How (Not) to Use Technology in the Classroom

Based on the title, it would be easy to think this article would encourage you to use less technology in the classroom. Nothing could be further from the truth. I love technology, and I am pleased and excited about its potential in the classroom. However, there are good ways and bad ways to use it, and it is my intention to show you the difference.

Technolgy

Use as much technology as possible

Let me start by saying that teaching and technology is a match made in heaven. It is the job of a teacher to prepare his students for the future, and to give them every possible advantage. Years ago, graduating high school with a working knowledge of current technology was an advantage. That’s still true today, but technology’s role in our society has now progressed to the point where graduating high school without a working knowledge of current technology puts a student at a serious disadvantage. We therefore owe it to our students to expose them to technology as much as possible.

 

Powerpoint doesn’t count

Many teachers, when asked about technology in their classroom, will proudly say they use Powerpoints in every lesson. While this is technically technology, it isn’t really a good use of it. Don’t get me wrong; Powerpoint can be a very effective tool to get a point across, and it definitely has a place in most lesson plans. However, if using Powerpoint is the only way we incorporate technology into our lessons, then I believe we really can do a lot better.

Avoid superficial technology

I spent a few years teaching in the state of Virginia.  Their standardized testing comes in the form of “Benchmark” tests and “Standard of Learning” (SoL) exams. These tests are taken on computer, and feature “technology-enhanced” questions. At a glance, these questions seem like a terrific idea. However, after looking at some of these questions myself, I saw that their use of technology was superficial at best. They involved things like placing a point on a graph, or drawing a shape with a mouse. See the problem? There’s absolutely no reason those questions couldn’t have been done with a pencil and paper. While these questions were touted as a way of showing Virginia’s students were adept with technology, the only real technology used here was pointing and clicking with a mouse in the context of a couple simplistic tools that students are highly unlikely to see again.

This is what I call a superficial use of technology, and I believe it does more harm than good. The tools were not always intuitive, and many students elected to simply leave those questions blank, despite the fact that they knew how to answer the actual question. This resulted in inaccurate test results, and sometimes even caused students to fail a course they would otherwise have passed. These questions also meant the standardized tests had to be taken on computers, which in turn meant the students couldn’t all take the same test at the same time, but rather in shifts. This gave a distinct advantage to some students, who had more days to study than their peers. Also, to prevent cheating between shifts of testing, the questions themselves were randomized, which occasionally resulted in fluctuations in the difficulty level of individual questions. Finally, these questions gave a false sense of security, in that state and school officials believed their students were learning to use technology because of these questions, when in fact they were not. Relying on superficial uses of technology like this is to be avoided if we are to truly embrace the possibilities of technology in our classrooms.

 

So what’s a good use of technology in the classroom?

I’m glad you asked. The good news here is that technology, by its very nature, is extremely versatile, which means there are nearly limitless good ways to use it in the classroom. Instead of just using Powerpoints to deliver your lessons, have your students create their own, and challenge them to use things like hyperlinks and animations. Show students how to use spreadsheets, and have them perform analyses on their families’ expenses. Teach them a little HTML and have them design a webpage. There are nearly endless possible ways to incorporate technology into our lessons, and we owe it to our students to be as imaginative as possible.

Go with the flow

The future belongs, as it always has, to those who can adapt. Like it or not, technology is here to stay, and it has no place to go but forward. Many teachers shudder at the word “smartphone.” I must admit, when I started teaching, I found phones in the classroom to be a distraction at best, and a nuisance more often than not. But now I think I was wrong. Perhaps our students’ obsession with technology is not without merit. Why not lean into it? Divide students into study groups, and encourage them to communicate and work together on homework problems. Smartphones can be used as miniature computers, allowing (trustworthy) students to do research anytime, anywhere. There are also many websites, like Genius Plaza, that allow teachers to make educational games for mobile devices, which could then be used as study materials or even homework!

Like many teachers, I initially resisted the intrusion of technology in the classroom. Now, however, I think we could benefit from embracing technology, instead of trying to resist the inevitable. Technology is the future, so let’s give our students every possible advantage!


The Teachers of Instagram

This week we want to highlight the passion and projects teachers have recently shared on Instagram.

 

This teacher is such an inspiration. Look how excited these students are about science class! Science must be taught in a fun, creative way to get students interested – and keep them interested! We need more scientists in the world.

 

This teacher planned a craft for little ones to celebrate Veterans Day.

 

 

This teacher inspired her students to write stories about bats. This will help students reinforce facts they have learned about bats.

 

 

This teacher used dominoes to help students find sums. Have you tried using dominoes to teach math?

 

 

This extra-large chart is a great way to help students to learn multiplication.

 

Third grade created an XL multiplication chart for the hall! This makes my ❤️ happy!

A post shared by Stephanie McConnell (@principalprinciples) on Nov 8, 2017 at 1:20am PST

 

I hope you feel inspired by these ideas. Please share your projects with us! We would love to see your creativity.

 


Africa’s Revolutionary Educational Market

A History of Change

Africa: a continent with so many natural resources.  The natural richness of Africa makes it impossible to believe this massive continent is home to most of the poorest countries in the world.  Despite the economic and social disparities Africa faces, Africans carry the everlasting spirit of warriors.  These warriors have fought social and economic injustice, and their culture is rooted in the stories of African slave trade, Apartheid, and the decolonization of African countries.  During my visit at @InnovationAfric, Africa’s Ministerial Official Summit, it was apparent that the diaspora is still fighting the same injustices of the past.  

At the Innovation Africa Summit, decolonization is apparent in the faces of the people in power.  It was amazing to me that 99% of African ministers are of African descent.  But the fight did not stop when Africans were placed in power; the fight continues through the messages delivered at the summit’s panels.  There was one clear message that resonated with me after sitting in some of the panels: “Education has the power to change social and economic injustice.”  This message is the reason I studied education in college.  I was delighted to share this message with the African people, and I felt empowered to join them on the journey to change education in Africa.

 

 

Learning about Africa’s Challenges

As one of Genius Plaza’s representatives, I was on a mission to find out what part Genius Plaza can play in Africa’s educational revolution.  Unesco estimates between 30-70 million children are without access to education.  They also reported between 40 and 90% of schools – depending on their location in Africa – don’t have access to internet, technology, and resources (books, decolonized literature).  So the question that arose was, how does an educational technology company help countries with such challenges?

 

Genius Plaza’s Role in Changing Education

Below, I listed some ways educational technology companies can help Africa’s educational revolution.  The first area where Genius Plaza can help is in providing good quality, culturally relevant resources (eBooks, games, videos, exercises) to each unique country in Africa.  Genius Plaza has provided their users with a game-changing tool called “Re-teach.”  Teachers and students from around the world are empowered to create content unique to the user.  Re-teach can help in the decolonization process, because it gives people tools to tell their stories using their personal experiences, culture, and mother tongues.  

For example, Uganda’s representative, Okaka Opio Bokotum, also an Associate Professor at Lira University in Uganda, shared with us his country’s fight and struggle for decolonization.  During the summit, I noticed most African representatives have a common problem – truly teaching their students how to become bilingual.  In most African countries, students are taught in their mother tongue until the first grade.  In the second and third grade, students begin learning in the national languages (English, Portuguese, French), which vary from country to country.  It is a struggle to raise bilingual students because there aren’t many resources created in their mother tongues, making it difficult for teachers to show students the value of learning, using, and celebrating their native language.  Professor Okaka expressed this same concern.  He was delighted to learn how Genius Plaza’s Re-teach tool can be used to show students the value of their mother tongue.  With Genius Plaza, Uganda can begin creating resources (eBooks, videos, exercises, games) in fifty-two different languages. This is truly revolutionary – it can change how Africans see themselves, their cultures, and it can change how the rest of the world sees and what the rest of the world knows about Africa.  

Secondly, providing African schools with access to Genius Plaza platform and apps.  By developing an offline platform and apps, we can welcome students from around the world access to good quality resources, regardless of internet access.

Lastly, working closely and building relationships with governments and ministers to help provide funding for schools, internet, and technology for schools that still need it.

The time for change is now!  Africa is a market looking for revolutionary change to allow their future children to compete with the rest of the world.

Africa

 


Trick or treat?

This week we had a lot of fun celebrating Halloween. We want to highlight the best teacher costumes, and we want to share the celebration we had at Genius Plaza.

Look this beautiful Monarch butterfly, doesn’t she look great?  

I am a Monarch butterfly today! I’m still learning how to fly! 🤣

A post shared by Carolina: (@funforspanishteachers) on Oct 31, 2017 at 6:26am PDT

Wow, a real superhero! To be a teacher, you must have some superpowers.

When your students pick your Halloween costume. #teachers #teacherlife #superman #clarkkent #halloween #teachercostume

A post shared by Nicholas Ferroni (@nicholasferroni) on Oct 31, 2017 at 7:18am PDT

As a Mexican, I love these Catrinas, great job teachers!

101 Dalmatians!  All of them look super cute.

Adorable idea! The Three Little Pigs story in a costume.

Happy Halloween! #firstgradeteam #threelittlepigs #bigbadwolf #teachersfollowteachers #teachersofinstagram

A post shared by Veronica Sanchez (@firstgradedualadventures) on Oct 31, 2017 at 11:49am PDT

And here’s how Genius Plaza celebrated Halloween.  We really enjoyed seeing the kids’ faces!

This how we celebrated #Halloween

A post shared by Genius Plaza (@geniusplaza) on Nov 3, 2017 at 10:28am PDT

 

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Let the Day Inspire Your Teaching

Did you know that March 13th is National Earmuff Day? Does that matter? Maybe!

A day’s teaching can be perked up by even the smallest things. I encourage you to scour the internet for all the little known national days that blanket the calendar. Let inspiration take over and add a little spark to your teaching with this knowledge.  You can link an educational topic or review some material that relates in some way to this theme of the day. Students will love it!  If you build excitement or anticipation in the classroom, students may find out just how much they care about the fact that June 6th is National Yo-yo Day.

Here’s an educational video I made about estimation and rounding for National Author’s Day, which is November 1st.

 Watch Video

December 4th is National Dice Day. How about a probability exercise for math class?

Watch video

January 23rd is National Handwriting Day. How about a fun writing activity to review spelling words?

Play game

March 12th is National Plant a Flower Day. How about a science class review of the parts of a plant?

Here’s where you can find a multitude of national days. There is always an opportunity to add a little more fun to the classroom and do something that will grab the attention of your students.

 

 

 


Quivers and Quills: Using Halloween to Launch Creative Writing Exercises

A dim spectre in the distance. A ghostly woman in white waiting forlornly on a bridge. A mysterious voice in the dark of the night. A statue that watches…and waits.

Scary stories are powerful. Every community, rural or urban, has its share of tales that have the power to chill you to the bone. Both original stories and those rooted in folk legends invoke strong reactions from their audience. Some people avoid scary tales. Others cannot get enough of them. These are the people for which Halloween was made.

Scary

The book that hooked me up

While I don’t enjoy all aspects of Halloween, (I’m took impatient to put together an impressive costume, and I’m allergic to half the candy out there – Boo!) I am a fright fan. I have been ever since elementary school, when my second-grade teacher gave me a booked titled The Doll in the Garden. It was a ghost story about a girl who found an antique doll buried in her neighbor’s garden. Throughout the story she learns about the doll’s history by traveling back in time to speak with the doll’s former owner – a ghost girl named Louisa.

I enjoyed the book enough to mention it to my aunt, who was a fourth grade teacher. My aunt gave me a book her students enjoyed by the same author. It was called Wait Till Helen Comes. It was about a girl whose stepsister was communicating with a ghost who wanted to lure her into a pond, to drown, so she could join her in the afterworld.  I loved it, and read it again and again. There were sentences that made my heartbeat quicken. Something about the way the words scared me pressed me to keep on reading them, and as my interest grew, I swear I could feel my imagination expanding. I liked to be scared, and I liked how my fright made me wonder about the world and my place in it.

I found myself studying the way the author used words to paint scary scenes and invoke a sense of danger. I became keenly aware that my reaction to the story was the result of artistic choices. Her characters, the plot, the setting, the tone, the pacing, the symbolism, the foreshadowing, the structure – all of these elements worked in harmony to create a story powerful enough that I remember it to this day.

Teachers, without a doubt, have kids in their class who love a good fright, and Halloween is a perfect time to reach them with an unforgettable creative writing exercise. There is plenty of opportunity to co-opt Halloween to help students stretch their creative muscles with some writing exercises.

horror book

Option One: Writing prompts. Teachers can provide students with a choice of three or four “story starters” from which they can build their own scary story. Students who chose the same prompt can compare their stories after they are written and discuss how the stories differ. Students can explain the choices they made and discuss their favorite parts of each other’s stories.

scary prompt

Option Two: Word webs. Teachers can ask students for “scary” nouns. Then, scary adjectives, verbs, and so on. Using the collected words, students can compose a series of frightening sentences – or a full-fledged scary story.

witch

Option Three: Take a break from scary. Not all students enjoy being scared. That’s perfectly fine! Instead, perhaps they would benefit from a writing exercise that focuses on costumes. What was their favorite Halloween costume, ever? What do the costumes in the costume store do at night, when all of the customers and employees are gone? What if the costumes came to life?

I have found that giving children the chance to perform their written pieces for an audience is very beneficial for driving home the idea that writing is meant to be experienced. It is easy for young writers to forget about the reader as they get excited – or intimidated – by the act of putting words on a page. It is harder to forget about the audience when the writer realizes that their piece will be performed rather than read.

Not all students will be comfortable with performing a monologue or acting in a play, and that’s okay. Children in the audience can sit back and enjoy the show, and perhaps even give feedback on what works and what doesn’t in a performed narrative. They might even like to see their own piece performed by others!

Children working together to create a story will not only hone their writing and language skills – they will also exercise teamwork and have an opportunity to form lasting memories in the classroom. Halloween comes once a year. If you have only one chance to fully indulge your students’ creativity this year, this is the time to take it. This is the holiday that lets imaginations soar.

 


Celebrating Halloween with Ideas from Our Teachers

 

This week, we want to share some great ideas for celebrating Halloween from teachers following us on Instagram.

@firstgradedualadventures shared a great idea to engage students with six Halloween stations, creating awesome and fun art projects. 

@kristinbertie shared a great way to motivate students about writing.

Who doesn’t love pumpkin carving? You can see how engaged these students are in this art project. @mrs.giannotti

Do you want to surprise your students this Halloween? Look at this cute idea from @primaryplayground

Your students are going to love this idea! Monster traps. @prideandjoyinprimary

Take a look at this creative idea from @pnetherly for decorating pumpkins. 

This how we celebrate Halloween at Genius Plaza:

A song about safety tips for trick-or-treating.

safety

Play song

An eBook about the origins of the Halloween.

Read eBook

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My Child Didn’t Like to Read

A few years ago, I was talking to my then 6-year-old son.  He was in the midst of first grade and learning how to read.  I was beyond excited for this stage in his life.  I had dreamt of having him sit on my lap to read one of our favorite books to me in that sweet innocent voice.  But in fact, this was not our reality at all.  My child did not enjoy reading.  He only practiced when forced, and complained about reading every single time.  It wasn’t only a struggle at home, but at school as well.  Even though he was learning and making progress, the love and curiosity of reading was sadly missing.

 

My entire job as an adult was teaching children.  Not only did I love teaching, but I felt it was my duty as a teacher to instill the love of learning and reading.  I was so passionate about teaching kids to read.  I loved showing them strategies to be successful and confident readers.  To enable them to independently escape into a book while learning new vocabulary and reading skills.  And in my very own home, I was struggling to help my own child.

 

Needless to say, I pulled out all the stops, and after some trials and failures, I was able to figure out how to have more successes than failures. Below are some of the reading strategies that helped my son slowly gain that love of reading.

 

Shared reading

Many kids look at a page of text and crumble.  They get overwhelmed with the amount of words and often give up or feel frustrated before they start.  I have found that taking the pressure off my child from reading all the words can be very encouraging.  We take turns reading, which not only motivates the kids to read longer, but the other reader is able to model fluency, syntax, and pronunciation of vocabulary.

 

Image heavy texts

From my own experience, my son starting getting excited about choosing his own texts when he started reading graphic novels.  These types of books, as well as books with a lot of great illustrations, lure the kids into the story.  The illustrations are also a great tool to help students who may struggle with reading, and gives them imagery for story context.

 

Choose texts based on their interests

This seems like an obvious one…but it makes a difference.  Kids will want to read about what they like.  If they love animals, try reading animal books.  If they love soccer, find some books about famous soccer players or a storyline that revolves around the sport.  The more they are intrigued about the subject matter, the better chance they will try to find out by reading it.

 

Use various forms of text

Sometimes, all kids need is a different format to read from.  I love eBooks to change things up.  I take advantage – when my son really wants to use the iPad, I have him read an eBook before he plays a game.  I love the eBooks and content on Genius Plaza, because there are so many different types of books that intrigue him.

 

We must remember that reading is a lifelong process.  All it takes is one book, one topic, one person to change the course of our child’s love for reading.  Being supportive and continuously providing engaging material are the most important things we can do to make our child’s reading career a successful one.

 


Teaching with Puppets

Teachers are performers who are always on stage. They educate the audience of students who show up every day. I’ve found that bringing in a level of entertainment is not only effective if done right, but easier to do than one might think.

Expanding a Lesson

A lesson can be taught in a traditional way, but expanded or reviewed in a way that is fun for the students. The entertainment can come from a well integrated song, game, video, or other tool. I have found that puppets can fascinate young students and bring life to a teaching environment.

Teaching with Puppets

teaching with puppets

Students are able to quickly “buy into” the puppets and their place in the classroom. Perhaps a puppet takes on the role of a teacher to review some material or quiz the students. Perhaps the puppet does not know about the lesson and the students need to teach or inform him/her. However it is set up, the students will enjoy the energy that is brought to the learning experience. It’s something they will remember and look forward to happening again.

A small stuffed animal puppet can work well, especially in a kindergarten classroom. A more elaborate puppet can work, too. From what I have seen, you do not need a stage or ventriloquist skills or anything else to “dress up” the experience. Students are drawn to the character alone. The important part is to plan how the puppet reinforces the content.

Here’s a peek at a quick segment that was filmed for Genius Plaza, where I control a puppet who is reviewing some simple concepts with a student.

 

https://www.geniusplaza.com/en/resources?type=video&id=39942


Our Search Toolbar

Search Toolbar

Last week we unveiled our new search toolbar, and we have received great feedback. The search toolbar is now also available on our homepage, and as you can see, you can apply filters to search thousands of resources by resource type (eBook, video, vocabulary set, etc.), language, grade, creator, and subject.

Here is a video to help show how the toolbar works:

Search Toolbar

Once you click “Search,” you will see your search results, as well as a “Share Search Results” button. When you click that button, you will see the URL has been copied, allowing you to share that URL with others.

Finding the Content You Need

Now teachers will be able to find supplemental content to help them achieve their goals. You can find math, language arts, and science content for grades PreK to 12th, in English and Spanish.

 

The search toolbar is very user-friendly.  For example, when I searched for ninth grade math content in English, here is what I would find: https://www.geniusplaza.com/bank?rtf=&lf=1&cf=3&gf=16

 

Tell Us What You Think!

We will continue to find ways to optimize the platform, and invite you to share feedback via chat, or email me at monica@geniusplaza.com.