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Jeremy Macdonald: Technology in the Classroom: From Novel to Necessary, and a Place to Start

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March 08, 2012 03:36 pm

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The following blog comes from Jeremy Macdonald, a fifth grade teacher and instructional technology coach at Mills Elementary in Klamath Falls, Oregon. Jeremy is a member of the Digital Learning Day Educator Planning Committee, which provides leadership on the Digital Learning Day toolkits and outreach development for teachers and administrators across the country.

In a TEDx talk given in 2010, Chris Lehmann of the Science Learning Academy in Philadelphia, PA, said, “Technology must be like oxygen: ubiquitous, necessary, and invisible.” (A video of Lehmann’s talk is to the right). And so I ask, How do we get there? How do we get to the point where technology is so engrained in the learning environment of each of our students that its use is not seen as novel anymore, but necessary?

I have had the opportunity to attend a number of educational technology conferences, either as an attendee or presenter. There is an obvious continuum of ed-tech adoption among educators. It almost always starts with an infatuation for a tool, app, or piece of hardware. Then there are those who move on to, “it’s not about the tool” and begin to discuss engagement and student-created content and media-rich projects. And then there is a smaller pocket who have moved further and begin to look at the learning space and the value of student voice and relevant experience. Their conversation now mentions these tools in the same breath as crayons, desks, recess, and library books. That is the ubiquity that Chris speaks of. The technology is everywhere-big or small or in between, in a lab or in the classroom or on the playground-and it is a natural part of the child’s learning.

What I love about this is that each level, each stage, is necessary. We want our teachers and colleagues to fall in love with the Google Apps and the Voicethreads and the Wikis and the iMovies and…you get the idea. We want teachers to move from, “How can I use this?” to “How can students use this in the classroom?” We want teachers to begin to engage students in higher levels of problem solving, critical thinking, and creativity. Then we begin to empower students by encouraging them to reach out and share their learning (through these various tools) and seek out similar learning opportunities outside of their traditional classroom. This all takes time and grit. I hope through this post, and those that follow, I can help you and your classroom find and utilize some of the best tools available.

Now let me give you a glimpse of where I am, where we are at my school. We have covered a lot of ground in the last three years and we still have a ways to go. Recently there is a lot of excitement over a productivity tool called Evernote. Their goal is “to give everyone the ability to easily capture any moment, idea, inspiration, or experience whenever [you] want using whichever device or platform [you have], and then to make all of that information easy to find.” And it honestly does just that. It works on any computer and all your Android or iOS devices — plus it syncs between all of them.

While my students do not use Evernote (we are an elementary school and students are under the age of 13), I and several other teachers are now using it. This is the enamored, “How can I use this?” phase — which is great place to be. Many of us are using it to collect data. This includes anecdotal notes, student/group observations, formative assessments, progress monitoring and so on.

I started using Evernote to record my observations of group work. I start the note by snapping a picture and then type my observations while visiting each group. I will do this several times during a week and even more times over the space of a given project or assignment. With day-to-day glimpses of their team work, I can provide more meaningful feedback and more accurately evaluate each group at the end of the project-see the screen shot below for an example:

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If you notice on the left side of the above image, I have created notebooks for each group (labeled “ND Group #”). Within each notebook I can store additional pictures or even snapshots of actual work; anything I want to archive during the process is in each groups’ notebook.

Even more recently, my colleagues and I have begun using the audio recording function. I find this feature very convenient when time is limited and I want to make sure I remember something a student said or a question that was asked. In the lower grades, this function could be used to record students reading or the retelling a story. The audio clips can be organized into specific student notebooks to monitor progress throughout the year, as shown in the image below:

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There are countless possibilities with Evernote. I even use Evernote as my primary bookmarking tool now. I would also recommend heading to Evernote’s blog and check out some of the posts (like this one) that highlight some of the amazing ways that educators are using this tool in the classroom.

Jeremy Macdonald is a fifth grade teacher and instructional technology coach at Mills Elementary in Klamath Falls, Oregon. This is the first of a series of blogs from him that will appear on the second Thursday of every month. Find more information on Mr. Macdonald on his website at http://www.mrmacnology.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at @MrMacnology.

More information on digital learning and technology in the classroom is available at http://www.digitallearningday.org.

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Digital Learning Series

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