Sumner County Teacher: My Students are Digital Natives

Ashley Cross and her third-grade class at H.B. Williams Elementary School watch presentations students built on iPads.

By Ashley Ball, Classroom Chronicles

The students in Ashley Cross’s third-grade class sit attentively on the carpet. It is story time in this Sumner County classroom, but it doesn’t involve picture books or fairy tales. These students are writing their own stories, digitally. Cross turns on an iPad, ready to share presentations her students created only moments before (you can watch some of the presentations on her class blog).

Divided into pairs, each group worked together to take pictures and record a voiceover for their presentation. Every student had been assigned an animal to write about and today was the culmination of several days spent studying these animals and their environment. Students were armed with graphic organizers loaded with animal facts they created in previous classes to use as information banks.

A third-grade student works carefully to build her presentation.

Cross swears it was the first time her students had taken on an independent project with the iPads, but her class ran like clockwork, even as thousands of dollars worth of technology was passed among twenty 8-year olds.

While she remembers the extensive time it took to build the structures and systems for students to work independently with technology, Cross says her students were wired for this.

“They are digital natives. This is just what they expect to do,” said Cross.

Cross isn’t far off herself. A Google certified teacher and education blogger, she has created a professional community online. Cross collaborates with teachers across the country, and sometimes across the world, to share lessons and provide feedback. Feedback that Cross says often improves her lesson the next time around.

After building a presentation on the iPad, this student uses the same information to write a paragraph.

While she incorporates technology daily in her classroom, she doesn’t discount paper and pencil. After the iPads were tucked away in the school’s iPad cart, Cross sent her students to write, using the facts from their presentation to create paragraphs and graphics.

Cross and her students will use the school’s iPad cart for one hour each week, setting the stage for a gradual release of control over time. By the end of the year, she hopes her students have even more ownership over using technology as a tool to show what they have learned.

“I want my students to create a product, and more importantly, I want them to have the ability to share it with an authentic audience,” said Cross.

A student in Cross’s class poses with his iPad.

Sometimes the authentic audience is their peers in the room, and sometimes it is another classroom. Cross often coordinates with other teachers across the country to schedule “online meet ups.” So far, Cross’s class has challenged a class in Iowa and Louisana to a math video chat, and her students have chatted with a medical clinic in Angola, Africa.

Committed to learning even more about technology in the classroom, Cross says she will continue to use her online outlets as a source of professional development. It is story that neither she nor her students have any intention of ending soon.

Read more about how Ashley Cross uses technology in the classroom on her personal blog, Teaching Happily Ever After. You can also get more updates from Cross by following her on Twitter.


Ashley Ball, Classroom Chronicles

Ashley Ball, Classroom Chronicles

Ashley Ball manages content for Classroom Chronicles. She is a journalist turned educator.