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.
At one time in my career the pressure to use technology in my classroom made it feel like the walls were closing in on me. I knew this was the path education was taking. I knew that kids were interested in computers, but I honestly didn’t see the point. Every time I saw a student on a computer, they were playing a multiple choice game or learning multiplication facts. I can teach them deeper learning than that, I thought. The computer is just a vessel for rote memorization. Students were being babysat by a screen as they did little more than a digital worksheet with moving parts. Then, I moved to a new school. I thank the heavens for this change, as it was indeed a paradigm shift in my entire thought process as a teacher. It is by changing districts that I was able to learn a new mindset towards educational uses for technology. The differences were so stark between these districts, I realized that people really don’t know what they don’t know. Many education leaders claim they want their teachers to use technology, but they fault the wrong reasons as to why the teachers do not use technology. I wanted to lay out a formula for a successful model of what makes an environment for technology integration friendly to teachers. It is rarely because teachers do not wish to use technology.
The message must come from the top
The teacher may know technology is important, but if the leader of the school does not express that they feel technology use is important in instruction and student learning, teachers are unlikely to become new adopters. Those that are late-adopters will feel no push toward adoption and those that are new adopters will be unsure of their footing when it comes to the woes of technology integration. Teachers must hear from their leader that technology integration is important, without high pressure sales tactics. Indeed, the best encouragement is by example. Leaders who teach PD with various new technologies are doing their staff a world of good by educating them on new technology as well as sending a message of favor.
Safety must be assured
Almost every reason I had to NOT try technology had to do with my concerns about my job safety. When the technology fails for any of the millions of reasons that it assuredly will when I choose to use it with students, I know with out a doubt that will also be the exact moment one of my appraisers will walk in to do an observation of me. The teacher has to know that in this moment, the appraiser will compliment him/her for their valiant attempt, recognize their effort and gracefully bow out.
The teacher also must know that they will not be persecuted when they become behind in the curriculum because of these types of incidents, or because the students have to be taught how to operate the computer/program before they can use it. If the leadership is truly on board with technology integration, they must be ready to support the teacher in their learning curve and the students in theirs.
My fear of the above two incidents taking place paralyzed me and my classes into computer paralysis for many years. It was not until I met people who applauded and complimented others many classroom technological blunders that I decided I was in a safe environment.
A safety net must be in place
I can not over value the importance of having an IT dedicated to only your campus. A kind IT is worth a million dollars. I’ve had IT support that was knowledgeable and not kind, no one will go to that person for advice. If you have to make a choice between the best IT person to hire and the kindest, choose the kindest, they will reach more people. Lucky for me, I have both in one person.
Inspiration must be ever present
Leaders can force people to do things and people will hate every minute. Students can ask for things from teachers and they might be indulged. Teachers are most often moved to action by other teachers. Just like our students, it is our peer group that influences us in our ways. Google Plus is a great place to showcase ideas and ask questions in a safe space. Even better, those who are too shy to ask questions know who to email or ask in person because of what they see on G+. Having one person on each content or grade level team be the designated Techspert is always a good idea. Also, creating an atmosphere where teachers share one new technology idea a week in their meetings is usually something easy to accomplish. Find your most energetic, enigmatic teachers, and ask them to be loud and boisterous about their technology use. Have the teachers offer their most useful websites/apps for elective PD hours perhaps during lunch or after school. Only teachers know what is most useful to other teachers and can present it in a way that troubleshoots classroom problems no IT or career speaker can see.
When student work is celebrated, teacher work is celebrated. There is a teacher behind each piece of student work that beams with pride. If students do digital work, have them share their work with another teacher of their choice, unsolicited from that teacher. This might be by hitting the “Share” button on Google Apps, it might be by emailing teachers a link to an online creation, it might be that the one teacher may have to email the other teacher for the student, as the student has no email. So when my class created a diagram using Lucid Chart in class about the 3 major religions of the Mid-East, students were offered the chance to send a “Share” message to any teacher in our school. This act has so many ripple effects, it is hard to name them all. Not only does the student have a new sense of pride for their work, they have a different audience. They also get to make a different educational connection with a teacher who doesn’t usually teach that subject. The teacher receives validation as a member of that student’s social circle and also possibly sees the student with a new skill set not usually presented in their class. The teacher also sees a piece of technology in action that he/she might then see as a viable option for their class.
Display student work on the teacher’s website. Scroll it on the school’s website. Run it on the TVs in the cafeteria, front office, and everywhere else. Take that digital picture frame out of your closet and load it up with student work to show in your classroom.
Do you have staff meetings that start with celebrations? While you are talking about all those personal staff celebrations, why not add some student tech celebrations to the mix? Show a few pre-loaded pieces of student digital work from around the school from the past week. Students get applause, teachers get celebrated for their hard work, new types of applications are noticed, and those whose mantra is constantly, ” we don’t have time for that,” see that some teachers are using technology to make wise use of their time.
All in all, you must engage
There is a place for rote memorization in education. To reach the top of the pyramid, you sometimes have to start at the bottom. There are MANY apps for that. The message and the emphasis should be on creation. When I originally saw technology in use, I only saw teachers using multiple choice programs, multiplication websites, and point and click interfaces. This led to my thought that technology could not teach deep thought. Since then I have changed schools. My new principal held the belief that the internet was for creating thought through synthesis of content taught. This indeed was an eye- opener to me! As I began to look around my new campus at what other teachers used to achieve this, I was freed into a rebirth of technology where the skills of blooms met the skills of an artist, inventor, map-maker, engineer, scientist, and so much more. This was what must be so great about the internet! After this revelation the world was my oyster and only the minutes in the school day were my enemy. My students were the beneficiaries of my new discoveries.
So many teachers do not understand there is a distinction between these old out-dated point and click websites and the rich thinking that the art of creating something new can arouse. This is a distinction that actually has to be spelled out for teachers.
If you train them, they will come…
It may be an old, tired phrase, but PD is still one of the best ways to get teachers to use new tools. If you honestly think about your technology PD, how much time is actually dedicated to it? What message is sent by this? After the testing data is discussed, and the new system that just got adopted, the book study, the emergency procedures, the district goals, the PTA announcements, how much time is left for tech PD? And who teaches it, the IT person? Who determined this is what should be taught? Probably the district who just bought some new initiative. Grass roots efforts are best. Let teachers teach and let them be genuine in what is best for their peers.
A message of support, an atmosphere of safety, collaboration, and celebration. These are the pieces to the technology integration puzzle in a school. Oh, yes, and time. Paradigm shift is a lengthy process that cannot be pushed, but instead must be pulled ever so gently in the right direction.