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Tech-Savvy Teaching

25 lesson ideas to engage digital natives.

By Calvin Hennick
  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8

Top apps for your class

Graphite, a new website from Common Sense Media, rates apps, games, websites, and digital curricula. These elementary education apps are among their “top picks.” Find more reviews at graphite.org.

• Teach Me: Kindergarten
Young learners earn rewards like virtual stickers for acing math and spelling drills.

• First Grade Pencil-Pal: Learning Game
Animated characters in a TV show–style format host games and activities centered around skills like telling time, counting money, and identifying sight words.

• MathGirl Number Garden
This speed-counting game is a favorite among little ones who thrill to rainbows and bunnies.

• Brain Quest Blast Off: Grade 3
Grade-level content is presented in a fun quiz-show format.

• PopGeo USA Geography
Kids locate cities and states on a map and learn facts about them.

Brace yourself. This year’s first graders were born in 2007—the same year the first generation of iPhones hit the stores. More than just native to digital, these kids have never known a world without touch screens. To engage this generation of learners, you’ll need some new tricks up your sleeve. We’ve enlisted some ­terrific techie teachers from around the ­country to share their favorite lessons. Whether or not you’ve got a classroom full of the latest gadgets and gizmos, we’ve got great ideas that are sure to delight your students.

 


Grades K–2



■  Hold a QR-code scavenger hunt (pictured above). Claire Pavia sends her first graders in Yorkville, Illinois, on a scavenger hunt through the school. Armed with smartphones and tablets, they look for posted words containing the long-i sound. They use their devices to scan a QR code (a two-dimensional bar code) underneath each word they find and check to see if they’re right. (A number of websites allow you to generate your own QR codes for free.

■  Bring fairy tales to life. Sarah Rich has her second graders in Providence, Rhode Island, draw characters on paper and make up fairy tales about them. Then, she takes photos of the drawings with her iPad and imports them into Explain Everything, an app that records students as they tell their stories and moves the characters around, resulting in a virtual puppet show.

■  Meet the other “mice.” Stafford, Connecticut, is fairly rural, so after educational technology specialist Lynn Reedy reads The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse with elementary students there, she connects them to students in a more urban area. They explore the city using Google Earth, trade poems with their new e-pals on Wikispaces, and meet over Skype.

■  Find and sort shapes. When kids are learning about 3D shapes, Rafranz Davis, an instructional technology specialist in Arlington, Texas, sends them out into the school so they can find examples of the shapes and snap photos with tablets and smartphones. Then, when the students return, they can send their pictures to the interactive whiteboard and sort them by type of shape.

■  Ditch the animal-name flash cards. James Hollis, a technology consultant who conducts ­teacher trainings on SMART Boards, created an app called Dragon Drop Animals that allows young children or ELLs to drag and drop the names of animals over silhouette drawings. If kids get the match right, the animal name pops itself into place and plays a sound. “Whenever you can throw in audio, as well as some type of animation, it has more impact,” Hollis says.

■  Video-track plant growth. Alex Dunn, a speech pathologist in Ottawa, Ontario, works with students to grow plants and take photos or videos of them at set time intervals. Then students compile their pictures and footage to create presentations for the interactive whiteboard. “They can make it come to life and show what they know,” Dunn says.

■  Develop a video game. As the culmination of a literary unit, Deneice Fernandez, a first-grade teacher at MacArthur Elementary School in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, has students create their own video games about the book they’ve read using free Scratch software. “The kids were jumping up and down, they were so excited to get started,” she says. “This was one of the most motivating lessons I’ve taught in my 20 years of teaching.”

 


Grades 3–5



■  Play differentiated math bingo. Instead of printing dozens of bingo cards and having all her students practice the same math skill, former first-grade teacher Leah Kumar let her students log on to a math bingo app. The app gave each student the chance to work at his or her own skill level. “It’s personalized,” she says. There are a number of math bingo apps out there, and Kumar recommends looking for a free one with good reviews.

■  Write interactive stories. Speech pathologist Dunn’s students create choose-your-own-adventure
stories. One group might work on a section of a story about a volcano, while another works on a section about a mountain. They write text on laptops, take photos with document cameras, and record sound effects with tablets. Then they put it all together using whiteboard software. “If people choose to visit the volcano, their story goes on from there,” Dunn says. “If they choose to visit the mountain, the story goes from there.”

■  Draw on math skills. Students in Jill Nippert’s third-grade classroom in Geneva, Illinois, use Pixie drawing software to illustrate multiplication problems. They might draw three fish each in five fishbowls to show that they understand what it means to multiply three by five. “It helps them figure out the problem,” Nippert says.

■  Follow an engineering trail. In one unit, Paula Giran, a fifth-grade teacher in North Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, posts a picture of a chairlift used by Nepalese people to cross rivers, along with a QR code and the question “What is this?” Students use their smartphones and tablets to scan the code, which leads them to a video about the device. When they later build their own model chairlifts, they already have some understanding of how the lifts work. “The picture entices them,” Giran says.

■  Reanimate Lincoln. Christine Baker, a technology coordinator in Pensacola, Florida, has her students use Morfo to bring presidents back to life. The app allows them to map their own facial movements and voices over pictures of the presidents (or of pumpkins, puppies, or pineapples, for that matter). Kids research the presidents and then record their scripts into the app. “It looks like Abraham Lincoln is alive and telling you about his life,” Baker says.

■  Create whiteboard lessons. Students in Betsy Weigle’s fourth-grade class in Spokane create lessons for the interactive whiteboard to teach peers about literary devices. One student developed a lesson about ­onomatopoeia. He recorded himself hissing like a snake and attached the sound bite to an image of a snake, “so when he clicked on it, we heard hissss,” Weigle says.

■  Present story problems. Students in Weigle’s classroom also challenge their classmates with interactive story problems. “We use SMART Notebook software to create slides,” Weigle explains. “During our math mini-lesson, I ask the author of the problem to present it to the class and answer questions. Students, as well as the author, get to share the work they have done on the whiteboard and explain their thinking. It’s a great way to see evidence that individual ­students are mastering concepts.”

  Use diagrams that get the blood pumping. When fourth graders at Trinity Christian Academy in North Dallas study the human heart, they use 3D images on the board to practice naming the different parts and to determine the blood’s path (check out the model at scholastic.com/interactivewhiteboards). Julie Abell, TCA’s director of technology, says teachers sometimes add sound effects for a multisensory “wow ­factor” that catches students’ attention and helps with comprehension and retention.

■  Start a dialogue on bacteria. To discuss their findings after collecting bacteria throughout the school, Giran has her students log on to todaysmeet.com, a website where they can use their portable devices to ask and answer questions. Giran projects the feed onto a screen, and then archives the conversation so students can use it to study.

■  Bring in the experts. Using Skype, your class can conduct live question-and-answer sessions with experts. You might Skype with a park ranger in Yellowstone National Park, for example, to learn more about geology or ecology, and to see the geysers, hot springs, and wildlife up close. To find other experts to Skype with, visit education.skype.com and request an expert on the topic your class is studying.

 


Grades 6–8



■  Experience history. Gigliotti lets half of his students watch the first Kennedy–Nixon presidential debate on tablets, while the other half listen to an audio recording (Gigliotti tells the kids that he doesn’t have enough video copies to go around). When he asks who won the debate, the students who heard the “radio” version typically pick Nixon, while the “television” viewers usually pick Kennedy—just like real-life viewers and listeners supposedly did in 1960. 

■  “Dunk” the teacher. In Kerrville, Texas, John Mein’s seventh-grade language arts students throw a beanbag at one of 20 targets on the interactive whiteboard. A vocabulary word pops up, along with multiple definitions. After the students choose an answer, they launch the beanbag again, this time at a target that drops a drawing of Mein into a dunk tank—while also revealing the correct answer.

■  Screen-cast test prep. Mein also has a trick that he says works especially well for his colleagues who teach math: Using a document camera, the teacher records a student doing a review session for a quiz or test, and then uploads the file to the class website or YouTube channel. “You have [kids] come up and walk through a math problem and tell what the order of operations is,” Mein says. Then, students can watch the video on their computers or phones to help them prep for an exam.

■  Debate across states. Librarian Elissa Malespina and sixth-grade English teacher Melissa Butler
in South Orange, New Jersey, partnered to organize a virtual debate between their students and a class in Pennsylvania. They shared background materials on the educational social networking site Edmodo, then faced off using Google Hangouts. Different students handled different parts of the argument so that everybody got a turn, and judges watched the debate and awarded points. The topic? Homework.

■  Put math in motion. To help her students understand how a line plots data on a graph, Kathleen Bressler has her Chicago seventh graders walk away from a motion detector. The detector, which is plugged into a graphing calculator, measures their speed, and the calculator plots the distance covered and time elapsed. Students try to make their speed replicate the slope of a given line. “It helps them understand at a deeper level what the graphs mean,” she says.

■  Take a math field trip. Davis, the Texas IT specialist, downloaded a 3D rendering of Cowboys Stadium from Google and displayed it on her interactive whiteboard, then took students on a tour. She had them count a sample of seats to estimate how many people the stadium could hold, then asked them to write their own math ­problems based on the stadium. “I couldn’t physically take them to the stadium, but I could bring the stadium to them,” she says.

■  Make grammar a game. Instead of passing out worksheets, Mein displays sentences on his room’s interactive whiteboard. He gives a group of students 10 seconds to identify a mistake. If they get it right,
they get points. If they don’t, the next group takes a turn. “Students love competition,” Mein says.

■  Discover new worlds. The map on the interactive whiteboard in Paul Gigliotti’s Ohio classroom shows only Europe and northern Africa at first, with the rest of the world blacked out. Then, one of his eighth graders comes up and traces Christopher Columbus’s route along a dotted line, and the New World is illuminated. “It’s a really neat way to do the simulation,” Gigliotti says.


 

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