Six years ago, my school, Ames High School went one-to-one and handed every student a laptop. This was a major shift for many of our teachers, and school administrators wanted to be sure they had the resources they needed to adapt to the transition. The school created the position of “technology coach,” which I was chosen to fill because, as a lover of all-things-tech, I strive to use technology effectively in the classroom.
If teachers—especially those who are less comfortable with technology—don’t have someone they can go to for technology help at that exact moment, they tend to shy away from it altogether.
Every day, I work alongside our teachers to develop professional learning, create resources, model lessons and co-teach with them. Ames High School is a public high school in Ames, a mid-sized city in central Iowa, just north of Des Moines. We’ve been named a top high school in the U.S. on multiple occasions, and part of that distinction comes from our commitment to providing teachers with the right resources. We’re always looking for engaging tools that level the playing field for all our students and give them every opportunity to create, collaborate, apply their critical thinking skills and share their voices.
This is How We Do It
This school year, we’re looking to transition our high school from Apple’s Mac OS X-based MacBook Air to Google Chromebooks, which the remainder of the Ames school district already uses. As part of this transition, I’ll ask students to explore some of the digital tools we’re considering. What better advocates/critics for certain tools than the actual end users?
Kids love anything that helps them create. At the middle school, we recently bought every student a subscription to Soundtrap for Education, and I hope to bring it to the high school once the transition to Chromebooks is complete. Soundtrap is a cloud-based podcast and audio-making platform that our middle-school teachers are using to support a variety of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) initiatives. The kids are finding ways to use the platform outside of school for things like podcasts and music-making. To me, the ideal educational tool is one that kids want to use in their own time, beyond the classroom.
At the high school, too, I’m always searching for ways to keep students engaged in issues that are important to them. We’ve started a student-led social media team and we also have a student-produced monthly news segment that highlights what is happening at Ames High. I’m planning to produce spin-off podcasts in which the students talk about the great things that are happening in our building. Soundtrap recently launched a collaborative podcast-creation platform, Soundtrap for Storytellers that would let us streamline the entire podcasting process, including publishing the podcast to Spotify.
Redefining the Learning Experience
Classrooms have plenty to share with one another from one area to another, which this platform would allow, and I really like having the kids join me live, ask questions back and forth or collaborate on a single podcast.
Accessibility is key to ensuring that every student has access to a quality education, and the live transcript feature would also be very useful for our English-language learners. You can’t learn a language unless you speak it, write it and work with it.
From a personal perspective, I have a hearing deficiency and appreciate that we now have this tool to amplify one’s voice so that everyone can better hear what we’re saying. I actually recorded a four- or five-minute rant on Storytellers about the challenges I face at conferences when speakers don’t use the microphone because they’re uncomfortable about it, and I shared it to Spotify.
Too often, we're focused on the specifics of how kids are sharing information rather than what they're sharing. Kids need options. If they don’t want to write that paper or present in front of the class to show what they’ve learned, a podcast can support the same outcome.
Yes, Help is Out There: Colleagues, Blogs and the Twittersphere
Maybe you’re considering creating a podcast or bringing other digital projects to your classroom but your school doesn’t have the professional development or teaching resources in place to assist you through those “oh-no” moments. These tips can carry you through:
• Familiarize yourself with the abundance of digital educational resources that are available. Use social media to develop a network of teachers. More than ever, teachers are communicating their challenges and solutions through social media. Twitter, especially, is a very powerful way for teachers to take part in their own professional development. Connect to educators all around the world and you’ll access the help you need.
• Define your purpose. Do you want to create a podcast? Make a short video? Improve students’ writing skills? Offer resources to an English-language learner? Ask like-minded colleagues which platforms they use—and why. For example, I produce a monthly podcast with a couple of colleagues. I found Storytellers because I was looking for something with a live word-to-text transcript feature. The same feature translates well in the classroom, and a few of my students are already playing around with it.
• There are a plethora of blogs dealing with every ed-tech issue imaginable. Ask colleagues which bloggers they follow, then start following those bloggers—same goes for the bloggers that those bloggers follow.
All these new possibilities and pathways make education more personalized, and technology makes it so much easier than ever before. There's only one teacher in the classroom, but using technology allows you to seemingly multiply yourself, focus on individualized learning and give kids ownership of their education.
Patrick Donovan is director of technology at Ames Community School District, Ames, Iowa. Patrick has been in education since 2004 and taught secondary science before moving into the role of a technology coach. He has presented at conferences across the Midwest and has presented multiple times at ISTE. He believes that technology should not be the focus of our learning but is the tool that we can ...