What we learn often has a lot to do with how we learn it.

teacher ladyFor many, learning equals school and school equals – a sole teacher, a bunch of students, a chalkboard, desks, a table and chair for the teacher and maybe a cupboard to store coursework, tests and other pedagogical tools.

But this is what a learning eco-system looked like for Baby Boomers and Gen Xers. Millenials – young people born between 1981 and 1995, who are now probably 34 and 19 years of age – learn in very different ways. This is truer for the current crop of kids in the K-12 phase of their education.

Evolving Methods of Learning

devises2These are kids who grew up playing Nintendos and Atari games, discovered the internet all by themselves, used the iPod, iPad oriEverything else without expressing undue awe over them and taught themselves cool hacks online using nothing but trial and error to guide the way. The internet is not an ‘innovative learning tool’ for this generation, like it was twenty years ago. It’s just a natural part of their lives, like a refrigerator or a television – something that these kids have grown up using since they were toddlers.

What this generation of learners needs is a set of tools uniquely suited to their learning methods and which respects the environment that they are most comfortable in. The days of dedicated ‘computer labs’ with rows upon rows of PCs are history. WiFi-enabled laptops or tablets for each child are a hygiene factor in classrooms today. Smartphones – a taboo in classrooms until recently – are now active teaching aids, well accepted by teachers and students.

This is the new learning eco-system. How effective a child’s learning will be, depends on how interesting the tools are that you’ll use in this virtual learning world. This however, does not mean that technology is your only crutch in order to get through to the precocious 8 year olds (or even 16 year olds) in your class. Try a mix and match of the old and the new, a dash of real world tools with a smattering of virtual ones to keep learning real and more grounded.

Here are a few ideas for sprucing up your classroom and giving your students’ learning eco-systems a 21st century makeover.

Videos, Webinars and Interviews

As an educator, you probably know by now that nothing beats the power of audio-visual learning. The internet is chockfull of educational videos for nearly every topic under the sun.

Instead of assigning homework to your students in the form of videos to be watched that supplement their coursework, why not use those very same videos in your classroom as a teaching aid?

  • Pick out videos from TED Ed based on your lesson plans and watch them together with your class.
  • Sign up your class for YouTube channels that cater to specific subjects like History, Math, Science or Languages. Many of these user generated videos offer quirky bits of information, interesting snippets, even fun experiments that you might not have come across in regular textbooks or other course materials.
  • Your local library may have tapes of popular groundbreaking TV shows from National Geographic, Discovery Channel, PBS or the like to use as an edu-tainment device. Watch these together with your students. Engage them in post-viewing discussions about what they thought of the concepts discussed or how they would apply those concepts in their daily lives.
  • Set up Video Chats with prominent local scientists, authors or historians and let your class interact with these experts on Skype or Google Hangouts

If you think a video will undermine your own presence in the classroom, put your worries aside. You bring a lot more to the table in the form of immediate Q&A sessions, discussions and debates, one on one tutoring and a real person to voice concerns with; that any such comparisons are completely unwarranted.

Smartphone Apps

Don’t fret when your students bring their phones to class. There’s no documented way of parting a teenager from their smartphone!

Use smartphones and tablets as teaching aids instead. Ask your students to download collaborative games and learning apps that make learning a fun and competitive experience. Gaming is especially useful with this generation of students as they have pretty much grown up playing online games since they were toddlers – it’s both interesting and natural to them.

Check out age appropriate and coursework related apps like Grammar Fun, Words with Friends, Operation Math: Code Squad, or even Google Apps for Education (GAFE). These apps educate, engage and entertain all at the same time.

Educational Websites

Besides apps and videos there are eBooks, complete test sets, quizzes and reference materials available and specially designed for each grade and their learning needs.

Many of these sites help you sign up yourself and your students together, so you can all participate in online activities related to your curriculum simultaneously, tests can be taken and coaching can be offered all through the common account that you create for your class.

Check out websites like MIT Blossoms, Inside Mathematics, Khan Academy or Real World Mathfor grade level learning tools. Ed Tech Teacher is another great resource that offers guides to almost every possible subject needed by K-12 teachers.

Virtual Field Trips

When you can’t take the indoors out, bring the outdoors in!

Take your students on virtual field trips to wherever your fancy takes you and is related to the coursework. Museums, Zoos, National Parks, Conferences, Chocolate factories, the Great Wall of China – nothing is unreachable when virtual field trips are a now a reality.

Use Google Earth, Discovery Education, Google Lit Trips and more to immerse yourself into the real world with your students from the comfort of your classroom.

Abacus, Board Games and Card Games

As I mentioned earlier, you don’t want to abandon the real world entirely in favor of the virtual one. No amount of smartphone app simulation can recreate the tactile magic of building a battleship using a Lego set or learning strategy and cunning with Chess.

Tools like the Abacus help students learn to do math calculations at lightning speeds and enhances their motor skills, visual memory and numeric abilities simultaneously. Board games like Monopoly can be used to teach concepts of Economics or Trading.

In Closing

There are many teachers who create engaging, interactive classrooms that make a real difference to students’ learning abilities. Clearly, there’s enough reason for schools and teachers to come together and upgrade learning environments to make them more in sync with today’s learners.

Author Bio

Carole Thompson is Community Manager at Math Genie, which makes Math fun for kids with the help of its Abacus Math program. They have successfully tutored over 1000 students by removing their fear of Math and helping parents recognize the genius in their child.