How do you teach with digital media?
Teachers’ Domain, a digital library with over 4,000 resources contextualized for classroom use, recently caught up with two science teachers, Molly Sorrows and Mary Ann Tourkantonis, who offer complementary perspectives on this question.
Mary Ann (left) is in her 16th year of teaching and 10th year in public schools. She’s currently teaching 8th grade physical science but has a background in computers and a keen interest in blended and online learning.
Molly (right) just completed her first year in her own classroom teaching 6th grade Earth Science and this year she’ll loop into 7th grade biology. She has evaluated cognitive tools in past doctoral research and is particularly interested in how and why teachers should use technology in the classroom.
Why teach with digital media?
Molly and Mary Ann gave three excellent reasons:
(1) Digital media is intrinsically motivating. Students love digital media.
Mary Ann: Just knowing that the digital media tools will be used is an attention grabber from the start. Students ask: “Are we using the (Smartboard, laptops etc...) today?” An affirmative response will earn the teacher a high-five or a ‘Yes!’ This emotional response is the energy the lesson needs to drive it. Truth be known, I need this emotional response as well.”
(2) Digital media engages students in a variety of ways. It makes it memorable for them and adds depth and enjoyment to what they’re doing.
Molly: During our class review for a unit, my students would ask if we could pull up an interactive element and use it again during the review, or might refer back to a video clip when students were trying to clarify a question.
(3) Digital media inspires engaging methods of formative assessment. It offers additional ways to identify gaps in learning and to enhance the depth and specificity of formative assessments.
Molly and Mary Ann provided several examples of how they use digital media for assessment:
- as anticipation guides for the lesson to come
- as hooks to help students recall information
- as a means for students to observe a phenomenon virtually and are asked to explain the underlying science concepts
- as a method for students conduct virtual investigations (making predictions, gathering data, communicating findings, and writing reflections)
- as a way for students watch a historical event or re-enactment virtually and are asked specific questions to gauge comprehension
How do you get started using digital media?
- Start with one small piece. I find that the easiest way to incorporate digital media into an existing lesson is to just add one small piece. You might find a 2-5 minute video clip to enhance your lesson (either as an introduction or when you are beginning your wrap-up of a topic), or you might find an interactive that allows your students to practice and visualize a topic.
- Engage your students’ technical expertise. Students are very aware that technology is changing rapidly and are excited to be part of that change. Look for students in your classrooms who know how to reset the board when it is finicky, adjust the sound when you can’t figure out why it’s silent, or find a new feature on the interactive activity that you hadn’t noticed.
- Check for understanding. Checking for understanding as you proceed is essential when you use digital media, because at times you need an extra step to judge that. For example, if you show a video clip you’re less able to see the faces of all students and can’t tell how well they are understanding. After using an interactive to explore and learn about a topic, the same process or series can be shown to the class all together, for a series of responses, either verbal or individually written, to check for understanding.
- Establish learning goals. Just as planning any other learning activity, ask: What is the target? How will you assess the target has been hit by all learners? How will students demonstrate learning?
- Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Banking an entire lesson upon a technology that worked wonderfully during planning but fails during class time will leave you frustrated and wary to try again. I wish more middle and high school classes used learning stations. Break students into small groups, make sure to have more learning stations than groups, and set up the technology station in one corner and have the groups students take turns. This takes the burden off – if it fails you will have no need to scrabble around for an alternative activity. Learning Stations - they’re not elementary!
- Observe other classrooms and ask for assistance. There is, for some teachers, a level of inhibition that serves as a wall. You may be afraid to reveal to students how inept you are in using technology. Students don’t care and are operating under the assumption that by virtue of your years on the planet that you’re way behind the times anyway. Believe me, by not including digital resources, you have sent that message to your students already. I strongly believe the answer is observation and direct assistance. I’m fortunate in that my administration is supportive of peer observation and will arrange for substitute coverage in order for us to make classroom visits. I have no doubt that you have colleagues who would be willing to be there on your first try to give tips and troubleshoot any problems. Ask. You won't be disappointed.
Want more? Molly and Mary Ann demonstrate how they’ve used Teachers’ Domain science resources in Tips and Tricks for Teaching with Digital Media Webinar.