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A Teacher’s Take on Technology in the Classroom

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This guest blog post was written by Ashley Sorenson, a teacher at Howard High School of Technology in Wilmington, Delaware. As part of our blog series on education technology for Digital Learning Day, this piece speaks to the role of technology to support personalized learning. To learn more about Howard’s iPad initiative and watch a video of Howard students at work (including several shots of Ms. Sorenson’s class), click here. To read the first post in this Digital Learning Day blog series, “A New Vision for Education,” click here.

Personalized Learning.

Although it may sound like just another “educational buzzword,” one result of the new iPad initiative at Howard High School of Technology  is that personalized learning is now part of my classroom reality. As a Biology teacher at Howard, I’m blessed to work with an energetic, engaged group of 10th graders. Since this past November, each of my students now has an iPad. The iPads have provided our students with unprecedented opportunities to take control and personalize their own learning. Students tap away on their iPads, which allow them to take notes in Notability, write essays in Pages, and create presentations in Keynote.

Beyond these great apps, I’ve found that allowing students to personalize their learning is feasible with iPads. Instead of watching a single video as a class to enhance their learning, students choose teacher-approved videos from YouTube playlists and fill in graphic organizers or write paragraphs comparing and contrasting different points of views. Students download PowerPoint presentations and worksheets from my website to work on individually, giving me time to intervene with students who need the most help and check in with each student, giving them valuable one-on-one time to ask questions and get personalized, instant answers.

Last month, my students replaced typical lab reports with an interactive lab experience. The assignment was to collect three bacterial swabs on their agar plate from three unique locations in the school. We then cultured the bacteria, observing the colonies that formed on the agar plates. From water fountains to door handles, toilet seats to lunch tables, the students swarmed the school collecting bacterial samples in neon colored goggles. Last year, my students completed the lab and drew pictures of every location they sampled, as well as drew pictures of each stage of development of the bacterial colonies. This year, students hit the school with agar plates and iPads, videotaping the procedures, monitoring results, and drawing conclusions – then turned their small videos into a short movie trailer. Each student made an individual trailer in iMovie and showed them off by “reflecting” their screens onto the projector. These opportunities for students to showcase their work and expand upon it – while building technical skills – simply did not exist prior to getting the iPads.

Each day, my students find new and interesting ways to demonstrate their learning. With the iPads, much more of their learning is personalized for them. Students can present information in ways that align with their skills, demonstrating mastery of content in a variety of ways. They are more accountable, using collaborative pairs to bounce ideas off of each other, instead of collaborating on a project and dividing the work. With the addition of iPads to our school, teachers can more easily provide additional opportunities for remediation and enrichment. Students benefit with these new challenges  – tapping away at personalized learning.

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