With the advent of new tools to support transformative learning and student engagement, it’s an exciting time for hands-on learning. Technology adds so much to the classroom: The right piece of gear can draws kids in and open up new ways to engage students in deeper learning while allowing them to take ownership of the process.
But like all tools, educational technology is only as effective as the intention and purpose behind the learning experience for which it is used. The reality is that devices, coding, and other technologies on their own don’t add much to a curriculum—the way those technologies are applied determines how successful students are at building future-ready skills. When students are learning to code, for example, asking them to code for the sake of learning or simply to gain programming skills is likely to fall flat. Instead, if they can learn how programming is a powerful way to solve problems and think of themselves as inventors, making things and designing programs that make things happen, they then learn the value and benefit of the skills learned along the way. Integrating tech with instruction is a powerful way to develop opportunities for deeper and stickier learning across subject areas. So, how can tech integration be accomplished effectively? And how do you make sure that you’re reaching all of your students, not just those who are already tech-savvy?
First, realize that tech isn’t just for STEM subjects: it can be applied to arts, history, literature, and across subjects. Interdisciplinary projects are an exciting part of hands-on learning, and tech integration enables teachers to transcend subjects on multi-faceted projects. Introducing tech into less-traditional areas makes sense when you consider the end goal of building a comprehensive set of skills. A story-writing project can be the backdrop for game development, and artwork might be central to an app.
Integrating technology and instruction can make learning across subjects more effective because your students will be able to examine real-world problems and applications.
In the case of learning to code and thinking like a programmer, students won’t just be gaining increased facility with technology. Coding enhances multiple skills--for instance, critical thinking, an understanding of building and using logical structures--because students are required to create detailed and sequenced steps to achieve outcomes, along with troubleshooting issues with their code. And, as they’re developing academic skills, they are simultaneously developing crucial interpersonal skills. If students are developing an app or game, they’ll be collaborating to test their program and to understand how easily others are able to use it. As a result, students are improving their communication, collaboration, and comprehension while gaining technical ability.
Another powerful feature of tech integration is being able to meet students where they are and to engage at different skill levels. Students will build on successes to work toward increasingly complex strategies. Some coding programs don’t require knowledge of a programming language and instead use simple techniques like drag-and-drop. Drag-and-drop programming languages, like Scratch, Blockly, and Touch Develop, use a visual interface that is easily accessible and understandable for beginning coders. Students can start “writing” code without prior knowledge of programming syntax. Even the youngest students can start to get a handle on how coding logic works, and, as they become more comfortable, how they can use it to accomplish increasingly complex tasks. The limit to tech integration really is imagination because there’s a way to incorporate something like coding at every skill level and interest level.
For all the ways your gear adds to your curricula, there is always the question of what to get and how to connect it to your devices and learning goals. Different devices on the market often use different programming interfaces. Designing multi-device projects is an exciting way to get even more from your gear, but it can be cumbersome to program each device using a separate interface. The benefits of using multiple devices together—exploring creativity, developing critical thinking, fostering collaboration—are so valuable that you won’t want the programming challenge to get in the way.
Workbench’s new multi-device programming canvas removes that limitation by offering a single programming interface that works across multiple devices.
Developed using Google Blockly, the Workbench programming canvas is beginner-friendly, giving teachers and students an introduction into programming and opening the doors for easy-to-program multi-device projects, but also scalable for more advanced users.
Some already tech-savvy students may be excited to figure out how to program a multi-device project, like using a Sphero robotic ball to fly a Parrot mini-drone. Other students may be more engaged by figuring out how to bring a poem they wrote to life using computer animation. By exploring the options for involving every student and every class using tech integration, you’ll find the techniques and projects that make the most sense for successful engagement. Don’t limit yourself to using it in certain subject areas or think that it only works for particular ages or ability levels.
You’ll get the most out of your tech when it’s employed across multiple subject areas that spark deeper learning and used to develop multi-device projects that promote critical thinking. Used effectively, edtech is a powerful and dynamic tool. It offers the capacity to engage students throughout their education and grow with them step-by-step to build a comprehensive skillset.