The Evolving Classroom – Part 2

by Shikha Das Shankar ~ Sep 20, 2018

Technology in classroom

In the first part of our evolving classroom series we saw how our child’s classroom is changing into a tech-enabled environment that is adopting new tools for learning, innovation and creativity.

In the past, we welcomed a desktop on the class teacher’s table, or a computer lab in every school, and made computer literacy part of every school’s curriculum. Technology’s insurmountable growth is now bringing in another wave of transformation in the classroom.

The future is heading towards open classrooms where desks and chairs are being replaced with beanbags and bouncy balls, whiteboards with LCD smart boards, and pen and paper with iPads and laptops. 

Technology is helping the growth of experimental schools too, that are breaking the norm of awarding grades and scores to children, and creating classrooms based on their skills instead of age. Technology in education is aiding the growth of customized learning, where educators provide child-specific learning modules, ensuring the child learns from his inherent skills rather than rote memory.

As we see our child’s classroom metamorphosing into a robust learning environment, we must accept that technology is a gateway to success for the next generation. There has never been a more exciting time for education than now.  We look at four technologies carving its way into K-12 classrooms of today. 

Immersive Technologies

Roughly broken down into augmented, virtual and mixed reality, holography and telepresence, immersive technologies allow users to integrate virtual content with their physical environment thus diminishing the difference between a user’s real environment and that of virtual content. Demand for immersive learning tools are rising in K-12 schools because of this technology’s ability to offer blended reality that goes beyond the confines of a classroom. For example, VR allows students to take virtual field trips across the world, and participate in virtual dissection to get a comprehensive look inside a human body. This technology is fostering greater collaboration with peers in the classroom and allowing more project-based learning. 

Cloud Computing 

Cloud computing is helping take learning beyond brick-and-mortar schools, breaking the norm that a student and teacher need to be face-to-face in order for learning to happen. Information, mainly in the form of homework, class discussions and assignments are delivered consistently and securely over a cloud network. Digital libraries and Google Classroom are popular examples of cloud computing’s strong potential for teachers and students.

3D Printers

A powerful tool in discovery and learning, a 3D printer brings to life anything that a student can visualize, catapulting his spatial reasoning skills to the top. Preparing a model of a dinosaur for a science project or an object for show and tell, if the mind can conjure an image, the 3D printer can turn it into reality. Already an essential tool in many engineering and architecture schools across the globe, this engaging technology will be hugely beneficial for grade school students as well since it positions every student as an inventor and keeps learning exciting. 

Game-based Learning/Gamification

Gamification of the classroom means creating fun, game-like scenario to achieve curriculum objectives. Digital games provide two important learning components to a student—collaboration and problem solving. Since digital games are highly interactive, they bridge the gap between learning and imagination, and increase the ability of a child to assimilate challenging concepts. Teachers are also using gamification, mainly in the form of learning apps like Duolingo, Socrative and PlayBrighter, to assess students —award them upon winning a game and provide constructive feedback when they don’t. 

The question around technology and schools has changed from “should we use technology in the classrooms?” to “what kind of technology should we use in a K-12 classrooms?” And this is a crucial step in the right direction. 

Sadly, the fate of “dog ate my homework” excuse seems to be up in the air (cloud).

Shikha Das Shankar is a freelance storyteller. Multitasking dragon slayer mom. Happy hiker. When not writing, she loves hiking with her favorite trio—the son, the daughter and the husband or cooking her favorite foods in her de-stressing zone, the kitchen.

The Evolving Classroom – Part 1

by Shikha Das Shankar ~ Sep 13, 2018

Back-to-school

Mothers start to develop knots of stress, and get their jollies too, around early August, as ‘back-to-school’ signage and dark black arrows lead them to the end of their local Target store. Another school year is here, and you give credit to yourself for starting prep work early, only to realize that the ‘yellow plastic folder with prongs’ is already out of stock. And is there a headphone on the supplies list for your first grader? Why?

The dust starts to settle on the back-to-school preparations with classroom open house or meet-and-greet, and finishes with the first-day-send-off pictures posted on social media.

Barely two weeks into the new school year, and notice how the PTSA (Parent Teacher Student Association) of your child’s school is updating it’s social media page regularly to keep us posted on miscellaneous school activities and events. A SignUpGenius online collaborative sheet, requesting volunteers for the year’s first bookfair, awaits your attention.

Paper reminders and agendas are co-existing with apps and social media to facilitate communication between parents, students and teachers. Class teachers are actively integrating technology to communicate with parents. A common example is an app called Remind, which teachers use to send important reminders to parents like class photos or school field trip dates. Another app called Bloomz is geared more for building a virtual parent-teacher community. Moderated by the class teacher, the app allows her to post in-classroom pictures, invite parents for classroom events, and initiate discussions between parents.

Wade through your child’s classroom and you realize how different it is from the one you remember from your memory. A media center with laptops, desktops, and digital projectors are prominent in every classroom, starting from as young as kindergarten.

Digital technologies and eLearning tools have been seamlessly incorporated within a child’s daily class routine. He has multiple opportunities during the day to come face to face with technology, either completing daily tasks or using free time to practice reading or math skills.

Tests are conducted electronically, teachers provide links to online practice sheets and reading materials, and audio reading software and iStation (software for reading, comprehension and logical reasoning based games) are options during choice time. Remember the headphone on the supplies list? It is certainly worth being on the list.

It is also nearly impossible to miss your child’s grade, report card or attendance as most school districts now have a centralized family portal where this information is uploaded periodically on a secure network. And we haven’t even begun to talk about how technology is integral to learning at middle and high school.

The vision for technology adoption at schools across the world hinges on a crucial fact that skills required for success of our children in the changing world cannot be acquired by traditional forms of learning like blackboard and paper alone. While it is imperative that rudimentary forms of learning remain, in order to cultivate future-ready skills like collaboration and critical thinking, schools have been working comprehensively toward establishing technology at the core of its curriculum.

Even though technology is starting to find its rightful place in classrooms globally, opinion leaders feel the adoption has been sluggish, with a need to ramp up how technology is being leveraged for children and teens.

In his book, ‘The Global Achievement Gap,’ Dr Tony Wagner talks about the seven ‘survival skills’ necessary for students to be successful in today’s global knowledge economy. These skills include critical thinking and problem solving, collaboration across networks, agility and adaption, initiative and entrepreneurship, effective and oral and written communication, accessing and analyzing information, and curiosity and imagination. He goes on to talk about issues facing the school system today and how it needs to change.

Can technology help reduce the ‘knowledge gap’ and shape skills necessary for success in the 21st century?

The learning demands of tomorrow need to be fulfilled today. And that effort begins at school. In the next part of our two-part series we take a look at how technology can help children attain future-ready skills and what changes to expect in our child’s dynamic classroom.

Shikha Das Shankar is a freelance storyteller. Multitasking dragon slayer mom. Happy hiker. When not writing, she loves hiking with her favorite trio—the son, the daughter and the husband or cooking her favorite foods in her de-stressing zone, the kitchen.

The case of the fleeting face

by Priyanka Raha ~ Sep 06, 2018

I assure you this is not a thriller story, but it certainly is a thrilling story of passing time, a story of a face that has grown over summer, and a story of a face that waves bye from a school-bus window.

This is that time of the year when school starts. Unofficially it is the end of summer. The first day of school brings with it a deluge of emotions. Kids are excited (or not) to get back to school, mostly to catch up with their friends. Parents end up having mixed emotions – slightly misty-eyed seeing their child transition to another grade level. At the same time, they are glad that there is no more chauffeuring around across town to different camp locations. You don’t have to accept it if you don’t want to, but it sure is nice to have some time back to yourself.

What the first day of school also brings is a social media feed of first-day-photos. Parents want to capture this moment when their child is starting a new year at school. It is exciting to catch those early morning fresh faces with shiny new shoes and a shiny new backpack, and share them with friends and family. Technology provides an amazing platform here. It takes less than a minute to snag a picture with your phone and share it with your loved ones. It truly feels amazing to have your community as an ally in your moment of pride and joy.

I love sharing these pictures and seeing these pictures from friends I know, pictures of kids who were pre-schoolers with my kids and are older now. But lately a few things make me nervous, like having signs of school names and other details on the picture. So I made a list, of things that we should remember while posting pictures of our kiddos on social media.

No school names

Fellow-parents, let’s be careful about what and how we post the first-day pictures. Providing the school’s name, address or any other sensitive information is non-ideal. Keeping personal information about your children away from strangers will keep them safer. I know that retrieving information about the school is not too difficult, there are many ways one can derive that, but why provide that information on a platter, right? So, please don’t.

Remember your privacy settings

Remember, that little text called ‘privacy settings’ on your social media profile. Pay attention to your privacy settings and make sure that you share your pictures only with the people on your network. There is even an option to make your post available to specific people if you want to. Like I mentioned before, technology is an amazing platform to share your moments of happiness with friends and family. But then, let’s do the sharing with just friends and family and not strangers.

No neighbor kids’ photos

This is an absolute no. You should not post pictures of your neighbor’s kids without consent from the parent. Your child may be best friends with him/her but only the parent holds the right to decide whether or not the photos can be shared publicly. You might argue that it is not public sharing since you have the privacy settings in place and you are sharing it only among your friends. Note that your friends are not friends to your neighbor. Let’s be sensitive to each other’s privacy. You have every right to demand this in return as well. If you are not okay with it, do not hesitate to mention that you would not want to share your kids’ pictures on your neighbor’s social media profile.

Discuss social media posting

I love all the good things that social media has brought with it but I am also very big on good  practices and safe behavior on the digital medium. If your child is old enough, I encourage you to ask her if it’s okay for you to post her picture on your profile. Mention that this means all of her Mommy’s friends can see the picture. This will set up a good foundation for social media etiquette for your kid in the future. Believe me, she will be on there someday, so teach her how, start today. Explain why it is important to pay attention to privacy and mutual consent for social media sharing.

Live the moment

This is my favorite one. In a strange way, this has nothing to do with technology and everything to do with capturing the moment. Speaking here from personal experience, I was not able to take a picture of my third grader as he got on to the bus. The morning got busy (no surprise there). I barely managed to give him a hug, then he sprinted off and then he was gone. I stood there wondering, I should have planned my morning better. But my point is if you had a similar morning, let me tell you it’s okay. If you have a well-documented beautiful first-day picture, it’s marvelous and if you don’t it’s equally marvelous. Capturing the moment is fantastic but sometimes just living the moment is quite great too.

You and I are in this together!

We are doing great!

Hooray to the beginning of another fabulous year!