Tuesday, June 7, 2016

GUEST POST: Improving Student Interaction Through Technology (Chris Veitch)

This is in a series of posts by teachers in the TUSD Connect Fellowship for the 2015-2016 school year. I hope you enjoy reading their reflections on the impact of technology in their classroom, specific tools and strategies that have made a positive impact on teaching and learning, and their goals moving forward.

Entering into this fellowship, my goal was to see how the use of technology can improve my student’s learning. As someone who is relatively proficient in tech and can navigate my way around most software I know the importance of being “tech literate” in the 21st century, however as a new teacher I question where to efficiently incorporate that technology into my teaching.

Being a fellow this year and exposing my students to the opportunities that technology can bring to a learning setting, I am convinced of its importance and will be planning my future instruction through the lens of how technology can enhance my lesson. This praise should also come with a qualifier. Technology is not a band-aid that can “fix” poor instruction or take over for a human teacher. Technology is simply an ingredient that should be a part of  the “dough” of education, in that technology provides tools to enhance a lesson and force students to take control of their own education.

Through technology students can collaborate in ways not possible before, students can become “historians” whereas before they were simply note takers, and students can challenge the material where before they simply had to take the information provided to them on face value. As a history teacher, one of the most important aspects of my teaching is that students are historians in my class. And by analyzing multiple sources, students begin to pick out of the nuances of a topic and discover that the issue is not simply “black or white” or “right and wrong”. One of my favorite sites to gather these multiple historical documents is the Stanford History Education Group. (Featured on this site)

This site follows the current Common Core standards of multiple text analysis and finding the many perspectives that are inherent in this types of lessons. In addition, this site provides for guiding questions and pre-built lessons that educators can use or modify as they see fit. One of the most convenient aspects of this site is that the the primary sources can either be used modified (to fit the learning styles of all readers) as well as the full documents themselves. This allows for differentiation among classes. This is important for me as a CP U.S. History teachers as students enter into my classroom with all different skill levels. As such, it is important to challenge all students to rise to their own ability level and this site provides several helpful tools in order to accomplish this goal.

Another powerful tool that I have been able to utilize this year has been Google Classroom. My students and I have all been well versed in the multiple Google Drive suite of applications and their wonderful collaborative uses. However, there was never a centralized hub in which to properly distribute those lessons and activities out to the students. This problem has been solved with the use of Classroom. Google Classroom allows teachers to set up their classes similar to the Haiku platform and make use of the already existing knowledge students have of
Google Drive.
This classroom is then used by your students as their resource hub. Classroom contains all activities and additional material you would wish to use for your classroom. Students also turn in all material that you assign them through classroom no the need for huge stacks of paper and the question of “What did I miss yesterday” becomes a thing of the past as students know where to locate their material as each assignment is dated and appears in a list-like format.

This application has made life easier because it already utilizes everything I had done last year in terms of assignments and Google drive, but now it all exists in a centralized and organized location. Adding announcements and additional links are as simple as hitting the plus button on the lower right of the screen and pasting your announcement or link and documents can be uploaded from either your Google Drive folder (recommended) or uploading documents off of your desktop. Overall this tool, while simple, has made the biggest impact in my teaching this year.

Additionally, I was fortunate enough to be selected to speak during the TECHstravaganza where I was able to introduce the collective power of the Verso discussion app and the collaborative power of the Google Drive suite of applications, specifically utilizing Google Docs. As mentioned above, I have pushed this year for my students to think more like historians and through the interaction of primary source documents (from the SHEG group mentioned above) I wanted my students to interact with history as historians. By utilizing Google Docs and SHEG i have allowed students to interact with these documents in a group setting, using Google Docs, and address essential questions on their own. Normally this is where the lesson would end and the students would turn in their material. 

However, I have also wanted to push my students to interact critically with each other’s writing and this is where Verso comes into the picture. Verso allows for anonymous interaction between students with only the teacher being aware of any one commenter's identity. I found this to be important because students tend to interact with people they know and often choose not to step outside their comfort zone. With Verso students do not know who they are interacting with, which produces more meaningful interactions. Students are tasked with posting their essential question responses on Verso and other are randomly assigned to engage with the question and determine where there can be improvements. After receiving this feedback students then revise their questions and repost their responses. This allows for students to assess their own writing style and get a chance to review others at the same time. Slides from the presentation are provided here.

I knew going into this year that being a tech fellow would provide a challenging and meaningful opportunity for me as I would be exposed to more technology and classroom training. As mentioned above, this is my second year in the teaching profession and new teachers are always looking for some simple ways to make their lives easier. Being a tech fellow has improved my teaching confidence by giving me the tools to succeed. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my coach, Crystal Kirch, and know that while there is no real proper way to thank her for all that she has given me, I can show my appreciation by using all the tools she has given me to be the best teacher that I can.

Chris Veitch is a second year Social Science teacher at Beckman High School teaching U.S. History and AP Human Geography. He received his bachelor's degree from U.C. Santa Barbara in the field of Law and Society. Chris sees technology as not simply a component of education but a tools that needs to be in every teacher’s toolbox.  

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