Using Technology to Find Students

Using technology tools with high school students is always a good idea. Okay, maybe that statement is a bit bold, but let’s face the truth. High school students are more connected to online forums, Facebook accounts, and cell phones than ever before. Meeting students “where they are” requires meeting them online.

Knowing that students are comfortable in collaborative digital arenas, I felt compelled to try a few technology tools with a tough group of students this fall. These students were very diverse, they all struggled with writing, and they HATED school.

What can I say? I love a challenge!

I started small. I replaced Time Magazine articles with “The Week in Rap” to teach a current event lesson one Friday. (The Week in Rap is a hilarious music video that summarizes the week’s events in less than 5 minutes!) At first, my hooded sweatshirt-wearing cherubs were skeptical. By the end of the segment, they were begging me to watch it again! After using this tool, I was ready to take them to the next level: Etherpad!

What’s Etherpad you ask? Well, Etherpad is a free tool that allows users to collaborate in real real time. There’s no need to refresh your screen with Etherpad, it automatically updates every .5 seconds! To top it off, there are no sign-ins required. I should also note that Etherpad was recently bought by Google, but they have open sourced the code resulting in alternatives such as Pirate Pad.

After watching the “The Week in Rap” video, I asked them to find a computer. I had already opened an Etherpad on each computer, so the students only needed to turn on their monitor. I pre-populated the Etherpad with a prompt relative to the video we had just watched regarding the unemployment rate for teens.

At first, the silence in the room was deafening. Then, gasps and questions came flying out. “Hey, Jason’s typing on MY screen.” Then, “Whoa. There’s a chat box. Are we ALLOWED to use that?!?!” After the first five minutes, the students figured out that they were supposed to work together to answer the question that I provided. I was amazed. I had not provided the students with a single verbal prompt or redirection, and they were using the tool to write a response together. Before I knew it, they had drafted a coherent answer to the question together. Their single response was much better than anything they had written individually all year.

Then the magic really began. I played back their responses using the “time slider” and they watched their ideas develop. Then we talked about it.

I asked them:

  • How did you help each other?
  • How did you respect each other’s ideas?
  • Do you think your collaborative response was better than your individual response? Why?

For the first time, students who thought that school couldn’t teach them anything were present. They saw the power of working together, and they were extremely proud of their product.

I don’t think that any of the tools I used revolutionized the classroom setting. However, those tools allowed me to meet students in a place where they felt comfortable. While I have a long way to go with my personal learning and my instruction, I know that using innovative tools will help me meet my students in environments that allow them to thrive!

Kristen Swanson is a Program and Training Specialist that is passionate about helping students with special needs in Bucks County, PA. She shares her work with the world on her wiki and her blog. She would love to hear from you! She can be contacted here.

Computer keys source is available here.
Puzzle source is available here.


Thank You Readers for 14 Amazing Years!