Tech-Savvy Teachers

by Chelsea Hahn, The College of New Jersey

Technology is constantly advancing, and our students use technology at younger ages than some of us as preservice educators ever have. I remember getting my first cell phone – a prepaid, flip-phone – in seventh grade. It. Was. Awesome. But now students are coming in to fourth grade with the latest iPhone model. So what can we do to keep up with and include technology in the classroom, and what technology is open to us as educators?

When I student taught at Robbinsville High School, I was fortunate enough to have technology available. As the school tried to transition into a reading/writing workshop format for English, I tried to include technology into our daily activities. The typical day began by teaching students grammar skills through PowerPoint, a Microsoft program most teachers are familiar with. After this activity, they had time to free write, and I would play music softly in the background as they wrote. Mostly, the music was instrumental only, as lyrics could easily distract some students; however, during the holidays, the students begged for Christmas tunes. I used Pandora for this because my cooperating teacher had a paid account, which meant no pesky commercials, but YouTube and Spotify (free or paid versions) are also options.

A resource I frequently made use of was Prezi. Other than the warm-up grammar lessons, all of my presentations were formed on Prezi, and the students seemed to be more engaged the more I customized. Prezi does take slightly longer to set up than a PowerPoint, but the results can be much more engaging. I found it easier to drop in videos, pictures, and links. My cooperating teacher and I tried having the students use Prezi for a book club group project, which garnered mixed results. Some students found the process easy if they used the program before, but students that were new to Prezi often became confused and sometimes frustrated. This program is definitely one that requires time for trial and error.

Technology can be great when utilized in the right way at the right times. Here is a list of more applications I used while student teaching:

  • Google Docs: Oh, the joy of Google Docs. It is an easy way to share documents among students and the teacher. One thing I loved about this was when I had them write during class time, I could easily pop onto a student’s document to see if he or she was on task and writing. I could also leave immediate feedback by leaving sidebar comments and highlighting. Not having to worry about paper was also a plus. Whenever I was ready to check student work, I could just open my laptop! (FREE)
  • Membean: This is a website that my cooperating teacher and a colleague used to teach vocabulary. Students complete a specified amount of minutes at home, and the teacher can see if the student completed their allotted time. The students use a practice test to enter the program, which places them in a certain level. Membean scales with the student, each receiving personalized words. The quizzes can be taken in class and are timed. (PAID)
  • Kidblog: Kidblog was something my cooperating teacher used in the past, and she asked that I continue using it for independent reading assignments. I would post a blog post outlining the assignments for their current independent reading novel, such as posting Signpost entries or writing and answering their own OEQ, and students would post blogs in response. I was able to comment on their assignments easily, and, by linking the classes, students could view and comment on a peer’s work. They could also earn extra points by using Membean words in their blog posts. The only downside to Kidblog is that it occasionally has bug issues; if this occurs, have students share their post with you in Google Docs. (FREE OR PAID VERSIONS FOR TEACHERS/FREE FOR STUDENTS)

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  • Goose Chase: My cooperating teacher used this app, which can be found in the App Store or Google Play, during the first week of classes. She set a list of objectives students had to find in their group, such as a book they loved, a book they hated, a book they wanted to read, and so on. The students searched the classroom library and the internet in search of the books and posted pictures on the app. The pictures would appear in a live feed I projected on the overhead along with the points of which group was in the lead. It was a fun way to get students thinking about books they wanted to read, get students talking about books in general, and form some friendly competition. (FREE OR PAID VERSIONS)
  • Socrative: Socrative has a teacher version and student version. The teacher can create short quizzes, exit tickets, and group “races.” It has a variety of question formats, such as short answer, true/false, and multiple choice. Once the teacher sets up a classroom code, the students can join and answer the questions right on their phone or laptop. It is a quick way to check comprehension at the end of the class period and get immediate feedback on your device. You’ll be able to see what the students answered, similar to Google Forms. (FREE)
  • NoRedInk: NoRedInk.com is a grammar website in which the teacher assigns the grammar rules they want the students to practice. The students sign on, pick some of their favorite celebrities, shows, and music, and the website creates sentences and examples using the students favorite picks, which my students really liked. There is no pressure because if they are stuck on a sentence, they can skip to the next one. Once completed, the teacher can view how the students performed and what questions the students skipped. It also shows the teacher what areas the students are proficient in and what areas they struggle with. I used this as a formative assessment, and I graded it on completion, not correctness. (FREE OR PAID VERSIONS)
  • Purdue Owl: This website is a must for students to check their MLA or APA citations. It also contains some basic grammar and writing rules and tips. There are tons of examples provided! (FREE)

Those are several apps and websites I made use of while student teaching that proved extremely useful. Students are more engaged when they are allowed to use technology in class. Of course technology has its downfalls, as students can become distracted and go off task, but if monitored properly and used appropriately, it can yield astonishing results. Don’t be afraid to have a classroom Twitter to foster discussion or use apps like Remind or Edmodo!

Some of us are lucky enough to have technology at our fingertips – from SMART boards to 1-1 Chrome Books or iPads. Others are not that fortunate. We have to work with what we are given, true, but never give up on finding ways to access technology and bring it into the classroom. Students will appreciate your effort and technology knowledge.

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As technology grows, we have to take a part in making sure our students leave school knowing how to be a part of the 21st century, which means they need to know how to navigate technology – even if they don’t or can’t access it at home – because most professions require these skills. If we are comfortable using technology and troubleshooting, our students can learn to do the same.

To learn more about my student teaching experience, visit: http://clhahn330.wix.com/chelshahn-eportfolio

What experiences or lack of have you had with technology in your own teaching career? What technology did you use? What worked and what didn’t? Share your thoughts!

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