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The Digitization of Our Classrooms

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February 26, 2013 09:55 pm

This guest post is from Ken Halla, Ph.D., a National Board Certified Teacher at Hayfield Secondary School in Alexandria, Virginia. 
One day all of our students will have interactive lessons where the teacher will walk around the room connecting information, helping pupils do their work and making sure that the necessary learning is being done correctly and where appropriate, collaboratively.  Classes will be self paced and conclude with interactive assessments that measure students’ ability to find and use online resources to answer probing questions.
Before then we, as teachers, need to remember that the best way to educate students today is not the same way that we learned when we were students.  We need to help move teachers away from lecture based assignments, urge them to change their teaching methodology to be one where multiple Internet based devices are acceptable in the classroom and finally how to recreate their classroom to meet the needs of our high technology learners.  This will mean assigning easier material at home (flipping the classroom ) and having more interactive assignments in the classroom.  The focus of the room will change from the front to both increasing individual teacher-student contact as well as increasing interactions between students.
So how can one do this? Well, in my World History I class, my students will watch a short video on the decline of Rome  at home.  Then in class they will go through this Prezi DBQ  on Rome’s decline.  The students will answer the questions in groups using Google Drive  about each document and then commence to writing the essay.  When the draft is done, they will use Google Drive  to share the assignment with a friend who will give feedback.  If they want more assistance, they can do the same with me.   Likewise, when we studied the Greek gods the students created Fakebook  pages creating fictional conversations between the gods that showed understanding of each one’s powers.
In US government we have been using multiple sites for assignments such as this one  where my students had to predict the electoral college returns this past November.  As a result, when we Tweeted  during the presidential election returns, many of my students were able to call the election before the television channels.   Another time I teamed my government classes with several US history ones  to “solve” the budget, Medicare and Medicaid problems in the US.  We did it even though some of our students never met and had classes on different days and different periods.
Timeliness is even more important in my AP Comparative class where we just read the globalization  and democratization papers put out by the College Board.   Before class I created a post  that connects the two papers to the recent hacking by the Chinese (one of the AP Comparative countries) military that has been the news the past two days thus reinforcing the key concepts on the AP exam and connecting the material to real life examples of a country (China) we study which will improve retention.  To save time while our laptops were booting up, I had the students use their smartphones to access the sites.
This is just a start. One day we will have algorithms to help drive instruction.  My daughter Madison, for example, prefers to learn by video clips on Youtube  while my son would rather read the information and figure it out himself.  My other daughter Alexandra likes to do all her work in one sitting whereas Madison likes some breaks.  Companies like Knewton  are working with educators to create customized classes to meet these needs.  But it will take more than cutting edge companies.  If the FCC can create free bandwidth  for everyone, it will positively impact my lower income students.  Likewise, as we go to more cloud computing, we will be able to see lower price delivery devices such as the Chromebook  which will mean that students will be able to bring their own laptop/tablet devices to school (as they are already doing with their smartphones) and will not worry about cost or theft.
Digitization of our classrooms does not mean replacing teachers with computers, but rather helping make our students more capable, better prepared and more excited about embarking on a lifelong journey of learning which will both improve the workplace, our democracy and the interconnectivity of our world.
Ken Halla has been a high school teacher social studies teacher, department chair and advanced placement coordinator for the past twenty-one years.  He has also been a technology integration leader in Fairfax County Public Schools.  Halla initiated a pilot for e-books which led to all 7-12th graders using e-books in social studies, has been an online teacher and chair for the past eight years and has a popular blog technology and pedagogy blog which receives 48,000 page views a month.  He also has led many county in-services and offers a regular class for teachers looking to integrate technology into the classroom. Halla has a Ph.D. and is a National Board Certified Teacher. You can visit his tech and social studies blogs: US Government Teachers’ BlogUS History Teachers’ BlogWorld History Teachers’ Blog  or contact him at


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