Student Engagement With Technology

This year the World History 9 Learning Team is investigating how technology can play a part in student engagement.  We are looking at the 5D indicators and trying to see how technology can enhance or impact the student’s experience when they are using Chromebooks in class.

Focus on Learning Targets

The first aspect to focus on the Learning Target.  Which targets contain language about discussion, understanding, providing evidence, making meaning, demonstrating knowledge, etc? Then we need to ask ourselves:  How could technology and/or student-engagement strategies impact the student learning in those targets?  Its essential that the teacher has a clear vision of what they hope to accomplish.

Choose Appropriate Technology

The next step is to choose the appropriate technology.  This can be challenging if you haven’t been exposed to what the various apps and software can do.  It can be helpful to observe teachers, view online examples or just try it out yourself.  Ask yourself:  Why choose that specific technology tool?  What does the technology tool provide that you cannot achieve without it?  The technology needs to make a difference – not just be a substitute digital solution.

World History 9 Example

To assist the World History 9 teachers in this process, I brainstormed a variety of technology tools and strategies and aligned them with the 5D Student Engagement guiding questions. For example:   SE1:  Intellectual Work:  Quality of questioning – Teacher frequently asks questions to probe and deepen students’ understanding or uncover misconceptions. Students question one another to probe for deeper thinking.


  • Use Padlet or Google Form/Doc to generate parking lot of questions or research questions around a central theme or during a class discussion.
  • Using a Google Form, a polling app to assess student’s understanding of a concept learned in class – works great as an opener which can then lead to a discussion.  (Socrative, GoFormative, Get Kahoot).  Make sure to use a variety of questions – not just recall.  Use Google Form graphs to analyze the results.
  • Another idea:  Have students create polls as part of a student presentation to engage the audience and receive feedback of the classes’ understanding of their presentation.
  • Use Edmodo or LMS Discussion Forum using the Socratic Seminar methodology for an asynchronous discussion.  Intentionally teach how to respond for this type of discussion – consider grading the responses with a rubric.  For in class seminar, require students to have digital copies of evidence to share during seminar.  Use a Google Doc or Today’s Meet backchannel for sharing during seminar

There are many more ideas on our planning document.  Make a copy for your own use


100% Engagement

Ask yourself this question … when was the last time you had 100% of your audience actively engaged in your presentation?

email-safety.pngIn my attempt to avoid sitting through days and days of PowerPoint presentations I decided to upload each of my students Online Safety PowerPoint’s to a class Google shared account.  We then embedded mini versions of the presentations on our class wiki.  When it came time to present the information, every class member signed into their Google account and clicked on the link to join the shared presentation.

If students wanted to participate in the chat during the presentation they were STRICTLY limited to comments about the material being presented or questions or clarification.

After sorting out some Google log in issues (each student must have a unique user name – you can’t share – or the chat won’t work correctly) we began the presentations and chat.

For the first time I can EVER remember as a teacher – 100% of the students were engaged in the presentation and participated in the chat.  The students were enthusiastic and offered insightful and appropriate comments.  Students liked being able to add their input without interrupting the presentation.

We’ll try it again on Monday and this time I will save a chat transcript.

Instructional Technology Strategies Conference (ITSC) – February 17-19, 2008

Engaging Students with Authentic Technology Projects – Sun, 2/17/08, 7:30-8:30 pm

Handouts located at:

Embrace 21st century strategies to create an instructional learning environment that moves away from teaching isolated computer skills towards an integrated thematic approach. Come learn how you can combine everyday productivity tools with Web 2.0 to support curriculum integration and collaboration.

The National Technology Standards for Students (NETS*S) recommends that educators establish new learning environments that provide real world opportunities for students to utilize current information and technology resources (ISTE, 2000).

According to The American Youth Policy Forum (2000) instruction in today’s high schools must change. Disengagement from the learning process is a widespread problem in high schools as students do not perceive how lessons are relevant to their lives.

The American Youth Policy Forum reports that lecture style classes continue to dominate classroom instruction and content is divorced from the real world. Schools need to embrace new strategies for learning based on current research of how students learn, implement effective uses of technology in the classroom, and develop “21st Century Skills” while maintaining a rigorous academic curriculum (Burkhardt et al., 2003

It takes vision and planning to engage students in authentic learning experiences. Teachers must identify which instructional strategies are most effective and understand how to infuse technology into lessons with real world applications.

Instead of asking the question “What technology skills must students have to face the 21st century?” should we not be asking “What thinking and literacy skills must students have to face the 21st century?” These skills are not tied to any particular software or technology-type, but rather aim to provide students with the thinking skill and thus the opportunity to succeed no matter what their futures hold.” Justin Medved, Dennis Harter
Curriculum is designed from the best practice approaches to teaching and learning found in Understanding by Design

The Essential Questions for the 21st Century Learner are:

  • How do you know information is true?
  • How do you communicate effectively?
  • What does it mean to be a global citizen?
  • How do I learn best?
  • How can we be safe?

These questions speak to thinking, critically evaluating, analyzing, and communicating. They emphasize the value in responsible behavior and knowing yourself as a learner.

Career Unit – Based on John Holland’s six personality traits

Goals: critically evaluating, analyzing, communication

Work Samples:


Make a PhotoShow Full Size

Career Resources:

Lunch Nutrition and Recycling Unit

Goals: analyzing, communication, evaluating

Work Samples

Nutrition / Waste Recycling Resources

Other Classroom Activities:


  • Valiant Pride: New student edition – a newspaper that my students designed for new incoming students (samples:
  • Search Engine Extravaganza – PowerPoint presentations to teach our school community about unique search engines
  • BE SAFE ONLINE! Projects made by students to discuss online safety (including chat rooms, cyber bullying, online profiles, photo sharing, etc)
    • Wiki to store document sources used in projects
    • Samples of projects made on blogs, Flickr, and Google presentations (work in progress)
  • Curriculum Review Quizzes – Note: action buttons and hyperlinks do not work on slideshare – you must download the PowerPoint first

Note: Some of the lessons in this session are based on activities that I designed for my Action Research Project for my MA in Educational Technology from Pepperdine University. Three complete thematic units are located at


Works Cited

  1. American Youth Policy Forum
  2. Best Jobs for the 21st Century, 4th Edition by Michael Farr. ©2006 JIST Publishing, Inc.
  3. Curriculum 2.0
  4. enGauge 21st Century Skills: Literacy in the Digital Age (Burkhardt, G., Monsour M., Valdez, G., Gunn, C., Dawson, M., Lemke, C., et al., 2003) North Central Regional Educational Laboratory and the Metiri Group,
  5. National Educational Technology Standards for Students (NETS*S)

Everything I NOW know about about teaching I learned from my Action Research Project.

My year-long Action Research project was titled, “Engaging Students in Authentic Technology Project”. The full pdf of the report can be found at my Pepperdine student website . Some final thoughts …

Planning: In order to be successful in using a thematic project-based approach I must carefully plan out curriculum and skills integration. It doesn’t just happen on its own.

Student Engagement: Engagement is present in the classroom if the student sees value in learning the new technology skill.

Authentic Audience: One of the most compelling factors in engaging students in technology lessons is to design projects that have an authentic audience. The difference is that the students are making innovative projects that are seen by real people and content that is authentic and interesting.

Best Assignments: The best assignments are related to “real world problems,” used real world technology tools, are built on life experiences and require in-depth work.

Challenges: The challenge for any teacher is to balance teacher-directed instruction and student-centered learning. I need to vary the nature of assignments and whether students worked by themselves or in groups.

Give Student Choice: Choice empowers students in their learning but also gives students options to choose projects that are more suited to their learning style or personality.

Assessment: This new type of curriculum planning required me to rethink how I assess skill knowledge to make sure students are learning the technology skills required. The focus is on the process of learning – not the end product. My job as a teacher is to discover whether students are learning and understanding the material.

Continue to grow: I need to continue to evaluate which skills should be covered in my computer classes. The world is flat. Change requires new ideas and new teaching strategies.

Go Global: I should continue to integrate newsworthy and global topics as a way to maintain the authentic feel of student projects.

Feedback: I also need to find a way to give valuable feedback to students about their learning and progress. Portfolios can provide an area for reflection and another authentic audience for their work.

Organization: I will continue to use Moodle for organization and journal entries. Having the ability to access the class site and handouts from home was a huge advantage for the students this term.

Let go: I need to let go of controlling all of the aspects of direct instruction and teaching. It is essential to give students opportunities to “learn how to learn”.

Finally: There must be a real purpose to learn technology skills and then opportunities to demonstrate their use. No longer will I stand in front of my computer lab and drill students on isolated technology skills when students don’t have a reason or purpose to learn them. Projects that have authentic audiences raise the quality of performance on projects and also provide students with purposeful motivation to do their best work.