Creating a DigitalRich Classroom: Teaching & Learning in a Web 2.0 World

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Instead of asking students to power down during class, power up your lesson plans with digital tools. Design and deliver lessons in which technology plays an integral role. Engage students in solving real-world problems while staying true to standards-aligned curricula. This book provides a research base and practical strategies for using web 2.0 tools to create engaging lessons that transform and enrich content.

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Chapter 1 Today’s Classrooms

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Dreams of making a difference and creating a better future for students brought most of us into the field of education. Many of us are making a difference in the lives of the children we teach, but in my opinion, we do not teach in the ways that our students learn best. Learning today is an entirely new game.

New technology offers possibilities for increased student engagement, yet without a change in planning and delivery of instruction, there will not be a significant increase in student achievement. Our instructional and classroom management methods need to be brought up to date, and we need to be retrained.

Retraining does occur in most school districts, but it is often focused on a new reading series or hands-on science program. The retraining I envision is not specific to a curricular area; instead, it is more global, looking at the process of teaching in a more engaging way.

Many Web 2.0 tools come naturally to today’s students; they have never known a world in which such things did not exist. Cognitive scientists are conducting some compelling research, detailing exactly why today’s students are so different from students a mere decade ago.

 

Chapter 2 Active Learning in the Classroom

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Active learning is when students are completely engaged in challenging and authentic learning activities. When actively learning, students are self-motivated to complete demanding tasks that hold their attention, and seamless and ongoing classroom assessment helps them to self-regulate their learning.

The active-learning classroom today is an environment in which technology—much of it involving Web 2.0—is integral. A significant amount of active learning also is likely to be collaborative, depending on the task or activity, and the learning activities may continue outside the school day, using Web 2.0 tools to extend the face-to-face collaboration of the classroom. However, the focus in active learning—whether in the classroom or elsewhere, whether individual or collaborative—cannot be merely on hardware and software. Instead, the focus must be engagement, the critical element that makes learning truly “active.”

Lack of engagement is a central problem in education. According to Michael Furdyk, cofounder of an online community for youth interested in global issues, TakingITGlobal, much of this problem results from a lack of engaging content:

 

Chapter 3 Technology to Support Teaching and Learning

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Earlier, I stated that merely outfitting schools with technology does not automatically transform passive classrooms into ones of high engagement. Lessons need to be defined or redefined, and substantive changes are crucial. This means that teachers (and administrators) must look beyond the bells and whistles of available technology. Yes, many forms of technology are captivating and fun to use, but the real role of technology in classrooms is not to entertain but to facilitate learning in new, active, engaging, and collaborative ways.

If students are to become critical thinkers, then we must assign projects that stimulate their engagement, not just worksheets. An active-learning orientation would suggest that they need to be engaged in meaningful projects—analyzing and synthesizing content, not merely absorbing it from readings or discussions. For example, when students produce a video that takes a historic speech and matches it with complementary images, accomplishing this project promotes deeper understanding as they study the speech to discern which images will best convey the speaker’s ideas.

 

Chapter 4 Developing a Digital-Rich Curriculum

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When digital resources are incorporated in the curriculum, the possibilities are limited only by imagination—and funding, policies, and other real-life considerations, of course. However, there are many high-tech, low-cost technological tools that can be incorporated in traditional classrooms to transform them into technologically rich, innovative environments that support and encourage active learning.

With minimal investment and training, teachers can take students on a virtual magic-carpet ride around the globe, using sophisticated but free and easy-to-use Google Maps and Google Earth software. Teachers can help their students interact with classes on the other side of the world by using Skype. And teachers can help their students design 3-D cities of the future with Google SketchUp. These programs are used in many schools, and many students already know how to use them from activities they have done at home.

In this chapter, I will showcase some additional technological tools—many using Web 2.0 technology—that offer new possibilities for enriching teachers’ instructional toolboxes of digital resources. I’m not talking about add-ons. Rather, these resources are to be woven into the curriculum, replacing traditional paper-and-pencil activities and stand-and-deliver teaching. In fact, teaching today would be difficult for me without some of these technological tools.

 

Chapter 5 Must-Have Technology for the Ideal Classroom

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With all of the possibilities for instructional technology that I have discussed to this point, how do teachers and administrators sort out the must-haves from the nice-but-nonessentials? In this chapter, I explore the technological tools that ideally no classroom should be without.

The full integration of Web 2.0 and other technological tools in digital-rich curriculum and instruction must be built from a tech-savvy policy base. Four factors figure prominently: permission, expectations, funding, and ongoing commitment. I have touched on the first of these in previous chapters.

School boards and administrators are the authorities that either facilitate technological innovation and integration or block them. To create a digital-rich curriculum and classrooms in which integrated technology supports and enhances engagement and collaboration, school authorities must permit teachers to use available technological tools.

Hand in hand with permission to incorporate technology in curriculum and instruction are the paired expectations that teachers will learn about and use the technological tools provided. This is the second factor. These expectations find grounding in the National Educational Technology Standards for Teachers (NETS-T), which also includes performance indicators (www.iste.org/Content/NavigationMenu/NETS/ForTeachers
/2008Standards/NETS_T_Standards_Final.pdf). This document parallels NETS-S, which was previously discussed. Another parallel is professional development for principals and instructional supervisors, so that they can be fully supportive of teachers’ efforts. Such professional development also is a necessary expectation.

 

Chapter 6 Web 2.0 Classroom: A Virtual Field Trip

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When teachers teach for active learning, the effects are felt not only by their own students, but also by other teachers and students, administrators, and parents. In making the most of Web 2.0 tools and related technology, teachers empower students to direct their own learning. As I have pointed out in the preceding chapters, teaching for active learning in this fashion requires teachers to plan curriculum and instruction in new ways. They also must actively communicate with colleagues, administrators, and parents so that unfamiliar approaches in the classroom can be understood and embraced.

In this chapter, we will take a virtual field trip to an active-learning fifth-grade classroom. I will share observations about this energetic learning space and the various roles taken by the teacher and her students. In particular, I will direct attention to several pertinent factors that build success for all students in this classroom, including students’ on-task behaviors, the teacher’s actions, feedback from the building administrator and parents, and the teacher’s planning strategies, along with the Web 2.0 tools she uses in her classroom.

 

Chapter 7 Changing Professional Development

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When I began my career teaching in an elementary school, my limited professional network consisted of the teachers in my building. By serving on various committees, I met a few other educators in other buildings in our relatively small district. Once or twice a year, teachers would come together for a professional development session, which usually was conducted in a large group with little or no interaction.

My professional network expanded slightly when I began to work on a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction. Because I selected a cohort program in which a group of graduate students stays together for two years, my face-to-face professional network grew, but by only twenty people.

All of this took place about twenty-five years ago, and the options for professional growth beyond this limited collegiality were to read journals, attend workshops outside the district, talk with other teachers, and read books on education topics. When I entered the profession, I was fortunate to become part of a great team of teachers who worked well together, many of them veteran educators who had been in the district for years. I gained a measure of professional comfort when my colleagues would share how they taught this or that, but I also remember feeling isolated and expected to follow “the way we do this.”

 

Appendix A Compendium of Web 2.0 Tools and Related Resources

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The tools that I have mentioned throughout this book (and a few others) are categorized by topic. The topics are in alphabetical order, and the tools within the categories also are alphabetical. This compendium is intended as a handy summary resource, not a comprehensive guide. Of course, many of the tools are multifunctional. For example, Google Docs also can be used as a wiki. I have placed the tools in the category in which they are most often used. I have concentrated on software and Internet-based tools, rather than hardware—with a couple of exceptions.

Many tools, of course, are evolving: features change; functionalities are added. Sometimes tools become wholly obsolete and are discarded. New tools emerge. Networking is a way to stay abreast of changes. Another way to stay current is to subscribe to Kathy Schrock’s Guide for Educators on the Discovery Education website (http://school.discoveryeducation.com/schrockguide/sos.html). Kathy is a leader in the Web 2.0 revolution.

 

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