What was once overkill is now standard fare.

As we saw in Part I, there are positives as well as negatives in the explosion of technology use among young people. Given this confusion, how will teachers respond? Guard against technological distraction? Open the gates to a new world of possibilities?

The answer likely lies somewhere in between. It’s important to remember that striking a balance will be a vital part of any teacher’s duty going forward.

A look at the facts…

While the facts regarding excessive screen time for children are eye-opening, at the same time it is important to remember that future jobs will at least require basic tech literacy. As David Brooks writes, “if you want to thrive in this era, you probably want to be good at working with intelligent machines.” For educators, this means integrating the devices that we use in our adult lives, and getting students ready for the ones that are still to come.

That’s not to say that young people aren’t near ready right now. With the explosion in consumer tech over the last decade, it’s no surprise that the new generation are the most tech-savvy in history. Many school districts have integrated laptops and tablets into their curriculum, some even providing devices for their students to use at home.

What’s important to remember is that what’s being replaced is not critical thinking skills or pertinent facts, but the way lessons are organized and how students interact with them. Extensive studies by education company Pearson found that teachers who integrate technology into their classrooms do so toward multiple productive ends, including increasing access to resources for students, and providing a more comprehensive system of communication and feedback. The study found that supplemental applications can also help teachers manage their time in the classroom, delivering lessons with greater efficiency.

This is not a development to be feared. One study has even demonstrated that integrating technology can help improve students’ understanding of math concepts. While this does not necessarily mean that iPads will make children better learners, it shows us that there is room for properly applied forms of new technology within the traditional learning framework. Making the best use of this fact means creating a classroom that makes use of new tech without sacrificing students’ focus on the information they need to learn.

Specific technologies to consider…

To that end, there are simple apps that can be integrated into the classroom to make the learning process more efficient while maintaining a traditional lesson structure.

Organizing platforms like Google Classroom offer a free way for teachers to share information with their students, and for students to collaborate with one another. Teachers can make essential material available online for students to use at home. The heart of the lesson does not change, simply the manner in which it is delivered.  

There are also digital versions of some familiar mathematical concepts, with no need for protractors or graph paper. Utah State University’s library of Virtual Manipulatives can help students easily visualize math concepts at all levels. From creating bar graphs to plotting functions, these digital tools give students the best of both worlds: the gratification of mobile games in the context of a math lesson.

Other digital tools open up greater possibilities for learning. Inkle lets students add pictures from the web to interactive stories they write themselves or collectively, which they can share with classmates. This is especially useful because it takes the concept of a graphic organizer for problems and turns it into a digital storyboard. Students who struggle with following the course of word problems could find a tool like this especially helpful, and students ahead of the curve can create picture-heavy problems for their classmates to solve.

Inkle's Storyboard interface. Source: Inkle.

Inkle’s Storyboard interface. Source: Inkle.

A multitude of apps (both web-based and device-enabled) are available for educators, some even offered for free. Buzzmath offers students the chance to practice their math skills in school and at home, giving accelerated learners new challenges to keep them from getting bored, and at the same time, offering struggling students the opportunity to sharpen their technique.

Another application called Geometry pad can also boost learning, allowing students to look at and manipulate the various dimensions of geometric shapes to scale, rather than demanding they absorb 3D concepts from a 2D textbook.

Geometry pad. Source: Apple Store.

Geometry pad. Source: Apple Store.

A parting note…

However attractive technology is (to both students and teachers), bear in mind that they are tools that come with unique hazards. In fact, this matter is an important lesson for students, especially where it concerns the values of good “digital citizenship.” With so much deplorable online behavior today, reminding students of the basic standards of online behavior is critical, ensuring that they understand the responsibilities that come with the fun and ease of learning on a tablet or laptop, or sharing their research in online communities.

The important thing for educators to remember is that while there are a multitude of new opportunities for enhanced learning, these tools will always be just that, instruments. They can be of great benefit for achieving an end, but are almost certainly not a panacea for a utopian future. So long as there are dedicated and knowledgeable educators with the knowhow to utilize this advanced technology, there will be a place for these tech advances in schools.