It can be a challenge shifting through all of the educational technology tools available to educators and students today. What’s more, educators sometimes feel like they must compete with students’ tech devices for attention in the classroom.

“While many argue that we have to create a quiet and distraction-free work environment, we also must acknowledge that our students are trained to check-in to their devices on very regular intervals,” says Sam Patterson, dean of student advising and outreach at Kehillah Jewish High School in Palo Alto, Calif.

Patterson, who also teaches ninth-grade language and literature, discusses in this interview with senior education editor Melissa Greenwood top apps for the classroom, engagement in the connected classroom and personal learning networks.

September is National Literacy Month. Which five apps do you find most useful in supporting literacy education?

Working with high school students, I think the most powerful apps for supporting literacy education include e-reading platforms that allow shared annotation, such as Subtext and the Kobo reading app. Capture and class capture is increasingly important. Livescribe’s Pencast app allows my students to share the notes they made in class with the community. This note-making and sharing is also supported by apps like MySchoolNotebook as well as Evernote.

In your blog space, Be the Distraction, you recommend educators create engagement in a world wired for distraction. How does being wired for distraction affect the classroom, and what strategies can educators use to create engagement?

I believe in running a connected classroom so I have a learning environment where if I don’t inspire students to use the Internet for “good,” they will use it to meet their own goals. While many argue that we have to create a quiet and distraction-free work environment, we also must acknowledge that our students are trained to check-in to their devices on very regular intervals.

So in this environment, it is necessary to teach students how to manage their digital resources and engage the Internet in a purposeful manner. I use this challenge as the opportunity to teach my students about digital citizenship and using and developing personal learning networks.

Educators also must create opportunities for students to revisit lessons. Whether this is creating a Livescribe pencast of a lecture in order to “flip” the class, or just running a screen capture video of the most important or tricky part of a lesson, we have to create access to our instruction that reaches beyond the classroom.

Many educators are creating personal learning networks to stay connected with colleagues and drive their own continuing education. What are the key benefits of an PLN for educators and how can those educators who are new to the concept get started?

A robust PLN is a responsive professional community with whom you meet, chat, question and collaborate. The resources you gather can be curated digitally, marking the end of three-ring binders collecting dust. In many ways a PLN is a self-improving resource.

Teachers new to the concept of a PLN should search for blog posts about how to build a PLN. I love Twitter as a starting place.

  1. Get a Twitter account.
  2. Search for users who tweet about your passions and follow them.
  3. Learn about hashtags, and use them to focus your searches.
  4. Find a chat such as #edchat #sschat, #engchat, #satchat — the list goes on. The important thing is that these scheduled chats allow you to really connect with other professionals and discuss issues important to you.

For additional tips on pedagogy, engagement and technology, visit Patterson’s blogs at Be the Distraction and My Paperless Classroom.

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