When I was young, my parents bought a telescope, with the intention that my brother and I would learn more about the constellations and the objects in space. I remember the joy of setting up this exciting new tool, and with anticipation, I waited for a clear, dark night, and saw the stars magnify in my eyes. I looked up a few constellations in an encyclopedia, but to my dismay, never found many in the night sky. I had a cool tool with a few resources to help me discover the stars.
Today though, this experience can be very different. With the iPad app SkyView, our children can unlock the stars and constellations, learning about the planets and space using the camera on their device, far beyond the lens in my telescope of years past. It can illuminate much more than what can be seen by the naked eye, and sketch the constellations the moment they are seen.
Both the telescope and the iPad app are tools. Tools help us accomplish tasks in all facets of our daily lives. In the classroom, this is no different. For years, our tools have been in print, and there are still amazing print-based and hands-on tools used in classrooms daily that enrich and help children learn. These tools have helped us achieve the task.
Now, we have an ever-growing toolbox at our disposal, the digital tool. No matter what device, the digital tools available to us can open endless doors and learning opportunities for our students. No longer are walls and geography a boundary. There are apps and virtual field trips that can take our children anywhere in the world with just a few clicks. With Mystery Skype, our students can interact with other students around the globe, having conversations that would have never been possible a few years ago. With Camp Google, students can embark on fun science activities and adventures led by experts.
Tools unlock content.
Tools unlock possibilities.
Tools help create.
Tools help collaborate.
Tools empower innovation.
Literally, the possibilities of tools are endless!
With these tools, our ability to facilitate inquiry, collaboration, and creativity are enhanced. We cultivate a culture of wonder and discovery using these tools, motivating curiosity and exploration. It is exciting to be an educator today with all these tools at our fingertips.
But the tool is just the spark. These tools can only be as effective as the teaching techniques used to share them. Wonder and discovery are only attainable when the teaching technique used fosters it. A worksheet is still a worksheet, no matter if it is on a device or not. A textbook is still a textbook, no matter if it is on a device or not. And a digital tool is only going to be as effective as the strategy in place to unveil its power and experience.
With this app, a person can view the constellations, planets, and man-made objects in any particular point in the sky, using the device’s camera and location services. With my children and their devices, my husband showed them briefly what a constellation was and why they were used years ago for travel. From there, their curiosity took hold, and it was time for us to serve as a facilitator as they discovered and explored on their own. Pointing their devices to the sky, the constellations came to life on their screens. There were impromptu astronomy lessons about orbits and planets, and they asked questions as they saw the different formations and planets on their device. Their awe and excitement was sparked by the tool, but their motivation to explore was prompted by their personal discoveries.
This example may very well take a different turn. The tool may stay the same, but instead of allowing each child to discover the stars and planets on their own, I could have easily shared the app solely on my iPad, leading them through every part of the sky, talking the entire time. I could be on the stage, lecturing while walking around with my device.
Would it have been as effective? My answer is no.
This experience would not have been as amazing as what it was without the technology in each of their hands. It definitely would not have been as powerful as it was if my husband had showed them pictures in a book or pointed to the sky to try to find a constellation.
The Key: Tools AND Technique
The key to any experience is our children’s ability to explore on their own, ask their own questions, wonder and discover on their own, with us by their side the entire time. A tool enhances the experience, and peaks their interest even more with its vivid images and descriptions. The tool can be quickly shared, and the power then rests in the hands of the children, giving them time to explore and discover, building questions and facilitating discussion. These are the moments, the authentic experiences, that are remembered and treasured.
How can we build more wonder in our classrooms? How can we create experiences of exploration and discovery on a greater scale, using the tools available to us?
Today, our schools are often driven by standards and testing accountability. Our curriculums are still founded in the pace and topics of textbooks. And while these elements are not necessarily terrible, our entire purpose in education has been driven by them rather than sparking wonder in our kids.
Today, many of our children have tools in their hands to explore and wonder, inquire and discover, and it is our role to now stand aside and let this happen. With simple reframing of our classrooms, the content can come to life in their hands, and we simply guide them through it. Imagine the discussion and motivation within a classroom where the students are continually discovering, not just being “told” what is and was and what will be. Let the digital tools spark their creativity. Then use best practice teaching techniques to foster the learning experience, keeping a clear learning goal in mind. We need to start approaching our instructional models, creating environments where questions, collaboration, creativity, and problem-solving are the norm.
Yes, there are so many wonderful TOOLS. These tools are an essential part of our schools today. They ignite curiosity, passion, and wonder. But, it is through our approach, our techniques, that wonder and discovery can be the norm in our classrooms. Our tools spark wonder, and our technique empowers our children to reach for the stars and beyond.
Feature image courtesy of Flickr, Tony Webster.