Because I teach graduate classes for educators, I talk to lots of teachers all over the country. It's become clear to me that for most of them, adding technology in the classroom to their lessons means layering more work on top of their already-overburdened lesson plans. Despite the claims of tech gurus that technology in the classroom makes the job of teaching easier, few educators see it that way. Even the ones who love it put in lots of extra time to do one or more of the following:
- Learn technology in the classroom tools and then teach their students.
- Learn tech tools only to discover it's not what they need.
- Learn a tech tool they love only to have it either disappear or switch to a fee-based program.
- Rework existing lesson plans in the school's mandated digital program too often, changing every year. This means they have to re-enter the lesson plan in a new format for a new LMS.
- Find a tool they love, but no one else in their teaching team agrees, understands it, or cares.
- The tool won't work on the Big Day of the lesson and nothing will bring it back to life.
- The digital devices -- computer or Chromebooks or iPads -- won't work on the Big Day.
But the biggest reason is this: Students don't know the technology, so their projects become rudimentary displays of their knowledge rather than anything resembling the higher-order thinking we teachers aspire to. I'd put it at S- in the SAMR Model (if you don't know what that is, click to get a brief primer).
Let me break this down for you. First: Know this -- you should only use technology when it expands your teaching. Sure, you want to find opportunities for that to occur, but if it doesn't, put the keyboard and the class screen aside and continue in whatever method has worked for you in the past. Luckily, Common Core -- and many State Standards -- provides an excellent starter list of seven ways to blend technology into your everyday teaching:
- Have digital e-books included in your class library. Treat them exactly as though they were print books. Nothing more; nothing less.
- Have online libraries included with student resources. Include these as a normal part of their research experience, just like the school library. And if students are going to check a book out of the school library, have them check it out online or research it digitally (if that's available).
- Make it clear to students that class presentations can be done digitally -- with video, audio, music, or any mixture of digital tools that the student chooses. If the student can “Sell” you on the idea that this tool best serves the unique audience, task, and purpose of the project, let them use it. Even if it's Minecraft.
- Encourage students to tape class presentations to replay later and/or study from.
- Allow students to join the class virtually -- through Skype or Google Hangouts -- if they can't come to the physical classroom.
- Make digital research tools like dictionaries and thesauri easily accessible from all digital devices as a reasonable alternative to walking across the classroom to a dictionary that may not be where it used to be.
- Empower students to solve common tech problems so they can keep moving forward with their learning. These are easy-to-solve troubleshooting issues like the headphones don't work, the monitor doesn't work, the browser won't start, and about 22 other common problems. Teach them the solutions and get out of their way.
These seven ideas are all about setup. You don't rethink them with each lesson plan or struggle to blend them into a unit on westward expansion or life cycles. They take no time to organize or manage. They become the environment of your classroom, like the library corner and the math facts on the walls.
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If you're ready for the next step -- redefining your classroom -- there are simple first steps that will dramatically change the feel of your lessons. Try one -- or more -- of these next ten options to spice up your classes without adding hours to your day:
- Offer a backchannel device -- a student-drive-behind-the-scenes chat about the lesson that's going on.
- Only use tech tools that are intuitive and can be learned in five minutes. You might think that'll preclude the amazing tool you heard about on an online forum -- and maybe it will -- but there are so many tools ready to take its place. If you can't learn it quickly, students won't either.
- Use tech in homework. Instead of writing out answers to questions, have students record themselves, take a video, or write a blog post. They do the work; you get the good results.
- Including blogging in your curriculum. It teaches writing skills, perspective-taking, speaking and listening skills. Audio, video, text, color, and images are often the perfect medium to get the message out. And the best part: You don't teach these skills to students. They're intuitive enough for students to figure them out themselves.
- Use Twitter novels to teach writing skills. What an amazing motivator for students who struggle with writing.
- Write serialized novels, one blog post at a time. Students write a chapter, post it to their blog, repeat.
- Have students create crossword puzzles (or other games) using online resources that they then play with each other to review for an upcoming assessment.
- Use a digital timer for quizzes or other events. In fact, any time you can add fun technology to classes, do it.
- Have students take videos of each other and upload them to the class blog/website. If they don't know how to do that, they won't be able to participate in that activity. Trust me -- they'll figure it out.
- Load a scanning app onto each student digital device and have them scan their hard copy work into their digital portfolio. For you to make these digital portfolios would take hours -- and days. For students -- it's well within their skill set and they'll enjoy it.
Let's summarize: Use only intuitive technology that students can self-teach. Say no to technology that's cool or popular. That's like picking a car for its color. See -- simple. Just like I promised.
More on tech in the classroom:
3 Organizational Apps to Start the School Year
5 After School Tech Club Activities
How to go Paperless in Your Classroom
Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-8 technology for 15 years. She is the editor/author of over a hundred tech ed resources including a K-8 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum. She is an adjunct professor in tech ed, CSG Master Teacher, webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, CAEP reviewer, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on tech ed topics, and a weekly contributor to TeachHUB. You can find her resources at Structured Learning.