In the last ten years, the emergence of social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Pinterest and the explosion of Google as a searching powerhouse have opened up endless possibilities for education. Technology, once considered an enemy of education, has now given students and teachers the keys to stepping beyond the classroom walls into the greater world. As homeschooling parents and students, the benefits of technology for learning are nearly unimaginable.
Unlike public schools, homeschools have unrestricted access to technology. Certainly, parents should give restrictions and guidelines to students when using technology, but with proper supervision, it can be a powerful tool for learning. Bloom’s Taxonomy, a framework for learning and thinking skills, can be used as a guide for evaluating different forms of technology and their use in education. According to Benjamin Bloom (1956), there are six kinds of cognitive processes that students engage in throughout the learning process: remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating. In order, these cognitive roles progress from simple tasks such as recall towards the more advanced mental tasks of synthesis and evaluation. As homeschoolers, it is necessary to realize that these tasks affect not only the academic thinking of students, but also play a role in guiding the decisions that youth make in other areas of their lives. If students are taught only to recall basic facts, then they are unable to evaluate claims made by others, or to apply themes from literature to life, or even to engage in creative processes. According to Seth Godin, bestselling author and educator, true learning prepares you to cope for surprises, while what is called “education” prepares you for certainty. There is no certainty. For this reason, it is critical that homeschools evaluate the benefits of technologies for developing learning within students.
As homeschooling parents, the question often arises of whether or not you are “qualified” to teach higher-level subjects, such as Biology or Calculus. Perhaps that doubt even raises its ugly voice in your own mind on occasion. Technology can give you the confidence to carry on through those frightening years of high school. In his lecture, “The Future of Learning,” Seth Godin wisely reminds educators that “education is not limited to what a teacher can tell the students. When students begin thinking bigger it creates confidence.” You are not alone. With technology, the knowledge of the world is at your fingertips. Your task is not to give students the answers, but to teach them how to find the answers. Godin continued by stating, “Knowledge is available to students. Teach kids how to find it—to know what they are looking for and to want to know…. Teachers need to show students how to ask the right kinds of questions.” This, homeschooling parents, is your task. Technology can help you accomplish that.
Fortunately, as teachers and homeschooling parents, you do not even need to know how to use most of the technology. Your students already have it figured out. In desperate situations, technology itself is the solution: YouTube. There are tutorials on YouTube for doing everything from checking your e-mail, to creating videos on Camtasia Studios, to using Adobe Photoshop, to changing the oil in your car. With a few clicks, the novice can become a techno-genius. But that sounds like learning to me. Oh wait, it is. YouTube is only one of the options for learning available. In the words of Godin, “Connectivity opens up the world.”
Using Bloom’s taxonomy may be one of the easiest ways to divide and conquer the many applications of technology to the classroom. The simplest and most basic cognitive task is that of remembering. What does a word mean? What does something look like? What is this? Websites like Flash Card Exchange, Fotobabble, Wordle, Wordnik, Flikr, Visuwords, Del.ic.ious, Carrot Sticks, Zoho, Creately, Ninja Words, and Lino-it are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to simple study aids. There are also a plethora of apps available to help students learn and organize their knowledge, including Flash Cards Deluxe, Reminders, Diigo, SimpleMind+, and Pages. Encourage students not to give up when they don’t know what something means, but instead to LOOK IT UP. Google is a student’s best friend. Hands down. At the same time, it is necessary to teach students how to critically evaluate their research on Google. The first link is not always the best, as students need to consider the author’s expertise, the date of publication, and other influences on the accuracy of their fact-finding. Carefully identifying the best source is a valuable tool that students will use throughout their lives.
From remembering, students move to understanding. Once they know what something is, it’s time to figure out how it works. “How?” and “Why?” are the questions to be asked at this step in learning. Once again, Google and YouTube are a great place to start. Even Wikipedia can be a stepping stone to deeper research. TED offers powerful video presentations on a variety of educational topics. When students need to gather current information or share opinions, Twitter is a brilliant tool. Evernote is a versatile tool for students to use when compiling information on various topics, allowing students to gather clippings from various websites into a single location. A few of the apps available include Intaglio Sketchpad, Skitch, BlogBuster, Feddler RSS, and Tumblr. Other websites for developing student understanding include Webspiration, Bubbl.us, Footnote, the Periodic Table of Videos, and others. For students who want to extend their learning over longer periods of time, RSS readers such as Google Reader are useful for subscribing to blogs and other sources.
The next step is application. Research shows that when students read something, then draw connections between the text and their own lives, another text, or the world as a whole, they are more likely to remember and understand what they read. Finding the application for some types of knowledge can be challenging for students, but websites such as WolframAlpha, Gliffy, Yahoo Pipes, Scribble Maps, Pod-o-matic, Google Sketch-Up, Google Voice, and Soundation can help students develop practical application for their knowledge. Some of the more popular apps include Quick Voice Recorder, Animation Creator HD Lite, UStream, Adobe Connect, Zoho Docs, and Drawing Box. Even the basic webcam and recording functionalities of most computers and SmartPhones can be used by students to apply and explain their newfound knowledge to others. In Saratoga Springs, New York, a public school district has implemented iPads in their 21st-century Academy program, where students research political processes and manage mock stock portfolios. According to senior Joe Miller, “The program and technology are great! We love that we have laptops and iPads, and hands-on learning instead of sitting their being lectured. We’re doing things ourselves.” Technology enables students to “do” rather than just read or listen to information, absorbing knowledge without practical application.
Simply collecting data is only minimally helpful. At some point, students will need to organize and analyze the information they have gained through their research. Such analysis is often difficult for students, as they are inexperienced with the process of taking raw data and putting it into usable categories. Google Correlate, SurveyMonkey, Zoho Creator, Flisti, Google Analytics, Orkut, Create-a-Graph, and Exploratree are all organizational tools that are useful for analytical purposes. In addition, Inspiration Maps, Database, iCard Sort, PollDaddy, Spreadsheet, and MindMash are all apps that give students the capabilities to sort and organize information.
When students begin to evaluate information, they have crossed the line from merely amassing knowledge to actually determining the usefulness and validity of information. Here, discussing topics with other students and professionals is extremely valuable. Fortunately, technology has made this possible, even for students who may be otherwise isolated. Blogger, WordPress, Google Groups, Picasa, iRubric, ePortfolio, Google Talk, Skype, TED talks, and YouTube can connect students to professionals and others with whom to discuss their conclusions. Edmodo, Whiteboard, and Terra Web Browser are apps that may also be useful when evaluating knowledge. ACT, a nonprofit organization devoted to educational and workplace success, found that socially inclusive activities improve student’s retention of information, noting that such social interaction helped “build academic self-confidence and motivation.” In addition, research suggests that “the use of online networking can aid social integration among students who do not have the advantage of the face-to-face interaction.” For homeschooled students, this may be especially applicable, as many students do not follow a set curriculum or unit plan in cooperation with other local students, but may be able to use social networking to connect with students around the world.
Finally, students reach the point where they are able to create their own material for educating others. The old saying, “See one, do one, teach one” is as applicable as ever, as students who are able to teach others or create their own models are those who truly understand the topic at hand. Prezi, VoiceThread, Protagonize, Wikispaces, Glogster, WeVideo, ScreenR, and YouTube are all methods by which students can make their creations available to others. Apps to aid in powerful creation include Animoto Video, Splice, Twitcasting Live, Fotobabble, Flipbook, and Audioboo. With these tools, students can create videos, podcasts, and even digital models for any number of topics. In addition, any of the communication tools listed under evaluating can also be beneficial when creating, as students are enabled to work collaboratively with others to create projects and presentations to demonstrate their learning.
The technological tools listed here are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the possibilities for incorporating technology into the homeschool curriculum. Homeschoolers pride themselves in individualized education, and technology, according to Sue Meyer, an education development executive with Apple computers, can further customize and personalize learning. Instead of purchasing models for the DNA structure in biology, why not watch a 3D tour of the DNA on YouTube, then check out the latest discoveries on Twitter, before drawing your own model on SketchUp? Instead of reading a boring textbook on World War II, why not read actual letters from people during World War II, conduct a Skype interview with a World War II veteran, and then blog about your discoveries? Allow technology to bring your homeschool out of the dark ages into the joy of learning!
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This article was written for the Fort Wayne Area Home Schools’ quarterly newsletter, The Homemade News. It was published in the January 2013 edition under the title “#education. #homeschooled. #historybuff.”