By Mariana Ashley
If you’re a parent or have a much younger sibling, nephew or neighbor, you’ve probably noticed that your child or little friend knows as much or more about your iPhone and computer than you do. Since kids are so well-versed in technology thanks to online games, the Wii, and personal, portable multimedia devices designed just for them, why should we jip them out of using technology in the classroom too? Cutting edge technology isn’t just for the online college campus: here are 10 amazing tech trends in elementary education.
- iPads: iPads have replaced Kindles as the preferred hand-held gadget, but it’s not just about novelty. iPads have proven to be effective learning devices that allow students to interact with their lessons and teachers to constantly stream and direct students toward constantly updated information. As teacher-designed applications become the norm, iPad (and other Apple devices) will also foster customized learning so that educators can tailor their lessons to their class’ performance and potential. Other benefits of the iPad in elementary education: more social interaction during learning, better mobility, focused learning, and special needs accommodation.
- Ebooks: Even some libraries are starting to offer ebooks alongside the card catalogs, and Arnold Schwarzenegger recently pledged to use more ebooks to combat the loss in funding for California schools. Textbooks will be easily updated in electronic form, which is much cheaper for school districts, and some ebooks and digital texts can be accessed as apps for iPhones and other devices.
- Innovative funding programs: Despite harsh budget cuts across the country, parents and teachers are fighting to keep technology a stable, progressive learning tool in schools. One middle school in Pollock Pines, CA, has organized a task force to find alternative sources of funding for technology programs and supplies, and other schools are being inspired to create innovative funding programs, too. As the trend continues, schools will be less reliant on governments and public funds, and can benefit from other sources of technology "income." This system could lead to unfair and unbalanced budgets, if lower-income schools can’t pull together the same resources.
- Training teachers to become online educators: High schoolers are experimenting with online learning, and the trend is becoming so popular, it’s starting to filter down to elementary and middle schools, too. As a result, teachers need training in online education so that they can transfer their classroom management skills to online environments, effectively communicating lessons and evaluating student performance.
- Interactive whiteboards: Teachers with projection screens (or just a clean whiteboard) can connect their computer so that their desktop is displayed in front of the classroom, like a chalkboard. When teachers visit interactive websites or software programs — particularly ones with touch-key or touch-based features, students can all at once interact with the lesson or game, without needing their own computers.
- Virtual reality: Virtual reality isn’t just an after-school game for kids who like computers. SecondLife and other VR sites and platforms offer immense learning opportunities in real-life skills, and can even introduce students to other classrooms who "play" in the same space. This North Carolina elementary class wanted to experiment with math, science and art lessons through virtual reality, and they actually designed their own virtual labs.
- Blackboard and online communities: Online education platforms like Blackboard have been used by college professors for years, but they’re now being used more frequently in elementary and secondary classrooms, too. These communities allow for connection between teachers, parents and students, during the school day and after hours. Grades, assignments, supplemental readings, games, chats and all types of resources can be shared easily this way, fueling multi-way communication and collaboration.
- Mobile technology: These days, iPods, cell phones and smart phones, iPads, and other mobile devices are quickly becoming sought-after educational tools, even in elementary classrooms. They can be used for research, one-to-one computing, e-mailing assignments, sharing information, taking pictures for projects and research, and using drawing tools, as Keller, TX, teacher Matt Cook has demonstrated. He’s worked with Verizon Wireless and other corporate sponsors to give phones to his fifth graders.
- Podcasting: Podcasts are great tools for elementary teachers, because they’re free and give students instant access to multimedia learning experiences from all over the world. From current events to language lessons with pronunciation assistance to science research to literature discussions to interviews with industry experts, podcasts enrich lessons in ways that help students understand the real-life implications of what they’re learning. A great alternative to showing slideshows and even movies, podcasts can stir up class discussion and even inspire classrooms to create their own podcast.
- Moodle: Moodle is gaining traction in classrooms at all levels for its streamlined organization features. Teachers and administrators can easily communicate and design courses, and students can manage their own e-mail accounts, assignments, and more. Other great features include multimedia playlists and capabilities, RSS feeds, grading and assignment rubrics, ePortfolios, and personalized certificates.