Technology = Engaged Learners

Why? Because it’s their language! Educators who say they understand students and do not understand why you would/should use technology resources in the classroom really don’t get it. Technology in many different forms engages students today. It is how they want to learn, it is their language, and by allowing them to use technology we actually engage them in the learning process. We allow them to use their tools to learn.

Our 8th grade science team approached me a couple weeks back to help them with a project. Student’s create Environmental Non-Profit Governmental Organizations (NGOs). They have a lot of work and research to do. The teachers wanted (as they’ve done in the pass) the student to create a web site for their NGO. A great way to bring technology into the project in an embedded fashion. This year when the team approached me I pitched the idea of a wiki instead of having students create sites in Dreamweaver.

We want our students to focus on the content, we want them to create knowledge and meaning not spend their science hours designing a web page. A wiki allows just that, it’s basic, simple and in many cases ‘less is more’ when working with students.

So we set over 100 students in 36 groups up with a single wiki. Here’s the important part. I did one 50 minute training session on how to use a wiki and this is the result:

http://env-ngo.wikispaces.com

(The use of wikispaces is because it remains the unblocked wiki program in China.)

(I created one login account for each period, so all 100 students logged on using 1 of 6 accounts. The end product was graded not individual participation in the creation of the site so this format works.)

Half of one class period to teach students how to edit and create wiki pages. The last thing I told all the students “Get creative, think outside the box, and create something cool!”

As any project goes some are better then others, but overall I am very impressed at the work the groups did, the embedding of YouTube videos and videos and images from other sources gave the students possibilities and engaged them in looking for content related to their environmental issue.

Today, every group set up shop and presented their NGO. They had to sell their NGO, tell people why they should support it, what they were trying to do, and what their 3 year plan was. It was a great time, students full of passion about environmental issues. Each group had a laptop open with their wikispace page proudly presented. I watched as students checked each others web sites out. Mostly, they watched videos about acid rain, deforestation, and pollution. Sure the content was good, but the videos were the engaging factor for the students. You could hear students asking each other “How did you embed that?” “Where did you find that at?” “That’s cool, how’d you do that?” One group was even smart enough and brought headphones so that people that stopped by their booth could listen over the noise.

The use of the technology engaged the students in the learning process. They went out and watched videos on their topic, read and embedded pictures that helped to add flare to just the boring writing of page after page of information. The best part for me was watching students link to each other’s NGO projects. One group that did a NGO on Pollution linked to another group that created an NGO on Air Pollution. So now you have students linking information together, learning from each other. AWESOME!

It’s not about the technology…it’s about learning, about engaging students in the process. It’s about getting out of their way and saying: GO CREATE SOMETHING COOL!

And they do it, they want to do it, we just need to be there to support them, to keep them on track, to ask probing questions that make them think deeper…that’s what teachers do, that is our job.

Of course to top it off I had to make a point why every teacher and administrator should walk around with a mp3 recording device in their pocket at all times. I saw an opportunity to record learning in action and took it. What administrator wouldn’t want this kind of recording about learning coming out of their school. Teachers talking about projects they are passionate about, principals talking teamwork, and kids talking about learning!

People accuse me often of having a passion for technology, and I do. But my passion for technology comes from my passion for learning. To see students engaged with information, creating something new, and getting excited about what they’ve learned and created is why I love education. Technology or not the learning process and seeing students engaged and excited about it is what I’m truly passionate about!

[tags]SAS[/tags]

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8 Comments

  1. Jeff,
    I love what you say about your passion for technology having to do with a passion for seeing students engaged and excited about learning.

    When you see students getting something for the first time, or creating something meaningful, or feeling empowered to share their voice–it is what education should be all about.

    Who wouldn’t want students to be so excited about learning that they can’t wait to get to your class the next day?

  2. One group that did a NGO on Pollution linked to another group that created an NGO on Air Pollution

  3. Jeff or anyone else who has seen successful use of wikis,

    Our district is using both Wikispaces and PBWiki. We are struggling with the fact that with PBWiki only one student at a time can edit the page. I understand that this makes sense so that they don’t overwrite each other. Wikispaces has created a warning that pops up and tells you who else is editing and gives you a choice of overwriting what they are writing or appending yours to the page. This sounds cool, but when we (teachers) tried it in a group we kept overwriting each other and it was very confusing. Any tips? Maybe the teachers you work with could answer this one.

    Janice

  4. I agree in order to teach them you must know them.. and to know them is to connect to their world….

  5. Jeff,
    What an incredible resource your students created! The way the wiki is set up demonstrates the power of this tool in many ways.
    Questions for you – Did they reflect on the assignment? Any thoughts you can share?
    (I would love to hear what they said about the process and the result.)

  6. Hi Jeff:

    I’ve ponder this post by you for a few days now and while I share your passion, I keep drawing back upon your comment that “It is how they want to learn, it is their language, and by allowing them to use technology we actually engage them in the learning process. We allow them to use their tools to learn.”

    My concern is that many, including myself, make these assumptions about ALL students. Honestly, do all students want to learn this way? Do all students speak this language that we discuss?

    A part of me thinks we want to believe this because we speak the language, we want to learn this way, and we love the tools. Yes, there are students that might feel the same but I don’t think it is all or even the masses.

    While most students want to be engaged, I don’t think technology as ed techs describe it is what they all look to for such engagement.

  7. I agree with you Ryan. One of my own sons, who just graduated from college avoided technology use and really feels that it takes away from the quality of life. He is an artist and has resisted learning graphic programs because pen and ink (and many other modalities) are much more meaningful to him. Even though he is on the “old” side, I think this is always going to be true for a certain amount of people.

  8. My Technology in Education teacher had us check out your project. I am really interested in more about how you taught this lesson.

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