Where do I start? The digital immigrants’ guide to technology integration

+Congratulations! It’s May – the home stretch. When I was in the classroom, this was always the time of year I integrated the most technology. For starters, it was one of the few things that kept students engaged after state testing. But I also saw it as a time for trying out new tools and ideas. I’d take what worked and spend the summer figuring out how I’d integrate it into my daily teaching, and I’d leave what didn’t work behind.

But for the average teacher without extensive technology experience, the ed-tech world can be overwhelming. Even if you’re convinced of the need to integrate technology into your curriculum, where do you start?

Below, I present a four-step starter guide for us digital immigrants who are trying to become fluent in 21st century technologies. All of these tools will work at any grade level, in any subject area. (And don’t worry – all the applications I suggest here are available completely for FREE.) I tried to order these suggestions in a way to build technology scaffolding – the first step is the simplest to integrate, while each successive step is a bit more demanding.

With state testing, district guidelines, time constraints, and everything else teachers have to balance, it might not be possible for you to integrate all four suggestions into your teaching. No worries – collectively, these tools can take your class to a new dimension, but each one, individually, can help transform your classroom. Pick and choose what you’re most comfortable with. In a month, 6 months, or a year, when you’re more comfortable and ready for a new challenge, you can add a new trick to your repertoire.

1.) Create an interactive classroom web site.

To start with, create a space for your classroom online. There are two main reasons for this: first, it will give students a place to showcase their ideas and their work for the world (or at least their peers and parents) to see.

Second, it allows you to extend your classroom into students’ lives after dismissal, into parents’ computers, and into the community. Your students are no longer performing simply for you – they are sharing their knowledge with the world.

When it comes to creating this space, you’ve got a few options, depending on your goal and technology comfort level.

Blog

The simplest option is to start a blog where you’re the sole author. Much like this blog, you can create different pages – one for homework, one for upcoming events, one for each subject. You can post questions or information on this blog. Unlike a web 1.0 site, though, your students will be able to interact on a blog. They can post questions and comments, respond to each other, and even post their multi-media projects within comments.

Although a class blog is a great starter space, it has its drawbacks. Most notably, just like in the classroom, the teacher is the center of this type of blog. He or she posts information and, like raising their hands in class, students respond, question, or share. There’s nothing wrong with this system, but after you get comfortable with blogging, why not give each of your students their own blog? There are several web sites where you can set up student blogs, all of which are connected to a single, main teacher blog.

This allows students to each have their own space to share their ideas and work, and research shows it can increase kids’ writing performance. For specifics on starting a teacher or classroom blog, check out Use FREE Blogging to Increase Your Students’ Writing Scores 20 Percent.

Edmodo

Edmodo is a much more robust approach, but it also offers a lot more benefits. Imagine Facebook, but only your students and you are on it. Students can have on-topic discussions, post and answer each others’ questions, and share their work. You can post assignments, and students can complete and post them all on the site. There’s even an option to help you organize your grading.

Students using social networking sites, like Facebook, to bully and make fun of kids has gotten a lot of attention recently. One of the greatest benefits of using Edmodo in the classroom, though, is that it allows you to teach students how to use social networking appropriately.

Everyone can see everything, and the author of every comment is displayed. Your closed, monitored community can be as small or large as you like. You can make it school-wide or even district-wide. You can invite parents and community members to become part of your network. Or you can keep it within your classroom and private – as the network’s creator, you’ve got the power.

Harness the Power of Social Networking in Your Classroom Safely and for FREE offers more specifics on how to use Edmodo within the classroom, as well as information on how to start an account.

2.) Start a classroom collaborative wiki.

A wiki is basically a web site that several users can edit. Think of a Word document that all your students can edit. First, Annie opens it and adds some information. Next, Jack edits Annie’s work and adds his own. Then Gus takes a look at it. Annie then goes back to the document, and adds a few more edits.

So why would a wiki be better than a simple Word document? Well, wikis save a history. That means every single time a kid has hit “save,” that version is saved and never replaced. That means if Jack accidentally deleted everything that Annie wrote, anyone can still retrieve Annie’s work in the history. Plus, as a teacher, you can compare every saved version of a wiki. That means you’ll know exactly who added what.

Wikis are wonderful collaboration tools, especially when students are working on group projects. Each group can create its own page on the classroom wiki. Then, the students can work together to create a rough draft of their paper or presentation. (They don’t even have to be in the same city to collaborate on this paper, meaning they can collaborate from home for homework.) You, other teachers, or even invited community members can offer suggestions or edits, if and when they’re needed rather than after the final copy has been turned in.

There are hundreds of uses for a classroom wiki. For more information on sites where you can start one and ideas on how to use it, check out Wiki Wiki What?!?

3.) Become familiar with (but not an expert on) a variety of web 2.0 presentation tools.

There are a ton of web 2.0 tools out there that work really well in the classroom. Many teachers have their favorites, but I suggest that you don’t limit yourself (or your kids) to just one or two.

Most students in the third-grade and beyond are able to figure out technology tools pretty well on their own. They’re used to it – they’re digital natives who were born into a world with video games, Google, and the Internet. Many used a mouse before they used a pencil. My point? You don’t have to teach them the ins-and-outs of every single technology tool out there.

Instead, expose kids to a few strong, easy-to-use presentation tools, and then let them choose where to go from there. Does every child in your class really need to complete a PowerPoint on the Civil War? Couldn’t they get the same information across if they created a short film, a digital poster, or a cartoon?

There might be kids in your class who love PowerPoint, but there are other students who learn better through different mediums. Show them a few tools, and let them pick the one that speaks to them. In the end, they’ll learn more, and presentations will be a lot more interesting.

As far as grading goes, you can use the same rubric for any presentation, no matter the medium. Students can still be expected to communicate the same information.

Here are the presentation tools I’d offer to kids:

  • Go!animate allows students to create drag-and-drop cartoons (domo animate  is a more child-friendly version for younger students).
  • Glogster is a wonderful tool for creating digital posters in class. What’s a digital poster? Imagine your average student’s presentation poster. Now, add links, videos, images, moving graphics, and music. That’s a digital poster. And glogster has a site dedicated specifically to education. (NOTE: Remind your students to “save and publish” regularly so they don’t lose their work.)
  • Prezi is my personal favorite. It’s a lot like PowerPoint, only much, much cooler. Rather than everything in linear slides, in Prezi, everything is laid out on one giant canvas. Throughout your presentation, you can zoom in on specific details or zoom out to give the audience a big-picture view. This really comes in handy with things like flowcharts and timelines, where students can show the whole thing, and then zoom in on each step or point for added details.
  • Blabberize lets students take any image and make it talk. Doing a report on a clownfish? Students can upload an image and then, in a clownfish voice, record a first-person talk about what clownfish eat, where they live, etc.
  • Pixton is a basic comic creation tool. A lot of students really respond to comic books, and Pixton gives them a drag-and-drop interface where they can create their own. Imagine a student creating a comic book version of Number the Stars for a book report. Can’t you see other kids actually wanting to read it? Think about how much they’d, in turn, learn, not to mention the confidence boost it would give the author.

Find more detail about each of these tools, as well as lesson integration ideas, at Powerpoint Schmowerpoint: Teach Kids to Create Really Engaging Presentations.

4.) Integrate digital storytelling into your curriculum.

If you feel ready for it, digital storytelling can do a lot to transform your classroom, the way you teach, and the way your students learn. Digital storytelling, in its simplest form, just means communicating ideas through multi-media. So rather than writing a story, a report, or a paper that only their teacher will see, students create slideshows, short films, or podcasts to express themselves to the world.

The beauty of digital storytelling projects is that they can be as in-depth or as simple as you’d like. When I taught fourth-grade, I had students work for several weeks to create in-depth climate change films. For presentations about winter holidays around the world, my students created podcasts in just an hour. And after a unit on Native American tribes, groups made narrated slideshows about specific tribes in two class periods.

  • Podcasts

Audio podcasts are simple projects that students can use to express their ideas easily and, better yet, quickly. A podcast is basically just a single radio show. Some teachers have students create them as summation activities, and others have their class produce regular, weekly episodes about everything they’re learning.

You have a couple of options when podcasting. If you’ve got access to Macs, Garageband is a wonderful tool for podcast creation. With PCs, you can download the FREE Audacity program, which is extremely similar to Garageband.

If you’re not as interested in background music or editing, you can also have your students record podcasts via phones. The FREE web site iPadio allows people to podcast directly from any phone (including land lines) simply by calling a designated number and talking.

When you’re done, your phlog, or phone blog, is posted on your iPadio page, and you’re given the option to embed it into a Web site, download it, or copy the URL so other people can listen to it online.

  • Videos

I used to have students record short films using the built-in web cameras on our school’s Macbooks. But students can also create videos using camcorders, cell phones, or the $150 easy-to-use Flip cameras. Kids can then edit the files using video editing software like iMovie, MovieMaker, or OpenShot.

If you’re looking for some written guides for your students, the Mobile Learning Institute offers some good handouts on creating mobile video shorts.

  • Slideshows

Students can easily add flare to presentations using photos. They can photograph things they see on field trips, during in-class science experiments, at home, or even their own illustrations. They can then use these photos to create engaging slideshow presentations. (If you don’t have access to cameras at school, think about the possibility of using cell phone cameras for these assignments.)

Students can transfer their photos to computers and then create captioned or audio slideshows using FREE Picasa software, iPhoto, Photo Story, or DigiKam. But the editing process doesn’t have to take long. This video, which was made for the Green Cup Challenge, is a simple slideshow of students’ illustrations, set to music:

Where’s the Beef?

Some teachers are wary of digital storytelling because they worry that students won’t acquire basic writing skills. However, when done right, students actually hone their writing as well as their presentation skills. You can’t just hand a student a camera and have them create a digital story – it requires planning and, often, research.

In fact, I used digital storytelling in every subject in large part because my students were English-language learners, and it gave them opportunities to practice their writing as well as their speaking.

The University of Houston has an in-depth digital storytelling Web site, with information and resources you can use to help your students create strong stories. (Be sure to check out the page on storyboarding.)

Katy Scott

I spent 5 years teaching in low-income districts in Phoenix, where most of my students were English-language learners. There, I taught 3rd- and 4th-grade self-contained classes, as well as 7th-grade resource. I spent a year teaching 5th- and 6th-grade science in an inner-city KIPP school in New Orleans. I did double-duty as a technology integration specialist for the last four years of my teaching career. I am now the Digital Learning Manager at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California, where I work to help PreK-12 teachers and students utilize technology to better understand science. I'm a maker, a snorkeler, and a certified Google Education Trainer.

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2 Responses

  1. Aileen Pablo says:

    hi there,

    Are you still updating digitaldollar.edublogs.org? I found a broken link I’d like to point out.

    -Aileen Pablo

    • Katy Scott says:

      Yep, I’m still updating and using older posts regularly during workshops. Please let me know about any broken links. Thanks!

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