Jul 26 2013

Using Classroom Technology to Offer Real-World Experiences

By bringing tech into the classroom, educators hope to acclimate students to posteducation experiences early on.

Experience, they say, is the best teacher. And when it comes to introducing technology to students, it’s best to quickly get past the theoretical and into the practical.

Using the classroom to mimic the real world has long been a tenet of education, especially in primary education, where role-playing is prominent.

The Hellerup School, an innovative Danish school, is skipping the controlled environment of typical classrooms and is opting for a very grown-up approach to education. The school gives its students free rein over their use of technology, without artificial constraints, in much the same way adults have access to technology as they see fit.

A report from The Globe and Mail, takes an in-depth look at the school, which, according to the paper, has impressed many educators and administrators in the United States:

Its open design and the absence of traditional classrooms allow students from all grades to intermingle during class. Cellphones are permitted and the youngest students are each given a laptop or tablet. Older students are free to come and go from school as they please, as long as they stay in touch with teachers by smartphone.

The headmaster [Jorn West Larsen] chats as he walks up wide stairs that rise from the open library in the centre of the building and double as seating during assemblies. He pauses at a small round “pod” where a class of 25 teenagers is crowded on a small bench and on the floor. A teacher is giving a 15-minute talk on new concepts the students will tackle in today’s math assignments.

Short lessons like this are the closest that Hellerup ever comes to a traditional lecture. For the majority of the day students are free to study wherever suits their fancy, alone or in groups. They cram into nooks and crannies throughout the school, dragging tables to quiet corners or busy balconies overlooking the library. Lockers can be moved to serve as barriers. The school’s furnishings are designed to be flexible and multipurpose. Anything goes.

As Mr. Larsen passes a corner of the building where Grade 2 students gather, a small child is returning her laptop to its shelf. She was looking up facts about a village she read about, she explains. The small act illustrates how at Hellerup technology is not isolated in a computer lab and taught only during computer class. By allowing smartphones and laptops, the idea is that students interact with technology at school in the way they will later in the workplace.

The idea of an open and free classroom model isn’t brand-new. It’s a tenet of Montessori education, which says that the student, not the teacher, should drive his or her own learning. But the Hellerup’s thoughtfully integrated approach to mimicking the use of technology by adults in the workplace is compelling.

As adults, if we want to gain understanding of a new subject matter, we turn to Google and online resources. The Internet is always within reach and used liberally. But traditional learning models invent scenarios in which access to online resources are cut off artificially.

Denmark’s educators see no need to manufacture a scarcity of Internet use. The Scandinavian country is unique in allowing its students access to the Internet while taking exams, according to the Globe and Mail. While this might strike some as an unfair advantage, if your goal is to mimic professional adult life, it makes sense.

After all, few employers would expect employees to completely bypass the Internet while embarking on a given project or task.

Turning Music Class into a Living, Breathing Recording Studio

The music class of yore usually meant learning, practicing and performing a set of predetermined songs by the teacher, without much room for student input or improvisation. Students simply played or sang “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” the way it was written, and that was that.

But why should the arts be taught in a way that neglects the expression of its performers and, furthermore, the tools and experiences of the music industry?

Lawrence Grey Berkowitz is a teacher at TEACH Academy for Technologies Charter School in South Los Angeles, and he decided to turn his music class into a recording studio. One of the first things he does to create a studio environment is treat his students more like little Lady Gagas and Justin Biebers, reports UCLA Today:

Berkowitz, who considers himself more of a music producer than teacher, said he taps their creativity by treating them as recording artists and having them serve in roles like "interface master" and learn production terms like "sample." To turn his classroom into a fully functioning recording studio, Berkowitz relies on his laptop, a microphone and software — the company, Ableton Live, provided some free licenses after learning how he was using it at Children’s Institute.

The skills that they are learning, including technological literacy, "will be with them for the rest of their lives," Berkowitz said. At Children’s Institute, the kids create their own beats using the computers in a technology lab, while at TEACH Academy they pick up computer skills through osmosis.

The students are instructed to write their own lyrics rather than simply memorize songs that have little meaning or connection to their own lives. By going through the process of creating, recording and performing their own music, these students are walking away with a more personal understanding of the power of musical expression.

These two examples illustrate that educators can reshape the way students learn by opening up the classroom beyond the school’s walls and imagining more ways to drive experiences that mimic those outside the classroom.

How do you incorporate real-world scenarios in your classroom? Let us know in the Comments section.


Journey to the Cloud 

Every K–12 school’s path to the cloud is different. How will your modern data storage adventure take shape?