Today’s teacher is faced with issues that those of twenty years ago never could have imagined. As the twenty-first century settles in teachers are beginning to realize that keeping up with the latest technology is vital if they want to reach their students. Rather than fighting against technology it is time teachers and school faculties embrace the possibilities.
Way back in 2000 my son was just starting high school and it was at that point that it dawned on me that the school system was totally in the dark about the needs of today’s students.
My boy was a computer geek. He could take a computer apart and rebuild it in hours, master any software presented to him, and write html code in his sleep. A result of encouraging him since kindergarten to explore the internet and the computer. If you have read some of my other articles you may recall that my first computer was a Tandy with a 20 mg hard drive. It became my son’s by the time he could sit at a table and find letters on a keypad. Yet he failed his ‘keyboarding’ class because he looked at his keypad even though he typed at 65wpm when the requirement for passing was 35wpm. The frustration of this failure caused him to quit school and go get a GED, which he did within two weeks. He was only 16.
This experience also taught me a lot about the youth of today. Now, having taught several groups of at-risk students with difficulties in reading and math, my challenge was compounded by a lack of availability of technology in my school. My classroom technology consisted of a television and a land line phone, and three 12 year old computers that had been upgraded to the point of collapse. How was I supposed to teach these plugged-in students?
Here are three of the things I did that helped take my students from a sixth grade reading level to a ninth grade level in one school year.
CELL PHONE TESTS One of the first things I did was to incorporate cell phone tests. These were daily one or two question quizzes about the content of lessons from the day before. Questions would be written on the board and students would text their answers to my cell phone. This took up about 2 minutes a day once we got into the habit and the kids understood the rules. The rules were quite simple.
–The text had to come from their phone unless prior arrangements were made.
–The were to text only the question number and the letter of the correct response
–The were not to call my cell phone at any other time. It was a prepaid phone and used only for this activity.
–They must understand that each quiz would be a pass or fail and would count in their grade
–Cell phones were not to be used after the test was complete. They were to be on vibrate or off and out of sight or they would be confiscated. Our school had a no cell phone policy.
The first few times I tried this I was met with incredulous stares. It took a few minutes to convince the students that it was not some trick to weed out cell phone users. But once I did, this became one of the most looked forward to activities of their day. I also found that my attendance rate was steadily rising as I introduced more activities using technology.
ALWAYS ON TV In our school we have a media production class that creates a daily newscast that is broadcast throughout the school each morning. After all, we have so much time allotted to us to teach the students, of course we should stop for 15 minutes each morning to listen to the broadcasts. Yes, I am being sarcastic. It seemed like the playing field was stacked against me, but I though of something that actually helped my students with their reading and it was because of the daily broadcast.
–I turned on the television just before the students entered the class in the morning.
–I turned the sound up just enough to capture their attention and help to focus them as they settled in for the day’s activities.
–After the bell and roll, I turned off the sound!
–Students had to READ the closed captioning in order to get the news. And it worked.
–If students disrupted class in any way the broadcast would end as the TV would be turned off, but if they cooperated with the lesson I would leave it on throughout the class.
The students had a need to know what was going on at school. Heaven forbid they missed an announcement of a football game or the next dance. In addition, the school also broadcast engaging and informative shows throughout the day so a student who’s attention was beginning to wander could turn into the TV for a few minutes and still be learning and practicing his reading.
I also encouraged parents to follow my example at home. Many agreed and those students scored 10% higher on their reading exams than those who did not.
COMPUTER USE IS MANDATORY Using the computer is a skill that our students need to compete in today’s world. While more and more classrooms are getting computer access, it can be a struggle for those who have not yet been equipped. This was the case in my class. But I was still able to have the students use the computers and improve their skills.
–I regularly assigned reports that required internet based research in addition to traditional research in the library.
–While doing their research at the library they were also able to use the computer lab to extend their efforts
–Reports were to be presented using PowerPoint
–All resources used, including internet resources, were required to be listed on the last slide and include hyperlinks
–Students were to do additional work from home. For those without access to a computer outside of class a schedule was set up to allow them to have class time on the computers we had available.
–All makeup work and grade recovery options were on the computer
–All students were required to spend twenty minutes a day using FCAT explorer, our state’s series of programs designed to increase basic skills so students could succeed on the yearly assessments of basic skills.
–A printout of the results for each FCAT explorer exercise was to be turned in and it would be averaged into their grade
–Students had to supply a thumb drive or some other form on which to save and submit work
At the end of the year I combined the student’s power point presentations into mini movies based on each subject matter reported on and I showed them in class during the final two weeks of school. The pride in the faces of the students and the conversations that emerged between them was something many teachers may never get to experience.
Perhaps the best thing to come out of these efforts, from the teacher’s perspective, is that the students were rarely disruptive, attendance improved, and students succeeded. Most students improved by at least two grade levels in both reading and math.
I sincerely hope that these tips will at least help you broaden your technology usage in the classroom and bring your students higher success for their futures.