Recently, I was talking to Patty, my friend who teaches pre-K at the International School Bangkok. She was telling me about some of the challenges of using technology with younger children. Even though there are so many great apps and programs for younger children, she wanted her students to learn alongside someone they could talk to and collaborate with -- and her challenge was that there weren't enough adults in the room to help students do their best learning.
The kind of learning experience Patty was describing is the experience that organizations such as Girls Who Code and Ladies Learning Code provide for students. They use tech mentors to help facilitate deeper learning, build confidence, and develop metacognition in students as opposed to students working with one teacher and following instructions on a screen.
After some conversation, Patty and I decided to try to transform our Reading Buddies program into a Tech Buddies program. The plan was to connect my Grade 7 language arts class with Patty's pre-K class to create "Tech Buddies." We planned to meet once a week for three to four weeks and work on writing a collaborative story that integrated technology skills and language arts. Our classes used Storybird, and in our first four Tech Buddy sessions, we made beautiful little collaborative storybooks.
To get our Tech Buddies program up and running, I taught my class how to use Storybird and gave them time to play with the website until they felt comfortable teaching it to someone else. Students used the beautiful images included in Storybird and uploaded their own using Sketchpad and Nick Jr. Free Draw. When complete, the students printed the books directly from the computer.
As the year progressed, our students built strong relationships with each other. The pre-K students learned how to use technology to express themselves alongside supportive mentors, while the Grade 7 students enhanced their own learning experiences by teaching, collaborating, and gaining new perspectives from the younger children.
Tips for a Successful Tech Buddy Experience
- Make sure to plan regular meeting times each week, or regular periods for a week, even if the time is short. Consistent meeting times help build relationships and trust among the students.
- Choose short projects that you can complete in three to four sessions. This helps students feel like they've accomplished something and generates authentic materials for your classroom. In addition, shorter projects can be integrated into the curriculum more easily.
- Monitor student interactions. Walk around and listen to conversations so you can address any challenges. Talk about what you observed to help students reflect on their experiences as mentors and learners.
Tech Buddies can work successfully with any middle school subject including social studies, science, math, and arts. If the projects are authentic and the teachers are working together and coaching the mentors, Tech Buddies can be a wonderful way to enhance school relationships, integrate technology, foster creativity and innovation, and support curricular content and process goals. When students see technology as a tool to help them create, learn, and express their learning to others, they will see it less as a novelty. When they work with others across grade levels, schools, or even countries, they will see the potential of technology as a way to collaborate and share and work together on issues and ideas that matter.