A few weeks ago, I made a commitment to visit schools that are using social media, smartphones, texting, and other digital technologies, as a vital part of daily classroom instruction. The only criterion that I had was the school had to be entrenched in their use of the above-mentioned technologies. There are plenty of schools that have very expensive artwork on their classroom walls (i.e. Smart Board). I call them artwork, because they are collecting dust from not being used at all or being under utilized. Not enough schools are truly integrating technology into instruction, as well as encouraging students to bring their own technology to school. Recently, I made my way to New Milford High School in Bergen County, NJ.
After spending a few minutes with Principal Eric Sheninger and the faculty at NMHS, it was obvious that they get it. It being, that technology, if used responsibly is a great asset for teachers to improve instruction and for students to enhance their learning.
Principal Sheninger took me to a class where the teacher was preparing to cover a trigonometry concept. The teacher had just received all the pieces of technology to basically have an inexpensive Smart Board. He had connected an iPad to a wireless AppleTV and the television to a computer projector. This allowed the teacher to instruct his students using the iPad. The wireless connection between the iPad and the Apple TV gave him the freedom to move around his classroom. The freedom to move around the classroom allowed him to engage more students and improved the management of his classroom. The teacher was planning to use the iPad to show his students websites that were related to what he was covering in class that day. He wanted to show his students some real-world examples of practical applications for concepts that were being covered in class. I believe helping students to apply what they learn in the classroom to the real world is arguably the greatest responsibility of a teacher. Job well done by this mathematics teacher!
Then, I met with two other math teachers who showed me how they use smartphones to increase class participation and to assess their students learning. The teachers used polleverywhere.com to ask their students questions. Students answer the questions by texting their responses to a number that is on the screen in front of them. Asking their students to answer questions consistently during class affords the teacher the opportunity to receive real-time feedback and to formatively assess if their students understand the concepts being covered in class. Also, texting their responses engages all the students in the class, as compared to, the most outgoing students.
Finally, I had a chance to visit with the students during lunch period. I need to point out that students are allowed to use their technology during lunch i.e. their cell phones. I did not see a single student at anytime talking on their cell phone or consistently texting. I would say that more then 70% of the students in the cafeteria were working on some kind of school related task. I can confirm that when I was a high school student (when Duran Duran was a big deal), maybe 10% of the students in the cafeteria at my high school would be engaged in school related work.
I need to point out that this type of commitment to technology could only be possible with a principal that is dedicated to creating an environment that maximizes student and teacher growth. Most schools have bans on cell phones and like technology. Principal Sheninger obviously sees that social media and students bringing in their own technology are great educational tools. Unfortunately, many administrators and teachers do not fully understand the value of these technologies. Lastly, it is very important to point out that Principal Sheninger provides his teachers with the proper support (i.e. professional development, the equipment and hands on guidance) for them to be successful with the effective implementation of these technologies in the classroom. In addition, he makes sure to provide training to NMHS students on how to use technology responsibly.
Lastly, I used Poll Everywhere in my senior seminar the next day and it was a big hit. My college students really enjoyed using it. The participation level in my class increased dramatically. Once you learn how to use new technology you have to implement it and that was a key lesson I taught to my seniors. In addition, I explained to my students why using such a website would be useful to them and their students. Then, I gave my students several examples of how they could use this website in their elementary school classrooms.
Franklin Dickerson Turner, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Educational Psychology at Queens College, CUNY. His research focuses on the effective usage of social media, texting and other digital technologies with enhancing instruction and learning. Also, his research looks at race, social class, and gender in educational settings. You can learn more about Franklin at www.franklinturner.com and @doctorfranklin.