For the past decade of my career, I’ve worked to empower and inspire educators in their use of digital content and technology. From teaching educators in graduate level courses and delivering school level professional development to producing digital learning content and designing educational products and services, my career has had one common purpose: to learn how to best support educators’ use of digital content.
This work has been informed by hours interviewing, surveying, observing, and conversing with educators in all roles, grade-levels, and subject areas. Throughout this process, I have observed time and again that when we give educators practical strategies to use digital content, they are more effective at teaching with that content and engaging students in the learning process.
Following are five new strategies educators at any level can use to more effectively use digital content to jumpstart classroom learning.
Try to discover and implement one new instructional strategy per week to grow your teacher toolbox. With so many requirements of teachers, professional learning can sometimes take a back seat. Practical professional learning can be as easy as trying one new idea for sparking conversations, jumpstarting writing, and exploring concepts. One of my favorite strategies, Snowball Fight, asks students to write and reflect on what they learn at intentional pause-points in a video. After writing a fact they learned from the prior segment, students crumble their papers and toss them into the middle of the room (not at each other!). After the next video segment, students pick up a different paper and add another fact related to what they learned. As the process repeats and wraps-up, each paper provides an opportunity for discussion and reflection to correct misunderstandings and dive deeper into the content being learned through multiple perspectives.
Offer students shared learning experiences through virtual field trips that take your students outside of your classroom walls. Speaking of snow, one of my favorite times of the year is when I travel to Churchill, Manitoba for the annual polar bear migration. Each fall, students come along on our journey to virtually to ask questions of scientists, observe polar bears in their native habitat, and learn how the tundra is connected to their homes. These “event-based virtual field trips create a single point in time where classrooms from around the world connect to form a unique and diverse community that takes a deep-dive on a particular topic or moment in history.” I encourage all educators to integrate Virtual Field Trips into their classroom instruction. It is a great way to expand your students’ horizons.
Enable students to remix content and apply what they learn in a digital medium. Content creation and collaboration spaces empower students and teachers to design, build, and share content in creative ways. With high quality content creation tools, students can create a concept map, organize a digital portfolio, record and upload a read-aloud, prepare a scientific explanation, or produce a character analysis. Giving students opportunities to apply their knowledge supports each of the Four C’s that are pivotal for student success.
Connect with other educators to learn practical ideas for digital content integration. Whether in-person or online, professional learning networks (PLNs) continue to provide a safe place for educators to collaborate and continue learning. Through our surveys, we continue to hear that educators want to share resources and connect with other like-minded educators. By getting involved in a community like the Discovery Educator Network, you can access ideas, pictures, and videos demonstrating how other teachers use digital content in their classrooms.
Pair high-quality content with effective instructional strategies for instantaneous engagement. I continue to hear how teacher exemplars save planning time and provide thought-starters for content integration and engagement. A great example is grab-and-go lesson activities that can be modified or assigned to students as-is. Covering all grade levels and subject areas, resources like this are practical and flexible. What’s more, this is my favorite tip to share with educators because it addresses a common challenge: saving teachers time.
Regardless of grade level, subject area, or instructional model, teachers have limited instructional time, they are working to meet the needs of diverse learners. They want practical professional learning opportunities that lead to relevant and engaging lessons.
While I’ve learned these tips by talking to educators as a part of my research, you can add to this list by sharing your own strategies for integrating digital content into classroom instruction in the comments below. Share your ideas…your colleagues in education will thank you!
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