From Personal Mantra to Global Trends: An Educator’s Reflection on EdTech, Learning, and Teaching in 2017

As the end of 2017 draws near, I am taking this time to reflect on and to look back at the wonderful things that have helped me make learning and teaching more fun and engaging, which hopefully led to improved student engagement and learning.

 

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Personal Mantra: Student-Centered Pedagogy Over Technology Tools

This has been my battle cry for years and it doesn’t hurt to remind one’s self every often to keep ourselves from diving into so many apps and gadgets that we want to use in the classroom without thinking thoroughly about the decision and its consequences. This mantra, however, also ensures that we do not just consider any kind of pedagogy, but one that focuses on the learners and their contexts. At the heart of every successful innovative work in the classroom is student-empowerment as students thrive in an environment where they make thoughtful and independent choices and their voices heard and acknowledged. In the end, this mantra hopefully becomes the philosophy of every innovative teacher who wishes to integrate technology tools in learning and teaching.

Personal Criteria in Making “Ed Tech Choices”

So, what’s the good, the bad, and the best in ed tech integration? The answer really depends on every teacher’s or student’s contexts and needs. I, for one, would like to use share some criteria that I use to say that an ed tech tool is great for learning. Here are a few:

    • supports active, creative, and collaborative learning, as well as critical-thinking,
    • promotes independent and self-directed learning,
    • intuitive and user-friendly interface,
    • provides accessibility to all learners,
    • developmentally appropriate, and
    • evaluated and recommended by other educators.

The criteria banks on the non-negotiables in a 21st century learning environment. Hence, for every decision made, these non-negotiables should always be supported or developed by the tools being used.

Amazing Ed Tech Tools

In terms of hardware, I personally would still recommend the iPad. The usual challenge, though, is still on its steep price when compared to other tablets. However, given the great apps in its ecosystem, the range of educational activities and works that students can do, the support that Apple Education gives, and the studies done with it, I believe that this would be a great investment. I have used other tablets, but at some point, they really cannot match the durability and security that I have experienced with the iPad. However, depending on the goal of using a computer or tablet in learning, other options are Chromebooks, hybrid tablet-laptop devices, or simply laptops.

A few gadgets that I simply love and can be integrated for teaching or working on STEAM projects are iQube (for circuitry), Littlebits, Sphero, Parrot Drones, and Makey Makey among others.

In terms of apps, I have always used the following classic, tried and tested apps:

  1. Book Creator – for creating digital books and portfolios, supports differentiated approach to learning
  2. Explain Everything – for anotating digital materials such as videos, images, and putting everything together into one file
  3. Google Suite for Education – free apps for collaborative activitites, Internet-dependent
  4. Seesaw – for digital journal and student interaction, suitable for young learners
  5. Adobe Spark Video – for creating digital presentations, with templates that promote better creation of presentations
  6. Core iPad apps (Keynote, Pages, Notes, iMovie, Garagebend) – these are built apps in the iPad and are great tools for productivity in class
  7. Tickle, Tynker, Scratch Jr – for basic coding for young learners
  8. Padlet or Flipgrid – for more collaborative learning and sharing of ideas

There are still other apps that I use in class but it may help to always have a set of core apps that would be used regularly. These core apps should have been evaluated well by a set of teachers in your school or maybe by others. With a set of core apps, students will not also have the hard time to learn and learn new apps every year or very term, or worst, for every teacher that they have. Organize a working committee to set the core apps. This would save time in the classroom as there would be no need to always introduce the apps to students.

Avoid causing app-chaos, which simply points to introducing so many apps that students are overwhelmed and are confused to which apps should be used. Never assume that students are always immediately good at getting how apps work. Sometimes, introducing a new app in class might even break the momentum of learning. So, focus on the core apps that would lead to efficient and effective learning.

Trending

The following have been trending for a while and will continue to be discussed and worked on by developers and education stakeholders. Some have been applied in education contexts. For example, I have been using augmented reality apps in teaching Science, virtual reality apps for Geography, and coding apps for young learners among others. So, this holiday maybe, it would be a good time to leisurely explore these ideas, apps, or approaches. That’s just an invitation. Make sure, though, that you spend taking care of yourselves during the break. Teachers need to relax, rest, and rejuvenate.

  1. Makerspace/ Maker movement
  2. Augmented and Virtual Realilty apps
  3. Coding and robotics
  4. Cloud computing
  5. Gamification and game-based learning
  6. Learning spaces
  7. Online and personalized learning
  8. Digital Intelligence Quotient
  9. Big Data, Artificial Intelligence, and Machine learning
  10. Personalized Professional Learning

 

Happy holidays, teachers! You did an awesome job this year!

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Celebrating Failures, Humanizing Success in the Classroom

The world of education has long celebrated those who get the perfect scores and the highest academic awards. We rejoice and wonder in awe when we come across kid geniuses, often telling ourselves, that they will become the future Einstein or any other famous scientist and intellectuals. These kinds of remarks often put on a big expectation on kids. We expect them to get the highest grades, to always and be the first to recite in class, and of course, not to commit any mistakes because well, they are smart or genius. Medals and ribbons are given out to honour these students. One would always find their names on the list of honors.

 

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Schools often miss the point of why we celebrate success of students in the classroom. It’s not because these are kids are purely talented or born genius. Maybe, it’s because they strived hard and spent much time to practice and master the skills they are learning in the classroom. Maybe, it’s the fact that behind those great grades are countless mistakes that helped them learn in a much personal, engaging, and relevant way.

What if we, teachers and students, celebrate failures and mistakes committed for the sake of learning? What if we say “it’s ok, you did your best” or “it’s alright, you gave much effort” instead of simply saying, “that’s wrong” so that our students would not feel bad about their mistakes and instead, have the confidence to try learning for the better again? What if we make our classrooms safe places to explore, to fail, and to become successful?

Experience, the Best Teacher?

We often say experience is the best teacher. However, the way we see and do learning and teaching in the classroom say otherwise. There is only one experience, from the introduction up to the end of the lesson, and students are expected to have perfected the skills in that one experience. There is neither room for mistakes or failures, making sense and learning from one’s mistakes, clarification nor second chance.

Even our grading systems show how we focus on deducting points due to incorrect answers. We focus so much on the deduction that we forget to give relevant feedback. Some teachers would just write “-1 or -2” and a few feedback such as “Explain more.” We forget to focus on giving feedback that would help learners firm up or correct the skills or ideas we want them to learn.

Risk-taking is also an important aspect in promoting growth mindset. Students tend to shy away from taking risks because they are very well aware of the consequences, which normally point to point deductions, comparisons to others who have done well, or even simply, being ignored because another student had done better. Yet, risk-taking is needed in the real world. Indeed, there are consequences for the decisions we risk in real life and some of them can be really difficult to handle. Giving space or opportunities for risk-taking in the classroom does not aim for the students to perfect the act of taking risks so that there will be no mistakes or that the risk taken would always equate to success. We are actually letting them learn how to navigate the consequences so that they won’t get stuck on the mistakes and move on to do something better about it. Some students who have neither taken risk nor failed in the classroom find it difficult to manage the consequences of failures in the real world, which often result to some emotional challenges or issues that affect one’s well-being.

More than Words: Promoting Growth Mindset

What if we focus more on the growth that happens? What if we focus on the process and the journey more than the destination?

Promoting growth mindset needs to go beyond using kinds and encouraging words. These are helpful as they can encourage students. We can always tell them to do better and not to lose faith or not to give up.

However, we also need to design and to align all areas or aspects of learning to support growth mindset. For example, learning activities should give time for students to explore, to work with others, and to always go back and reflect on what they are learning. Reflective self-regulation skills should have a place in the classroom because these skills enable students to be aware of their strengths, weaknesses, and areas to improve on.

Rubrics that guide students to develop and master skills can be used instead of simply using a flat numerical grading that lacks explanation or descriptors. Better, relevant, and meaningful feedback should be given so that students are guided on what to improve on.

Teachers can also model growth mindset. We also commit mistakes in the classroom. Every once in a while, when we catch ourselves committing some mistakes, we can use these opportunities to tell our students that we too commit mistakes and that we use them to become better teachers to them.

We can also ask our students to mentor each other. Mentoring is about working together and becoming comfortable to receive and give feedback to each other. Having a mentor or a peer whom one can trust and is comfortable with allows students to understand and see themselves through the feedback of the other person.

Last, simply celebrate failure together. Celebrate small wins together. Celebrate every bit of learning together.