Research has shown that two factors not only improve student attention and retention, but also increase student performance. Those two items are use of appropriate technology and positive student engagement. Let’s define “technology” as “cyber learning.” That is the use of networked computing and communications technologies to support learning. This could be employing the Internet as a research tool, or using a SMART board to deliver information, or delivering feedback to students via social media. Regardless of the form, the application of technology in today’s classrooms appeals to the current school-age generation. This group has been called “digital natives” because they have been “connected” to computers, notepad readers and cell phones since they were born. What we older folks see as a “tool” they see as a natural part of their daily lives. Appealing to today’s students through technologies with which they are familiar, engages them more quickly and more completely than using PowerPoints, overhead projectors and/or classroom materials on CD’s. Cyber learning opens your classroom to a myriad of topics, teachers and resources around the world. Learning is no longer centered in your local classroom. Via cyber learning, education now extends across the globe. Scholars do warn, however, that the technology must be used in the right place at the right time. Like most pedagogical approaches, cyber learning is not a “one size fits all” approach.
Engagement is the second key factor in improving student attendance, attention, and performance. Veteran educators already know that engagement is a key to learning. Research over the last 20 years has demonstrated that establishing connections with students at the level of THEIR LIVES engages students in the lesson at hand. Students today want to see some connection with their experience, their community or their dreams in just about everything they study. In order to make that happen, educators must think differently about HOW they teach. As Sir Kenneth Robinson has been preaching for over two decades, we no longer need to deliver information to our students. They already have more access to more information via their cellphones than they can absorb. Our focus should be teaching our students how to sort through, validate and utilize the information they have readily at their fingertips. In other words, we need to teach them how to think critically, how to evaluate (read) a variety of sources, how to solve problems, work collectively, make sound decisions, and communicate their thoughts, ideas and results effectively. None of this is news to any professional educator. What is new is how we can achieve these goals.
Using artifacts – objects made by humans – in the classroom offers the simplest and most effective approach to teaching our students these 21st century skills. Students immediately identify with artifacts at a higher-level of thinking. Placing an artifact in front of a class and asking, “What is this?” immediately forces the students to access prior knowledge in an attempt to answer the question (solve the problem presented). Further it requires analysis in order to gain the evidence necessary, synthesis to evaluate the evidence at hand, decision-making to determine which of the evidence applies, and communication skills to relay the evidence-based answer to the teacher and the rest of the class. Using artifacts in the classroom automatically teaches the skill sets that administrators, Boards of Education, colleges and industry demand in our times. Combining artifacts and technology in one approach captures the imagination and intellectual curiosity of students. It also eliminates the problems of expense, wear and tear, breakage, and storage that artifacts have presented in the past.
There is only one place on the Internet where technology and artifacts combine in a teaching format that has been tested and proven effective in the classroom: http://www.artifactsteach.com. When you go to this website you will find a teacher’s closet full of teachable artifacts combined with supporting background essays, and primary sources that can be used across the K-12 curriculum. In addition, the website provides the technology to build, save, assign, modify and reuse every lesson. Why not employ the one pedagogy that combines the two most important factors in improving student performance? Why not use Artifacts Teach?