Friday, September 16, 2011

Create lessons kids want to listen to using technology

Time and time again we hear the tale of needing to engage students in the content we are teaching. They say it is the key to classroom management and enhanced learning. Well, they (whoever they are) are right - to an extent. Don't forget, it is not only about the delivery, but loving what you teach and why you teach. 

I've been dealing with boring content issues lately. I'm teaching History 30: Canadian Studies this year and finding my group of students to be particularly un-engaged in the content so far....sure there are some that are natural 'history buffs' and love it all no matter what but many of my students, are not. I am left with the struggle of making my course content a bit more interesting, thus engaging my students, 'minimizing' my classroom management issues, and having the learning occur a lot easier. Stopping the time honored tradition of notes, discussion, lecture and questions theory in history courses is not something that is easily done in such a heavy content-orientated class but it definitely needs to be addressed. I don't think the answer is to over-engage by way of making them bored from technology but by splicing up my coursework into manageable information chunks with bits of technology sprinkled in. Sounds like fun right? Sounds easy? It is if you try!

Integrating technology into content or as a supplement or complement of content is actually more simple than you think. All it really takes is you taking a few minutes to think about what your needs are. Do you want students to create something for you? Instead of an essay (again), try a presentation style project where they present their argument or content they have learning using a prezi ( and either present it to the class, just to you, or even have the students send you a link to their work for you to mark! They still have to complete the objective (indicator) and will show the content learned but just in a different and more interactive way! Believe me, I teach English Language Arts as well as History so I do know and advocate that writing an essay is still a skill needed to be learned, practiced, and improved - I've written blog posts about just that - but the point is to mix it up a bit! They can still do an essay, but really, do they need to do more than one or two a year in one course? In my opinion, NOPE!

Simplicity is the trick. Show a video instead of reading notes. I've found a good series of videos about the HBC   and the Fur Trade - there are 6 videos in total, each about 10 minutes in length so it takes just over a class period to view them all. I had notes to accompany the videos - which were from the curriculum, and covered more specific topics related to Aboriginal issues and the effect of French involvement leading to the Royal Proclamation of 1763.

Another idea, which I will be using later on in the course, is to have the students create a video! There are a number of ways to do this. You could have them create an interview with a historical figure, interview veterans, re-create a battle or event, describe the event from a person who was there and experienced it from their point of view - just to name a few good ones I've used in the past. They love doing this because they can put as much or little effort as they want to achieve a mark and they tend to like being given an option to participate in videos. These video ideas could also be adapted to be done as audio projects or Podcasts.

I also use my SMARTboard - or PowerPoint or Prezi - for notes. A lot of my notes I have gotten from other teachers when I started teaching were on overheads or board notes, now as that is all well and fine once in a while, it is nice to have your work saved somewhere to use it anytime you want, or share it with other colleagues. Thus the presentation of notes from a technology point of view. You can incorporate pictures, short video clips, and links into your presentation/notes so that students are more engaged and interested. I know it involves you writing them out but who cares? At least you will never have to do it again, and your kids will thank you for the change!

So as you can see, there are a number of ways to incorporate technology into your classroom without too much work on your part. I hope you find these different ideas useful and easily adaptable for you classroom. I know that it may seem daunting sometimes to use technology but no one is really expecting fireworks every lesson, every day. Using technology can be a gradual thing that as your comfort level increases, so will your ability to think on the fly and use technology or create projects from scratch quickly and efficiently. Cheers to a good year everyone!