Waving her arms, one of my seniors called out, “Whoa! I’m about to fall off the balcony of the Kremlin!” I admit, I had never heard that one before. Everyone removed his or her virtual reality goggles and we shared a laugh. It was one of many memorable moments in AP European History this year, and a major reason why I make it a priority to integrate technology into the learning process.
As technology has grown rapidly, so has the debate about whether technology has a place in the classroom, and how much of an emphasis it should have. I am a believer that both traditional learning and technology can be woven together seamlessly to create amazing learning experiences and opportunities for students. Some of which, were never a possibility.
Earlier this semester, the students studied the reforms of Peter the Great and other absolutist monarchs. On this particular day, we investigated the transition of power from Moscow to St. Petersburg, understanding how Peter achieved his vision of a splendid, new capital city. The first part of the class period involved an energetic roundtable discussion, a seminar-style format in which students analyzed Peter’s reforms through assigned readings, observations, and questions. This is a traditional and effective learning technique in which the teacher steps back and delegates the discussion to the students. A facilitator is chosen and the class follows a preset flow of questions. Students’ understanding of the material is assessed by their ability to build upon the comments of their classmates, move the conversation forward, and contribute insights that demonstrate historical thinking and a depth of knowledge.
When the discussion had arrived at a natural endpoint, I walked over to the large black trunk in the corner of the room. The class knew it was time to take a journey to Russia and get a firsthand glimpse of the onion-domed architecture of Moscow and the crisscrossing canals of St. Petersburg. A palpable buzz could be felt around the room as the students slid their phones into the cases and adjusted their headsets. Using an app called Google Expeditions, the Russian tour afforded 360 degree views of the landmarks we had discussed only minutes ago! The app gives the teacher control of any tour, so I can easily guide students from one place to the other. When it was over, one of the students quipped, “Wow, I don’t even feel any jetlag.” And another, “Can we actually take a class trip to St. Petersburg?”
I also have the privilege to teach Form 9 Global Studies and our team has found innovative ways to integrate technology with traditional, yet tried-and-true instructional best practice. The two are not mutually exclusive. This fall our students engaged in a research project called National History Day. Working alongside our librarians and utilizing the database technologies within our library, the students spent the first nine weeks formulating research questions, gathering articles and books, and organizing their research into a digital space called Noodle. The days of stockpiling notecards are officially over. Digitalizing their research afforded our students the peace of mind that their work would be saved, catalogued, and organized for them. This technology helped them immensely. Upon completing their research, the students exhibited their work in both traditional and technology-driven platforms. Some students chose to produce their work in the form of web sites and film documentaries, while others preferred traditional research papers and tri-fold exhibit boards. Either way, the learning was enhanced and complemented by the presence of useful, instructional technology.
Technology and the three pegs of literacy—reading, writing, and speaking—intersect all the time in our classrooms at Saint Mary’s Hall. The truth is that the changes in technology are moving quickly, and technology is not going away. I recognize that I myself have to embrace technology and find interesting and compelling ways to meld it with traditional best practices in the classroom. It is a learning opportunity for me as well. Most of what I’ve learned about technology has come from colleagues who have generously shared their expertise. Teachers from every discipline and division design extraordinary lessons every day that seamlessly weave the two together. As an educator myself, my goal is to take the best of both worlds so that my students can grow and learn.
About Adrian: Adrian Viccellio is in his fifth year at Saint Mary’s Hall and teaches AP European History and Global Studies I & II. He also leads the service tour to Tanzania and sponsors Model United Nations. Before coming to Saint Mary’s Hall, Adrian taught for six years in Northeast Independent School District and three years in Chicago Public Schools. He has two boys who currently attend Saint Mary’s Hall – Henry and Charles – and his spouse, Jane, teaches Form 3 Language Arts.