. The technology we have and use in classrooms is of almost no use to students if it is simply dropped into their laps without any connection/context to teaching/learning. The technology is simply a tool, one of many, that teachers leverage to meet the needs of their students. This is not to say that it isn't a powerful tool, but the power really comes from good pedagogy that is amplified with the use of technology. 

So, what is the big deal? My experience with the use of technology in the classroom has been a rewarding journey - for my students and myself. The world we live in today has no boundaries anymore. With the use of technology and cloud based services like Google Apps for Education, we can connect with anyone anywhere as long as there is an internet connection, acquire knowledge easily, and do so on our own terms and at our leisure. 

From an educational perspective, we are no longer bound by the walls of the classroom. Combine this with co-created learning goals, success criteria, anchor charts, accountable talk, rich tasks, and other proven teaching strategies and you have the ingredients to not only engage students, but to empower them. As an elementary classroom teacher I can say, without a doubt, that students are engaged by the technology (e.g. Chromebooks, iPads) being used in classrooms. They love the interactivity, ease of use, immediate feedback and quite frankly the speed at which they can engage in a variety of activities. The technology is also fostering creativity, collaboration, technological literacy, and digital citizenship.

It all starts with engagement. For a variety of reasons, the technology hooks students in. To this day, I have never had a student tell me that the technology is boring! Once you attach a learning goal or provide a purpose for its use, something magical happens. Engagement starts to turn into empowerment. The students begin to realize that they can harness the technology to create rather than consume. They realize that they can easily seek immediate feedback about what they are doing. They begin to take risks and share their work with others in the hopes that they will ultimately benefit in the end. They begin to use the technology for their own purposes, based around their thoughts, ideas, and reflections. They find new ways to use the technology to learn and demonstrate their learning. It is a sight of beauty and one that is hard for me to describe sometimes.

The use of technology in the classroom is helping education evolve. We have models like SAMR and TPACK that provide a framework for teachers to help them combine effective pedagogical practices with technology enhanced learning environments. The integration of technology can provide teachers with a way to design and create new tasks that were once unimaginable. That is the big deal. If it can allow for this to happen now, what will it be able to assist us with in the near and far future? The use of technology in teaching and learning is part of a wonderful evolution in education. Let's continue to evolve to benefit everyone involved.  

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Evolutionizing the Classroom: Bringing 21st Century Learning to Life with the use of 3Dimensional Technology

Picture this: I'm sitting with a friend in a coffee shop and I tell him that I have a great idea - I want to get a 3D printer so that my students can bring their ideas and curriculum concepts to life. He looked at me funny, and then told me I was crazy! How would this work? Who would teach me to use the technology? How would the kids build capacity around this? How would I get my hands on the technology? He seemed worried  and had a lot of valid questions. Strangely enough, I was not phased by them.

MakerBot Replicator 2
Photo from Extreme Tech
Let me provide some context to my crazy idea. The use of GAFE and Chromebooks with my students last year transformed my practice and their learning. The students and I became more creative as the year went on and we were taking risks with our thinking/ideas. My students had gotten to the point where they were ready to start taking their thoughts/ideas to another level. The 21st Century learning that was going on had led them to a point where they were ready to "take action" - they wanted to start building and "making" things that would act as tangibles of their learning - artifacts that they could hold and talk about as they explained their thinking about their learning.

Image result for Rolland Chidiac
Photo from the Kitchener Post

My crazy idea didn't pop into my head until the summer months when I deeply reflected on the teaching and learning that happened throughout the year. That is when it came to me! Why not use a 3D printer to assist us in our "making"? It seemed like the perfect next step. My students would have been up to the challenge. They would have embraced the idea because they were hungry for more as they moved from engagement to empowerment with respect to their learning. Unfortunately, the year was over and they were no longer my students. Fortunately, I was able to take the time to put together a coherent plan of action so that other students would be able to benefit from my crazy idea.

I spoke to my Principal about it and he supported my Teacher Learning and Leadership Program (TLLP) application to try and receive funding for release time and technology to bring the idea to life. The application was successful and now I have the privilege of bringing this opportunity/experience to my students next year with the hope that it will encourage them to take their learning to a higher level.

Image result for TLLP
Photo from OTF

In my project application I wrote that integrating technology in the classroom enables teachers to differentiate instruction and meet the multiple intelligences of their students. In my classroom, the use of blended learning models and GAFE (cloud based software) is used to facilitate and improve critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration among my learners. As students establish a growth mindset they are evolving into rich thinkers by producing creative solutions to problems.

I believe that this project will take my students who are being taught to explore, create, and reflect to a higher next level by combining the 21st Century skills they are acquiring with opportunity to bring their thinking/learning to life. By harnessing the power of 3Dimensional technology it is my hope that my students will:

  • transform their thinking/ideas to make them a reality by creating prototypes and tangible artifacts to demonstrate their understandings, and 
  • become transformational thinkers by establishing a 'design mindset' whereby they transform their ideas into concrete material.  

I want my students to expand their ideas from the virtual world to the real world, moving ideas to action or product.

I am looking forward to this experience and can't wait to share our learning with you!