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Nyssa Arcos Evans: Transforming Schools Through Digital Learning

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January 30, 2012 05:57 pm

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The following post comes from Nyssa Arcos Evans, a 6th, 7th and 8th Grade Globaloria Educator at East Austin College Prep (EA Prep), in Austin, Texas.  Before joining EA Prep, Nyssa was an elementary bilingual educator with Elgin ISD and Pflugerville ISD. While teaching at Pflugerville ISD, Nyssa was a participant in a Model Technology Pilot integrating Promethean technologies in the classroom as well as ST Math and Music in the curriculum. Prior to teaching middle school, she taught 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 5th grade. Nyssa received her B.S. from TCU and holds a M.S. in Education Media Design and Technology.

What was school like when you were a kid? Were you provided with many opportunities for self-exploration and creation? For me, school was pretty monotonous. Almost everything was taught from a textbook and most of our assignments consisted of multiple-choice worksheets and tedious bookwork. Visiting the computer lab once a month was a privilege, but in some ways it wasn’t much better than the drill-and-kill classroom, with a very pixilated Oregon Trail the only program available to us. Looking back, I can’t help but wonder how I could have really learned anything in such a drab academic atmosphere.

Thanks to advances in innovative technologies and social media, educational technology can now replace the days of mundane bookwork and worksheets, and make the computer lab a vibrant learning space. I’ve been very fortunate in my teaching experiences to participate in school and district-wide tech initiatives that were geared towards enhancing student engagement and performance. However, I have seen educators and administrators scowl at the thought of implementing new methods of content delivery, especially where technology is involved. Some teachers have been teaching for so long that the very thought of changing their methods gives them heart palpitations. You may know a teacher like this or may feel that you need a change in your instruction. Perhaps student engagement is the issue. Maybe you just don’t have a clue as to where to begin the search for new curriculum and technology tools.

Here are my suggestions: start with baby steps; analyze your student population; and identify the target group. What are the specific needs among this group of students? Is there a certain skill that needs improvement, such as reading fluency or number operations? Maybe you teach in a marginalized community where technology is lacking and exposure is greatly needed. Or at the opposite end of the spectrum, you may have a crowd of kids that are so tech savvy, they can download, upload, and text with their eyes closed. Whatever the case may be, identifying the needs of your students will better equip you to find digital learning tools that will sufficiently target student, teaching, and curriculum needs.

At East Austin College Prep, we have a diverse student population comprised of English Language Learners and at-risk students. They come to us with varied academic abilities and at times have huge gaps in their learning. We are fortunate enough to be able to meet their needs through the use of an innovative technology program called Globaloria. This program is a social network for learning in which students use various Web 2.0 tools and Flash to design educational web games. The program allows students to learn new content in diverse ways through playing, experimenting, researching, writing, and developing games. It also allows for differentiated instruction of new content or re-teaching in areas that at-risk students often struggle with, such as math and science. Student needs, as diverse as they may be, are more effectively met through hands-on digital learning.

In many ways, using technology in the classroom can enable educators to better meet diverse student populations and provide them with opportunities for authentic exploration. The growing list of Web 2.0 tools now available to students allows for individual self-expression, artistry and one-step publishing. Given this, a more dynamic and specified teaching curriculum can be used to target varied academic abilities. Think about implementing programs in your classes that are focused on teaching STEM skills. These types of innovative programs provide kids with authentic hands-on opportunities for learning and may be tailored to target all types of learners, at a variety of grade levels.

Providing a more innovative approach to education through digital learning will create schools where all students can be immersed and engaged in their learning. Think about transforming your school into a more collaborative and creative educational setting. Take a step towards the digital age.

To learn more about Digital Learning Day, which is February 1, 2012, visit the Digital Learning Day website.

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