Establishing A Digital Classroom

Joe Kearns, Computing Lead and Google Certified Educator, The Gateway Primary Free School

The prospect of having 1:1 devices in the classroom can sound like an extremely daunting idea, even more so for those who feel as if they are “technological dinosaurs.” The worry that pupils will know more than you, that there will be a problem and you won’t be able to fix it, or that you will have to break out of the safety confines of your usual teaching pedagogies. Though these feelings of anxiety can be difficult to overcome, through building self-confidence and knowledge, you will be able to support the progress and inquisitive nature of your pupils.

During the 2020 – 21 academic year, I was lucky enough to have 1:1 devices in my year 3 classroom in which I experienced many successes and pitfalls. All however, were valuable lessons that have helped shape my current teaching practice and what I will continue to do next year. Below, are 5 of the key lessons I learned throughout the academic year:

1. Expect the unexpected - Day 1 of receiving the laptops was an extremely exciting time. I had planned a lesson where pupils would be sorting human and physical features in geography by dragging and dropping the images to the correct heading. Foolishly, I had made the rookie mistake of thinking the pupils knew how to use a laptop touchpad! Many had experience using a tablet, however, using a touchpad was a whole new encounter for many. My lesson suddenly turned into learning how to move the mouse, click icons and drag objects. After this, I reflected and discovered that even though we live in an age where devices are in nearly all households, there is still a need to teach basic computing skills and simple things such as finding the @ symbol or scrolling down a page. It may seem like a slow process; however, children are sponges and once they have these skills, they won’t forget them.

2. Do not underestimate the speed at which pupils learn new skills – Even though we may need to spend time teaching granular skills to our pupils, they are quick to learn. As these basic skills are consistently practised, the pupils develop a secure understanding, which is stored in their long-term memory. I simply look at how my class initially took over half an hour to log into their Google account, to now where everyone is able to access their work online in under 10 minutes. Knowing where the hyphen is and how to get the @ symbol no longer requires active thought.

3. It doesn’t need to be flashy to be engaging – It’s easy to get carried away with using fancy images or transitions to make learning seem engaging for our pupils. We must remember though, that the device is part of the engagement and it is the ability of making learning different to the status quo, that makes it engaging. The engagement comes from being able to link with an audience outside of the classroom as well as sharing or finding out information for themselves, rather than being led by the teacher.

4. You don’t have to know the ins and outs of all the web tools to be good at using devices – It is so easy to get trapped in the rabbit hole of applications, extensions and web tools to enhance learning in the classroom. I firmly believe that due to the constant barrage of applications available, it fuels the anxiety for many teachers that if they do not use it, they will not be good users of technology. We cannot, however, let this fear of “not keeping up” burn within. Many web tools are simply variations of another and if we really want to look at ways of upskilling our lessons, I would strongly recommend looking at the SAMR (Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, Redefinition) model. Through the SAMR model, learners are taken from a basic level of learning to a level where learning is transformational. Here is a video made by Mark Anderson (a tech whizz!) explaining SAMR and what it looks like in the classroom. If you’re on Twitter, give him a follow too @ICTEvangelist

5. Devices can foster the use of oracy – This maybe a slightly controversial one but it is something I have reflected on while using devices in the classroom. If you asked a class full of children what they want to be when they are older, I guarantee there will always be a group of pupils that want to be YouTubers. Many of us are guilty of thinking this is not a viable career choice but what we need to realise is that many YouTubers are great story tellers and good at verbalising their ideas. Therefore, rather than dismissing the idea, embrace it. Give opportunities for pupils to verbalise their ideas, share their thoughts and record them through the use of devices. It is extremely easy to overlook the oracy strands of the curriculum as it is one of the most difficult to record, however using a device simplifies this and allows for a vast variety of outcomes.

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