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Technology for the Primary Classroom — Devices Optional

November 18, 2015

View story at Medium.com

Welcome back to Website Wednesday!

In today’s post, Master Teacher Veronique Paquette reinforces an important BetterLesson value: that technology, while a useful tool, will never replace teachers in the wholly human work of educating students. A trailblazer in the application of technology to primary education, Veronique shares her favorite websites for providing her 2nd-grade students with on-topic, lexile-specific, common-core-aligned reading passages. She believes the free websites she highlights in this post provide students with exactly what they need to build their reading skills.

The great news is that her recommendations are for teacher-facing sites, meaning students don’t need to have access to devices, only the teacher does. What’s more, these sites are useful for teachers across the K-12 continuum. So whether you are an elementary teacher looking for some supplemental reading materials for your 5th-grade ELA class, or a high school science teacher looking to find a current event article suitable for your diverse group of students, Veronique’s post has you covered. Enjoy!


 

Wikis, blogs, Chromebooks, ipods, ipads, PC’s, laptops; the list of technology at a teacher’s fingertips is immense. I remember vividly, almost twenty years ago, when the biggest decision my school district had to make was the choice between PC or Mac. It was a huge decision, and the drama that surrounded it within buildings and teachers circles was incredible.

These days, teachers and students have so many more choices to make where technology is concerned. In my mind, however, it is not so much about the technology you choose, but the method to use the technology that is more important. There is no doubt that technology is an integral part of teaching in today’s classrooms, but being mindful of how we use that technology is equally, if not more, critical.

I am fortunate to live in a state that has valued technology in classrooms for many years. Because of the commitment of Washington State to put technology into the hands of teachers and students, I have been very lucky. I have received training that has helped me to utilize technology to enhance the learning of all my students.

In 2003, The Gates Foundation opened up the Teacher Leadership Project to include primary teachers (K-2) for the first time, and I became a part of a cohort that broke new ground in the classroom technology world. It was a new concept to consider using technology this deeply with young students, yet was an exciting time, and I loved every minute of the learning. I learned many new ideas, techniques and philosophies about the best ways to begin using technology with my second graders. During the course of that year, I learned the most valuable lesson I believe a technology teacher can learn: technology is only a tool to enhance the teaching of a teacher and the curriculum or standards he or she teaches. The technology can never replace the actual teaching and learning itself.

It is so easy to become excited and empowered with the idea of gadgets, but the real power lies in the way teachers utilize those tools. I have found that the most valuable tools are the ones that allow me to enhance my daily teaching in ways I formerly could not do without hours of research and planning. I find myself continually returning to the same websites to access capabilities that only make learning stronger for my students.

One of my favorite websites is Readworks.org. Finding just the perfect reading source to add background to my science lessons can be tough but Readworks makes it easy to find the correct readability matching the content I am looking for. Not only do the articles offer great non-fiction text to support science content, but they also allow me to weave in so much of the ELA Common Core.

Just finding the background text is not enough, however. With so many of our students needing extra support in language development, it can be difficult to know which words are really those tier two and tier three words. Once I find that perfect text, I turn to a link on the Achieve the Core site: the Academic Word Finder. This tool makes vocabulary teaching a snap. Include the text you are using and the program does all the work.

Science content is more than just reading text, however. It is important to show our students that science writing is happening everyday in newspapers all over the country. This is when I turn to my absolute favorite site: Newsela. This site is just about the best site I have ever found. I first learned about it from a BetterLesson colleague, and it has transformed my planning. It is comprised of a the most current events from all the major and not so major newspapers across the country. It is so easy to find an article that spotlights any science content you are teaching.

You might say to yourself, “that is cool, but not really that cool.” I would have to agree, but what makes Newsela stand out are the features they offer to make those newspaper articles usable for any reading level. Each article can be changed to match a particular reading lexile. The technology does it for you! Imagine my second graders reading an article from the Seattle Times —  the world has just stepped through my classroom doors, and suddenly science and research have become real in a way they couldn’t before.

It isn’t the kind of technology we use that makes our world so exciting in the classrooms of today, it is what we do with that technology that makes the difference. I have been using technology regularly in my teaching for almost 15 years, and I’ll never look back. I cannot even imagine teaching without it anymore.


Veronique Paquette is a 2nd-grade teacher at Kenroy Elementary School in East Wenatchee, Washington. She has taught early elementary students for 28 years and loves finding ways to bring the outside world into the four walls of her classroom. To see all of Veronique’s science lesson and see more examples of how she integrates technology, please click here.

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