You are here

Feature

Outlook: Classrooms get smarter

Makerspaces, student response systems and augmented reality top the list of trends
Adopting new standards and testing strategies will be a priority in many classrooms in 2016.
Adopting new standards and testing strategies will be a priority in many classrooms in 2016.

As we head into 2016, teachers and students alike want to focus most on being hands-on and creative with technology.

Teachers need to captivate and inspire collaboration with tools that excite students and let them express themselves. Students expect innovations and applications that ignite learning passions that will steer them toward their future career.

Makerspaces, 3D printing

Does your school or classroom have a makerspace? If not, 2016 may be the year it becomes real for you.

School leaders embracing the maker movement have opened labs where students can create their own inventions with new or used materials, or build robots, cars and other items from kits. Such engaging and functional activities encourage students to solve problems, develop new skills and uncover hidden talents. These tasks will also often utilize concepts from technology, engineering or math disciplines, linking them naturally to STEM and STEAM curricula.

Many school leaders also find room for makerspaces in their library. Some also publish webpages to display students’ creations, like Lewis and Clark Elementary in Liberty Public Schools in Missouri. The students use various sites to find creative ideas, including Howtoons, which is part comic strip and part science experiment.

One exciting “maker” technology growing rapidly is 3D printing. Teachers and students across the nation are 3D- printing various objects. For example, a teacher at Hudson High School in Hudson, Massachusetts, gathered students to 3D-print a prosthetic hand for a middle school girl so she could more easily swing a softball bat, according to Print.com.

Enhanced testing techniques consume classroom time

Adopting new assessment strategies and meeting new learning standards will get the most attention when it comes to classroom instruction in 2016, according to a DA survey of instructional leaders.

This year, a little more than half of respondents (about the same as in last year’s survey) said enhanced testing techniques will be the top priority—higher than personalized instruction and blended and online learning.

Another 51 percent reported that new learning standards will get the most attention, compared to 62 percent last year. This drop may be attributable to the first wave of Common Core assessments, which in 2015 increased many districts’ and states’ resistance to the standards and drove many parents to opt their children opt out of testing.

Just under half of the respondents cited expanding the use of instructional technology and personalizing instruction as major goals, while 36 percent planned to focus on blended learning.

Only 13 percent of respondents felt that coping with larger class sizes will be a priority and just 9 percent said using video for teacher PD would be key.

And one comment states that standards-based grading is a growing trend, which is not included in this survey.

Among the other comments submitted:

  1. Activity-based laboratories are being installed in several elementary classrooms. We are purchasing student desks and chairs that allow for more student movement.
  2. I’m hoping there will be a major investment in professional learning for educators. They lack the time and resources for keeping up with the rapid changes brought about by technology.
  3. Our nation is losing skilled labor and we are not filling the pipeline to replace plumbers, electricians and skilled workers. Wouldn’t scholarship funds be better suited for someone who wanted to go to college and be successful but couldn’t manage to get funding? We must develop a standard that will stop this waste and direct funds to who will best use them.
  4. How to address the new, younger generation of children who have tremendous mental and social problems. The behavior of even the youngest children is unacceptable and inexcusable.

The DA instructional outlook survey was part of a broader set of trend surveys deployed to readers in late 2015. A total of 304 district leaders participated in this particular survey. —Angela Pascopella

Rob Caluori, director of IT for the Westchester Library System in New York, introduces area libraries to 3D printing. 3D printers are commonly placed in a school library, media center or computer lab, Calouri says.

Some of the schools he has visited, such as Heathcote Elementary in Scarsdale Public Schools in New York, have also begun to implement various degrees of makerspaces that include 3D printers as part of their library offerings.

Student response systems, plickers

As teachers become more tech-savvy, they crave tools for interactive classroom engagement. Student response systems (SRS) allow students to answer questions electronically and instantly. These systems are great for gauging understanding and identifying topics needing further instruction.

Not too long ago, if a teacher wanted an SRS, they had to convince administrators to part with budget dollars to buy a proprietary system. That isn’t necessary any more, thanks to the proliferation of SRS apps—including Socrative, Kahoot and ExitTicket—that work on any device.

For students too young to have devices, there’s an alternative in “plicker cards,” which provide a low-tech, low-cost alternative SRS that requires only the teacher to have a device.

At Thales Academy, a private school in Raleigh, North Carolina, a teacher conducts technology integration workshops and conference presentations. Nicholas Combs’ students’ desks are grouped in pods for collaboration during activities.

Each pod has a basket that holds learning materials, including a set of plicker cards. A plicker is an image similar to a QR code that can be scanned by a tablet or smartphone. When students hold up their plickers to answer a question, teachers scan the room using a smartphone app to see the name of the student and their response.

Adaptive learning

Adaptive learning programs are another growing trend. Such programs modify instruction according to each student’s learning needs, as determined by their responses to questions and tasks.

For example, software can quiz students on multiplication or division facts and as students display mastery, they are presented with more challenging materials. When they hit a stumbling block, resources are presented to help them review trouble areas.

Much adaptive learning has focused on how personalization will help teachers teach STEM, but it will also effect the way students read for school, experts say. One product uses advanced analytics to create personalized digital libraries that make literacy programs more effective. Formative assessments built into pages of the books ensure students are reading their assigned material.

Augmented reality

Another fun and fascinating technology that is showing up in more classrooms every day is augmented reality. This comes in many shapes and forms, and goes well beyond gaming and funky head gear like the Oculus Rift.

Low-cost PD to keep up

With the pace of technology change expected to continue to accelerate, what can teachers and administrators do to keep up?

Professional development is essential. With technology integration being an ongoing objective and spending on PD likely to experience relatively slow growth, according to MDR marketing services agency, educators in many districts are looking to find low-cost alternatives to get educators up to speed on tech tools and techniques.

The good news is that more good free and low-cost training opportunities are available today than ever before.

Professionals are leveraging MOOCs to learn new skills. The continued proliferation of free education-focused blogs and online magazines provides a wealth of free resources.

And every year, education technology advocates and bloggers write thousands of articles, create hundreds of videos and provide platforms to share ideas and techniques.

Educators can learn more through the personal learning networks than ever before, from the comfort of their classroom and home, without having to spend very much at all. —K.W.

Today’s virtual and augmented reality tools can take the form of free smartphone apps, like Aurasma, or much more costly proprietary systems, such as zSpace, but they all provide the same fundamental thing: adding a digital visual overlay to the real world around us.

One of the more common uses of augmented reality is creating content that will display over an image when a phone or tablet’s camera is pointed at it. Consider the Mona Lisa painting. If a student aims their phone camera at a reproduction of the Mona Lisa, an AR program could overlay visuals (such as an animated drawing of Da Vinci painting the masterpiece) and a narrative explaining what students are looking at.

Being able to direct a device’s camera at a building, sculpture or geographical feature and instantly supplement it with dynamic information and imagery creates so many exciting possibilities for education, we are very likely to see a proliferation of augmented reality tools in our classrooms in the coming years.

Slowing trends

Technology adoption trends in education tend to follow a long arc, so it can be challenging to clearly predict when the interest in specific tools and ideas fade. Some observations as we enter 2016:

  • Electronic textbooks continue to be a mixed bag, as vendors keep throwing in bells and whistles that often clutter the picture and don’t always add value.
  • The dominance of the iPad as the tablet for education is threatened, most particularly by the Chromebook. It was only a matter of time before other tablets became more relevant in the education space, but we can thank Apple for making the niche viable in the first place, and helping to drive the move to mobile learning in school.
  • Teachers are doing less substitution (simply substituting technology for a non-digital approach) and more augmenting or modifying lessons by incorporating tech tools.

Kelly Walsh is the author of the Emerging Ed Tech blog.