Innovative tech in Xavier
(Last of two parts)
Schools often ask teachers to use technology for technology’s sake. So teachers use PowerPoint and download videos as entertaining gimmicks to catch students’ attention.
In Xavier School, teachers are encouraged, but not forced, to use technology. Galvin Ngo, head of Xavier’s NExT office, stresses the importance of preparing teachers. NExT stands for New Experiences with Technology.
“Teachers should understand the goal and rationale of tech integration,” Ngo says, “so they do not veer away and use tools inappropriately and make teaching worse.”
“We are not just teaching technical skills,” says Jessica Demegillo of the NExT team. “Teaching is not just making good presentations.”
In the digital age, the role of the teacher has changed. Often the teacher is more like a facilitator than an instructor.
When a teacher directs students to a website, “does the teacher really teach?” asks Ngo. “Not in the traditional way. But when the teacher sources information from experts online, then the teacher deepens learning.”
It is now impractical to be just a teacher in the classroom, says Franco Addun, who teaches social studies in middle school. “The 21st century is forcing teachers to [also] be facilitators [who] focus more on directing and guiding the acquisition and processing of information inside the classroom with, of course, the use of technology.”
Facilitators should “provide opportunities for students to actually immerse themselves in tasks,” says Addun, “and plan activities so they can maximize their experience, with optimal results.”
Addun says tech use can erase, for instance, the “common misconception that social studies is boring. By capitalizing on how students best learn today, teachers are able to teach in new ways.”
Touting the benefits of individualized instruction, he says, “With their own iPads or laptops, students now [can] choose how they would like to learn. They can watch videos, read articles, use applications that allow visualizations … . Students can learn individually by doing their tasks individually, with almost all resources available to them.”
Learning is not confined to the classroom or class time. Addun says, “Learning websites offer opportunities for teacher-facilitators to extend the physical classroom online.”
On Edmodo, for instance, which has a similar interface as Facebook but limited to academic use, Addun says he posts handouts and PowerPoints, assigns homework and engages students through surveys. “Students can ask questions so they will never feel disconnected …”
But teachers need to be flexible. “Allow students to look for answers … using tech,” says Addun. “Allow them to decide how to explore and learn things.”
Addun believes in giving feedback immediately. “Focus more on positive feedback while giving constructive criticisms,” says Addun, “to encourage students to continue using tech for learning.”
Reagan Austria used to teach computer classes but now teaches Filipino in middle school.
Austria, who says motivating students has always been a challenge, thanks technology and NExT for letting them gain student interest by integrating different apps in lessons.
Last school year, Grade 6 students did photo-blogging to enhance their lesson on adjectives. They listened to podcasts and audio-recordings (via Ubuntu) when they studied poetry. They did video-logs, aside from writing exercises, to communicate their ideas.
Austria says they have been experimenting on the use of iPads to further engage students. “iPads are powerful because of the many apps in the market. Blogging, vlogging and podcasting can be easily done. Storytelling is now made even more enjoyable via apps like PuppetPals and Toontastic. Generating ideas and making connections are now easy and presented with the help of Idea Sketch and Mindomo. This school year, we will conduct literature classes on synchronized iPads, via apps like Socrative and Nearpod.”
For Austria, the greatest benefit has been to allow every student to make his ideas known.
“Empowering students means providing each one the opportunity to contribute and participate,” Austria says. “We can hear the opinion of say, one very shy student who would not normally recite in the traditional setup, but [can do so] through … online polls or forums. Each student can also produce his own output, find and evaluate the information he encounters, work with others and reflect on the whole experience as he learns about the subject …”
Since gadgets can be used for purposes other than learning, there is a no-gaming policy. Facebook, Twitter, game sites are blocked by firewalls.
The teacher goes around the classroom to ensure students are not using extraneous apps. Some even enforce random screen checks.
Irony of ironies, in high-tech Xavier, students are not allowed to bring cell phones. Computer classes also start in Grade 4, after students have learned how to write in cursive. Keyboarding is introduced, mainly through typing games. Students learn proper posture and ergonomics.
Right now the NExT team wants to equip students with the skills they need as digital citizens, such as digital literacy, ethics, online safety.
When students make videos for posting online, they are not allowed to include any personal information, like real name, address, etc.
“Many students are more liberated online,” says Ngo. “They may even have a different persona. They may not think first before posting something. We need to discuss … the dangers … .”
Tess Torralba of the NExT team says they guide students on how to handle online information. “We have guidelines on how to prevent and deal with cyberbullying.”
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