Round Peg, Changing Hole: Using Technology in a Diverse, Project-Based Classroom

Teachers often encounter situations that require a unique tool to unlock the potential of students. Technology has opened the door to the hardware store, offering many different instruments for unleashing the potential within individual students to help them succeed.

Flickr user: rosipaw

As I was hanging some pictures in my house this weekend using nails, screws, and a host of other tools, my mind jumped to the difficulty of finding the right tool for the different jobs within the classroom. Phillips or flathead, wrench or ratchet, screw or nail There are so many different options; some are interchangeable, while others require a unique fit.

Teachers often encounter situations that require a unique tool to unlock the potential of students. Technology has opened the door to the hardware store, offering many different instruments for unleashing the potential within individual students to help them succeed.

For some teachers, this can actually be overwhelming. So many choices, so little time.

As a teacher of U.S. History, I try to let students explore the eras that most interest them. Part of that process involves allowing them to create their own projects that highlight their academic interests and their unique skills.

By providing them with the control and tools for doing so, I tend to see a smorgasbord of projects that enlighten and amaze me. The biggest takeaway I’ve had since giving students control of these projects is that the skill set of my class is incredibly diverse and different structures and tools work best for each of their learning styles.

We often assume that all students are technological whizzes by nature. But the gap of technological knowledge between the different students in my classroom means that I often have to figure out who can use what tools—while keeping projects flexible enough for students’ needs.

For my Civil War unit, students can use this choice board to select the three projects that interest them most. It has a variety of tools that students can utilize (PowToons, StoryJumper, Twitter/Facebook) and the freedom for students to pursue non-technological options. Some students prefer to keep it simple, while others prefer to keep their projects (and devices) swirling around them.

During project time, my aim is to put the most appropriate technological tools into the hands of my students based on the complexity of the project and their desire to engage with technology. Sometimes, it is as simple as giving a student poster paper and some crayons. (This worked great for my student who created a board game about Abraham Lincoln.) However, other students are game (pun intended) to take on more complicated technology—such as the student who coded an entire video game based on the Great Depression.

The planning required to make a classroom simple but flexible can take large amounts of time. This can discourage some to avoid these processes for teaching. However, planning completed on the front end of class time leads to a lighter workload and less pressure when students arrive.

Maintaining simple principles while implementing technology is key. A few students thrive on the chaos that technology brings in the classroom; however, some students start swimming upstream when presented with too many tasks to learn. The main objective can be lost within the tangled web of technology jargon and user errors.

Teachers can no longer shove “round peg” assignments into diverse classes and expect students to thrive. By providing choice, creating flexibility, and remaining in-tune and responsive to students’ needs, learning will no longer feel like a pushing a puzzle piece into the wrong spot. Instead, classrooms will be full of exciting experiences and engagement that just fit.