3 Tips for 'Digital Learning Day' Lessons

US News

Teens are no stranger to technology.

Nearly all middle and high schoolstudents use the Internet, 80 percent are on social media and almost 40 percentvideo chat with friends using programs such as Skype and iChat, according to reports by thePew Research Center.

Teachers are slowly getting hip to the tech teens are sofamiliar with, but there is much more educators can do to bringtheir classrooms into the 21st century. Digital Learning Day onWednesday, Feb. 5, aims to spotlight how teachers can do just that.

[Discover threetech trends for teachers to try in 2014.]

The national event, now in its third year, encouragesteachers to get in on the digital action by joining events occurring in theirarea and around the country. Teachers can have students participate inlive debates broadcast via Google+ Hangouts on Air, participate in statewidechallenges or, better yet, plan their own activity.

Brainstorming an event for Digital Learning Day may seem likea daunting task, especially when dealing with a classroom of disinterestedteens. But teachers can hit the right note if they keep these three things inmind, says John Sessler, manager of program engagement for PBS LearningMedia, which provides free online media for educators and is an official partner of the event.

1. Find a hook: Tapping into what students are already interestedin is a great way to build engagement.

For Emily Dawson, a science teacher at Riverview Junior Highin Illinois, the hook was a video about weather balloons, Sessler says.

"It was a video clip about students launching a weatherballoon. This really caught the attention of her students, so she latched ontothat," he says. "That was the hook for her students to decide they wanted tolaunch their own weather balloon."

[Learn how to hookhigh school girls on STEM.]

Dawson, winner of the 2013 PBS LearningMedia DigitalInnovator award, guided students through the project and the local publictelevision station broadcastthe launch online.

Teachers struggling to generate an idea their class will getexcited about should bring their students into the brainstorming process,Sessler says.

2. Think beyond your classroom walls: Whether it's virtuallyor literally, taking students out of the classroom will help build engagement,Sessler says.

This could mean usingSkype to connect with students across the globe, or designing a waterfiltration system for the local community garden.

"Expand the walls of the classroom beyond just sitting at adesk and have really a hands-on experience," he says.

[Get tipsfor transitioning to project-based learning.]

3. Take a risk: Experimenting with new tools and technologycan be frightening, especially in front of dozens of teens who can text withtheir eyes closed, but don't let that fear stop you from trying something new.

"A huge part ofinnovation is taking the risks and knowing that you're going to encounter problems,"Sessler says. "Part of cultivating those skills that foster innovation is reallybecoming a problem solver."

Software can crash, robots can break and sometimes thingsjust don't work, but figuring out how to make it work becomes part of thelearning process for students.

Have something of interest to share? Send your news to us at highschoolnotes@usnews.com.

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