Opening Doors to Learning for my Students

This piece was originally posted on YUEducate, the Yeshiva University Institute for University-School Partnership blog.
diverse learners

 

Dr. Jared Matas, Educational Technology Teacher Leader at JCDS, Boston’s Jewish Community Day School, shares how technology can be used to help students connect to the material and engage in lessons.

As a classroom teacher, I try to use every tool at my disposal in order to best meet the needs of all my students. One such tool is digital technology. Although the lure of the shiny screens can be deceptive, and student motivation to use technology does not by itself necessarily contribute to student learning, there are a number of ways that technology can indeed open doors to learning for students.

 

In a recent class, my 7th grade social science students had a boisterous discussion on the loyalties of various characters from the American Revolution, debating where they lay on a spectrum between Patriot Revolutionary and supporter of the British Crown. Then one of those wonderful moments occurred when a student who rarely speaks in class shared a thought and all the other students suddenly hushed up to listen. “I know that soldier is not really a big supporter of King George,” she said. “When I was talking with him last night, he told me that he is just a soldier because his family needed the money.” An interesting anecdote that enriched the classroom conversation, yet how could a student in 2015 have a conversation with a British soldier from 1770? This was a virtual conversation took place in the role playing video game For Crown or Colony.  

By interacting with the characters in the video game, students don’t just learn content material – they are able to go deeper and make personal connections with the people, events and ideas depicted in the game. Students who have difficulty remembering details or staying engaged in conventional learning activities become deeply involved in the game and as a result come to class discussions with more to contribute.

 

Digital technology allows students to create engaging multi-media content to demonstrate their understanding, and can easily be shared with an authentic audience. Students take their role seriously when they know they are creating material that has a broader audience than just their teacher. For example, by using GoogleVoice and the iPad app BookCreator,  I helped first grade students create e-books of the story of Yosef, with illustrations and recordings of each student narrating the story in Hebrew. Students loved calling in to the ‘Humash Hotline’ to record the weekly passage – they would come in to school and ask their teacher if she had heard the new recordings yet. The enthusiasm in the room on the final class when they finally shared their finished work was only surpassed by the responses we received from parents and grandparents who downloaded the e-books.

 

Technology can also be tremendously helpful for students that have challenges keeping track of their paperwork. For all assignments, I give students a paper printout in class and then also share virtual copies using Google Drive. This means that students always have access to the course readings, on any device with Internet access. As my students work on a major paper, they use the textbook to find appropriate material to add to their notes and they can also search through the materials online. This is especially helpful for students who lose the paperwork faster than I can photocopy it. Students work on their assignments at home and in school, and seamlessly continue their work, because, as one student put it “no matter what computer I am using I can always access my paper.” This is also very helpful for me because I can keep track of student progress by accessing their rough drafts.


While these are just a few examples of how technology can help make learning more accessible to all students, it is important to keep in mind that just because most students are motivated to use technology does not mean that all technology contributes to student learning. Digital technology can offer many distractions to students. Our job as educators is to make careful and deliberate decisions about how to use technology appropriately in the classroom, and then carefully teach students how to use the technology effectively and appropriately.

Please visit Jared’s blog at https://teachplaylive.wordpress.com/

If you have a story you would like to share, please email Melanie Eisen atmelanie.eisen@yu.edu

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