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February 23, 2018

Guest blogger: David Mazza, Y4Y Educational Technology Specialist

Twitter, Facebook Live, Instagram Live, MapQuest, Snapchat Stories, Skype, Google Hangouts, Google Duo, Periscope, Vine, Peeks Social — these are a few of the many apps available today. I’m often asked, “Should we use these apps for educational activities?” It sounds like a yes-or-no question, but it’s not. Here are two important follow-up questions that can help you decide.

Will technology enhance your activity, or be a distraction?

The first thing to consider is whether technology is appropriate for the activity you’re planning. Sometimes it seems that young people, not to mention adults, stare at screens or use mobile devices day and night. On city sidewalks, it’s common to pass one person after another who’s texting or talking on their phone. Hopefully you’ve avoided getting run over by these distracted pedestrians! On elevators, have you ever responded to a “hello” only to realize the stranger next to you wasn’t talking to you, but was on a cell phone? In restaurants, have you noticed families or groups sitting together at a table but interacting with their devices instead of with each other?

Technology is part of our lives, but as these examples show, there are trade-offs. What are we missing when we bring technology along as we walk outdoors, engage in everyday activities, and visit with friends and family? You can apply this question as you consider whether to make technology part of any activity you’re planning for students. What benefits might technology bring to the activity? What might students miss by bringing technology along? Will it enhance your activity, or be a distraction?

If your goal is to have students learn about forest management, and you plan to engage a forest ranger from a remote location to provide expertise, the answer could be Zoom, Google Hangouts or Skype. (See this Y4Y blog post for ideas on videoconferencing.) If your activity is a walk in the forest, however, and the goal is to help students sharpen their observation skills, it might be best to leave technology behind and have them “take pictures” mentally.

What are the options for apps that will enhance the activity and be enjoyable for students to use?

A multitude of free apps are available, but if you don’t know about them or haven’t used them, how can you determine which ones might work well? Here are a few tips to get you started.

Ask around. You can always do a Google search to get started. First, though, ask family, friends, colleagues and students about their favorite apps and their uses. Most people love sharing their favorites. Asking students can help you learn about apps they already like and use. Here are a few of my favs for skywatching:

  • MyScript Calculator
  • Meteor Shower Calendar
  • Phases of the Moon
  • Sky Map
  • EQInfo

Play around. Start with a suggested app that looks interesting to you. Download it and spend some time playing with the app. Consider possible ways to integrate it into an activity. For example, could students use Facebook Live or Periscope to present a project they’ve done, or to let a homebound family member watch as they perform an original skit, song, dance or story?

Try it with your students! If your students are struggling with mathematical concepts, you might use Skype to have a local carpet installer show how they calculate the area of a room to make sure they order the right amount of carpet. Or an auto mechanic might show how they calculate angles for pipe bending. These examples show real-world applications of concepts taught in math classes. Skyping with experts from various fields can also introduce students to careers they otherwise might not consider.

I’d be happy to discuss more about using apps effectively with students. I’d also love to hear about your favorite apps and how you use them. Leave a reply below!

 


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