Technology Integration for Elementary Schools
High-tech teaching tips for little tykes.
High-tech teaching tips for little tykes.
The digital-technology revolution was slow to infiltrate the ranks of America's public high schools and slower still to trickle down to the ranks of our elementary institutions. But the good news is that high-tech teaching is finally providing a potent shot in the arm to the elementary learning process. Exhibit A is Forest Lake Elementary School, in Columbia, South Carolina. Its classrooms hum with energy as the young students tap out blog posts, operate interactive whiteboards, and take part in other tech-enabled lessons.
Here are tips from Paulette Williams, technology-integration specialist and veteran teacher, on how to make the most of digital tools in elementary schools.
Start with the standards. Use technology only when it enhances your content -- not the other way around. It's less effective if you use technology for technology's sake.
Put the tools in kids' hands.
* Interactive whiteboards: They don't call 'em interactive for nothing. When these large-display screens that connect to a computer and a projector arrived at Forest Lake, Williams gave teachers six months to wean themselves from their interaction-less overhead projectors. Students can touch the interactive boards to solve math problems, play games, or write and edit text. When one student is running the board, Williams suggests keeping others engaged using remote clickers, personal dry-erase slates, or manipulatives. (Download this idea guide for interactive whiteboards.)
* Remote clickers: Ideal for doing quick, real-time assessments as you teach. You can also use them for pretests and posttests or even formal tests for credit (quicker grading!). Williams says, "You don't have to wait until they fail a paper test to see that they didn't understand."
* Digital and video cameras: Forest Lake students have used these tools to photograph shapes around the school and document field trips. Others use Flip video cameras to film their original skits or record a presentation to show their class (a relief for kids with stage fright). These activities give kids a chance to flex some creative muscles. Plus they're just cool.
* Mobile devices: Portability is key. Teachers use touch-screen Palm Pilots for one-on-one reading assessment; students have used them with special probes to measure the local climate.
Maintain the same rigor as in pen-and-paper projects. Students still have to do the same level of planning and research, whether they're producing an old-fashioned poster or a podcast. Give them your rubric up front, so they know what's expected of them. If possible, show examples of model work. (Download sample rubrics from Forest Lake.)
Connect with peers far away. Penpal programs have come a long way, baby. With webcams and video conferences, kids can actually see and talk to their peers in real time -- and that's exciting. Williams recommends you prepare before the meet-up: study the culture, brainstorm questions, discuss Internet safety, and learn email etiquette.
Gradually give kids more independence. Call it scaffolding or modeling, the idea is to show kids what to do (several times, perhaps) and then let them do it. To start last year, teacher Kevin Durden gave his fourth graders step-by-step instructions for blogging about literature and posting comments on their classmates' blogs. He posted a response to every blog entry to show them the level of discourse he expected. By February, they were sustaining the online dialogue all on their own.
Curate students' online destinations. When students set off into the wilds of the Web to do research, give them a clear purpose and a list of sites you've reviewed to choose from. (Bonus points: Pick sites that are kid-friendly, colorful, and engaging.) It's important that students learn to safely explore the Web on their own, says Williams, but she suggests leaving more independent exploration for middle school.
Give kids a real audience. Technology opens up new ways for kids to show their work to the world (which, no disrespect intended, can be more motivating than just handing it in to a teacher). At Forest Lake, fifth graders studying erosion took photographs of patches of their playground that were washing away, then sent the snaps to the school district office with suggestions on how to correct the problem. Second graders videotaped themselves reviewing books they'd read, then voted on the best recordings to show to kindergarteners down the hall.
Relax. Young and rambunctious as the students may be, Forest Lake has not had one laptop dropped or broken beyond repair. Williams suggests you teach them basic care: Wear the camera strap around your wrist; tuck the computer cables under the table; use protective cases when possible. Beyond that, make the kids feel like these valuable tools are theirs, and chances are they'll want to take care of them.
Have a backup plan. Don't get caught lesson-less in the event of a technological meltdown. (There's nothing wrong with an occasional nostalgic trip back to the world of the printed page.) As Williams says, "Technology is still a fickle little thing." Oh, and keep some spare batteries on hand.
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