A new teacher’s perspective: Today’s best edtech resources

0

Key points:

This year, I am proud to say I finished my first year as a middle school STEM teacher in rural Montana’s Alberton School District. To say that the year has been a whirlwind is an understatement. In just a few months, I transitioned from being a student at the University of Montana’s College of Education to leading the instruction of a room of rambunctious middle school students interested in STEM.

While it has been a year of tremendous change, it has also been the most rewarding year of my life. I had the opportunity to help establish an esports team at my school that will now compete against other Montana Schools and beyond. I had the honor of being recognized for my use of technology in the classroom when I was named one of Discovery Education’s “Educators of the Year.” Then, I moved into a new role as a K-8 STEM Director at my school. In that capacity, I hope to ignite student curiosity in STEM among students of all ages. 

One of the biggest lessons I learned in my first year of teaching was the importance of continuing my own learning. During my “freshman year” in the classroom, I made it a point to ask colleagues at my school, members of my professional learning community, educators I met at conferences, and others: “What are the best edtech resources for a new teacher to engage students and ignite their curiosity about learning?” Here are some of my findings–I hope you find them as useful as I did!

ChatGPT

In 2024, my district was fortunate to participate in a fabulous professional development opportunity lead by Jason Neiffer of the Montana Digital Academy (MTDA). This professional learning covered one of the most-discussed new technologies of the day: artificial intelligence. During this professional development, I was able to further my understanding of AI and how to best implement its capabilities into my classroom to increase student engagement in instruction.
 
ChatGPT is the AI tool I use in the classroom, and I have discovered that it can serve as a powerful tool for engaging students in learning. It can assist with homework by providing explanations and step-by-step solutions to problems and help students understand difficult concepts. It can also act as a study companion, generating practice questions, summarizing key points from e-textbooks and webpages, and much more. Additionally, students can use ChatGPT to learn new languages, receive personalized tutoring, and explore new subjects at their own pace. 

When introducing AI into your classroom, I learned that it is important that your students understand the user’s role in the technology. Specifically, I teach my students about prompting. Prompting refers to providing specific instructions or input (called a prompt) to an AI model to generate a desired response. While I encourage my own students to understand and practice the importance of prompting, I also encourage younger students to begin with a student-friendly pre-prompted AI, such as Magic School, to help guide students through the proper implementation of AI.  

Esports

I also learned that middle and high school extracurricular esports programs offer numerous ways to engage students in instruction, especially in a rural community like Alberton. Esports programs provide students opportunities to develop teamwork, strategic thinking, and leadership skills in a collaborative environment. 

Alberton Schools has set a goal to have 100 percent of our high school student body participate in an extra-curricular or co-curricular activity. That’s because such activities have been proven to increase attendance rates and student GPAs. Esports is one such extracurricular activity. But esports is unique in that it is virtual and can engage students who might not participate in traditional sports. This, in turn, fosters a greater sense of inclusion and belonging, including those who are home-schooled in the community. 

These programs also promote digital literacy and can spark interest in STEM-related fields, potentially leading to future educational and career opportunities. Additionally, participating in esports can enhance school spirit and create new avenues for student recognition and achievement, contributing to a positive school culture and increased student engagement and inclusivity. A resource that has proven to be a catalyst in the establishment of our esports team for accumulating appropriate equipment was  RIOT Games and its promotional funding opportunity. 

Simulators and STEM kits

In discussing ways to engage students in STEM with my colleagues, I learned that simulators and STEM Kits can significantly enhance student engagement and understanding by providing hands-on, immersive learning experiences that bring theoretical concepts to life. 

For example, I have implemented physical simulators such as airplane and unmanned aerial vehicle flight simulators in my middle school classes, allowing students to apply physics and engineering principles in a practical setting. Additionally, I have utilized virtual simulations with programs and software that replicate larger-scale concepts at a tangible scale, such as ecosystems or complex machinery. These tools help students visualize and interact with abstract ideas, leading to deeper comprehension and retention of the material, while also fostering critical thinking and problem-solving skills. 

STEM kits have proven to be invaluable in my K-5 grade levels where I am able to use age-appropriate coding and robotics kits like Bee-Bots. If you are interested in joining an amazing organization, I highly recommend joining the Civil Air Patrol as an Aerospace Educator (CAP AEM). This organization provides educators with free textual resources and STEM kits for grades kindergarten through high school. For example, I have received multiple flight simulators, aeronautical charts, and Bee-Bots thus far from the program at absolutely no cost to me. However, there is a one-time $35 fee to become a member with free annual renewal. 

Augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR)

Using VR and AR in the classroom offers numerous educational benefits across various subjects such as math, science, and history. Plus, students LOVE AR/VR! These technologies provide immersive and interactive learning experiences that can make abstract concepts more tangible and engaging. 

In math and science, VR/AR can help students visualize complex structures and processes, making the learning come alive and enhancing their understanding and retention. In history, these tools can transport students to different time periods and locations, making historical events and cultures more vivid and relatable. 

I am implementing VR headsets along with 360-degree cameras and audio devices to enable students to create immersive VR experiences about our rural community. This upcoming school year, students will focus on creating content about the many Native American tribal nations that surround our rural town. This approach not only enriches their understanding of local history and culture but also develops their technical skills and creativity.

If you are interested in exploring virtual reality in your classroom, I recommend funding one to two Meta Quest 2 headsets to begin with and downloading any of the many free educational apps or immersive experiences. My personal favorites are MLK: Now is the Time, Anne Frank Annex Tour, and Prisms Math Education.

If you find virtual reality beneficial in your classroom. I would suggest the possibility of applying for local and national tech grants to procure a class set of Class VR Headsets, which comes with state Common Core-aligned standard curriculums for all core subjects, including social studies, mathematics, science, language arts, and more.

Virtual tours, field trips, and guest speakers

One of the first lessons I learned as a new teacher was that incorporating virtual tours and field trips can significantly increase student engagement and ignite future career interests. These experiences provide students access to diverse environments and professionals, regardless of their location. Discovery Education’s K-12 learning platform–Experience–offers cool tools and digital resources, and is an excellent source for offering virtual field trips that allow students in any town, large or small, to explore various industries and career paths. These virtual experiences connect students with a wide network of professionals, exposing them to a multitude of careers and inspiring them to envision and pursue their future aspirations. Discovery Education Experience is available to my state’s public school educators for free, so if you are in Montana, try it out at Montana Partnership Resources!

My journey from a recent graduate to an award-winning educator has been marked by a lot of help from peers across my school system and around the country. From them, I learned how to channel my commitment to integrating cutting-edge technology into the classroom to enhance student learning and engagement. Through the use of AI tools like ChatGPT, esports programs, physical and virtual simulators, AR/VR technologies, and virtual field trips, I have created a dynamic and inclusive learning environment that engages students and helps them pursue their curiosity. 

As I step into my new role as K-8 STEM Director in Alberton, Montana, I am eager to continue fostering a culture of innovation and enthusiasm for STEM education, ensuring that every student has the opportunity to succeed and thrive in our increasingly digital world.

Latest posts by eSchool Media Contributors (see all)


link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *