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Getting the Most Out of Today’s Education Tech (and Planning for the Future)

"95% of teens use the internet and nearly 50% have a smartphone. In order to engage their cyber students"

— PEW Internet & American Life Project
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"95% of teens use the internet and nearly 50% have a smartphone. In order to engage their cyber students" —PEW Internet & American Life Project

These days, it seems like everyone has a laptop, tablet, or smartphone. The rapid adoption of new tech is most obvious among kids and teens. And not everyone is thrilled – as kids surpass their parents in terms of internet savviness, they are increasingly harder to reach. According to the PEW Internet & American Life Project, 95% of teens use the internet and nearly 50% have a smartphone. In order to engage their cyber students, today's educators must create a 21st century classroom that embraces new technologies. This guide shows how some educators have applied tried-and-true pedagogical methods to the vast array of education tech available today.

Social Networking

According to a recent Pew study, 80% of teenagers regularly use social networking sites, and now many of the best teachers are tapping into this interest. For example, some educators create closed groups on Facebook for each of their classes; with the easy-to-use interface, teachers post syllabi, assign homework and communicate with students and parents about ongoing work and grades, and even to share photos of field trips and other events.

Depending on the nature of the class and what they want to share online, teachers are using other networking sites, as well. Many use Twitter to post assignments, send notifications and just keep up-to-date on classroom and other student activities. Others like Pinterest because of its heavy focus on visual media. Using the simple Pin It Bookmarklet, teachers can quickly add topical content and even video to their page. Students and parents are then easily able to access highly engaging materials inside and outside the classroom.

Many elementary educators are using Pinterest to supplement classroom bulletin boards. Those teaching older elementary and secondary students like to free up class time by posting video content to their Pinterest page, and assigning it for students to watch outside of the classroom; in fact, depending on the project, students can even present their work on a page they create and share it with the teacher and the class.

There are a few caveats for creating a social media classroom: (1) Of course, before starting an online classroom page, educators should verify and comply with their district's policy on the use of social media and the Internet; (2) teachers should establish clear rules for language and deportment – it is easy to get carried away when you are alone in a room with a laptop; and (3) teachers need to be ready if improper content is inadvertently, or "accidentally-on-purpose," posted on the page.

Regarding the latter: if inappropriate posting occurs, depending on the nature of the content, the incident may need to be reported to a school administrator or even the police. Don't let the specter of bad behavior deter you from using this vital resource, though; according to the Pew project, very few teens (less than 15%) report engaging in the precocious online behaviors adults dread.

Other Sites

Thinking back to our 20th century classrooms, the few maps we were either posted on a wall or reproduced as tiny images in our textbooks. Luckily, today's students have the opportunity to explore maps of anywhere in the world (using any scale) using online atlases like Google Earth and Google Maps. With these, teachers can rely on existing images or create their own to teach nearly any subject, not just geography and geology. For example, Tom created a map of American westward expansion for his history class. Using Google Earth's ‘Sky' feature, astronomy students can see live images of planets, constellations, and galaxies.

Of course, the web's infinite number of commercial sites make teaching high school economics and business courses a snap. Some instructors have developed lessons around crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Pledgie. By either creating their own project or following an existing one, students learn how to market, sell, and fund an enterprise.

The Internet has been a boon to math teachers, as well. Today's word problems are ‘world problems' built around real-time data of current events; this style engages students, rather than putting them to sleep. For example, using stock market data, even older elementary students can create charts and graphs in MS Excel while learning the power and simplicity of formulas. Other math teachers tap into students' competitive spirits and sports fanaticism with lesson plans designed around sports statistics and fantasy sports leagues.

With so many informative and interactive sites available, modern teachers have an opportunity to engage and excite their students as never before. Utilizing the power of smartphone and computer technology, educators can achieve the ultimate teaching goal of getting their students to apply what they've learned in the classroom to the real world. Knowing where to start, it is easy to take advantage of today's education tech.

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