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February 15, 2012 Are You Reaching Your Digital Natives? By Kristy Mall
Grades 3–5, 6–8

    Several years ago, I attended a conference that changed everything about the way I teach.  It was the conference in which I was introduced to the fact that our students are “digital natives,” which means they learn differently than many of their teachers. This was part of Marc Prensky's 2001 research that found that students are more motivated to learn and excel through the use of technology.  Why is this?  Because the visual cortex of the digital native’s brain is 20 percent larger than brains measured 25 years ago and so they are very visual. To best reach them, you have to design visual lessons for them.


    Facts From Marc Prensky and Ian Jukes

    • Digital natives retain 90 percent of all pictures that they see.
    • They tend to disregard things written in black and white as unimportant. (Think about your notes for students to take home that never make it.)
    • When looking at a page, they scan from left corner to right corner and then down to bottom left corner and on to bottom right — reading the middle LAST!
    • They are drawn to bright colors such as bright red, orange, and neon green.
    • Eighty-seven percent of all of our learners are visual-kinesthetic.
    • A University of Michigan study found that both students taught nontraditionally and traditionally scored the same on tests at the end of the year, but the following year the nontraditional group retained 70 percent of the information while the traditionally taught retained only 15 percent.  This is called “Velcro learning.”


    What does this mean for us as teachers?

    It means that to teach children in the most effective manner possible, we should include at least some technology.  At this point, there is a lot of debate about the balance of technology-based learning and learning through more traditional means. And technology in the classroom can be expensive.  However, I would like to offer some easy ways to wade in to using technology of all types in the classroom.


    Technology to Enhance Visual Lessons



    We were recently reading about glaciers in a book and my students had lots of questions about them.  I had found some great Web sites that showed small videos about glaciers, and as part of our lesson, I used my projector to show them to my class.  Never a day goes by that I don’t incorporate a short video or a visual into my lesson. 



    I have to admit, although I only started using my ELMO religiously this year, I don’t know how I lived without it.  It is wonderful for checking math problems, magnifying items for everyone to see, showing the answers to word searches and crossword puzzles, and even using pictures as prompts or to spur discussions.


    SMART Board

    Yes, I know they are expensive; it took years for our parent-teacher organization to buy us one.  People who have never really learned to use one may say that they are a waste of money, but properly understood, they are a wonderful tool in the classroom.  I display my Daily Oral Language on it (courtesy of some Scholastic books), show videos, have students work out problems on it (and they ALL want a chance to do this!), use geometry tools, and generally interact with this tool in a way that makes my whiteboard seem like the chalkboards of yore.  I have only had it for a year and a half, and I use it every day.  I can create wonderful graphics and charts, download lessons and save them, do spelling sorts, and more.  I love it and the kids love it, and they pay much better attention when I use the SMART board than when I use the whiteboard.


    Classroom Computers

    Currently, my students are learning about digital storytelling and are working on entries for our state digital storytelling competition. (My students have won the state title three times, and I recently won in the teacher category winning a new Flip camera!)  To participate, they have to write a script and create visuals for a set theme. They are entranced by this lesson. 

    I also have my students create PowerPoints on certain topics, make movies, and use our computers as research tools.  For this last application, it is important that you teach them correct research methods.  I do not allow them to use Wikipedia for anything except pictures, as the information is not always accurate.  However, I have a list of safe sites that they can go to for research.  The ability to research is integral to being successful as a language student.  Schools rely more and more on students’ ability to find information and share it through technology as they grow older.  Thus, students who begin online research early have a marked advantage as they get older.

    In addition, I utilize strong educational Web sites, mostly free to the user, to reinforce lessons and concepts. For instance, part of NASA’s budget is used to enhance education by providing free podcasts, videos, and pictures that teachers and students can download.  In addition, there are many sites that can be accessed for a reasonable fee.  My school purchased a license for the entire school to use BrainPOP (which the students love), and there are other great sites that charge fees that can be integrated into your regular lessons.



    Our parent-teacher organization just purchased 20 iPads for our school, and we rotate them through our classrooms. Here are some of our favorites:

    Bluster! (root words, suffixes, prefixes) (an online dictionary and thesaurus)

    Boggle (make words from 16 letters)

    Words With Friends (essentially Scrabble)

    Grammar Fun (correct grammar mistakes)

    Chicktionary (an anagram game)

    Grammar Dragon (rescue people by correctly identifying the parts of speech)

    SparkleFish (like MadLibs, but it records the words you add and plays back the story)

    Spel It Rite (hone your ability to recognize misspelled words)


    There are also great apps for storytelling.  Storyteller is a free download that allows you to record a story and then listen to it. With Rory’s Story Cubes, you roll virtual cubes bearing words on each side that you then incorporate into a story. This award-winning app says that there are over 10 million combinations!  Story Seed Generator randomly generates story characters, locations, and plots and can be used for writing prompts. Silly Story Starters — Creative Writing for Kids also provides prompts, but allows students to save their writing, remembers their info, and permits editing.  My students also love making stories in Puppet Pals, which is not very structured, but fun, and in Toontastic, which walks you through the stages of a story from setup to resolution. These are great motivators for young writers!


    Implementing any of these suggestions will help your class retain your lessons and make learning more fun.  Just remember, technology evolves daily and new products come out all the time.  So, as you become comfortable with one aspect of technology (or acquire one new piece of equipment), start thinking about how you can bring in another.  However, the key to a successful digital classroom is simple: these are tools and they are not created to replace teachers, but to enhance your teaching and reach those digital natives!


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Susan Cheyney