Creating Bell-to-Bell Learning in an Age of Digital Distraction
It isn't a secret that we live in a digital age. Every generation has always had a wealth of knowledge, but it’s never been this easy to access. With the click of a button on a computer—and in many cases from their smartphones—students have the world at their fingertips. As a seventh-grade teacher at Carmenita Middle School, I firmly believe that technology is one of the most important tools in our classroom. When used properly, technology can give today's youth some of the necessary skills they will need to succeed in their careers.
My life in education didn’t begin in a traditional way. My path to teaching started with a momentary detour where I thought I wanted to study law, move to DC, and run for Congress. But after some time and a conversation with my fiancé, I realized it did not align with my core values and the direction I wanted my life to go. And I am proud to say I go to work every morning with a smile and I'm still smiling when I leave later in the day.
I’m thrilled that I get the opportunity to create the best learning environment for the leaders of tomorrow.
Life, Technology, and a Love of Teaching
In my opinion, middle school students are capable of much more than we are asking of them in our classrooms. I have found that they’re ready to be challenged intellectually and interpersonally. I want to help them use the power of analytical questioning to learn and develop so that they will be strong innovators in whatever field they choose to enter. Countless times I have been amazed at what my students can achieve when technology is leveraged in the right way and in the right circumstances. Technology has this unique ability to create a sense of comfort for our digital generation of students and then when I choose to slowly remove that "comfort" the students begin to grow personally and intellectually.
For middle schoolers—who have a malleability, innocence, and developing maturity—they are able to use technology as a way to ask necessary questions, probe the vast field of history, evaluate their claims, find answers to those questions that will affect them in real time and in their future relationships. At Carmenita, I get to be their "guide on the side" as I encourage them to go on these incredible journeys that lead them to total learning.
I also recognize the tremendous opportunity that I have due to our school currently being a 1:1 learning environment. Our district has made technology a priority and our administration has encouraged us to use them in our classrooms. Many of our core classes are using Chromebooks as our main technological platform. Students are generally using the computers at least three times a week using different platforms—not just the typical Google Docs or Classroom—to further enhance their learning experience. I might be biased but I think our district, to borrow a phrase from the NAVY SEALS, is "leading from the front" in terms of incorporating technology into our classrooms. But while I love our use of technology, like anything in life, it does have its own set of unique challenges.
Technology has its benefits and its drawbacks when it comes to our learning environment. One of the main issues for me was not being able to see what the students were doing while they were supposed to be learning. I am sure many of you can relate to that concern and for some that is exactly why you do not use frequent technology in the classroom. I needed a way to monitor how they were using their technology just like I would want to monitor their work time on paper assignments.
Upon speaking with my fellow teachers, I quickly realized I wasn’t alone. We knew the importance of achieving a bell-to-bell learning environment, monitoring our students, and meeting our learning goals, but when we couldn't monitor what our students were doing, we felt like we ran into a technology-created brick wall. We wanted to equip our students with these 21st century skills, but we also wanted to make sure our learning environment was functioning in an orderly manner.
We needed to keep an eye on student activity, without impeding their learning or eliminating technology altogether. Every teacher laments of wasted learning time as they walk around the classroom attempting the daunting task of visually monitoring what the students were looking at on their Chromebooks. We as a team turned that lament into positive action. Like our staff and administration often does, we had a conversation about our issue, took this problem to our technology coordinator, and then our administration discovered GoGuardian—the Chromebook management solution.
The Journey Forward
We began to use GoGuardian as a trial, with myself and a few other teachers, thanks to our district and principal. As soon as I started to use the platform, I immediately saw an impact in my classroom. Right away, I had more control over what the students could see on their screens, what platforms they could engage with, and how they used their Chromebooks. The challenge with this level of control was learning how to use it effectively so I could enhance my students' learning and remain a compelling guide that engaged with my students face to face, not just screen to screen.
In a world where there are a thousand digital distractions, it’s important that my students have the ability to truly be present from the beginning of class until the time the bell rings 54 minutes later.
Once I figured out the right control features, I was able to enhance their learning experience and simultaneously create a less distracting environment for them as well. The true beauty of the platform is that the benefits weren't limited to my classroom. The other teachers who were piloting the program were experiencing similar results so we had another conversation with our administration and they provided access to GoGuardian campus wide.
Once we were funded, we introduced GoGuardian to the entire school during a Friday meeting. We mentioned our own tips and tricks that we had learned through multiple moments of the students collectively grunting as we tested all that GoGuardian had to offer. The purpose of our meeting was to introduce the platform and then be available to help those who wanted to try it but needed some technological guidance. In fact, once the other teachers started to use it, they quickly realized they didn’t have to be a tech guru to take advantage of the platform. It does have a slight learning curve—like anything else—but it’s actually quite intuitive and easy to use.
Paving the Way for Bell-to-Bell Learning
Now that technology was working for me rather than against me, I did not have to walk around the classroom constantly monitoring what my students were doing on their computers. I could now begin to release control of the learning environment because GoGuardian was my safety net. Instead, I found that I was now able to focus my energy on answering questions, encouraging conversations, getting to know my students, and of course using technology as an innovative tool to enhance their learning—not hinder it.
Before GoGuardian, I would have the usual amount of technological violations in my classroom. Now, I have found in my classroom that those violations do not occur as much because the sites are blocked from student access, I can limit their tabs, or I can see what they are doing. When I was able to remove the temptation and distraction I was able to create a more effective classroom environment. It almost put my students in a position where their only option was to learn, so they did!
With GoGuardian, I've also been able to move more of my assessments online. By giving students the opportunity to take their tests online, I've felt that I have alleviated a small amount of the test anxiety that they previously felt. It's almost as if technology is the security blanket for my students so when they are testing with it they are calmer.
One of the results of tech-based assessments, made possible by GoGuardian, is the instant feedback they receive on the test. If they get the wrong answer, the right answer will pop-up rather than them having to wait weeks to discover what they missed on a test from two units ago. The freedom to integrate more technology into the classroom has even led to some of my students improving their test scores. We learn when we are comfortable and for our digital-loving students, technology does just that for them.
Over all, GoGuardian has enabled me to integrate technology into my instruction which has allowed my students to ask the tough questions, think critically, and access information at real-time speed. In addition, GoGuardian has let them use their technology effectively to maximize their learning rather than increase their distractions. In the past, students would be on task maybe 70% of the time. Now, it is more like 90%. (With GoGuardian I am able to see the amount of time the students collectively spent on a site or document when the session ends).
In one school year, GoGuardian has helped me create an environment of bell-to-bell learning that my students truly enjoy and deserve. Now, I feel that I can be the "guide on the side" that my students need as they take their next steps on their educational journeys by blending technology, human interaction, and consistent conversation to produce life-long learning.