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Column: Using technology to boost student engagement

By BARRY FISCHER, District 518

WORTHINGTON — In 2013, Gallup’s State of America’s Schools report stated that 55 percent of U.S. K-12 students are “engaged” in their education, 28 percent are not engaged and 17 percent are actively disengaged. Technology can be one of the keys to increasing engagement in our classrooms.

First of all, let’s set the record straight — technology in the hands of a student is not necessarily engaging. Handing a tablet to a student is not engaging. However, it is how we craft the learning experience with great lesson delivery and technology as a tool.

Take, for example a unit that is currently being taught in the middle school, the book “Johnny Tremain.” “Johnny Tremain” is a staple of language arts programs throughout the United States. The book, first published in 1943 and a Newbery Medal winner in 1944, is a historical novel centered around the American Revolutionary War. Fourteen year-old Johnny leads the reader through events leading up to the American Revolution and is ensnared in the spy network of the Revolution.

The synopsis of the book sounds engaging, but that isn’t always enough to capture the student’s attention. Two middle school teachers, Erin Makela and Rebecca McGaughey, have taken this 73 year-old novel set over 200 years ago and brought it to life with a great lesson plan and the use of the iPads. The teachers are using a popular educational concept, Gamification, to increase student engagement. Gamification is the application of game techniques to motivate students to reach their learning goals.

As the students read the novel, they will face academic challenges much in the same way Johnny faced challenges in the book. Students will have to navigate through spy networks and earn “clues” from the spymasters (Makela, McGaughey, Ludemann, and Barber) as they make progress. The students work in teams; the teams are created not only from other students in their class hour, but from all seventh-grade classes. The student groups would not be possible without the use of technology to move beyond the traditional class time and boundaries. Students collaborate and communicate with their teachers and classmates using Schoology and Google Drive. Students will also use the iPads to watch short videos created by their teachers that act as clues in this book filled with espionage.

Throughout the reading of this piece of historical fiction, students will have the opportunity to meet various state standards; literature, writing, speaking and technology. This unit takes students from passive learning to being actively engaged in their learning.

This is just one example of how teachers in the Worthington School District are engaging students with good lesson planning centered around the use of technology. Each school building has examples of student engagement, made possible with the use of technology and the tablets.

Barry Fischer is the digital learning coordinator for District 518.