Technology in your classes – Nour Alkhalidy

Truly Integrating Technology — Nour Alkhalidy

I am a computer teacher who works at a school in a poor village where technology is kind of a big deal.  Some of my students don’t have access to the Internet in their houses. Many do not even have a PC at home. At school, some teachers don’t know how to use computers. Others only utilize them in some way. It is rare to find teachers who are really integrating computers and technology into their classrooms. I am one of the few who is trying to do this. I have been working at this for eight years.

Being a teacher who is trying to integrate technology in such a context has been a little bit challenging for me.  Still, although I have had some discouraging moments, my mission has been and is to create a rich environment for my students by introducing new technologies into my classroom – technologies that actively engage and motivate learners while helping me successfully deliver content.

Before planning to integrate a new technology I always consider two issues:  my students’ weak basic computer skills and the school’s limited Internet access.  Given these parameters, I always look for simple tools that can be used offline. As I design my lesson, I think about how a simple tool can be used to enhance clear curriculum goal and try to incorporate a strategy (often a cooperative strategy) related to such a goal. Then I design activities, making sure each separate group within my class has a task or problem to solve. I also think through how much time a task will take, what roles each student in each group will have, what instructions to give, and what the final output will be.

Personally, If the technology tool I have chosen fulfills subject content goals, improves computer, thinking, and collaboration skills,  engages and motivates students, and more importantly convinces me that I cannot proceed without it, then for me I have successfully integrated technology in my classroom.

I usually prepare my lessons using Powerpoint — the old tool that will never die — to explain tasks and instructions.  Sometimes I use it as a learning tool to design a virtual tour or micro-lesson.

I also use Microsoft’s FrontPage to design webquests,  online scavenger hunts or 5Eonline research modules. Multi-media tools, mindmaps and word cloud applications are also at the top of my technology list to promote visual literacy.

For project work, I tell students they can bring their parents’ cell phones to class in order to capture pictures, record their voices and do interviews. We also use cell phones along with Microsoft Photo Story or Movie Maker  to create videos that showcase work, summarize ideas,  display knowledge on a subject,  or share thoughts about the project we’re doing. They also use cell phones to gain internet access that allows them to extend their learning by finding additional information they then add to a FrontPage website made by them.

I’ve been involved in some global projectson Twitter like Michal Ann C’s (@CernigliaSharing Perceptions Project in which my 9th grade students in Jordan shared their  thoughts about the U.S. with Michael-Ann’s 6th grade students.  In Jordan, my students and I used Tagxedo and Wordle to present brainstorming ideas, and Vokito express our thanks for being involved in the project.

Sometimes, I have 10-15 minutes  at the end of a class for a group game. Playing games enhances students’ attitudes and motivates them. For example, a simple game like FreeCellor Tetrisoffers some opportunities for group collaboration and improving thinking skills, while a Rapid Typing Game improves  basic computer skill and kills classroom boredom.

I may not have iPads, iPods or laptops in my classroom and my students aren’t adequately digitally savvy learners equipped with the needed skills, but I certainly believe that any technology can be powerful — even the simplest one if it is being used in the right way. It’s not about what tool to integrate but how to exploit its effectiveness and add real value to the learning process.

As a computer teacher, my role is to mainly help my students benefit from technology’s opportunities, improve their computer and information literacies skills (along with other 21st century skills), and finally to reduce the big gap between what the world is like in my poor village with the life my students will have in college and beyond. If I can do those things, then I consider all the challenges I face worth every effort.


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Encouraging student collaboration – Nour Alkhalidy

Collaboration, Communication, Creativity and Critical Thinking in Action.

Living in digital complex communities requires us to handle a lot of information that is beyond what we can manage alone. Therefore working in teams becomes crucial to accomplish many complex tasks in less time and with more effectiveness.  For a 21st century classroom, UNESCO  has named  learning to live together as one of the 4 Pillars of education along with Communication, Creativity and Critical thinking. These are the 4CS

Our goal of preparing our students for a better future becomes more achievable by teaching these skills and enhancing them in the classroom work we do.

Because collaboration is a student choice, it’s the teacher role to make students feel more passionate about it, and this can be done by creating a positive climate in the classroom, where learners feel more comfortable and willing to collaborate. To do this teachers can:

Build Team skills
Build your groups’ skills once a week, through ice-breakers or cooperative games which emphasize having fun more than competition, while improving communication and collaboration skills , and sometimes enhance some academic ones as well.

Celebrate Diversity
M. Scott Peck advises us to “share our similarities (and) celebrate our differences.”  Perhaps one of the most things we need to do is to respect the differences among members of the same team, thinking of these differences as gifts as they are in multiple intelligences theory.  Everyone has a gift to share with others and should be encouraged to do so. Thus, no one is left behind, all students work together, and everyone is passionate and motivated.

Have One Clear Goal
The definition of collaboration is “working together to achieve a goal“. Teamwork must be directed toward one real goal, where each member ‘s task depends on other tasks — not divided but integrated.  Each task must be a challenging one, where all group members have to think together, and each member needs other team members to accomplish their work. Try strategies from the two PBLs:  Problem Based Learning, and Project Based Learning ” to achieve this goal, or you can try activities like ” Jigsaw“.

Encourage Commitment
Commitment comes from responsibility.  That’s why it’s important to let students be responsible for their own work. Have them assess their teamwork, let them write their own work rules, and have them share their work in and even outside the classroom. I believe that having students do global projects with others around the world makes learning more fun and gets students working harder and more willing to share with others.

Emphasize the idea that We are all Winners and If you win I win
It’s not about competition but is more focused on contributions where there are no winners or losers, but only successful relationships, enhanced skills and group outputs. Keep this in mind when choosing  and assessing activities.

Assess Appropriately
Value each member and the group work.  Focus on the output but also on  how students work together to achieve their goal. How did they communicate?  Were they feeling happy with their work in the group?

Use Technology
Technology offers a virtual and a real place for groups.  It facilitates communication in and outside the classroom and allows students to save and share their work. Rather than suggest  a technology  tool or a device to your students, let them choose what they are familiar with. They are our digital savvy heroes! Let them play that role.  Still, may I tell you about some of my favorite simple web 2.0 tools for collaboration? Here they are:

GoogleDocs, Stixy,  Popplet, Zoho, Twiddla, TypeWithMeWallWisherVoicethread, and the social bookmarking tool Diigo. BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) can also be great to help students feel more comfortable, independent and responsible for their learning as they work with their own tools – but don’t just take my word for it.  Embrace the 4Cs and try these ideas out in your own way in your own classes and then tell us about it. That’s Collaboration, Communication, Creativity, and Critical Thinking in action.

Strategies for large classes – Nour Alkhalidy

Teaching a large class can be challenging. The important thing is to provide a learning environment where each student is engaged in the learning process. One of the most useful strategies for effectively doing this is through cooperative learning using one of my favorite strategies, Kagan Structures. What’s special about Kagan Structures is that they are built around principals that develop individual and group learning at the same. The skills that they help develop include class building, teambuilding, communication skills, thinking skills, information sharing skills, and mastery skills. They are also designed to work with all of the multiple intelligences while improving time management skills and therefore are a really great solution for large classes.

One example of a Kagan Structure is Think–Pair–Share in which students have individual time to think about a question related to the topic of study before pairing up with a partner to share their thoughts and then working with their partner to select one idea to share with the entire class. This structure helps teachers organize group work and improves many different skills at the same time in a very simple and easy way. Working on their own to solve a problem or answer a question helps students develop thinking and mastery skills. Sharing ideas with a partner develops team building and information sharing skills. Deciding what to share with the class and then presenting that develops class-building skills as well. For further information and examples of Kagan Structures please check out this guide.

In addition to Kagan Structures some of the other strategies I use include:

–       Creating detailed plans for lessons, group tasks, and tools ahead of time.

–       Making guidelines for groups that explain rules, tasks, time limits, and expected outputs.

–       Using smile/sad face and agree/disagree cards to make it easy for students to respond.

–       Repeating the lesson’s most important points throughout the class in a variety of ways.

–       Integrating academic and team-building skills into my assignments.

–       Making use of technology but always having a plan B in case there’s no Internet.

–       Putting materials online and letting students ask questions after class by email.

Undoubtedly, technology can greatly increase student engagement and participation in a large class. The following tools and techniques are really useful:

Backchannels provide a rich environment for group discussions in real time. A backchannel is a great way to give each student a voice. Tools like TodaysMeet, Twitter streams, Googledocs, and NeatChat are some cool ways to do this.

Social media tools like Pinterest, Youtube, Facebook, Flickr, Voicethreads and Wikis will engage students and groups with different learning styles.

Note Taking apps like Wallwisher and Linoit can be used for writing important notes or giving feedback on individual and group work. They can also foster creativity in brainstorming sessions.

Nour Alkhalidy (@MissNoor28)