Classroom Experience: Focus on the Interactive
Those days when a teacher stood at the front of the room, lecturing to students who were mostly doodling in their notebooks are fading fast. Today’s K-12 classroom is likely to boast one or more interactive tools — not only enhance student engagement but help teachers better assess how pupils are absorbing the material. Using interactive whiteboards, tablets and laptops — as well as student response systems — math, science, language and humanities teachers across the country are acting to improve the classroom experience.
Today’s youngsters are oriented to technology early on. By the time they reach school age, they have typically developed a strong comfort level when it comes to device interaction. Using interactive technologies in the classroom comes naturally, perhaps feeling like second nature to them. Classroom interactivity may even help smooth the transition between home life and school life.
INTERACTIVE WHITEBOARDS: An Element of Fun
In the past, projecting digital content onto a wall or other surface required remaining with the laptop to make changes to the display. The interactive whiteboard eliminates this awkwardness, allowing students and teachers to display, annotate and manipulate webpages, videos or diagrams via touch. Some whiteboard products even allow two students to work on the board at the same time. For kids, this kind of direct manipulation can inject a sense of fun, spontaneity, even play, into the classroom experience. When school feels like fun, teachers can expect an enhanced level of participation. Elementary students especially enjoy writing on interactive whiteboards.
STUDENT RESPONSE SYSTEMS: A Sense of Freedom
Bolstering participation extends to junior high and high school classrooms as well; especially when whiteboards are used with student response systems. In the classroom of old, participation meant raising your hand, waiting to be called upon, then answering a given question at the risk of being incorrect, and perhaps embarrassed in front of the whole room. Response systems allow students to participate simultaneously, and with relative anonymity (although teachers can track who is responding and when). This introduces a level of freedom into the classroom, relieving students of the need to always be correct or “to perform well” in class. Thus liberated, students are freer to explore, experiment and use their creativity during class. At the same time, a teacher who asks a multiple-choice question via electronic response, can instantly gauge whether students are grasping concepts, rather than having to wait days or weeks to review test scores. Teachers can then adjust their lesson plan day-to-day or in the moment, perhaps leaving fewer students lost come exam time.
LAPTOPS and TABLETS: Individuality and Collaboration
Laptops and tablets also allow students to participate in lessons from their seats by writing or typing their responses. For example, a teacher might ask for a one- or two-word answer to a question. As the students type into their tablets, their responses appear on the whiteboard in real time, creating a virtual flowering of thoughts, ideas and suggestions for all to see. The class can then discuss the responses as a group. Working this way promotes a sense of collaboration, teamwork, even inclusion — all of which can prove helpful as students transition from school to the workplace.
Encouraging a Sense of Ownership
Students who use these new technologies tend to feel a greater sense of engagement and greater ownership over their own learning process, another factor that can prove useful as they transition to the workplace. In the traditional model, kids were required to sit passively and have something “taught at” them. In the flipped classroom — in which teachers pre-record their lectures — a student can decide when to listen to a lecture and when (and how often) to replay that lecture. During class time, the student can elect when to participate orally and when to simply absorb the discussion. When students are free to take tablets and laptops out of the classrooms with them, they tend to feel a more direct responsibility to the equipment, and how they use it.
CLASSROOM GEOGRAPHY: The End of Tradition
Interactivity is creating an evolution in the geography and even the concept of the classroom. In some institutions, rows of chairs and desks are giving way to a more open layout. The open circle — a decades-old concept created to heighten interaction between student and teacher — melds well with the newer technologies.
The pod system — a wall-free setup in which several grade levels might be grouped together — is also emerging. In some instances, individual carrels — much like workstations — allow kids to spend a portion of class time learning at their own pace. The remainder of the hour might be used for group discussion.
Interactive technologies are bringing about evolutionary change in K-12 classrooms across the country. Students gain in engagement, active participation, even ownership. Teachers get real-time feedback and formative data, the better to assess student progress and lesson effectiveness. As newer technologies continue to appear on the horizon, one can only foresee continued evolution.