I don’t know about you, but I have strong mixed feelings about using technology. On the one hand, technology is something that my students have a deep connection to–it’s how they understand life. On the other hand, I sometimes feel that for all the good it brings, I secretly fear that it is going to ruin our society. Technology is such an integral part of our world today, it’s hard to imagine what life would be like if it were to disappear suddenly. Districts across the nation are touting their integration of “21st century learning” (whatever that means), and teachers are being pushed into bringing as much technology into their classroom as possible. Sure, technology can be great; however, when you are relying on it and it suddenly stops working, it can be crippling and very frustrating in a classroom setting (especially when 68 eyes are on you… waiting for you to ‘fix’ the unforeseen problem). Is it unbelievably frustrating when the technology you are using suddenly stops working? Yes. Does it have to be? No. Here are some ways that I have learned to help make the integration of technology into my classroom easier, fun and a bit more seamless.
Pick technology that you are interested in. Not all of us get a choice, but if you can, try to incorporate technology that you find intriguing. It is inevitable that whatever technology you bring into your classroom will breakdown, not work properly and frustrate you. However, if it is something that you want to use and chose to use because you found it interesting, then you are more likely to get through the frustrating times without giving up. I have found that when the technology I have chosen to integrate stops working, I actually want to try and fix it, and I will problem solve to get it up-and-running again. If it’s technology I have no interest in, or felt forced to start using, I am more likely to throw my hands up and quit when it gives me grief.
Choose technology that will assist you and make teaching easier. Technology can be a wonderful teaching tool that makes our job much easier (read about a fun and easy tech-tool I tried out in this post). However, technology can also be something that makes our job more difficult and causes insane levels of frustration (hello, ulcer!). Technology should save you time, not add time to your already lengthy work days. For instance, I know teachers who always give multiple choice tests and have started using scantrons for grading. For them, this is a huge time saver and an efficient use of technology in the classroom. This allows them to quickly get the tests back and adjust curriculum based on the scores of the students. No more late nights being spent grading multiple choice quizzes or tests (Now you can enjoy TV and a glass of wine like the rest of the world!). Also, using a class website, blog or Google Classroom to post assignments to, allowing students to retrieve items that they need without having to bother you, is also a great way to integrate technology. This helps students to become self sufficient and take care of their own needs. You would only need to take a few minutes to post the electronic copy once and allow all students to gain unlimited access. The days of “I lost my copy, can you give me another?” will finally be over (huzzah!).
Don’t over do it! It’s easy to get swept up in the tide of technology, but try to keep a balance in your classroom (that is, unless you are a technology magnet school… then, ignore this part). There are some students who still enjoy writing things down on paper and submitting them to you face to face (little dears). Technology in the classroom can be fun and exciting, but hands-on learning is just as important! Find a balance that works for you by trying out different amounts of integration and approaches. If you try to take on too much, you may find that you end up resenting the technology you are integrating rather than appreciating it.
Try to swap out an activity/homework assignment for something techie. Sometimes the same worksheet approach can get a bit tedious and boring for our students. Try mixing things up by breathing new life into an old lesson plan through incorporating technology. For instance, during my astronomy unit, I used to do a textbook scavenger hunt for various fun-facts hidden in the text. I have, since, swapped that out for a technology scavenger hunt on the NASA website for similar hidden gems within the various sectors on their site. Not only is this much more fun than flipping through a textbook, but it also allows them to engage with an amazing organization that they otherwise might not. Also, iterested students can go home and continue to look around on their own after the general introduction through class. Similar to the textbook class assignment, I like to switch out some of my low-tech homework assignments for some moderate/higher-tech assignments. For instance, rather than doing a informational reading with synthesizing questions, I might have my students watch an informational video on YouTube and then try to solve a real-world problem (e.g. deforestation in South America, and helping a paper company problem-solve how to reduce its negative impact on the environment). I also have been known to find educational video games and ask my students to get as far into the game as possible (e.g. a game involving simple machines and manipulating them to reach an end result). This is an easy way to dip your toe into the technology pool without feeling overwhelmed. One lesson plan at a time doesn’t seem too bad, does it?
Ask the experts that are sitting in your classroom! Our students are the first generation to grow up entirely surrounded by technology. They have an uncanny ability to easily understand technology and embrace it. They literally do not know a world without internet, tablets, smart phones, streaming and wireless options for nearly everything! Actually, when I think about that, it kind of un-nerves me. However, I always ask my students for feedback on new things that I try with them. I am perpetually impressed with the thoughtfulness and candor of their answers. When you show them that you value their opinions and genuinely ask for them, they will take it seriously and give honest and constructive criticism. They also like to problem-solve things–so if something you tried failed miserably, ask them how they would change it or do it differently; you may be surprised by how helpful they can be! (Remember, failure is not a bad thing, read my blog post on embracing mistakes as a reminder).
At the end of the day, try to remember that technology should not feel like an uphill battle that you are consistently losing; and, whatever you try, make sure that it’s within your comfort level and fits nicely with your curriculum and educational approach. Try to have fun with it!
-The Ardent Teacher
Photo Credit: Skoke Public Library (https://www.flickr.com/photos/skokiepl/)