The Art of Technology in the Classroom

December 22, 2011

education and technology


It took only a few hours of his senior internship at Audubon Park Elementary School for Master of Arts in Teaching student Cecil Mack (Class of 2011) to realize that blending technology and education was so much more than making sure every kid has a computer.

When the group of third graders was handed over to him for five weeks this fall, he had to learn quickly how to make technology work for him, not against him. With a background in I.T. and series of 21st-century instruction courses under his belt, he was ready for the challenge

“You can teach third grade and you can teach a computer class. But teaching a third grade computer class is harder than you would think,” Mack shared.” So far these kids had been so restricted in their computer use that they were hesitant to self-guided learning. Suddenly we’re inviting them to let loose, explore and troubleshoot.”

Cecil Mack
Using a smartboard, Cecil Mack blends traditional ways of teaching with new technologies.

At first, Mack found the laptops really distracting. “It was frustrating not being able to see their screens and keep everyone on task while I was instructing. So I got into the habit of having them lower their screens while I was teaching or turn them around so I knew they were engaged in the lesson. Once they got in to the habit of paying attention with their laptops on, it got easier. It just took practice.”

Mack discovered another strategy that really worked: using mentors. “Once I realized that other kids in the class could help each other, I changed the seating chart around to better facilitate the peer mentoring that emerged.” He also created a class website, in collaboration with the students, that housed everything the class needed to access on a daily basis on one screen.

Everything was about collaboration and using the technology as a tool to engage and connect the students. “Integrating technology in the class is not about replacing instruction,” said Mack, who had previously studied organizational behavior and group dynamics. “It’s about getting them to share and interact with the information they are learning from the teacher.”

To that end, Mack had his students write stories and post them online for peer review. Once he approved the stories, the kids would read them in front of the class.

Mack also engaged his students by allowing them to submit answers to his posed questions on a handheld electronic device. This way, every student participated, not just the students who raised their hands the highest. These responses, submitted anonymously, gave Mack and his students the opportunity to help each other work through incorrect answers without having to single someone out.

“I’ve always felt that technology amplifies our personalities and interests,” Mack mused. “Through their use of technology, I was often able to clearly see what sort of learner each child was and how each was motivated.” Mack then tailored his teaching style so that he could meet the needs of each individual student. “This was as easy as identifying which students were reward-driven and then integrating rewards into their class work.”

Technology provided him the ability to monitor progress on a day-to-day basis since results were summarized digitally for him to review whenever he wanted. This technology tipped him off to “who needed the most help,” Mack said.

At the end of his internship, Mack handed the class back to its regular teacher, John Giles, who had mentored Mack and been present in the room the entire time. By that time, he had formed a deep bond with all 19 students and had learned more than he ever thought possible.

“The key to using technology in the classroom is to make sure the teacher is still doing the teaching,” said Mack, who hopes to become a permanent teacher at Audubon Park. “I teach my kids critical thinking first and subject matter second. Collaboration, respect, leadership—these are things you can’t learn without them being modeled for you. The classroom will always need great teachers regardless of how many gadgets the room has.”

By Kristen Manieri

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