For many of you teachers out there, your curriculum, assessments, and pacing are already mapped out for you over the course of the year. By following the map, you’re able to meet all the standards and cover all the required material by the end of the school year. But then you’re told you need to integrate technology into your curriculum and are expected to create your own road map to make it work.
Maybe you have devices in your classroom; maybe you have to schedule a classroom cart or lab time. Maybe you have adequate bandwidth to use the technology; maybe you don’t. Maybe your school provides tech training on a regular basis; maybe it doesn’t. Regardless of your circumstance, you’ve got good intentions and dive right in. When you do, the time and effort it takes is daunting and the learning results are muddled. Did your students actually learn anything? Is it worth it to try it again?
In my role as technology coordinator at my school district, I saw the frustration and the consequent avoidance of using technology when the trial run wasn’t as rewarding as hoped. I also saw the enthusiasm when the technology actually worked and the students were able to demonstrate what they’d learned.The students were excited and the positive feedback to their teacher reignited that teacher’s determination to use technology more.
Every teacher has a different digital comfort level, and every classroom has a different technology infrastructure. So, how do you begin or continue to use technology and avoid some of the roadblocks? Here are some tips to help keep your frustration levels lower and your success rate higher.
- Treat technology as another learning tool, not as the entire solution. As with any other tool, your students need direct instruction on how to use it and opportunities to play around with it before you launch into a full-blown lesson that incorporates it. It may be true that your students have grown up using technology, but they may not be used to applying that particular tech tool to solve a problem.
- Realize that you don’t know all the in’s and out’s of using technology – and that’s okay! Your students can be a valuable resource. Create a collaborative culture where you give students the chance to share their expertise. If a student asks you how to record their voice on a video app, ask your other students to help them out. You may come to find that the quiet, “nerdy” students will participate more and gain more confidence and the respect of their peers in the process.
- Teach students how to be good digital citizens. Be proactive just like you are at the beginning of the school year when you review classroom rules and procedures. Take the time to teach the rules of using the Internet and set expectations before you incorporate technology into your lessons. If you know your students will be collaborating on a Google Slides presentation, teach a mini-lesson on how to make comments and give constructive feedback. Should they comment in full sentences or is it okay to comment like they would if they were sending their friend a text message?
- Keep the end in mind. When planning out your lesson, what is the outcome you want, and what is the best technology to accomplish it? Do you want your students to be able to collaborate with each other, or do you want them to work individually? What do you want them to create to show they’ve mastered the lesson? You want your students to write a story about courage once they learn about Martin Luther King, Jr. Instead of using paper and pencil, you decide to have them use Storybird to create an online book that can be shared with their classmates and parents. You want them to work in pairs, and you know that Storybird has that capability.
- Start with what you know. What app do you already know how to use, and how can you use it in a lesson with your students? Make it easy on yourself and integrate that technology first. You’ll be more relaxed and your students will sense that. Have your students start by creating a Google Doc, taking a photo or recording a video with an iPad or iPhone, or completing a math lesson on Khan Academy.
- It’s okay to use the same app more than once. You want your students to become proficient using technology, which means they will most likely need to use it more than once to learn what it can do. Your students used Adobe Spark Page with great success to create a basic webpage with images and text about a famous artist. Use it again for a Science lesson and teach them how to import videos this time!
- Have a back-up plan. You’ve planned for your students to use an online comic book creator like ToonDoo to teach their classmates about an Egyptian god. Just in case the site is down or your wireless connection isn’t working correctly, have some printable comic book templates and colored pencils available so you don’t miss a beat.
- Test the technology from your school site. You probably do most of your lesson planning from home but, when it comes to technology, it’s always a good idea to test it in your classroom. Your school site may have filters that would prevent you from using a particular website or you might not be able to use an app because your school bandwidth is not sufficient. If you know beforehand what websites your students will be using, you may be able to have your IT staff unblock a needed site or troubleshoot the bandwidth problem. Don’t wait till the day of!
- Provide a familiar structure and routine. As much as possible, integrate technology within a familiar structure. At the beginning of every lesson, watch a brief tutorial video about the technology that will be used, provide a project checklist and rubric, and show your students a sample of the expected finished product. With guided questioning, check for understanding and set expectations. Hopefully, you’ve already let your students practice using the tech tool before the actual lesson begins (see Tip #1!).
- Reflect and build on your successes. Take the time to reflect on what went right and what could be improved. Include your students and have them evaluate how the lesson went from their perspective. You may think that a lesson didn’t work because your students weren’t able to watch a video independently. You adjusted quickly and viewed the video as a class. Your students enjoyed watching the video together and went on to work independently on other aspects of the lesson. To them, the lesson was a success!