There is much talk about the impact of technology on education, and it is certainly true that technology is revolutionizing many classrooms. However, it is important to be aware that excellent teachers using pedagogy (which is the art and science of teaching) are still the driving force behind making technology effective in the classrooms.
Recently, Tim Willams, one of our Primary School English teachers, took the leap to incorporate the Augmented Reality center in our Innovation Lab into his English program. Working with Ken Dong, our Innovation Lab Coordinator, he took time to understand the technology before using it and then planned educational experiences to harness the technology for enhanced English knowledge acquisition, technological skill development, and socio-emotional learning. During the lesson students handled learning objectives focused on exploring the planets of the solar system and used this interaction to improve their English usage in a variety of ways. The technology allowed students more agency as it offers team-based investigations in a technologically immersive environment in which students can see and “touch” as well as read about the content.
To start, students were invited to explore seasons and the effect our solar system has on the Earth’s weather. Learning objectives to activate prior knowledge about not only planets, but also adjectives were seamlessly blended. Students recognized and then deepened their knowledge of the planets and easily transitioned into simple comparative conversations. Using the size comparison function within the Augmented Reality program, the students saw realistic representations of the planets’ sizes in relation to each other. Next, Tim encouraged the use of superlatives by showcasing the relative sizes and distances of the planets. Students were quick to transition into superlative sentences to express their views to their partners. After this, students worked together on a fact finding and data acquisition exercise to find new and interesting facts to present to the class as student researchers. This worked wonderfully, with many students learning words like orbit, sols, and rotation naturally from their interaction with the Augmented Reality space. Finally, Tim established students as teachers to relay new and interesting information to the class, developing listening and speaking as well as confidence and public presentation of research findings.
What is important is not only how Tim effectively utilized Augmented Reality as a powerful tool for knowledge acquisition, but how he planned out the development of the lifelong skill and attitude development. Russell Hazard, our Director of Teaching, Learning and Innovation notes that, “Technology is only a tool, and modern teachers must become experts in using the such tools effectively. But using technology in teaching effectively goes beyond just facilitating knowledge acquisition. This is particularly true as socio-emotional learning is identified as an ever more important goal for school systems. Actually, classrooms need to emphasize human interaction and project management more than ever, and not succumb to the simpler option of abdicating the role that teachers have in developing the character and personality of students by relying overmuch on computer-only interactions. Teachers like Tim and Ken take this effort very seriously to develop our students holistically for the needs of the 21st century, and it shows in their work with our students”.
Tim is continuing his efforts to intergrate technology such as AR into his lessons in ways which genuinely serve the students instead of treating the computers as “babysitters”. Giving more agency to learners in future AR lessons will encourage personalized learning, creative thinking, and collaboration skills for students. If students can be encouraged to manipulate the world around them through AR or in realia found in the classroom, they will also retain more information as personally meaningful in addition to developing their socio-emotional intelligence. Tim notes that “incorporating interactive and group activities to encourage self-learning and assessment is just as important when using technology as in traditional classrooms. In fact, utilizing all available environments for learning, including Innovation labs and STEM based learning, the Aidi library, and the real world outside the classroom can help change educational paradigms and result in meaningful, whole child development”. As technology continues to permeate education, teachers who learn to use it in ways that develop the whole child rather than falling into the trap of allowing the tool to become the master will become ever more important.