Technology Can Be More Engaging When Making Real-World Connections

Drew Perkins of TeachThought PD has listed a great list of questions about technology embedded in our curriculum – 15 Questions To Ask About Tech Integration In Your Classroom. I like it because some of the questions make us think critically. Has technology recently been the best tool for students’ learning or reflection? Is it relevant? Is it up to date? Valuable? Add free? Appropriate for the age group? From my experience, students love learning those tech tools, which are also actively used by adults. They are thriving to be just like adults and that’s why real-world connections, as well as simulations, are helpful for educational purpose.
Educators are always responsible for the digital tools they provide to students. It is the responsibility of any educator to make sure that any provided digital tool is appropriate for students. However, students also have to learn to troubleshoot and react appropriately if something goes wrong with a provided tool.
We, educators, have to teach appropriate reactions to any inappropriate content that shows up during the research process, just because the internet is full of everything. And we have to make the learning process challenging, motivating and interesting.

Photo by John Schnobrich on Unsplash

I find students fascinating and love the passion but just because a tool has captured your imagination doesn’t mean it necessarily has a place in your classroom or school. It might indeed be a great way to grow to learn but starting your lesson planning by thinking, “how can I integrate this neat new tech toy” more often leads you down a stray path.” Drew Perkins

Tech-Rich Unit that I Used to Plan

My experience in planing a tech-rich unit was always related to the ideas of other teachers. My role at school is to help teachers plan a tech-rich unit. And I value this experience very much. First of all, because I always make connections with teachers and have a great opportunity to learn from them. Secondly, I am always learning something new. Teachers are very creative personalities and always come up with great and sometimes crazy ideas – for example, asking students to make an interview with Joana d’Arc. How can this lesson be embedded with technology? Hmm….? Can we make it look like a news report? What other tools can students use to make it more interesting and attractive?
Working with other teachers is constantly motivating me to search for new online tools, which are showing up day by day and become better than before. Sometimes I get lost. There is so much, but what is the best tool from all of this huge amount? It is time to choose only the best few..
Even now it is incredible how many resources I’ve discovered since the COVID-19 situation has occurred. I thought I know so many of them, but this situation has opened my eyes widely.

Till now I used to plan technology-rich units according to the following steps:

  • Use my research skills to find the best resources relevant to my curriculum online.
  • Search domains such as org, edu, gov etc.
  • Read the policy to make sure the resource is GDPR compliant.
  • Search for resources and suggestions from other teachers on Twitter.
  • Communicate about the new tools with other teachers of technology integration from other international schools to sharing ideas and experience.
  • Discover possible field trips, related to the content I teach.
  • Analyze how students will benefit from certain technology.
  • Combine various tech tools for one unit for formative and summative assignments.
  • Use my favorite online tools for students to explore – simulations. They create connections with real-world and real situations. The best ones I prefer – NSTEENS and CK-12.

After doing some research and spending time analyzing the experience of my colleagues, I would add some new ways and changes to my planning process for my future tech-rich units.
I loved reading Kim Cofino’s recommendations and will definitely include them in my planning process.

  • First of all, I will think about what I want students to know and be able to do at the end of this unit.
  • Secondly, I will make my teaching content related to students’ real-life and experiences as much as possible.
  • Thirdly, I will think about possible connections with professionals who could tell students more about certain topics we learn and inspire them with real-life experience and success. I will try to find people from families or communicate with professionals online. This could be a great resource for Skype in the Classroom.
  • The fourth step is to think of how to create a possibility for students to share their experience with a wider audience and even their peers. Other students from the same grade level from other schools is always a great audience for sharing and exchanging.

However, I really do believe the most important step in designing a technology-rich unit is ensuring that you are starting with the student learning goals and outcomes for whatever content area you’re working on. Kim Cofino

Making connections with the real-world is about geeking out

Geeking out is an interest-based process that pushes young people to seek for knowledge as well as feedback, that is usually actively encouraged by people with the same interests. People can even be famous and well known in certain communities. That is an exciting learning process.

Although generally considered marginal to both local, school-based friend-ship networks and to academic achievement, the activities of geeking out provide important spaces of self-directed learning that is driven by passionate interests.
Living with New Media (John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation)

Creators across different communities often describe an inspiring moment when they received positive feedback and suggestions from a fellow creator whom they respected. It raises the interest in the process and shows how valuable and fun can geeking out be. Of course, we should always be aware that safety first and students should always have in mind that the online world is full of dangers and they have to use critical thinking, no matter how fun and engaging the process of geeking out is!

4 Replies to “Technology Can Be More Engaging When Making Real-World Connections”

  1. Hi Julija, I hope you’ve had a great week. Your sentence ” It is the responsibility of any educator to make sure that any provided digital tool is appropriate for students” really resonated with me. Through our e-learning, I’ve found out through experience that this time is not the time for introducing new programs to students. Rather, we need to try and use software students are familiar with in order to allow them to show what they know. I’ve found that many of my students have started to “Geek out” over the platforms we’ve been utilizing, particularly those that allow them to communicate with their friends. Has your school started e-learning? If so, how are you finding it so far?

  2. Dear Simon, that you very much for your comment. I do agree with you, my students in grades 4 & 5 tend to explore other online tools out of school and discuss them with classmates. Google hangouts,is the place where students like to “Geek out”. Sometimes it is even Google Classroom 🙂
    Unfortunately, I didn’t feel the process of geeking out during our school closure yet. It is only the beginning of the second week right now. All last week we were busy with all of the arrangements with families and students for the launch of our distance learning. I truly hope that “Geeking out” cases will start showing up soon. I will keep an eye on it. Thank you for sharing your insights of “Geeking out” cases in your school. I really appreciate it.

  3. Hi Julija. I have been following your COETAIL journey, and really enjoyed it: you are at a much higher level of ed-tech than I am, and it is inspiring ; I also loved it when you say that you are always learning something new in your field. Makes me thing to Kim Cofino’s blog name: “Always learning”. It also made sense that due to the COVID-19 pandemic and school closure, you are making more new discoveries: it has been also given a (much-needed) boost some of my practices too!
    I have a question for you: when you say that students also have to “learn to troubleshoot and react if something goes wrong with a
    provided tool”: are you going over some possible issues with them at first? Or are they supposed to learn some of these skills independently or with the help of peers?
    I share an office with our MS + HS tech integrator (new this year, and I got to learn some stuff by just being in the same room!) but also with IT technicians: a lot of our students come to get help without having tried to solve the issues first…

  4. Dear Kristel,

    Thank you for all your insights about my post. The role of tech educator is always pushing me to hunt for new experiences 🙂

    How am I teaching students troubleshooting?
    I am trying to avoid questions like “What to do now?” or “I need help” – exactly like you’ve mentioned – without even trying to figure it out. I have a rule “Ask three, then me!”. This way I encourage students to seek for an answer from three classmates first and if no one can help, then ask for the teacher’s help. Also, I like encouraging students to teach their classmates by explaining the app or a tool without touching his/her device. This way students learn even more.

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