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Virginia Journal of Education


 

First Person: Narratives from the Classroom


Using Technology to Build Community

--By Amy Issadore Bloom

Technology has invaded our lives and our schools. Is this a bad thing?

Teaching methods and philosophy are under fire as people look for the best solution to closing achievement gaps and preparing a caliber of student who can compete globally.

Some schools, like Waldorf schools, strongly discourage technology both at school and at home. Schools like this aren’t referring to the use of social media and the professional lines that can get blurred as a result. That’s a huge issue in itself. They’re talking about media – computers, television, video games – which they believe are harmful to thinking, attention spans and conversation.
 
It can certainly be argued that the use of personal technology, television and video games is contributing to our youth’s inability to focus in school, their poor eating and sleeping habits, and their lack of creativity. In addition, some companies have created “educational” software - games and lessons- that have not been proven to help students, and cost districts thousands of dollars yet, sadly, are still used in many classrooms. This is the kind of technology we should be wary of.
 
However, when used appropriately, technology can have an incredible impact as a teaching tool and even as a community-builder, and it does have a place in the classroom - even the “hands-on” classroom.
 
Don’t get me wrong, our 20-month-old has still not watched TV, nor is he allowed to even hold my iPhone. I have ranted on more than one occasion about how video games are contributing to our students’ lack of creativity, especially in writing. Nothing is more frustrating than a student who wants to write a story about playing a video game. This is not the stuff of great writers.
 
But, innovations such as the Smartboard can change the way we plan, teach and manage our time. Technology like this can help us teach to multiple intelligences, create fair assessments, and motivate students.
 
If you haven’t had the opportunity to use one, a Smartboard is an interactive white board. You can write on it with special markers, project anything from a word document to a movie, play games, or manipulate landforms. You can save and store information on it, avoiding the problem of losing materials, and making it easy to create and update lessons based on student need.
 
I was fortunate to have a Smartboard in my middle school classroom. After years of sharing rooms, trailers and even teaching in the hallway, just having my own space was exciting. Having my own Smartboard was unreal. And, once I got the courage to fire it up, it was surprisingly easy to use.
 
Unlike iPads, cell phones and laptops that tend to be isolating, a Smartboard creates a sense of connection and community in the classroom. During a civics lesson, I witnessed a surprising alliance between a “cool” student, and a, well, not so popular boy. They paired up, whispering answers and encouraging each other during a game. The next morning in class, some girls were talking to the formerly not so popular student.
 
It’s these small steps that allow students to showcase their strengths, and gain confidence. Shy students who rarely volunteer in class are suddenly jumping out of their seats to have a turn spelling a word to make a soccer goal, sorting adjectives into baskets, or manipulating objects.
 
Today’s students thrive on technology. They like interacting with it, whether editing writing, reading poems, playing games or solving problems. It motivates them to pay attention, participate and to “win.” They are encouraged to take risks, even if it is just coming up to the board and sorting words or filling in the blank.
 
Students also like predictability and order (despite appearances and attitude). For many teachers, having a tool like a Smartboard helps achieve this. I have wasted an incredible amount of time writing and re-writing charts, shared reading posters, and even daily agendas. Some teachers, especially elementary school teachers, have lovely handwriting. They were meant to create big posters for all to read and enjoy. I, however, have never had good penmanship and have continued on a downward spiral. The ability to type and edit materials electronically has saved me time, as well as complaints from students.
 
In addition, instead of cutting, pasting and laminating, I created games electronically. They won’t get damaged or lost. More importantly, I could spend my time planning lessons and staying up-to-date on professional reading instead of physically preparing manipulatives and copies.

I realize that not everyone is fortunate enough to have the most current technology in their schools. But, I hope that when you do have the opportunity, you will embrace it – and quickly.

Issadore Bloom, a former member of the Fairfax Education Association, is now a freelance writer in Washington, D.C. Read more of her writing at www.bloomindc.com.

 

 

 


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