Rachelle Dené Poth brings educational technology into all of her classes. A teacher at Riverview Junior-Senior High School in Pennsylvania, Poth focuses on digital citizenship, artificial intelligence, and augmented and virtual reality with her STEAM students, but she also incorporates the technology into her other classes.
“I do a lot of those same things in my Spanish classes as well because I love all the possibilities that are out there,” says Poth, one of EdTech’s 2021 K–12 IT influencers. “My students were seeing some of the augmented and virtual reality, and they’re like ‘Why can’t we do that in Spanish?’”
She now incorporates new technologies into her world language classes. One project she’s implemented connects her students in Pittsburgh with students in France and Spain. This gives them a firsthand look at the cultures they’re studying, immerses them in the language and teaches them tech skills they can carry with them to future careers.
“I want them to learn the language, but I need to also prepare them for whatever it is that they’re going to do later on in life,” Poth says. “There are so many tools out there that we can use to help students build these 21st century skills that they need and employers want.”
When she started using more technology in her language classroom, Poth discovered other benefits she hadn’t expected. Students became more engaged with the class material, and the projects they worked on improved their involvement with the lessons.
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Classroom Tech Increases Student Engagement in Learning a Language
Poth takes many tech-savvy approaches to learning in her language classes. She highlights the engagement and social-emotional benefits of game-based learning platforms, which elevate the material beyond conjugating verbs on the board in front of the class.
“Especially in the past year, they were able to go into a breakout room and play a game together and feel connected or be part of a team — even though they were not in the same physical space — and they knew that they were actually engaging in something at the same time with somebody else,” Poth says.
Using the technology at their disposal to choose the way they want to engage with the class materials during virtual and in-person classes creates a meaningful learning environment for students. They are able to process and retain the material in a way that makes sense to them, making it easier to apply it later.
This immerses Poth’s foreign language students in the language and provides an additional benefit that she, as the teacher, hadn’t foreseen.
“Looking at the use of translators, or having these awesome books and textbooks and workbooks, but knowing that the answers are all on the internet, what do you do? You have to find ways around it,” she says. “Tech is not always the answer because we know it doesn’t always work, but it can facilitate something or enhance it.”
Providing game-based and project-based learning approaches helped Poth guide students away from looking up answers online. Instead, they’re problem-solving and thinking creatively, which engages them more intently with the languages they’re learning.
Bringing STEAM Lessons into the Language Classroom
While the use of game-based applications is something any language teacher could employ in the classroom, Poth’s dual position as a STEAM teacher creates interesting opportunities for her students.
“I did some lessons on artificial intelligence with my Spanish students, looking at the translators, like, let’s test this out,” she says. “It’s important; we interact with AI in our everyday lives.”
Working with AI allows her students to see how the translators operate. This highlights the ways they can be beneficial, but also shows her students the imperfections in using translators.
Poth also uses augmented and virtual reality tools in her classes to show students other cultures, taking them on tours of life in France, Spain and other countries.
She emphasizes that any teacher can use technology to improve class engagement and bring a lesson to life; it doesn’t have to be AI or AR/VR. “You don’t have to do all the things, you just have to pick one thing,” she notes. “Pick one thing, try it out and work your way up to having three to five tools in your toolkit.”
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