By Andy Larmand
Ask a K-12 student about technology and they’ll likely say: “Oh my God, I need to have my phone on me all the time.”
The average teen sends and receives 30 text messages per day and 24 percent of them go online “almost constantly,” according to the Pew Research Center. But that’s not the only way your students are using technology.
Not to mention that children, some of whom are as young as nine or 10 years old, now have access to technology—research from 2013 shows that 75 percent of kids under the age of eight have regular access to a smartphone, which provides them with an unlocked gate to the online world.
Evidence shows that this technology use can be broken down into four distinct groups. These come together to form the Modern Technology Pyramid, according to Expert in Residence at the Harvard University Innovation Lab, Tony Wagner.
At the bottom of the pyramid, the broadest of the four groups, is entertainment. Above that is information (research, question answering), then collaboration followed by creativity, which takes the smallest spot at the top of the pyramid. This means students spend more time mindlessly thumbing through Facebook than stimulating their minds by paying brain games, for example.
Unfortunately, this subpar use of technology is costly; not just to their data plans (or, more specifically, their parents’ data plans), but to their development.
Luckily, educators have an opportunity to counter balance the hours students spend thumbing through Facebook by engaging them with education-focused apps and tools that fall within the various technology pyramid tiers. Here’s how.
Entertainment falls in the largest tier of the technology pyramid. This category includes use of social media apps, like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, as well as streaming through Netflix or Hulu, messaging with Kik and WhatsApp and much more.
The question now becomes, how can teachers use this to their benefit? Two of the most popular entertainment apps that children, especially teenagers use, are Twitter and Skype, both of which can be easily integrated into the classroom for educational purposes. Here’s how.
Engage with students in and out of school by posting assignments and updates on Twitter. You can also use it to supplement an engaging, in-class discussion and keep parents informed about what’s happening in the classroom.
Skype has the potential to be even more powerful in your classroom than Twitter— Skype offers the face-to-face interaction and collaboration that Twitter does not, and allows teachers to illustrate the importance of global education. With just a computer and a webcam, you can video chat with classes from anywhere in the world, teaching students both about different cultures and how to communicate effectively.
“Just Google it.” That’s exactly what your students do the minute they want to know the answer to a question or show their friend a new website.
Embrace this curiosity, and take advantage of the ease with which you can instantly access information, using tools like a Chromebook, iPad or Smart Board. These let you present students with instantaneous information that makes class more visual, exciting and engaging.
“With just a computer and a webcam, you can video chat with classes from anywhere in the world, teaching students both about different cultures and how to communicate effectively.”
In groups, students can use iPads to collaborate on questions. Individually, they can use them to research and learn from interactive articles or play brain-stimulating games. With a Smart Board, teachers are able to present dynamic lesson resources and supplemental information by linking to material from the real world.
Without this technology, you can still teach students about how to use the Internet to find reputable sources for researching or how to be a good digital citizen—here are five digital citizen lesson ideas.
Students use technology to “collaborate” outside of school, texting with friends to plan an event or sharing articles on Facebook. Use this inherent inclination to share and collaborate to improve group work.
Start with web-based tools like Google Docs, Forms, Slides and the endless number of add-ons. Use Google Docs or Google Slides, as a collaborative, online workspace, where students can edit and create the same assignment at the same time from their own screen.
They can see what’s being worked on and the possibility for real-time feedback lets their communication and teamwork skills shine through. It also gives you a better idea of who’s participating—simply join the document and see who’s typing the most (or least) and redirect the distribution of work for the better of the group.
When thinking of the latest and greatest in technology, students jump right to the latest app or a new add-on for their gaming system. While this technology is innovative and, if used correctly, could have a place in the classroom, it doesn’t encourage creativity.
While there could be many reasons creativity is at the top of the pyramid, I believe the reason is this: kids are not drawn to education-focused technologies because they represent a division of learning, which, to them, signifies work. Children, especially teenagers, are drawn to Facebook or Snapchat because these apps they provide them with an outlet to communicate with friends and expend minimal brain power.
Products like Raspberry Pi, Arduino or Kano don’t always give them the immediate satisfaction they seek in today’s world of messaging and sharing apps, but they do stimulate creativity, especially in the STEM area.
There are many products kids can use to enhance their creative STEM skills. With Raspberry Pi, they can craft their own weather stations to monitor conditions in and out of the classroom. If you want students to create original content, Kano can be used in conjunction with Scratch to create stories, games and animations.
This creativity, which is often sparked but rarely fully ignited, is so crucial to the development of children in the 21st century. All it takes is one brilliant idea or discovery to find what they love to learn about or what they want to pursue as they get older.
Use students’ natural use of technology, to communicate with friends or answer a burning question with Google, to make it a valuable addition to your classroom. Use this as an opportunity to teach students how to use Twitter for crowdsourcing ideas, rather than just thumbing through their feed, for example.
By introducing students to new technologies and reframing the current use of apps and smartphones, educators have the chance to invert this pyramid and reshape how kids use these products.