Let’s face it. Much of the technologies recommended for teaching and learning need to undergo greater scrutinization since many of those technologies are too far down the wrong end of the spectrum of shiny only to beneficial for learning. However, a shiny technology tool should not be dismissed simply because it is attractive; we must evaluate the tool to determine whether teaching and learning can be meaningfully improved.
Rather than focusing on a specific tool, let’s now consider more generally the tech. tools that utilize coding. The robots in this category have (and rightfully so) raised a lot of eyebrows. For example, it would be ill-advised to bring the tooth brushing robot into your classrooms as a tool for teaching and learning (feel free to email me with a counterexample if you’d like to prove me wrong). While the tooth brushing robot isn’t available for reservation, there are many robots that reside in the CA BOCES Learning Resources warehouse that can yield a meaningful impact on learning.
Lastly, unless the course objectives specifically include a focus on a specific technology, we are creating a disservice for learning when the tech. tool is the end goal rather than a means to reach other learning targets. To help avoid this trap, I have given a few reasons technology, such as augmented or virtual reality (AR or VR) or robotics, can be a meaningful tool to help students master learning targets.
1. Explore Content Learning Standards
Whether used for pre-teaching or re-teaching, technology can provide meaningful interactions with social studies topics (pictured left; the AR app 1600), science topics (pictured right; the AR app Quiver), and more. The benefits demonstrated above are amplified because the technology was integrated with effective instruction. The tech. tool didn’t replace the teaching. The teaching didn’t require students to imagine only. The pairing of technology and effective teaching created more meaningful connections to content learning standards.
2. Foster Creativity and Problem Solving
For struggling learners, students who don’t eagerly or correctly construct sentences, paragraphs, etc. or solve mathematical problems, technology can provide opportunities for increased engagement and flexibility. Parrot mini drones are one of those technologies that, arguably, fall too far down on the shiny end of the spectrum at first glance, but this tool does not have to be attractive only.
For instance, Chelsea Lobello, CA BOCES Model Schools coordinator, worked with an Ellicottville Central School student to complete provided and self-directed missions using block programming; this student not only demonstrated his ability to code and sequence blocks in order for the drone to complete a mission, but he also demonstrated his ability to code and sequence words to meet his language goal.
Later that same day, two other students also programmed the drones to complete self-created missions. During these missions, I was able to have students simplify expressions and solve equations using rational numbers, a topic directly related to their mathematics learning goals and standards.
3. Character Education
Of all the technology integrations that have taken place recently in the CA BOCES region, the upswing of VEX robotics has been the most exciting for me. This year’s competition, Tower Takeover, as well as those from previous years, is more than just an engineering challenge. Students must demonstrate more than academic ability if they want to be successful in this arena.
The REC Foundation includes a similar sentiment on their website:
“In addition to learning valuable engineering skills, students gain life skills such as teamwork, perseverance, communication, collaboration, project management, and critical thinking. The VEX Robotics Competition prepares students to become future innovators with 95% of participants reporting an increased interest in STEM subject areas and pursuing STEM-related careers.”
Almost always, technology should be a tool, not the goal. The scenarios above followed this approach of utilizing technology as a means to an end, providing meaningful benefits on teaching and learning. Hopefully your pursuits with technology are equally as fruitful.
By: Mark Beckwith, Model Schools