As a camp counselor at Camp Roger, I learned many very valuable lessons about life, about relationships, about my faith, and about kids. I remember being taught to look for opportunities throughout the day to empower kids, even if only in very small ways. We were encouraged to find those things that made "Your life easier and campers' lives better." This philosophy was lived out by choosing special campers to carry my backpack on hikes, letting campers choose what game or adventure we would do next, or simply by letting them decide the best location for tents and the campfire on campout in the woods. Even as a clueless college kid, I saw how powerful it was for our cabin community when I let go and let them.
The technology you use in your classroom each day presents you with some of the same opportunities. Let's be honest, even in a 2nd or 3rd grade classroom, more often than not there is a child in the room who understands your hardware or software better than you do. Why not let this be an opportunity for your kids to lead?
Many teachers are reluctant, however, to hand over technology responsibilities to their students. There are good reasons for this. It's difficult to let go of control. It's difficult to trust kids with this important work. It's difficult to let others know that we don't know how to do something. It's difficult to learn something new. Basically, its difficult being a student.
We need to stop feeling obligated to do things for our students or on our own. At times it may be just "easier that way," but this is short term thinking. Like so much of what we do in education, investing time and energy at the beginning pays huge dividends throughout the year. Empowering kids to help clean or manage devices early in the year can be clunky and time consuming, but only at the beginning. The time we invest in letting them take ownership of their classroom is ultimately worth whatever short term sacrifices of time and energy we have to make earlier in the year.
So, where can we start? How can we let go and let them. Here are some ways you can make your students lives better and your life easier with the technology in your classroom.
Cleaning Devices: Whether as part of a monthly classroom cleanup or as part of a weekly job schedule, students can effectively use spray cleaner and microfiber rags to clean the devices in your room. In so doing, think of how many germs we can prevent from being transferred through our devices.
Plugging In: Do you plug in each device at the end of the day? Why? If my kindergarten daughter can plug a device in at home, then certainly my 2nd graders can do the same thing. Why not expect them to take responsibility for ensuring their devices are charged and ready to be used?
Tech for Subs: In a classroom with older kids, why not teach them how to turn on and operate your classroom projector and document camera? This makes sub plans less restrictive and puts power in the hands of the students to be legitimately helpful with guest teachers.
Turning Things Off: The likelihood that I remember to turn off my projector at the end of the day is greatly increased if I tell a student they can in charge of the remote at the end of the day. In the same way, letting a student take responsibility for making sure our devices are turned off empowers students and makes my life easier.
Software Updates: Once a month, show your kids, step-by-step, how to go into the app store and update all of the apps before they put the devices back at the end of the day. By the next morning, your devices will be up to date and ready to go, and it will save you from having to do it for every device yourself.
Finding New Apps: Chances are that your kids may have the same devices at home that you have in the classroom. And, chances are, that they might have some good educational apps or websites to share. Give them the task of finding the next great educational app for your class. Have them convince you why their app should be put on your classroom devices. Reward kids who bring in the best ideas.
Closing Down Devices: When you are finished with an iPad or Kindle, show kids how to quickly swipe all of the apps closed. This keeps devices performing at a higher speed and increases their overall battery life.
Kid's Choice Awards: There are a million apps out there and, to be honest, most of them aren't good. I started the year with six different basic facts apps and had the kids try all of them. We had a series of votes, and narrowed our apps down to only the classroom favorites. In this way, students are actively engaged in shaping how the technology will be utilized in our room.
Deleting Apps: If you do vote to remove apps from the device, show your class how to delete the app as well. This will take 30 seconds, and will keep you from having to delete the same app on every device, one-by-one, on your own.
Downloading New Apps: 2-3 times a year, I'll add a few different apps to each device. I'll have a few volunteers stay in with me during recess and I'll show them how to download an app onto one device and then let them loose to download it onto the remaining devices. In one 20-minute recess, we can typically get 5-10 apps downloaded. Then, when the class returns, it's great to let them know that, because of the service of their classmates, we all get to enjoy a new app.
Customizing Your Device: Do you need to move apps around on the screen or group them into folders? Do you want to change the background image? Is it time to delete photos from your device to free up memory? These things can all be done quickly and easily with the help of a few volunteers during a snack time or recess. Show them how to do it once and let them do it with the rest.
Going in Blind: A good friend of mine, Dan Vos at Holland Christian School, once shared some really great advice about introducing new technologies. Sometimes, the best way to teach a new app or technology is to let them go in blind, figure it out for themselves and then lead a discussion about what works, what doesn't and how we can make the most of the technology in the future. This is something you have to try. It's amazing how mature their suggestions can be - even in second grade.
Lately, I've had some great discussions about project based learning, critical thinking skills, and creating greater depth of knowledge in students. I imagine you've had similar conversations popping up at your school as well. These are great goals, but trying to create a culture where these things occur naturally isn't easy. However, allowing students the privilege and responsibility of creating, maintaining, and facilitating the technology in your classroom may be one step you can take towards accomplishing these lofty goals. Not because it's easier, but because your students can do it if you let them. Take a moment to think about how the students in your room can take control of their learning. Where can you let go and let them?
Do you have other ways to make students' lives better and your life easier? How do you empower the kids in your room? Please share in the comments below.
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