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Not all class time was created equal

By Lauren Condon on 10 April 2017PedagogyEdTechNSWstaffroom

Effectively integrating digital tools into the classroom

Can you believe that it was just last year, that head of Sydney Grammar School, John Vallance, announced that laptops would be banned in all classes?

Sure, it made a punchy headline at the time but, a year on, we have the hindsight to see that the debate it triggered - whether or not technology belongs in a classroom - may have been slightly, well, misguided.

Because as much as educators might love or loathe the idea of technology in schools the real challenge isn’t if technology should be in our classrooms, it’s how. How to effectively integrate digital tools into the classroom without falling into the trap of either over- or under-embracing the tech.

The key? Always focus on the learning first, and the technology second.

With that in mind, here is just one strategy for navigating the minefield that is tech in the classroom.

Break down the class structure

A tried and tested strategy for successful integration is only using technology when it’s actually bringing something extra to the table. Yeah, it sounds fairly straight-forward but it really counters that temptation to flood a classroom with digital tools for the sake of technology itself. Do we really need another smart board?

We’ve also seen a lot of criticism for the 50 minute lecture-style class, from the original 1976 Johnstone and Percival study to the 2013 Szpunar, Moulton and Schacter article on mind-wandering in education. And it’s pretty unfortunate considering that’s what most Australian teachers are dealing with!

So, to counter both concerns, a really structured way to incorporate digital tools is to breakdown the typical structure of the class. Let’s look at this in the context of say, a compound interest class in Mathematics.

Step 1: Identify the different stages of your lesson

Not all class-time is created equal - within one lesson, we have different stages and types of learning ranging from mastering the fundamental idea to complex application. And really, each stage requires a different type of learning.

Example: Compound Interest

In our compound interest class, we have three big stages for the lesson:

  1. Mastering the fundamental concept and formula - the theory
  2. Developing application skills - the practical application
  3. Extending complex understanding - teacher led discussion and extension

Step 2: Pinpoint where a digital tool can actually enhance the learning

If we think about it, wouldn’t an animated video demonstrate graphing complex equations better than a whiteboard diagram ever could? And at the same time, is there really a better tool for critical thinking than guided classroom discussion from a skilled teacher?

This step is about identifying which delivery method suits each stage of the lesson.

Example: Compound Interest

Stage 1: Mastering the fundamental concept and formula (Digital tools)

Play a video in class that breaks down the formula of compound interest and how to use the formula. The animation capacity and colour coding make it easy for students to really grasp the concept. They also have the ability to pause, rewind and rewatch the content to really ensure understanding.

Stage 2: Developing skills in application (Individual student activity)

Time to tap back in. Having watched a video give students a few problems to work through so they can really lock down the formula and how to apply it to real world problems - say, comparing finance options on their first car - and past HSC questions.

Stage 3: Extending complex understanding (Peer based and personalised learning)

Ask students to brainstorm in small groups and pick out two ways a compound interest problem might become more complicated and require an extra step or two. Throw in the word ‘depreciation’ and see if they can draw a connection. Finish up by giving students some problems to work through in the last block of class to pinpoint students still struggling with the concept.

Step 3: Create a segmented, varied lesson plan

As you pinpoint each stage of your lesson and the method of delivery, the lesson plan will start to emerge. For example, here we’ve broken down the lesson into three distinct 15-minute blocks. Each with a slightly different focus and each with a different mode of delivery to make learning as effective as possible.

The only other key information here is bookending your lesson plan with ‘beyond the classroom reinforcement.’ Using digital tools like the Atomi virtual classroom, you can assign students a video on simple interest to watch before the class and also assign students different problems for homework based on how they coped with the concept during class.

This approach might be similar to your current planning process just with a little more structure and consideration. Nevertheless, the benefits are huge:

  • A more engaged classroom
  • A consistent focus on quality learning
  • Effective use of digital tools
  • Capitalisation on the skills of a teacher
  • Extension of the learning opportunities beyond class
  • Personalised learning experiences for each student

'Technology for the sake of technology’ is a decent way to derail a quality learning experience.

Segmenting the class time you’re given into the different steps of the learning process tackles that problem head on because we see digital tools being used only where they actually add value and no one loses that irreplaceable value of a face-to-face teacher.

So when it doubt, break it down.

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