School is Virtual in 2020: How can parents and teachers engage students with technology?

Chris Lazartic

As technology continues to develop at a rapid pace, educators also continue to leverage it as a way to engage their students. There is no doubt that technology is both essential to preparing students for the future and a fun way to hook learners of any age. That being said, it is important to use technology in the appropriate ways to facilitate appropriate development and understanding. Below are some tips and examples to consider when engaging your students with technology.

1. Use technology “in addition to” proven activities and lessons, not “instead of”. It is important to not try to completely replace all traditional methods with their technology-enriched, souped-up versions. Some old-school activities still remain excellent ways to motivate students. For example, an online simulation of the classic “Egg-Drop” may not be as exciting for your budding 5th grade scientists. However, advances in technology have made certain experiences possible that would simply be too expensive or risky to carry out in real life. New and exciting digital experiences, simulations and models are made available to everyone nearly every day via the internet and app stores. For example, during a week last February, our 6th grade students took a tour of the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis as they dove into their civil rights unit, 7th grade students explored the ruins of the Acropolis in Greece, and 8th grade students were catapulted to a front row viewing of Macbeth in Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London. Our students used Oculus Quest virtual reality headsets to do this, but these experiences are also available on Youtube at no cost. Online robotic simulations with the CoderZ platform and bridge challenges with The Bridge Designer are also great ways to offer an online version of more traditional STEAM activities.

2. Technology should grow and develop 21st century skills that transcend your classroom. As you look to use technology to engage your students, consider the potential far-reaching positive effects of that application. Coding is a wonderful example of this. It is simple to acknowledge that integrating coding into a lesson will teach students certain hard skills of computer science (anywhere from Scratch Jr. or advanced JavaScript or Python languages). However, it is important (maybe even more important for some students) to also focus on the soft skills delivered by the use of this technology. Students that complete coding projects will also inevitably learn how to collaborate, troubleshoot, manage time, empathize, communicate, type correctly and quickly, and much more. As I look to integrate new technology into the classroom, I consider the reach it may have; certain technologies may be confined to a particular assignment, while others may be used frequently by students in their day-today lives after that class. When considering implementation of new systems and technology, lean towards those that offer these transferable skills.

3. Stay current. If you teach anything to anyone, it is your responsibility to stay current in your field of education. When possible, research, network and/or attend conferences to learn about the latest and greatest technologies for you and your students. We have all gotten comfortable with certain tools and tech, only to find out that there is something much better for the job - and this is completely okay! Staying up to date can be as simple as a quick lunch conversation with a neighboring teacher, a social media message to an old colleague, or a Google search. While I subscribe to various blogs, newsletters and sites, my favorite organization for technology integration is the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). I attend their national conference each year and always come back to school filled to the brim with ideas and enthusiasm for the new year.

4. Lean in - listen to and empower your students! It is natural to want to be the technology expert, especially if that is your primary responsibility at your school. However, especially in the field of innovation and technology, it can be extremely beneficial to learn with and from your students. During free times, lean in to see what they are up to. What’s cool? What’s the new hot thing? Some of my favorite moments come when I do this, and a student thinks I am catching them doing something wrong. As their mouse cursor jets to the minimize button at lightning speed, I quickly say “No - wait, this looks cool! What are you up to? Oh, Minecraft? Did you set up this server yourself? Hmmm, I wonder if we could do something like this in class?” I’ve had these moments with a lot of our students who are really into technology and coding, and now they are proud to show me their current projects on the site repl.it, a free and easy compiler for all coding languages. Additionally, I like to begin each semester with a survey. I empower students by saying “This is your STEAM lab, not mine. What do you want to fill it with?” Some requests are certainly not possible (sorry, but an ice-hockey rink just doesn’t make sense at this time), but some are. How engaged do you think the group of students are when you satisfy their request for a few smartphone-controlled paper airplane kits? I will let you answer that last question.

About the Author

Chris Lazartic, Manager of Innovation and Technology

 

Chris moved from Delaware to teach at Aspen Academy in 2010. He has a Master's Degree in Educational Leadership and a Bachelor's degree in Earth Science Education. Chris loves that Aspen is a place that continues to inspire growth on both a personal and professional level. Outside of work, Chris can be found hiking, camping, disc golfing, skiing and traveling. Chris lives in Conifer, Colorado, with his wife, Elyse, their son, two dogs and horse.