Fifteen years ago, chalkboards, overhead projectors and oratory eloquence were the best tools teachers had at their disposal to communicate with students. Today, interactive touch screens and laptop computers are considered the bare minimum to effectively reach students by most teachers.

A 2013 study prepared by market research provider VeraQuest for PBS found that 68 percent of teachers indicated more technology was needed in their classrooms that year. In addition, 40 percent said they will be asking the administration for technological upgrades, and half said they’re willing to experiment with new technologies.

But, high tech does not necessarily equal high test scores or superior aptitude in any given subject. Mark Richtel, writing for the New York Times, chronicled the Kyrene School District in suburban Phoenix. The district spent $33 million upgrading its classrooms after a 2005 ballot initiative approved the funding; however, standardized test scores at the district remained steady through 2011. Furthermore, less fortunate districts across the state improved their scores in that same time period.

New technologies in the classroom should enrich the overall learning environment and maximize teachable moments between teacher and student. It’s not necessarily how much it costs, but how you use it.

 

Educational Video Games

 

A common argument in favor of using educational video games in the classroom is that students are already accustomed to the platform. The average eighth grade boy plays video games 23 hours per week, and the average girl 12 hours, according to MIT’s Education Arcade. Therefore, it’s a natural transition that can promote a better learning environment, particularly for math students.

For example, The Lure of the Labyrinth is a web-based, ever-changing puzzle game that plays much like a role playing adventure on a gaming system. You must rescue your lost dog in the labyrinth by solving mathematical problems, particularly algebraic equations. The game is funded by the U.S. Department of Education and is said to cover both Common Core and National Council of Teachers of Mathematics standards.

SimCity is another valuable educational tool. It can help both sociology and economics students understand municipal budgets and how they ultimately effect all the individual city departments. The game also allows simulations of historical cities and events such as Hamburg, Germany, 1944. History teachers can use the game to give students realistic simulations of the people’s conditions based on real economic data and decisions made at the time.

 

Increased Participation and Engagement

 

More technology in the classroom means less teacher-led instruction and more individualized and independent learning. The key is to give younger students the freedom to go at their own pace while also keeping them focused and on task.

A great app for teachers to monitor students’ activities is GoSoapBox. One of its many useful features is the Confusion Barometer, which allows students to report their understanding of the day’s lecture in real-time. A graphical representation of students’ statuses—whether they understand the concept or not—can be monitored as it changes. The feedback can help decide whether to move on from a particular subject or have a Q&A to clear any confusion.

Another great feature of GoSoapBox is the pop quizzes. It automatically grades the tests and organizes the data so you can see frequently missed questions and other trends. The app is free for all K–12 and university educators with class sizes of 30 or less.

 

Smartphone Journalism

 

The technology in smartphones can give photography instructors more options for compelling lesson plans. Students can utilize the latest optical image stabilization (OIS+) and laser auto focus technology in their phones to take professional-looking news and sports photos for assignments. Teachers can use cloud-based storage platforms like Dropbox and give students a deadline to upload their work. It’s an excellent way to create a virtual newsroom for any school newspaper or yearbook.

 

Social Media Revolution

 

More than 80 percent of college instructors use social media in some way, states a 2011 study by Babson College. However, only 47 percent of K–12 teachers think social media would be useful in the classroom, explains a University of Phoenix study. Facebook, Twitter and even Google+ can aid teachers at all levels if used creatively and efficiently.

Jim Newman, a Northern Illinois University instructor, told U.S. News he uses Twitter as a bulletin board. Students who follow him will get updates on class being cancelled, changes to the syllabus and any other breaking news. Elementary and junior high school teachers can use this same concept to give parents important updates. Some teachers even assign students the task of summarizing major political concepts in one 140-word Tweet.

Teachers who are new to using social media in the classroom and are concerned about any potential issues should first check out The Teacher’s Guide to Twitter by Edudemic. Facebook also has a guide for educators who want some tips and instructions on responsible use.

Technological resources are only good things if they help students learn and master educational concepts. If nothing else, technology in the classroom should increase both participation and student engagement.