TransformativeIt was pointed out to me last night (not unfairly, I confess), that whilst I have a clear model in my mind of what great classroom integration of technology looks like, perhaps I have not articulated this clearly to those I work with. In the past my approach has been to drip feed ideas to various people within school, hoping to find fertile ground for certain approaches. In addition, PD sessions have been used to show a variety of uses for technology. In retrospect, such learning moments have been, for a variety of reasons, too dispersed, infrequent and ad hoc to perhaps make a complete picture. This post, then, is an attempt to shed some light on the approach I would like to see taken in integrating technology into the classroom.

Any technological advance provides us potential new ways to approach learning, and educators have a long history of adopting new technologies with the aim of improving what we do. However, most of the integration we see does not fundamentally change education, but rather provides a more complex, expensive way of doing the same old thing. A classic example of this is using a 1:1 laptop program to have students research and type papers, which provides very little of interest that could not be achieved with pen and paper in a library. What we need are integrations that allow students to do new, powerful things, not possible or practical without the technology being added in. This is the heart of the very popular SAMR model, which promotes Redefinition over Substitution (with Augmentation and Modification as a middle ground).

So, what does this empowering, transformative practice look like when implemented in the classroom? Whilst there is no one approach, some of the entries below might give an idea of the range and scope of what is possible. Each idea links to skills and conteps currently taught in many schools, and accepted as being positive, useful things to know and do. As a side note, these ideas are grouped into subjects, not because this is the best way to teach, but because most teachers are subject teachers, and approach their work from that perspective. There is no reason ideas listed in one subject area cannot be applied to other subject areas.

  • English
    • Persuasion & Publishing – ask students to come up with a literary product that they would like to create, produce and sell (for example, a coffee table book on Minecraft). Using graphic editing software (e.g. Acorn, GIMP, Photoshop), put together some mock up pages. Using collaborative writing software (e.g. Google Drive) to write up a blurb, sales pitch and press release. Create a crowdfunding campaign (e.g. Kickstarter) to raise the money necessary to have the book printed, and take this to your community and beyond (using Twitter, Facebook). Create and publish the book. Place the book in your library.
    • Creative, Non-Linear Writing – expand your students’s view of what creative writing can be by using Google Forms to build an open-ended text that can be read in different ways. See Google Forms Choose Your Own Adventure for an example.
    • Rich Writing – use Storify to enable students to create writing with rich multimedia elements, such as Twitter and YouTube embeds. This might be used to create a fictional story, based on real world events.
    • Graphic Representation – take a scene from a story or play, and ask students to represent it with a rich graphic mashup, using graphic editing software (e.g. Acorn, GIMP) and Creative Commons media. This means that students need to decode the text, and then re-encode it into a new format, which promotes questioning and assists with comprehension.
    • Book As Movie Trailer – similar to the graphic representation idea above, ask students to plan, film and produce a cinematic trailer for a movie version of a book.
    • Emoji Story – ask students to write a story using mainly (or only) emoji to express a narrative, and see how different students interpret it. Or, work in reverse and convert an existing text (e.g. Hamlet) into emoji.
  • Mathematics
    • QR Code Maths Hunt – find locations around school where mathematical concepts (angles, shapes, curves, patterns) can be observed, and label these with QR codes that can be scanned by students. Once scanned, the QR codes point students to websites or videos explaining the concept that can be observed, introducing new mathematical concepts in a physical way.
    • Hands On Geometry – use the Scratch programming environment to ask students to draw shapes (e.g. square, pentagon). Ask students to generalise their work into a program that asks users how many sides a shape should have, and then draws the shape. This helps take knowledge of specific shapes, and draws out general knowledge that connects a range shapes.
    • Math Memes – mathematicians are funny people, and the Internet is full of funny maths jokes that can be used to introduce subjects, or sow confusion and debate (example 1, example 2, example 3)
    • Write Your Own Textbook – rather than just following a textbook, have students create amd publish their own, with examples, questions and answers. Lay it out with desktop publishing software (e.g. Scribus, iBooks Author) and share it online.
    • Where In The World – find a picture of somewhere in your county/state/district that is distinct, but unknown to students. Ask them to use Google Maps, and visual clues from the image to triangulate and discover the location of the image. See Where In Hong Kong for an example of this process.
  • Science
    • Wikipedia Discussion – ask students to find a contentious scientific topic (e.g. evolution), and look at its page on Wikipedia. Look at the Talk page associated article to see some of the discussion and debate that goes on behind the scenes in presenting this idea. Some pages are protected? Why? How does scientific knowledge evolve over time?
    • Experiment Curator – create a website using a free online tool (e.g. WordPress, Wix, Weebly) to set up a site where students share and curate information on scientific experiments. This site can cross year groups and classes. Experiments can be organised by complexity, area of science, experimental approach, etc. This forces students to look at experiments from a broader point of view. Share the website online, invite other schools to participate.
    • YouTube Channel – extending on the experiment curation idea above, have students film experiments, adding subtitle instructions, and student dialogue explaining what is happening. Create a YouTube channel of the collected experiments. This encourages students to more deeply understand what they are doing, so that they can explain it back to others.
    • Arduino Electronics – use an Arduino board and sensor kit to take measurements of the environment, and store the data for further analysis. Get to know local weather and climate, and compare it to reading from other sources and other locations.
  • Humanities
    • Global Issues Board Game – choose a global issue (e.g. climate change), and ask students to produce a board game to simulate the issue, allowing others to learn about it through play. Use Creative Commons media and free iconography to produce something polished and legally saleable. Create some sets, and sell them to the community and other schools. Use money raised to fund change via micro finance (see below). As an example of a game made in this way, look at Producers & Consumers.
    • Micro Finance – taking a small amount of money, ask students to use micro finance (e.g. via Kiva) to fund small scale change in developing countries. Use a collaborative spreadsheet (e.g. Google Sheets) to track loans, repayments and the changes facilitated. Discuss whether micro finance is a sustainable, feasible alternative to humanitarian aid.
    • Wikipedia Editing – find a Wikipedia entry on a relevant topic (e.g. erosion), read it, and see if there are any ways it can be improved or contributed to (e.g. fixing errors, improving text, adding sources, taking and uploading images).
    • Current Affairs Feed – use a feed aggregator or automated online news paper (e.g. Paperli) to create a school feed detailing current affairs and interest news. Share it with students and staff for use across school.
    • Local-Global Sharing – using Twitter or the web, find another classroom, somewhere else in the world, that you can connect to. Have students on both sides prepare ideas and information to share about their local geography, history, culture. Then schedule a video call (e.g. Skype, Hangouts) for students to both share their own local knowledge, and learn about someone else’s area.
    • Public Domain Historical Archive – copyright is limited by time, and old media eventually becomes part of the public domain, free for anyone to use. Ask students to choose a historical topic, and mine the internet for public domain archive material around this topic. Build a website using a free online tool (e.g. WordPress, Wix, Weebly), to bring together a range of such topics, for use by other schools or the local community.
    • Data Exploration – the World Bank, WHO and other organisations publish large data sets, ripe for authentic learning. Often these are hard to use, due to their size and structure. Make this data accessible and explorable to students with Google’s Public Data Explorer. Ask students to spot patterns in the world, and then research and unpack these patterns to extract lessons about the world.
  • Visual & Performing Arts
    • Meme Studies – unknown to most adults, our students are well versed in Internet memes, which shape and define most of their popular culture. The more visual of these memes provide rich and relevant ground for artistic analysis. Are these works art? Where do they come from? What influences them? How do they spread? How is one piece used to derive another (e.g. this lead to this which lead to this which lead to this)?
    • Collaborative Play Writing – using an online survey tool (e.g. Google Forms, Survey Monkey) ask members of your community to create characters for a play. Ask students to take this diverse cast, and build a narrative around it.
    • Automated Set Design – using Arduino, cardboard and tape, have students produce a model set with automated lights, curtains, sensor-driven cues, etc.
    • Classroom Design – introduce students to contemporary space design (e.g. Make Space), and ask them to use a design tool (e.g. Homestyler, Sketchup) to redesign their current learning space to their liking. Use a 3D printer (if you have one or can access one) to print a model. Have students present to school administrators to obtain funds to put their ideas into action.
    • Premature Ageing – use graphic design and aging software to have students consider their future selves, and what they might grow to become. For an example see Half-Old Portrait.
  • Physical Education
    • Fitness Data – use fitness trackers (e.g. FitBit, Polar) to help students gather data about themselves and the way they live. Bring this real data into lessons to ask students to consider their lifestyle, their fitness aims, and how they might develop.
    • Video Analysis – use ubiquitous cameras (phones, laptops, tablets) to have students capture athletic performance (e.g. long jump). Use video editing tools (e.g. WeVideo) to compare an equivalent professional athletic action with that of your students. Use this video to help students plan how to improve their own performance.
  • Languages
    • Online CollaborationDoulingo allows students to learn languages, whilst contributing to the massive online effort of translating web-based content. This means that students can make the web better, and improve their language skills, at the same time, for free.
    • Collaborative Subtitling – challenge your students to translate a video from one language to another, working collaboratively online (e.g. Amara).
    • International Connections – use Skype’s Classroom connectivity to have your students connect with language learners in other countries to exchange conversation time and tips.
  • Miscellaneous
    • Digital Scavenger Hunt – encourage students to hone their digital skills, problem solving and team work, using an online scavenger hunt, like this one.
    • Virtual Travel – use Google Tour Builder to create a virtual tour of  place you want students to experience, highlighting features and ideas relevant to your subject or topic as you go.
    • Consultancy – find a non-profit or company with a need, and offer your students to help them meet it. For example, in teaching cookery, it could be possible to help a company cater an event. Alternatively, students could offer their ICT skills to help solve computer-related problems.

Yes, this is hard work. Yes, it requires new skills. But, yes, students will engage and be enthused in new ways.

Once you start thinking in these terms, you can start coming up with your own, richer integrations. Alternatively search for “amazing classroom technology integration” in Google, or get onto Twitter and start building a community of practitioners to learn from. There is a whole world of sharing educators out there, into which we can tap.

Credit: butterfly thumbnail image by Benny Mazur on Wikimedia Commons shared under CC BY.