I often hear experienced teachers complain about how students have changed over the years. Children who will spend hours locked into a video game can hardly pay attention for ten minutes to a classroom lesson. It seems that children of the digital age expect to be entertained in the classroom rather than taught. One teacher told me she felt she was becoming less and less of a teacher and more of a manager of electronic devices.
At the same time children are becoming more and more dependent on social media to be… well- social. We are raising a generation that does not know basic social skills; how to talk rather than text, how to read and respond to body language and how to engage in productive and rewarding relationships.
It seems to me that we can either throw up our hands and admit that electronics win or we can work with the system and help children realize the benefits of both electronics and real world communication.
Five ways to use the features of electronics to engage kids in the classroom:
- Build in excitement and challenge–Part of the draw of video games is the excitement and challenge of accomplishment. Gamers want to accumulate points and unlock treasures. They want to reach higher and higher levels of play. Challenges and threats of losing lurk around every corner. As educators we need to look for creative ways to infuse the same excitement and challenge in any classroom lesson. Building in creative thinking skills and identifying personal goals for achievement can help. Teach children to challenge themselves to be their personal best.
- Provide opportunities to learn and develop social skills–In this way you are providing something that children miss out on with technology. First teach team building and cooperation skills. How do you handle conflicts and differences of opinion? What habits and attitudes does an effective team practice? Then set up teams, groups or partnerships where children solve problems. After each experience process difficulties and how they could handle them differently next time. Grade children not just on solving a problem successfully but also on how they solved the problem as a team. Their future employer will be forever grateful.
- Create opportunities for mentoring–This could be with adults that you bring into the classroom to share their expertise on career day, science day or a historical occasion. It could involve partnering with an older or younger classroom as reading buddies or to practice math facts. This also opens the door to creating relationships across differing age groups. Just as technology often opens the door to other world views and environments, the classroom can also be a chance to experience differing perspectives.
- Be a role model for passion and enthusiasm–As a teacher you have great influence on young minds. Share your interests and excitement for the world. One teacher I know starts every morning out with a current pop song and has everyone in the room begin the day dancing and singing (and no she wasn’t the music teacher–she just loves to dance.) No matter what lays ahead in the day, it always starts off with a blast of energy. Another teacher is passionate about saving endangered species and she teaches kids how to make a difference in the world’s environment. You don’t have to convert kids to your passion, but instead teach them to find their own and follow their heart. The digital world explodes with color and energy, but our own passions can provide the same impact.
- Make learning experiential–Benjamin Franklin said, “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” Whenever possible make learning experiential. The digital world creates passive experiences that seem real but in the classroom you have the opportunity to create active real life experiences. For instance, you could create an environment similar to a historical time. Have a colonial day and dress up, act out or make items similar to what you are learning about. You can make this as elaborate or as simple as you want. It’s not about making a big show, it’s about making it memorable. One teacher, I know had students act out typical student behaviors from a time period that they were studying. Imagine classroom visitors’ surprise when all the students stood up and in unison said welcome as soon as guests entered the room. Do you think the kids ever forgot that experience?
The greatest way teachers can help kids of the digital age become life long learners is to infuse the classroom with many of the characteristics found in the digital world while pairing them with meaningful relationships.
Wyatt the Wonder Dog Learns about Cooperation
Wyatt wants to play Frisbee. Max want to build a fort and Callie wants to have tea party. How do the three friends reconcile their differences? Can it be done? When Wyatt doesn’t get his way, Max’s mother suggests he be the Superhero for the day. Join Wyatt as he learns how the magic of cooperation and compromise can bring the five friends closer together.