Approximately ten years ago we were asked to mentor a group of creative writing primary students in Sydney. As the course progressed two things about the group I was convening stood out:
· Their keen interest in creating “old school” print mediums
· The technology they used to create printed mediums
The group used pen and paper to take notes and jot down their ideas, but everything else was produced and stored on computers and memory sticks. Presentations were slick powerpoint affairs with music and visual/ aural prompts. When their teacher asked who had left a memory stick on the desk, I was struck by the difference between that classroom and the relatively boring classes of the 1970’s. Let’s face it, back then the teacher would have been trying to find the owner of a pencil or notepad.
Fast forward to 2016, and primary schools have moved into the future on a wave of lateral thinking and innovative educational technologies that are reshaping the way teachers teach and children learn. The classroom model with a teacher imparting knowledge and students writing notes is fast becoming history. Now it is quite normal to find the following technologies in primary school learning spaces:
Robotics & Coding
Once considered the domain of computer whizzes, coding is set to play a major part in the future of our children’s lives. It is already mandatory in many countries and has been added to the agenda on the national curriculum. In fact, QLD has pre-empted the national curriculum and added coding to the state’s list of school subjects.
The nearly irresistible combination of robots and user-friendly text-based codes is proving a hit in Australian primary schools. Kids can program a robot to follow commands, take challenges and interact with classroom activities. Schools and parents can find lesson plans and other resources on the internet, including simple bots like Sphero balls, Vex Robotics and Lego Mindstorms or more sophisticated units like the NAO robot. Coding, controlling and interacting with robots in the classroom is not only good fun, but it also teaches kids how to read and create logical sequences, and robots can be used to discuss ethical issues related to new technologies.
Younger pupils often struggle with writing, and teachers often struggle to get students to write on subjects that do not interest them. Most kids do, however, love to write stories and letters for their family members or friends, and this is where technology comes into its own. Setting up a classroom blog provides children with a real audience for their work. The child will know that the writing they post on the blog during the day can (and probably will) be read by their parents and extended family members. This is a great incentive to write and improve writing skills.
A good example of classroom blogging is Pobble, an international platform where work can be uploaded for parents, teachers and other students worldwide to comment, like or share. The interactive nature of the audience encourages students to write more and take pride in what they produce.
E-reading Technology & E-book Creation
Multi-media digital texts highlight words, read aloud and include additional activities, images, and sounds to help children read along and learn at their own pace. The mix of aural/ visual learning offers a stimulating learning experience that improves focus. Furthermore, additional feedback mechanisms and practice opportunities can be individualised to the reader’s ability which makes it easier for teachers to set work for users of different abilities.
Pupils can also create simple e-books that allow them to change the ending of texts, shift characters around, or insert their name into a favourite story. All of these activities encourage ownership of the story and increase comprehension and recall.
Games are often the bane of parent’s lives, but game-based learning can be an absorbing and inspiring medium for students who struggle to maintain attention with more traditional modes of teaching. The ability to receive immediate feedback and retry the answer is appealing to many students who struggle with reading and mathematics. Many educational games focus on strategies to improve reading, writing, spelling and math skills, but immersive games that concentrate on a particular study area like history, natural science or anatomy are often more exciting and memorable than reciting facts and figures. One example is Crystallize, a free immersive Japanese language game designed by Cornell University to make learning a second language more enjoyable.
Most schools are moving toward a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy, and many already have one in place with software and IT support, email accounts and chatrooms part of everyday classroom resources. Blended learning is all about flexibility and increasing student participation through the use of PCs, videos, cameras and other forms of technology. Knowledgeable assistance from the teacher and technical support are both necessary for successful blended learning. It is also important to remember that student backgrounds vary, and some may be less comfortable with, and indeed have less access to, technology than others.
Our children do not learn in the same way that we did. The keyboard has replaced the pen and many children in Australian classrooms today cannot imagine learning without aural and visual inputs and instantaneous feedback. There is no doubt that technology is reshaping primary schools and the teachers and students who attend them, and opening up exciting new learning opportunities for present and future students.