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Digital Learning Day 2016

How Technology is Transforming Teaching

What is Digital Learning Day?

The fifth annual Digital Learning Day, organized by the Alliance for Excellent Education, is a nationwide online event that showcases how technology is transforming teaching and learning. Schools and school districts share stories of how they are using educational technology to support teachers, better engage students with individualized learning, and raise achievement.

Our ideas about K–8 classroom technologies have changed and expanded significantly over the past 30 years. Remember clunky desktop computers that used floppy disks and dial-up connections? We’ve come a long way since the days of staring at a screen, solving rote math equations, and memorizing vocabulary words, sometimes with the help of an animated character. These software programs gave teachers more time to work one-on-one with students, but added little else to the classroom experience.

Today, we’re in the midst of a digital revolution in our schools, in large part due to President Obama’s mandate to put laptops, tablets, and other digital devices into the hands of every student by 2020. “In a country where we expect free Wi-Fi with our coffee, why shouldn’t we have it in our schools?” asked Obama. Technology grants for teachers are making it possible for a proliferation of innovative programs, and digital curricula are rapidly becoming the norm, being used hand-in-hand with traditional classroom lessons to give all students equal access to achievement in math and other rigorous curricula.

How are teachers using blended learning to transform classrooms?

Blended Learning, a model that combines a digital curriculum with traditional classroom lessons, has been gaining traction over the past few years. Teachers are using iPads loaded with math lessons, online discussions of current events, and dozens of fun and educational apps to engage students at all learning levels. The key: personalized learning.

Blended Learning is not simply scanning a worksheet into a device or computer. It consists of content material relevant to students, where they can, in part, self-pace their learning. Technology is not replacing teachers or direct instruction—because both are still very valuable—instead, it is enhancing the education experience and turning at least some control over to the student.

We’re seeing a variety of STEM and ELA topics that use technology in creative ways in the classroom. Some entries are collections of tools for collaborative projects … Others are actual units that touched on both STEM and ELA themes.

Nikki Vradenburg, a K–1 teacher at LaMotte School in Bozeman, Montana and a judge for the 20016 Digital Learning Day Contest, started using just one iPad four years ago and now has a 1:1 iPad classroom. “As time went on it was clear tablets offered my 15 K–1 students valuable learning opportunities to create and interact with content,” Vradenburg says. Her first iPad was purchased with a technology grant from a local TV station, and she has undertaken other fundraising efforts. When parents saw how valuable digital learning was, they helped out on fundraising efforts to buy an additional 19 iPads over the past four years.

“The project I am the most proud of is our daily class blog,” Vradenburg says. “We use EasyBlog to post photos, audio recordings, and screencasts of our work.” Students can build something with blocks, legos, or cardboard, snap a picture, and send it directly to their blog. Recently, the kindergarteners were sorting shapes by their attributes and would take a picture of the groups of shapes they sorted. Then, they recorded themselves talking about their sorting rules.

“I can watch their recordings and monitor their progress,” Vradenburg says. “Without technology I would have had to stay at the table with the students to listen to them talk about their work and see the shapes they had collected. This way, I could be in another part of the room working with other students.” Vradenburg looks at the blog and makes comments on students’ work at the end of each day.

The Hottest Digital Learning Activities

“We’re seeing a variety of STEM and ELA topics that use technology in creative ways in the classroom,” says Nikki Vradenburg, a K–1 teacher and judge for the 2016 Digital Learning Day Contest. “Some entries are collections of tools for collaborative projects using easy-to-use classroom technologies like Nearpod, ShowMe, and ScreenChomp. Others are actual units that touched on both STEM and ELA themes.”

According to Vradenburg, “The strongest collections I looked at had a detailed summary of how the resources in the collection could be used with students. They also had a nice variety of images, text, web tools and apps. There are QR code activities, iPad learning centers, infographics, video based research projects and coding resources. I added many new resources to my own collections!”

Here are 8 ideas to ignite the imaginations of your students for Digital Learning Day 2016 and beyond: 

1. Go green: Ask your students to go paperless for a day and write about how that effects their lives and the environment. Put a math twist on the activity by estimating how much paper your classroom saved in a day, and how much you might save in a month—or the entire school year!

2. Join the discussion: Check out a Google Hangout with other teachers and find out how they use digital technology in their classrooms. All you need is a Google Plus account (you have one if you use Gmail) to create a virtual “room” where up to 10 participants can hang out and share ideas. Google Hangout apps help you to bring conversations to life with videos, photos, fun emojis, and other add-ons.

3. Try an Hour of Code: Take an hour to introduce your students to computer science. The Hour of Code is designed to demystify code and show that anybody can learn the basics. (Check out the tutorials.) The Hour of Code takes place each year during Computer Science Education Week, but you can host an Hour of Code event all year round.

4. Teach digital citizenship. There are loads of great resources for teaching young children how to use social media responsibly and other lessons for staying safe on the Internet. A great guide to responsible online behavior for teens is: lol…OMG!: What Every Student Needs to Know About Online Reputation Management, Digital Citizenship and Cyberbullying.

5. DreamBox Spring Math Challenge: Check out our semi-annual competition for K–8 classrooms using DreamBox Learning Math! This year’s dates are March 1-31. Visit the website for details.

6. Tell your story: This is a great opportunity to brag a little about how your classroom has been transformed by technology! Register your Digital Learning Day event and share your story on the official Facebook page!

7. Connect! Follow #DLDay on Twitter and register for Digital Learning Day Live to participate in Twitter chats, webcasts, and other online events with national education leaders, and teachers and students across the country. Online events scheduled throughout Digital Learning Day are designed to inspire and provoke discussions about what it will take to achieve digital equity for all students. A powerful mandate!

8. Check out dozens of additional digital learning activities from #DLDay activities during the past year—and then, share your own inspiration!

Kelly Urlacher

Curriculum Designer at DreamBox Learning
Kelly Urlacher began her career as a sixth grade teacher in Sammamish, WA in 2002. Shortly after, she received her Master’s in Education with an emphasis in Technology and Curriculum Development. After years of dedicating herself to students and education within the classroom, she earned her National Board Certification in 2009. Kelly currently works as a Curriculum Designer for DreamBox Learning and continues tutoring high school students in mathematics.