5 Reasons Elementary Students NEED Technology in the Classroom

elementary technology

When you think about your daily life, from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to sleep again, technology is closely entwined. You might think that to be true for adults but not so much for kids. However, kids are also highly affected by technology in their daily lives. It can effect their timeliness, how they socialize, how they make purchases, and how they connect. Since smart technology is so prominent in our lives today, why not use it for educational purposes as well? Some may argue that elementary classrooms are not the place for technology and that it may be more distracting than beneficial. However, I have come up with a list of 5 great reasons why elementary students NEED technology in the classroom:

  1. It can help prepare students for their future careers.

In today’s world, technological use is inevitable in the workplace, and I’m not just talking about basic computer skills and software programs. Technology allows for tasks to be performed more quickly and more effectively. Digital literacy can be huge asset to a student’s problem solving skills. There are so many technological tools available today. The more technological skills a student learns, the more valuable he or she will be to an employer in the future. You can never start too young!

2. It helps prepare students for the real world.

Educational technology can improve students’ overall digital literacy. As I already mentioned, technology is closely entwined in many aspects of our daily life. By implementing technological use in the classroom, students become more comfortable with and more aware of how to use technology in ways that can help improve organization, timeliness, communication, and productivity.

3. Integrating technology into lesson plans helps students stay engaged and excited.

To elementary students, technology is fun! So why not implement it into your lesson plans in a way that is both fun and effective? Kids these days are consumed by iPad games, video games, you name it. It only makes sense to combine the excitement and engagement of the games with the lesson plan material.

4. It helps expand the learning beyond the classroom walls.

In a classroom without technology, students are bound by four walls. Whatever they learn is based on what the teacher can bring into the classroom. However, with technology, students and teachers can break down the barriers. No longer will the classroom walls contain them and their learning. Students and teachers will have access to people and places all over the world that could potentially help them in their learning journey.

5. It can change the way teachers teach, offering new and effective ways to reach all types of learners.

Technology doesn’t hinder creativity as some may think. It actually opens the door for more creative thinking when it comes to teaching. There are so many free or inexpensive apps that allow for effective teaching methods in the elementary classroom. These apps can benefit a wide variety of lessons through collaborative work, games, and new methods for quizzes or testing.

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Hitting the Refresh Button

After being in a real elementary classroom for a week now, I’ve started to notice things I could never have learned in a graduate class alone. One thing I had never given much thought was just how short the attention spans are of elementary age children. The younger the age, the shorter the attention span. For teachers, this means you have to keep the lessons engaging and maybe even entertaining if you want to keep the students interested.

PayAttention

The science lab teacher I’ve been learning under does a great job of holding her kindergarten, first grade, and second graders’ attention by re-focusing their attention every 5-10 minutes or so. For example, with her first graders, she might start the lesson by gathering the students on the carpet in the front of the room and reading a short story. Then she will change their attention to another area of the room where they will watch a quick video. After sitting for 10 minutes or so, the students are ready to move around a little bit. Next on the agenda is getting up and moving around the classroom to grab their journals and have a seat at unassigned tables to do a short journal entry on a topic involving the lesson of that day. One really interesting thing in the science lab is the chairs on which the students sit. They are the Gaiam Balance Ball Chairs. Imagine yoga balls attached to chair backs with wheels. The idea behind the chairs is that it allows for the fidgety kids to have constant movement without disturbing the class as a whole. After the journal entries, the students are invited to explore the lab for the last 5-10 minutes. This typically means they can move around the room as they please to look through microscopes, play educational games on the iPads, observe the different class pets, and much more.

I’ve noticed through this system that the students rarely get out of control, and I really see the lightbulbs coming on. They are really learning. It’s as if by keeping up with their short attention spans, you are hitting a metaphorical refresh button each time you refocus. They become interested in what comes next and eager to advance along with you. I think keeping things fresh and new is the key with these young minds.

No method is perfect, and it seems as though there will always be those students who have trouble paying attention or behaving. However, I think that the main goal is to truly get to know my students and do my best to design my lessons in a way that is most beneficial to them.

Can You Flip an Elementary Classroom?

Flip Your Classroom, by Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams, describes the evolution of thinking that led to two teachers’ “flipping” their classrooms as well as provides a how-to guide for teachers interested in flipping their own classrooms or learning more about the approach. As described in the book, the concept of a flipped classroom is,

“that which is traditionally done in class is now done at home, and that which is traditionally done as homework is now completed in class.”

If you haven’t already heard of this approach, it basically means that which is traditionally done in class is converted into recorded sessions of the teacher actually teaching the material and watched at home as online videos that the students can easily access and re-access as needed. Students then return to school the following day to do what would traditionally be the homework. The advantage is that now the students have the teacher present in the classroom for when they have any questions or if they get stuck. This allows the teacher to learn where the students are struggling at the actual moment that it occurs, and the student gets immediate feedback and is able to learn and move forward in the classroom.

While reading this book as an aspiring elementary teacher, I started to wonder if this could work in the elementary classrooms. In elementary classrooms, students range from ages 5 to 12 years-old. Does this age even have computer time at home in the evenings? It sounds so great for middle school and high school students, but how could I adapt this style of teaching to fit younger students? Would it be beneficial to them as well? After doing a little research, I realized I wasn’t the only one asking these questions.

In-Class Flip

One teacher had the solution to do an “in-class flip” for her first graders. This type of flip included showing her video at the beginning of each class rather than requiring the students to watch at home. Since it was recorded, she was able to move on for those who understood right away and allowed those who didn’t understand to watch and re-watch the video as needed.

Videos for Homework

A second grade teacher described how she flipped her classroom during a unit on Explorers. She assigned their “homework” as watching explorers videos on National Geographic Kids or Biography.com. The idea was that her students would come in the following day with some knowledge of explorers so that she could begin her classwork from there.

Flip the Lesson

As my research went deeper, I discovered that Jon Bergmann had been asked this question quite often. On his website, JonBergmann.com,  Bergmann says, “Don’t flip a class: Flip a lesson.” He describes this method as choosing a lesson that you feel needs more than the traditional teaching methods. Make a short video asking yourself, what do my students really need extra help on. Be careful to think about how your students will access the video. (Some parents may not want their young child on YouTube.) You also want to be sure every child has access to the video. The best way may even be that the students watch the video in class. Lastly, you want to make sure you have a way to check if they watched the video or not. I think the main point in flipping a lesson verses the whole class, is that the videos should only be used as extra help for the particularly difficult lessons.

The good news is, it seems that there are several ways to “flip” the elementary classroom. The idea is to make sure you are doing what is most beneficial to your students with whatever method you chose.

 

Be Careful Not to Assume

For my technology class this past week, we were required to write a lesson plan that included using a productivity tool, such as a word processor or spreadsheet, as well as turn in the finished product itself.

I began this assignment thinking more about the actual lesson I chose, which was the water cycle, instead of the technology, which was Microsoft Word Processor. My approach was to use my productivity tool as a supplement to the lesson itself. This meaning that the students would learn about the water cycle via class experiments, discussion, and media, and finally use the productivity tool to assess their understanding by creating a chart of the water cycle using text and pictures in a table format. However, after turning in the assignment, I realized that I may have missed the point altogether.

I chose second grade. Second graders are not the most proficient in computer technology and require help from a teacher or other person with experience. I know this, but I didn’t incorporate the teaching of the technology into my lesson plan. I guess you could say I assumed that the students would know how to use the technology, or at the very least that it was obvious that the teacher, myself in this situation, would aid the students in the use of the technology as needed.

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In my lesson, I mapped out how to demonstrate evaporation, condensation, and precipitation using a crock pot. I explained that the teacher should spark a discussion with the students about how this process worked. I even included a YouTube video with a catchy song about the water cycle that would easily capture the attention of a group of a eight year olds. However, I completely left out how to teach the young students how to use the word processor technology to create their water cycle chart. It didn’t hit me until I was presenting my lesson plan in class that I had assumed my students would know exactly what I meant when I told them they would be making a chart using Microsoft Word Processor.

I learned that, as a teacher, one of the most important things I need to remember when creating a lesson plan is to never make the mistake of assuming that my students know something that I haven’t taught them. Assuming can cost you valuable time and energy for a lesson plan you expected to run smoothly. Also, I would never want to set my students up for confusion or even failure by simply assuming they would know how to do something.

Even if I missed the point in the beginning, I feel that I learned a lot throughout this productivity tool lesson plan project. How can you teach if you don’t learn?

Upgrade to Zipgrade

I completed my undergraduate degree in 2013, and the majority of my tests, and even some final exams, that year were taken on the classic blue Scantron testing forms.  These forms, if you’re not familiar, are answer sheets with a set of blank ovals that correspond to questions on an examination. Bar codes mark the Scantron paper for automatic processing, and each series of ovals will return a certain value. How technologically advanced, right? Sure, Scantrons have been around for a while. I remember using them as a freshman in high school, and probably even before that. You could say I was used to them, but I never thought: there has to be a better way. I probably never thought this because I was never the teacher that entered the answer key wrong, resulting in a batch of completely incorrectly graded examinations, causing that teacher to spend time and energy to regrade them by hand late after school one day, which was the very thing you tried to avoid when deciding to use the Scantron in the first place.

scantron

It’s interesting learning the viewpoint of other side of the classroom as a graduate student in a Masters of Arts in Teaching program. Recently, in my Technology class, we were introduced to Zipgrade. Zipgrade was designed because someone did think: there has to be a better way.

Zipgrade is an app for iOS or Android that turns a teacher’s device into an optical grading machine for grading and organizing paper, multiple choice assessments. Students turn in their completed answers sheets, and the teacher holds her device over the answer sheet as if to take a picture. The Zipgrade technology reads the students answer sheet and processes the grade immediately on the spot. Did I mention the students can use any writing utensil that they desire, except for a highlighter? Oh, and that you don’t even have to spend time tediously making sure you have completely filled in each oval, leaving no eraser marks or excess pencil marks. Those old classic blue Scantrons of the past required a No. 2 pencil, and PERFECTLY marked ovals. I remember that tiny tinge of stress I felt when turning in a Scantron test to my teacher worried that the answers I changed weren’t perfectly erased, or that the answers I filled in weren’t perfectly completed. Believe it or not that could affect your grade, and the fault fell on the student.

zipgrade

Zipgrade is making Scantrons a thing of the past. The answer sheets are even printable and the technology can scan over 20 quizzes a minute. The grade results are accessible and organized within the app, and corrections can be made without ever having to rescan. How nice! However, I think one of the greatest parts about Zipgrade is the immediate feedback to the students. I know that that is something I would have definitely appreciated in undergrad and high school.

I definitely plan to use Zipgrade with my elementary students one day. Who knows though, someone could already be thinking- there has to be a better way!