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Better Together: Collaboration and Technology Integration
From our Educator Guest Blogger Series
I will always consider myself a teacher first. I taught high school Spanish for twelve years before transitioning over to the position of Media Specialist at my current school. The news stories of teachers leaving the profession in record numbers do not come as a total shock to me; I know the extreme stress that large class sizes and endless paperwork can bring. It is worth noting that while teachers are facing a mounting wave of frustration, there is also another evolution simultaneously taking place in the world of education: personalized learning. This could be seen as yet another thing to be added to the overburdened teacher’s plate, but I see it as an opportunity for an educator to “recharge their batteries” and discover a new approach to teaching.
As a Media Specialist, I love collaborating with teachers on instruction; my goal is to provide teachers with resources to make their jobs more doable and more enjoyable. In helping to prepare our school for 1:1 Chromebook rollout this fall, I have the same goal. Although traditional full-faculty professional development has been offered, often working one-on-one with teachers has been more impactful in assessing their individual instructional needs when it comes to technology integration. I will share some success stories in working with teachers to redesign units and incorporate technology in transformative and impactful ways.
Student portfolios provide each student a tangible record of their progress in learning and mastery of a subject from the beginning until the end. The time spent adding to the portfolio may span over a semester, school year, or their entire career at a particular school level. Art teachers at my school wanted a way for students to keep a portfolio of their artwork that showed their development over four years, from Art I to Art IV Honors. A digital portfolio made the most sense and was easily portable; students could even use a QR code to include it as part of a college application. We collaborated on instruction, choosing Google Sites as our technology tool of choice (we are a Google Apps for Education district). I gave an overview of good principles of web design and how to utilize Google Sites itself; the art teachers instructed students on how to best photograph their artwork and edit their photos to showcase on their digital portfolios.
This was a simple, yet very effective change in how students could track their development as an art student over the years and share their talent with others for years to come. Google Sites is a great platform to choose, but there are so many choices: Seesaw, Padlet, or Google Slides are just a few options. Check with your school librarian or district contact to make sure the digital tool of choice is approved for use within your district.
After meeting with the English Department to talk about how the 1:1 initiative in our school district might change the way they approach teaching, a decision was made to take research into the digital world. English teachers wanted their students to receive a consistent experience each year when they conducted research, and to have support as they learned and used MLA format. Our first decision was to use NoodleTools, a digital research platform that provides 24-hour support for students, along with digital notecards, an outlining guide and a tab that connects to Google Docs for creation of their final paper. I partnered with the English Department in writing a grant for a school-wide subscription to NoodleTools, and then introducing it to English classes demonstrating for them how it worked with databases provided by DISCUS (short for Digital Information for South Carolina Users, South Carolina’s Virtual Library). This was a great way to prepare students for college-level research assignments, provide them with support along the way, and also transition the way we teach research as we move toward 1:1 implementation.
Several English teachers wanted to explore products that students could create (in addition to the traditional research paper) to present their findings. After thinking about the end learning goal, we utilized Adobe Spark, a powerful suite of applications that allows students to create visual content. Students used the Adobe Spark Video component to create a video summary of their research that included images, audio, music, and text. These multimedia presentations were then shared with their classmates and other English classes throughout the school to showcase their learning.
Student Voice and Choice
I mentioned earlier that for me, working one-on-one with teachers toward technology integration was more impactful in meeting their needs than providing group professional development. One specific collaboration with a Spanish teacher this year provides a perfect example. The teacher came to me wanting to use a digital tool to help students practice their speaking skills, but was hesitant about incorporating technology in general and doubtful of her own digital skills.
We sat down during her planning period and together we explored FlipGrid. FlipGrid is a video discussion platform for PreK through university level students that makes it easy for students to participate in “social learning” by recording and sharing their thoughts on a lesson or topic. She created a “Grid Community” for her classes and started out assigning them the simple task of introducing themselves. Students loved being able to listen to each other’s responses and provide feedback and responses of their own. The other major benefit of this digital tool was that students could utilize it at school, on a computer at home, or with the FlipGrid app on their phones. Students could use their voice to demonstrate their learning and improve their speaking skills and they could choose to speak where they felt the most comfortable, whether at school or at home. The Spanish teacher now utilizes FlipGrid regularly to assess speaking skills.
These are just a few examples of ways for teachers, instructional coaches, media specialists, guidance counselors, or administrators to come together and provide a more engaging and dynamic learning experience for students. There are endless options out there that I find every day. Today I am working on an upcoming project with a Social Studies teacher to utilize SCETV’s Let’s Go Virtual Reality Series to give students an authentic look at historical sites in South Carolina. I can say that these experiences in collaborating with teachers have helped to inspire me and reaffirm my love for being a teacher-librarian. Technology integration isn’t the solution to every issue in education, but coming together to support each other as teachers and as colleagues is certainly a start.
Emily Molin has been a teacher at the high school level for 15 years. She taught Spanish for twelve years and has been a Media Specialist with Greenville County Schools for the past three years. She has served as Department Head, School Leadership Team member, and Discovery Education Digital Leader. She was nominated for Teacher of the Year at her high school for the 2020 school year.