Using technology in the classroom is a little bit about skill, and a lot about being a daring tight rope walker on a high wire. It has incredible thrills and engagement for all, when it works. But when it doesn’t……. your fall from on high can resemble falling off the high wire and into elephant poo. Most of using technology in the classroom is planned out and prepared for during instructional preparation. For this reason, technology use should not be a risky proposition. However, we all know too well that computers are unpredictable. Screens freeze, the internet goes down, servers become overwhelmed, and let’s face it- something I can only call tiny computer goblins often take over. For all of these reasons, your regular type A plan-everything personality, may find many situations in a technology classroom unsettling. In order for technology integration to work, you must adopt a certain mindset. The thinking goes something like this:
Something will go wrong everyday and it will be ok
From each failure will come an instance of learning for you and your students
Each day will come with unexpected rewards in tiny ways
You didn’t become a teacher just to teach content
Good teaching can happen no matter what or where
You are NOT the most knowledgeable thing in the classroom, you are a talented education facilitator
Student collaboration is essential to the environment
If you must choose between believing if it was student error or computer error, give your student the benefit of the doubt
Your students may be able to fix your tech problem
Your mindset is always an integral part of your classroom. You are adding an unpredictable element, technology, to your classroom upon which your instruction and your students’ learning relies. The way you mentally approach technology integration in your classroom will make it or break it for you and for your students. Remember: the learning process should be enjoyable for all with or without technology. I truly hope your daring tight rope walk is an incredible success enjoyed by all.
Are you starting a new technology platform in your class? Perhaps you would like to use computers more in your class, but you just don’t know where to start. Maybe you just got handed a set of iPads and were told to get on the bandwagon. Remember when you began your teaching career? One of the first things you had to learn was classroom management. Harry Wong was right when he said, “Effective teachers have to have a classroom management plan…” While you need to start the year teaching your classroom management plan that you will use for daily routines, there are some things that specifically need to be taught in a class that uses technology. Your teaching will be more effective and your classroom management will be more successful if you teach your students these ideals and skills early on:
Model how to get out and put away devices
Just like you have students practice how to line up in the hall and how to raise their hand, so too, should you have them practice the getting out and putting up of their assigned device. (Don’t forget to assign a device to each student to make tracking usage and maintenance easier. This also builds a sense of responsibility.) Do you want students to plug in the device after every use? Where do ear buds go? Stylus’? How will students know what supplies they need that day?
Students are expected to help other students with tech needs
Sounds simple right? Wrong. This takes training. It takes training to wean students away from depending on the adult in the room for everything. Students want help from the adult. The students who can help, want approval first. This has to all be explicitly taught. These are the right times to help. These are the wrong times to help. I teach my students to help without “making a show” of it. I also don’t reward them with anything other than thank you. Helping someone should be its own reward.
Teach a man to fish…
It is very easy to reach over and push a button for someone. It is far more powerful to teach the person how to do this for themselves so they never have to ask how to again. I try to instill this in my students so they see the value in themselves as teachers, not just helpers.
Students are taught that “wandering” the internet is grounds for immediate loss of all tech privileges
It doesn’t have to be an inappropriate site. If they were not instructed to be on that website, they have some serious explaining to do. The exception would be that there are times when students are given choice in research and presentation resources, then students are expected to be able to explain what they are doing if asked.
Students are encouraged to share what they learn about how a website or app works as they discover
My class tries new websites fairly often. As we experience new websites or new equipment, students naturally oooooh and aaaahhh over certain features and question others. “Why can’t I move the picture?” “Why won’t the button click?” “OH, look at what this does!” I encourage my students to share both verbally and come up to the interactive board to share, so we all learn. Give time for this discovery every time you introduce something new. At least 5-10mn. depending on the complexity of the site. If you are worried about this interrupting work flow, you can assign the new website as a “Tech Challenge” for early finishers or as extra credit. Having some students in the crowd who have already experienced the new website will help facilitate the learning process.
Students are taught and reminded constantly about basic internet safety
We always watch a video on basic internet safety put out by our district in the beginning of the year. Google has put together an assortment for teachers here: https://sites.google.com/site/ateachersbagoftricks/internet-safety-for-kids In addition, anytime a website asks my students for their name, I quickly discuss whether it is safe to put their real name or whether they should use a fake name. Students cannot differentiate the between websites that have safeguards like Google Classroom or Socrative with those that don’t. I quickly point out to the student that when they were given a code by me to enter, that means it is an environment that I set up to protect them. If the internet just asks them their name and I didn’t specifically give them a code to enter, they should NOT enter their real name. We also talk about email and what we do with our pictures when we take them.
Students are taught how to react if they do encounter something on the internet that is inappropriate
As hard as we try to protect students, something will eventually get through firewalls that have been set-up. I advise my students that if they see something that they feel is inappropriate, close the window immediately. They are not to announce it to the rest of the class, they are not to make a big show of it to draw attention to something that does not need extra attention. They are to quietly alert me so I can help them.
Students MUST self-advocate
There are always a few quiet ones. I would not allow a student to stand up and start yelling, because this impedes learning. Likewise, I do not allow others to sit quietly, not knowing what to do or not asking for help, as this impedes learning also. I tell my students that there are many people in the room that can help them. They are not allowed to sit idle and not ask for help. This is considered misbehavior in my room. I also constantly ask the class to “check on” their neighbors to see if they need help.
When technology does not go as planned: persevere, overcome, find another way to learn
When technology does not work, most students take this as an opportunity to become completely off task and often very loud. This fact alone is what kept me away from using technology for a long time. You can avoid this by engaging them in the problem solving process. I have constant conversations with my students when technology problems arise. I ask them to try different things to see what might fix the problem. I involve the students in my process of solving the problem (even when I don’t know what I’m doing). This makes students feel involved and empowered, instead of them checking out and becoming behavior problems. When all else fails, I go to my back up plan. Yes, there is always a back up plan. I usually have a back up plan for the learning objective of the day and then I have a generic back up plan that would be good for anytime in that unit.
The best thing that technology has done for my classroom has shown me how amazing my students are as people. My classroom uses technology most days of the week and experiences our ups and downs with it. Using the ideals listed above, my students, all 135 of them, have become such an amazing family. They overcome every technology obstacle we come up against, sometimes by discovering how to fix it for me. The constant amount of support and collaboration that they offer each other is not something a teacher can teach. I teach them new content and give them new ways to discover learning through technology. What they give to each other is so much more.