In today’s digital world, is edtech having the impact students need?
GUEST COLUMN | by Jenny Nash
Teachers know how important student engagement is but are seeing lower levels in their classrooms. And research shows K-12 parents believe their students either dislike or are bored at school. Many have turned to edtech to help, but is it having the impact students need?
Edtech can and should play an important role in education because of the digital world students live and will soon work in, but teachers and administrators first have to rethink what learning looks like before they can get the most out of any tool. Consider this simple example: if a teaching practice, like a worksheet, isn’t engaging in the first place, it won’t be just by making it digital.
‘…if a teaching practice, like a worksheet, isn’t engaging in the first place, it won’t be just by making it digital.’
How can teachers increase engagement and deliver on learning outcomes? And how do they do that without adding yet another “to do” to their growing list? The answer lies in learning through play. And it’s something teachers can get started with right away.
Why Hands-on is the Best Way to Learn
Strong learning outcomes are the goal with student engagement being the way to get there. When students are engaged, they retain information better and are more motivated to keep learning. That’s why hands-on is such a powerful approach. It engages and motivates students, while also teaching standards and STEAM concepts and skills.
Educators can feel confident that while joyful and fun, hands-on learning is a proven approach. Research proves its positive impact with 87% of K-12 teachers noting an increase in student engagement when they incorporated purposeful play. Further research also found incorporating more play-based learning can help adolescent brain development and foster 21st century skill development.
When students are given the opportunity to lead hands-on activities, it enhances creative thinking and their knowledge related to science, math, and engineering. The Association for Psychological Science found that adding physical experiences in education directly correlates to improved student performance. In fact, students, teachers and parents agree the best way to build confidence in STEAM is by working on hands-on projects with others.
Bring the Real-world into the Classroom
To prepare students for the jobs of the future, we need to introduce and expose them to how and what they’re learning in school applies to the real world. Jobs are increasingly cross-curricular, cross-cultural, and collaborative, so the ability and adaptability of learning itself is just as critical as knowledge. This not only makes the concepts more relatable and meaningful, but it also shows students the possibilities in the growing STEAM workforce.
Edtech resources can make learning fun and create opportunities for students to practice creativity, collaboration, and problem-solving skills. A great example of this is Build to Launch: A STEAM Exploration Series. A collaboration between LEGO® Education and NASA, the Build to Launch series gives a first-hand look at the STEAM careers behind the Artemis program, which will ultimately put humans back on the Moon, including the first woman and person of color. The free online series showcases the diversity of NASA’s teams of scientists, engineers and more, and celebrates STEAM as inclusive and equitable.
Build to Launch engages students through hands-on activities simulating the mission planning that goes into a rocket launch like Artemis I. Teachers have seen first-hand how this inspires their students to consider a future in science and space exploration, but it also builds the 21st century skills like teamwork and communication that are needed in any industry.
Edtech can be a powerful – and fun – way to bring real-world applications to the classroom and easily engage students. Mindy Bissett, a lead computer science teacher in Arkansas, said it best: “I try to place as many real-world experiences as possible in front of my students because I believe that hands-on learning pushes critical thinking skills.”
Instill Teachers with Confidence
It’s equally important to ensure educators have the confidence to teach effectively with edtech – no matter their experience or skill level. Increasing teachers’ confidence can lead to better student learning outcomes.
One way to instill confidence is through professional development designed to support teacher readiness. For example, by leveraging free professional development resources from the company I work for, Hillsborough County Public Schools provided their educators with new tools, resources, and a foundational knowledge base to execute successful STEAM learning activities in the classroom. As a result, these teachers are creating hands-on engaging STEAM learning experiences to integrate into their curriculum and pacing plans.
Educators can increase student engagement through hands-on edtech learning activities that will increase both teacher and student confidence in the classroom and prepare students for the jobs of tomorrow.
Dr. Jenny Nash is Head of Education Impact U.S., LEGO Education. Dr. Nash has experience as a middle school teacher, professional development provider and educational specialist. Connect on LinkedIn.