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Helping Students Use Technology to Experience the World

21 Nov 2014 by Lori Soard

These days, it is almost as though young people don’t even see the world. Their heads are always lowered, and their eyes are on a digital device. According to a 2013 Common Sense Media report, 89 percent of children in the United States have used a mobile device. That is up from 38 percent in 2011. Pew Internet Research estimates that by the time students reach their teen years, 78 percent have their own cell phone and three out of four teens (74 percent) between ages 12 and 17 access the Internet via smartphones, tablets or other mobile devices. There is no denying that students are living in a technology-driven world and the impact of that increases each year. The good news is that teachers can use that love of technology to build knowledge and apply it to the real world.

Technology inside the classroom

One great example of teachers applying what is learned in the classroom to the real world is biology class. Teachers can have students use their Chromebooks or tablets to conduct a virtual frog dissection and then take students to a local pond to view frogs in action. Teachers and students can discuss how the anatomy of frogs allows them to jump, swim, come on land, etc. Some other ideas for using technology in the classroom and then taking it outside the classroom include:

  • Study the galaxy on a computer, and then visit a local planetarium.
  • Explore the anatomy of a polar bear, and then visit the local zoo to see them swim. Discuss what muscles the polar bear uses to move freely through the water.

Marye Montgomery, a fifth-grade, private school teacher at Grace Academy offered this advice, “Anytime you put technology in the hands of the students, you do risk losing them to social media or other distractions. It’s important to keep them engaged even when they are accessing something online. I ask questions, have them fill in worksheets and walk around to make sure they are staying on task.”

Mrs. Montgomery is a big believer in teaching students about real business, civics and math concepts. She uses a field trip each year called Exchange City. By running a miniature city — including businesses, electing a mayor and providing public services — the children get to put into practice math, business and civic concepts they’ve learned in school.

“Leading up to the field trip, we go through a series of lessons. Part of those lessons includes encouraging students to use Cash Register, an app that helps them understand how a cash register works and how money exchanges hands. If the student can’t access it at home, I have a couple of tablets in the classroom that they can ‘check out’ throughout the year and use quietly at their desks.”

Taking technology on the road

In addition to using technology in the classroom to learn concepts, teachers can use technology on the road. A myriad of museums and attractions now offer interactive features that tie into mobile devices. At some schools, the field trips are preselected for teachers. By using QR codes and mobile apps, teachers can enhance the learning of these trips for their students.

One example would be a visit to the local state museum. Many museums now offer the ability to scan a QR code and learn more in-depth information about a topic. A savvy teacher will take along a classroom tablet or two and have the students gather around to learn detailed information.

Other ways to learn can include headphones that students check out during the field trip and use to hear exhibit details as they move through the museum.

Why embracing technology matters

Although technology presents some challenges for educators, the benefits include encouraging students to engage in what they’re learning, instead of listening passively. For many students, the ability to be hands-on in this way will help them retain what they’ve learned. Field trips are a good way to introduce the use of technology in the classroom without the teacher or the students feeling overwhelmed.

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