Beginning the Digital Journey: Getting Started with Tech Tools in the Classroom


3.3.11 | We recently checked back in with Digital Is, a new online community for educators hosted by The National Writing Project that launched in the fall. Educators can create and disseminate resources on teaching and writing with new media, and new examples are being added all the time.

We wanted to point Spotlight readers to a collection curated by Kim Jaxon, an assistant professor of English at California State University Chico. In “‘Where Do I Start?’: Beginning the Digital Journey in the Classroom,” Jaxon has brought together stories and concrete project ideas from educators who have struggled with how to bring technology into their classrooms and, as she puts it, have “figured something out.”

From virtual frog dissection to using wikis in fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms, it’s heartening to learn from educators who became enthusiastic converts after once feeling anxious in the face of myriad new media options. Jaxon quotes a colleague who echoes a sentiment often heard from educators these days:

“I’m not a geek and never will be, but I also feel like new ideas are passing me by every time someone says Diigo, Prezi, Twitter…it’s simply overwhelming.”

We liked this collection particularly because it starts in places that are realistic for educators who may feel alien to the tech world. No augmented reality games here – these are teachers describing the power of letting kids experiment with basic tools: digital cameras, tablets and internet access.

Even with learners as young as first grade, the examples show how new technologies can help shift classroom dynamics to focus more on student-led inquiry and exploration.

“Through the integration of technology, my classroom moved from a teacher-centered system to a student-centered learning environment,” writes Joe Wood, a teacher in the San Juan Unified School district in Sacramento, Ca. “Along the way, I learned that computer expertise is not the secret to integrating technology – it’s simply a willingness to play, discover, and explore.”

Particularly powerful is this video from Renee Webster. A first-grade teacher from the Red Cedar Writing Project in Michigan, Webster describes what happened in her classroom when she experimented with asking her students to engage in “book talks” and recorded their discussions using digital audio recorders to.

“My first graders would situate themselves in small groups around our classroom, ready to participate in books talks,” Webster says in the video. “The talks examined, probed and took an investigative stance around a picture book before I asked them to write a response.”

She described how the exercise taught her students how to become a real learning community. By listening to their own discussions and questions, they found language that enabled them to listen and talk to each other in new ways.

Webster reports that her students’ newfound abilities to articulate their ideas spilled over into other classroom discussions about writing, science and when trying to negotiate relationships with classmates.

“Hearing their voices let my learners know their teacher believed their thinking was important.”

Read the full collection at Digital Is.

Plus, Spotlight published a story this week about another National Writing Project-supported site. Read about how students and teachers in Louisiana have built an online community where students from all across the nation can learn firsthand about the Gulf oil spill and its effects on the local community.

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