By Derek Johnson, math & shop teacher at Ukarumpa International School, Papua New Guinea
“What’s Google Drive?” was the question from a 10th grader within my first month of teaching in Papua New Guinea. I had to force myself to not give the student a contorted facial expression as a response: “Really? You don’t know what Google Drive is?” To borrow Dorothy’s line, “I was not in Minnesota anymore.”
I spent 17 years teaching in a rural school district that was very progressive in its use of educational technology. The IT manager often called me to be the early adopter: “Can you give ________ a try and let me know what works and doesn’t work?” It was fun because I often never knew what would happen when the technology got into the hands of the students. Little did I know that I was getting valuable experience for teaching in an international setting.
Now, if you’re not a very techy person, please don’t quit reading; hear me out. The spread of technology, especially mobile technology, is happening at an incredible pace. According to a recent study by We Are Social Ltd. and Hootsuite, there are over 5 billion unique mobile users on the planet and over half of those are actively using social media! Your students are graduating and moving into a world of technology. It’s important that we teach and model digital citizenship, as well as what tools are available so they can become progressive problem solvers. I would encourage you to try using technology once a month with your students. Even if it doesn’t go exactly how you want, you can still use it as a teachable moment. And, ask others around you for help.
Even though I came from a technology-rich school back in the USA, I was excited to see how creative I could get in this new setting. Here are some tips and tricks that I’ve learned during my first year of teaching in the highlands of Papua New Guinea.
First, an essential
In my eyes, an LCD projector is a necessity for using modern technology in the TCC (Third Culture Classroom). It opens the doors to using so many other tools. Desktops, laptops, personal electronic devices (iPhones, etc.) and document cameras can all interface with an LCD projector. I was fortunate to be able to use a school-owned projector, while others came to PNG with their own. If you’re about to head overseas, I would seriously consider investing in one.
Graphing Tools for Math Teachers
I’m a high school math teacher, and it’s almost impossible to teach that subject without technology these days. Graphing calculators are necessary to bring efficiency to the classroom (so you can get through more content) and then for taking college entrance exams. Back in the USA, I had an emulator that displayed the calculator onto my SMART Board1 so I could teach students how to use it. How was I going to display the calculator without those tools? Well, I learned a cool trick using my iPhone.
When connected to my laptop, I could use the iPhone camera as a video feed (using Quicktime). With the camera held on a selfie stick (pointing down at my desk) and the selfie stick stuck into a piece of wood (so it was held vertical), I made my own document camera. Then, I put the graphing calculator under my iPhone and all the students could see it.
I used this same set-up to make videos for the woodshop students to show them how to layout the cuts needed for their wood projects. (Note: since this time, UISSC has acquired a few document cameras that I’ve been very excited to use).
In recent years, a new graphing tool has emerged: Desmos. I love Desmos for so many reasons. But, I was really disappointed when I learned that they did not have a desktop version of their incredible mobile and online graphing app. I resigned myself to the fact that the only way I was going to get Desmos on my laptop (and then projected in front of class) was to be connected to the internet, which costs a lot of money here in PNG. Then, one day, after I loaded Desmos and used it in class, I accidentally disconnected from the internet while Desmos was still open. When I returned to my Desmos tab, I realized that I could still use all of its features (except for saving). I was absolutely thrilled! (This was also true for another of my favorite online math tools, found). Now, at the beginning of the day, I log onto the internet, load both pages, and then log off.
Personal Electronic Devices
Personal electronic devices (PED) and mobile technology are reaching even the most remote places of the world. Even 10-year old iPods can be helpful: they have apps for a camera, calendar, and to-do list, all of which can be helpful in teaching students how to manage time, resources, and technology.
One very common use of PED’s in a USA classroom is Kahoot, an interactive classroom response system. It requires everyone in the classroom to be connected to the internet. However, there is a new classroom response system that takes advantage of student’s PED but does not require the internet; it’s called Blicker. I’ve never used it before but it looks like a very promising option for classrooms that have PED’s but not internet.
Below are some of my favorites apps:
- Desmos: An app that graphs functions, plots data, evaluates equations
- Mekorama: A mobile puzzle game where the goal is to help a tiny robot stumble home
- Five-O: A math/number version of Scrabble (Apple devices only)
- Krypto! (Google Play): A math game where the numbers and functions have to be put in the right order to get the answer.
- Desmos: An app that graphs functions, plots data, evaluates equations
- Notability: An app that combines handwriting, photos, and typing in a single note (Apple devices only)
- Explain Everything: An app one can use to create tutorials, animated stories, and presentations
- iRandomizer: An app that flips a coin, rolls a dice, generates a random number (Apple devices only)
- Genius Scan: An app that digitizes documents, artwork, receipts…
- Google Drive apps (Docs, Slides, Sheets), all stored on the device.
- Chess with Friends: An app that allows one to play chess with others electronically
- Brain it On!: A fun puzzle app that pushes problem solving/physics skills. The goal is to get a ball to a certain spot by drawing ramps and other shapes. However, whatever shape is drawn is affected by gravity.
- The Mesh: A fun puzzle game that requires one to add both positive and negative numbers in order to get a given number as the result. (Apple devices only)
- KakaoTalk: Multi-platform texting app that allows iPhone, Android, and BlackBerry users to send and receive messages for free
Khan Academy (KA)
While I’m not a huge fan of KA,2 there is a feature of Khan Academy that is pretty incredible. For nonprofit schools in remote places where internet is too slow to stream KA videos, the Khan Academy Foundation (KA’s nonprofit wing) provides a stand-alone server that schools can get (not sure how much, it costs). The KA server here in Ukarumpa is configured in such a way that any student can access it from not just school but from his or her home.
My home district in Minnesota is a Google-powered district where every 9th-12th grade student was given a ChromeBook and many of the textbooks were electronic. Students really enjoyed not carrying a big stack of books home (although they often still asked for a traditional textbook because the ChromeBook wasn’t very efficient at multitasking). I’ve found that students here in PNG are not much different. They don’t like carrying tons of books so often times, if they have their own PED, they take pictures of the pages in the book so they can reference them at home.
Although not everything in this article will work in all of the places in the world, I hope it gives you a glimpse of how you can use technology if you teach in a more remote setting. If you love technology but wonder if you could teach with limited access to technology, my response is “Absolutely! Don’t let technology be the factor that pushes you away.”
Teaching at UISSC in Papua New Guinea has pushed me to become a better and more creative teacher, and I hope this article will encourage you to do the same.
- The SMART Board is an interactive whiteboard that uses touch detection for user input [for example scrolling and right mouse-click] in the same way as normal PC input devices.
- Khan Academy is a website where anyone with internet access can go and learn about just about all the subjects that are taught in a traditional American curriculum via short 5-10 minute videos. After a student watches a video, they are brought to a page where they can complete practice problems on what they just learned.