By Teachers, For Teachers
It's easy to confuse “using technology in the classroom” with digital tools.
Your school bought iPads and passed them out to all classes. Some of your colleagues think having students read in this tablet format means they're using technology in the classroom and in their curriculum. Kudos for a good start, but next, they need to use the tablets to differentiate for student learning styles, enrich learning materials, and turn students into lifelong learners.
That's harder than it sounds. Technology hasn't been around long enough to beget standards that work for everyone (not withstanding ISTE's herculean efforts), the set-in-stone of settled science. Truth is, that will never happen.
Technology tools populate like an out-of-control rabbit. Every time you turn around, there's another favorite tool some teacher swears has turned her students into geniuses and her class into a model of efficiency.
After 15 years of teaching technology, chatting with colleagues, and experimenting, I can assure you there is no magic wand like that. But a good teacher is not afraid to try new ways, test them out in a classroom environment, toss what doesn't work and share the rest. Her/his success doesn't come without lots of failure and mistakes, widgets that sounded good but were too complicated or non-intuitive for a 21st century classroom.
Which of these nine mistakes do you make? Then, see how to fix them:
1. Do you only use iPads in place of books or gameplay? They're so much more than that. Next time, use them to teach digital tools, how-to lessons (i.e. how to search for the app the student wants to use), research, communicate, and/or draw an inquiry-themed picture.
2. Are you still passing out paper newsletters and announcements to parents? Launch a paper-free approach on Earth Day (April 22). Get rid of those piles of paper parents use as a crutch. Create newsletters in Google Docs, Word or Publisher, save as a pdf if necessary, and email or simply share. Use an online tool like Google Docs, Scribd or Issuu and embed the newsletter into your class blog. Share the link to an online newsletter through your class Twitter stream. Create a FREE MailChimp account, import email addresses for parents, and use MailChimp templates to create a professional-looking newsletter that is easily emailed. Have students create the newsletter once a month as part of their authentic writing experience.
3. Are you sending kids to the computer lab to do work rather than using the class computer or the library computers? I know -- this sounds crazy. I'm including it because teachers in my school do this! When I ask about it, the usual answer is that something about the classroom computer doesn't work as well as the lab. That's an opportunity for me to fix their problem, show students how to fix it and extend my reach.
4. Are you not trying to solve tech problems before calling for help? Let’s say you're using technology on a class project. Something goes wrong, and you throw your hands up – you can't continue until someone from tech (or a student) fixes the problem. Next time, logically think through how to solve the problem. Sometimes, it's as simple as “Plug in the device." Sometimes, it's more complicated. It doesn't matter. This is an opportunity to model problem-solving for students. Show them the thought process you engage to solve problems. Show them you aren't afraid, nor intimidated. You should see it as a learning opportunity.
5. Do you think kids know more about tech than you do? Some do, but most don't, and what they don't know is how to learn about it and/or teach about it. You do. Even if you stay only one step ahead of students, you will learn faster and more efficiently because you are a mature life-long learner. It's fine to use student knowledge, but it's important you recognize when they're right or wrong.
6. Are you not using technology every chance you get? For example, to time a test. Pull out your smartphone and open the clock app, which usually includes a timer and a stopwatch. Use it. Take pictures with the iPads. Look up tricky words while students are stumbling over them using an online dictionary. Have a running “question” section on the Smartscreen, generated by whatever backchannel device you use (a class Twitter account works nicely for this) to show students what their classmates are thinking as you lecture. Encourage students to do the same.
7. Are you asking students to unplug at the classroom door? They don't want to. It makes them consider the learning less relevant. Why do this? Flip it: Ask them to plug in. If they could, how would they use technology to further their learning? See what they say.
8. Are you afraid to make mistakes in front of students? Don't be! Let them understand that mistakes are not traumatic, rather they are a part of life. Everyone makes them, from students to teachers to geniuses like Albert Einstein and Stephen Jobs. What's relevant is that the student recognize the mistake and seek out a solution. Discuss this, then expect them to do this when they have a problem. Approach everything that goes on in your classroom as a “teachable moment” (boy, I hate that phrase). A learning experience.
9. Are you forgetting to let kids make choices? You have a lesson plan. A student offers a better way. What's wrong with that? Every lesson plan should start with a conversation. Use it to determine KWL: what students know, want to know, and learn. Add a piece called “planning.” Include students in this. Share the tech required for your plan and get their take on it. There may be some who have difficulty understanding the relevance of the technology you selected. Maybe it focuses on writing and their artists. Address that. Are their concerns authentic or a fear of the unknown? See if they have a better plan that achieves the same goals as you have set out. This doesn't take as long as you think it will, and the time expended is well made up in the enthusiasm students now approach their scholastic work.
Those are my nine. They started my teaching career and I have made every human effort to overcome them. It doesn't always work, but it's my guideline. I'm not afraid to tell you about them, nor that I don't always succeed in solving them. What mistakes do you make as you attempt to use tech in the classroom? Maybe I can help.
Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-8 technology for 15 years. She is the editor of a K-8 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum, and creator of technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. She is webmaster for six blogs, CSG Master Teacher, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, a columnist for Examiner.com, IMS tech expert, and a weekly contributor to TeachHUB. Currently, she’s editing a techno-thriller that should be out to publishers next summer.