Using Tech to Connect

A day in the life of a fourth-grade classroom.

GUEST COLUMN | by Elizabeth Slifer

CREDIT Elizabeth SliferAs a fourth-grade teacher, I really love having access to digital media to take learning to a deeper level with my students. Throughout the day, I am able to access media to demonstrate examples that answer their many questions while watching the students who “get it” often use that media to help others to “find it.” It’s an exciting time to be teaching, and to have the opportunities to use new tools with students of all ages. Let me tell you what happens in my classroom throughout the day using the power of technology and educational media.

I utilize the PBS LearningMedia site almost every day! This is a great resource from PBS that offers free access to digital content for all classroom levels. Our favorite movement activity is Mixie’s Boogie Buffet from Fizzy’s Lunch Lab. This allows movement half way through the morning or anytime I feel that we need to get up and stretch. I do it right along with the students.

We do have to be careful on the jumping exercises as it can get noisy and a classroom below us is trying to have class, too. There are many Science, Social Studies, Math and Literacy videos, lesson plans and images that I use to create more engaging lessons. When I am focusing on a certain genre in literacy, I can easily pull up numerous examples and then have the students listen to an author speak about their craft.

It’s an exciting time to be teaching, and to have the opportunities to use new tools with students of all ages.

When we studied Immigration in Social Studies, we could “visit” Ellis Island and listen to stories of immigrants on Faces of America. There are excellent teacher questions and resources to go with most lessons. Reading Rockets has great video conversations with author Marilyn Singer that I use each year in my poetry unit. There are so many different topics that I could use this resource all day long.

In our school, we are piloting a reading series that has a nice web component. I don’t have to send books home with students because I can assign the book to them along with activities that are available online at the same site. I teach reading intervention to a mixture of the fourth grade classes. To facilitate the class, I post questions and assignments online at the learning management system Schoology. The fourth graders were given a lesson in etiquette online and I am so proud of the way that they respond to one another. They seem to be more engaged in our classroom discussions, too. I can pull up their responses and ask deeper probing questions to get more concise answers. I can record my lessons and download them to the same site. The children made comics this week to tell about a chapter in our current novel. I placed them on the Hovercam and recorded their voices explaining the comic that they created.

I purchased a FrontRow system last year for my classroom, which allows me to record lessons on my Smart Board and download on any site. I like Schoology as my favorite site, but there are many out there. If a student is absent or didn’t quite understand a math concept, they can listen and watch the explanation online at the Schoology site. This is a great way to review for tests. I can download videos, clips, and images that might go with a unit of study. I don’t have to use all my class time sharing them but students can look at them on their own time. This frees me up to help learners who are having a hard time understanding a concept. Also, students can work in pairs discussing a video.

Throughout the school year, I take photos and video during “work sessions” so that I can show my students what hard working groups look like and sound like. It is fun to review the year when we look at the various videos and images. They really do mature during the school year and we document each and every step. Parents and grandparents can view the ones that I post on Schoology or my Weebly site.

My district offers teachers many free professional development opportunities to learn how to integrate technology in the classroom. During those trainings, I pick up ideas and try to implement them the next day, if possible. Currently the class I am taking is on Google Docs. I can’t wait to set up the netbooks in my classroom as response units so I can give most of my exit slips, quizzes and tests online. I try to push my students to use their netbooks for so much more than a tool for skill and drill programs. Today we used SmartNotebook to create a Classification Map on Animals. Students learned to create a box, copy/paste the box, add text and group it together as well as move the boxes in a more orderly fashion to look like a presentable document.

After seeing how technology and access to high-quality content can help me bring my classroom to life, I don’t think I could go back to teaching in a classroom without all my gadgets and technology. I hope that I am the student who keeps on learning as technology advances and I use it to its fullest potential in my classroom.

Elizabeth Slifer is a fourth-grade teacher at Carrie Busey Elementary School in Illinois. Earlier this year, Elizabeth was selected for the PBS LearningMedia Teacher Core. Most recently, Elizabeth was named an Outstanding Teacher of Science by the Illinois Science Teacher Association.


  1. Elizabeth – what defines you and your classroom is the willingness to ALWAYS try new things and take chances. It is what we want in our future leaders and in our schools! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Congratulations! Elizabeth. As a former and now retired colleague, it is exciting to read about the many ways you use technology in your classroom! I am sure the children are establishing new pathways to learning, which we never thought possible in our early years of teaching. In your written words, I hear your excitement about teaching. It seems inenivitable that your student’s would share that same learning energy! Enjoy and thanks for all you do to enhance our profession. You truly display the dedication teacher’s feel toward their students and their learning success’es. FLAME ON ! Jb.

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