Preparing for the Future: Creating Supportive Digital Learning Spaces
By Rachelle Dene Poth
As we head back to our classrooms and prepare for the upcoming year, there are many things we need to consider. A few of my reflections are: What worked well last year that we should continue and build upon? What did not work well that perhaps we can set new goals for this year? And what are some new ways to engage our students in learning that will best prepare them for the school year and the future as well?
I believe that our most important step is to focus on relationships and getting to know our students so that we can determine the best methods and tools to provide for their learning in our classrooms. There are a lot of strategies and methods that we can use such as blended learning, project-based learning, design thinking, STEM and STEAM curriculum, to name a few. Each of these offers many benefits for learning which is more authentic and meaningful, and also provides students with the opportunity to take the lead in their learning paths. Using some of these strategies or digital tools leads to higher student engagement as well. But how do we know where to begin?
Starting from the first day of school and being consistent each day after, we should greet students at our classroom doors as they arrive. Acknowledging all students is an important part of creating a supportive space for learning in the classroom. We can build those relationships and then take the opportunity to try different ideas and ask students for their input. As educators, we must encourage students to take some risks with learning, to set goals for our class, and to build their own support network with their classmates. It may take a little planning and time, but there are easy ways to get started, some which do not require any technology and others which help to introduce digital tools that students can choose from throughout the year.
Start by connecting
In my classroom, we use a lot of digital tools and the reason is that many help to facilitate faster and better communication and promote collaboration within our classroom. There are some tools we use that enable our students to connect globally, which promotes more authentic learning that becomes more meaningful for students. Using different digital tools to facilitate these connections and implementing different teaching methods such as blended learning and project-based learning extend the opportunities for students to design their own learning path. They can choose what to explore and how to represent what they have learned.
How do we find the right tools?
My first recommendation is that educators talk to PLN and colleagues about specific needs in a tool. Some considerations are:
- What is our purpose? Promote communication and collaboration?
- Do we want students to safe have a way to access class resources and ask questions? Or do we want to provide a space for them to learn to interact in the digital world and build future ready skills?
We have a responsibility to provide these experiences and more for our students. Regardless of the approach, whether through blended learning, project-based learning, or even as part of a STEM or STEAM curriculum, there are some tools that have been quite versatile for my students in these areas and that can promote more student engagement in learning.
Here are some digital tools that can be used in many ways, and in particular, to have the students create with and build their technology skills as well as social-emotional learning skills in the process. Each of these are easy to get started with and can be a good way to kick off the new year with some new ideas.
Blended and Project-based learning tools:
- Formative – Using Formative, lessons can be done live during class or assigned for practice outside of the classroom. This could turn out to be the one tool that you need. Create lessons for students to work through that include a variety of questions and content material, uploaded resources, embedded videos, links to other websites and much more. Why not have students create their own Formative as a way for students to build their confidence and have a more meaningful, authentic and personalized learning experience.
- Buncee is a “one stop tool” that educators and students need for creating a multimedia presentation full of animations, emojis, stickers, 360 images and also includes audio and video and a lot more. Students can explain concepts, STEM ideas, share a PBL project, or connect globally using Buncee. Students are empowered in their learning and can be innovative designers and creative communicators, in line with the ISTE Student Standards. With STEM-focused curriculum, students can become creative and innovative in their work using a tool like Buncee for displaying their information.
- Piktochart is a tool for creating infographics, social media flyers, presentations and more. I have used it to create a lesson for my students to complete. It is easy to provide instructions with links to other tasks. My students have used it to present their PBL to the class and find it to be easy to use, especially for visually displaying their information and deciding how to design their final product.
- Wakelet is a versatile tool that can be used to flip the classroom or provide access to different activities and resources for students to use when completing a lesson. It is also a great tool for curating content to share with students or for having students create their own Wakelet collection to save articles and websites they gather from their research. It builds student skills in digital literacy and learning to process information.
- Nearpod promotes learning that is no longer confined to the traditional classroom setting nor space. Nearpod has been a game-changer in my classroom. Students have engaged more in learning when we do lessons in class and they are interested in creating their own lessons, and taking on more of a leadership role by running the lessons on their own. It is easy to find lessons that are relevant for different content areas and grade levels and focused on topics related to STEM curriculum. Students can create their own lessons as part of their PBL presentation and engage all students in the lesson in a more meaningful way.
- Synth is for podcasting and keeping the conversation going. Students can create a podcast to discuss a topic related to STEM, or emerging trends like Augmented and virtual reality, role-play by interviewing a “special guest” related to the theme of a unit. It can be a different way to engage students, promote student voice and quickly implement a new digital tool in the classroom, thus building 21st-century skills.
Connecting is important
We have the opportunity to learn so much from our students. Beyond the courses that we teach, we must take the opportunity to extend the learning that happens in our classrooms. There are many digital tools available that amplify student learning and promote student voice and choice. When deciding on something to try, think about the benefits that it can provide. In my own classroom, these are some of the tools that I have used for teaching students in my Spanish classes as well as students in my STEAM course on emerging technology. We have connected globally, truly empowering students with real-world learning experiences and building their SEL skills through these connections.
In alignment with future-ready goals and the ISTE standards, I find that providing these tools as options for my students helps to address these standards and expands how, when, and where students learn.
By taking some risks, we can set a good example for our students. We model a growth mindset for our students and create a space where they can thrive. The beginning of a new school year is a great time to try something different to spark student curiosity and excitement for learning.
About the Author:
Rachelle Dene Poth is a Foreign Language and STEAM Teacher at Riverview Junior/Senior High in Oakmont, PA. She is also an Edtech Consultant and an Attorney. Follow her on Twitter at @Rdene915