A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Voices from the Classroom: A peek into the amazing things students are doing with technology

By Amy Whelan
Ryland Heights Elementary School

As technology has become increasingly present in our everyday lives, it is also making its mark in education.  To most, this isn’t news or some shocking statement, but I wonder, do you really know how your local school is using technology to teach our 21st century learners?

Please indulge me as I give you a peek into the amazing things my students are doing in a small school in Kenton County.
When I was a student, technology in education looked very different than it does today.  In elementary school we used programs to help us sharpen our math skills by solving a problem when it popped up on the screen.  In middle school I began to learn how to use a word processor.  We sat in a dark computer lab with blue screens and white letters, learning how to make letters capital and putting the correct number of spaces after a period.

Amy Whelan

My freshman year in high school, we learned how to type, for a whole semester, nothing but typing. We used technology from time to time in high school but I wasn’t given any formal training on how to use the tools in front of me.  I remember learning how to surf the web for information for the first time.  Although intimidating, it opened a new world to me as a learner.  Oh yeah, I graduated in 2001.
Now I am a teacher in an elementary school, I am the technology teacher.  I look at the skills I teach my students and I am absolutely amazed in how far our schools have come in such a short period of time. Teachers use interactive whiteboards to project the lesson, a copy of a workbook, or a video about a concept.  Rather than just reading about other cultures, students get the experiences of being able to video chat with students from around the globe or walk the streets of another country using Google Earth.
Students and teachers can interact through online learning with programs such as Google Classroom.  Many teachers have even worked with a flipped classroom model where a student will log into a platform such as Google Classroom or Edmodo and watch a video lesson then come to class the next day to practice what was taught in the video.  This allows the teacher to focus on concepts that students struggle to grasp and help students get a better understanding of the concepts.

Another way technology has improved classroom instruction is that students can take a test on a computer that can pinpoint areas of strengths and weaknesses and develop an individualized learning plan for that child.  This allows the student to either enrich the skills he/she has or develop skills that the child needs to improve upon.  There are hundreds of sites that students can use that teaches concepts through gaming that complement the lessons that the teacher is giving.  This is just the tip of the iceberg of how technology has improved education in the regular education classroom.
Being the technology teacher, I get to see all of my kids from the time they are in kindergarten until they leave me after fifth grade.  It is my job to prepare them for not only moving on to middle school but also for life.  I feel that I am teaching them skills that will benefit them their entire life, no matter what their future holds.  

From a very young age, I teach students about digital citizenship and how to act while they are online, I teach them cyber safety skills so they don’t fall victim to scams or online predators.  I teach them how to keep their information safe and what to do if they are having problems with a cyberbully; all things that many adults seem to forget from time to time.  

Beginning in second grade, I show students the benefit of typing with ten fingers vs. two.
We practice for short period of time over the course of the year so they don’t get burned out.  We make it into a game and compete against one another to make it on a leaderboard. I am right there with them, practicing when they do.  
Once we get past the basics, then the real fun begins.  We don’t do work in my class, we become creators, problem solvers, authors, design engineers, directors, programmers, and the list of hats the kids put on goes on and on.

We learn how to do word processing and create presentations but in a different and fun way.  Kids might have a quest to complete where they must figure out how to put a video into a presentation or make the title of a page fly across the page before coming to a halt and shrinking away.  We played with Playdough to create stop motion videos using iPads and an app.

Students — learning by doing

We then switched to creating fully digital animations using Google Slides but with the same stop motion concept.  

Later in the year, students worked collaboratively to develop scripts, shoot the footage, edit the video, and do “movie premiers” of their short films.  Have you ever wondered how to create a video game?  My kids could tell you, they have made their own by using computer coding and a program called Scratch.  

My kids start learning the basics of computer coding starting in first grade and by third grade they are creating games with a little help from me and by fifth grade they are teaching me how to do the coding.  This year I am adding 3D printing to the list of things my students are doing.  I am amazed at the designs the kids are coming up with and how easily they grasped the concept of 3D modeling.
Thankfully, I’m not alone and many other schools are giving their students opportunities to explore all that technology has to offer.  I’m excited at the possibilities and where technology in education will go in the next fifteen years.

Amy Whelan has taught at Ryland Heights Elementary for 12 years.  In addition to teaching technology, she is the STLP and 3D printing club leader.  Amy has won the “Top 20 to Watch” award for technology education from the National School Board Association and is a Google Certified teacher.

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