Essentials to Using Classroom Technology
While teaching fourth and fifth grade, I can’t count the number of times I heard people rave over one new technology or another. Often, this zeal slowly waned as something else rose to replace it or we simply grew too busy to use it. Rarely did we have time to dissect a program or reflect upon it. It doesn’t matter how many spectacularly fast new devices we place in children’s hands, if teachers haven’t had the opportunity to learn about and investigate the software and hardware, they aren’t equipped to be effective stewards for the students who they lead.
With so many new tech tools in classrooms, we should consider the following question: Since teachers are the ones bringing these tools to students, how do we train and support their use of technology to deliver instruction?
After leaving the classroom, I worked briefly at a technology company where I had the opportunity to teach classes about computers and mobile devices. Coworkers served as mentors, explaining how to guide clients through new material in order to make it meaningful, applicable, and easy to digest. Colleagues would often pop in to listen to the presentation and offer constructive feedback. This cycle happened repeatedly. It helped me grow exponentially in my understanding of the latest and greatest tools for use in education
Why hadn’t I researched or used these applications while I was an elementary school teacher? There wasn’t time built into our daily grind to vet new programs. As budgets continue to be cut and expectations for teacher workload increase, less time is allocated to professional development for the technology we implement. We need the cycle I experienced as a trainer at a tech company in schools. Teachers require time to become techies so they can effectively guide their pupils.
In light of these reflections, I encourage us to consider the following ways to move forward with education technology tools in our classroom:
1) Start small.
It’s easy to get excited about new strategies or tools and want to dive head first into them; however, that approach can be overwhelming. Consider the subjects that you most enjoy teaching and then start looking around for some free applications or tools online that you can use in your small group instruction. Track the success of your students and celebrate it with them.
2) Survey your students for applications and tools that they use.
While working with a student recently, she explained that she was concerned about her ACT and SAT scores. As she finished her point, she pulled a smart phone from her pocket. “Have you ever considered using apps to prepare?” I asked. She looked surprised, but then nodded and said, “I never thought about it, but I could do that.” Considering that so many students these days are plugged in to powerful mobile devices that can be personalized with a variety of applications, we should be teaching them how to use their own tools to excel.
3) Tap into the smarts of your colleagues.
Having demonstrated a sincere adoration for Google Docs as a quiz tool, one of my bosses asked me to share it with colleagues. They wanted to use Google Docs to share information for a teacher training. During this hour class, we discussed the different ways they could use it, sifted through the tools and asked questions. It was a fun, collegial exercise that allowed us to explore together.
4) Use technology to bring the world to your students.
During career week at my elementary school, I decided to employ Skype, my laptop and sound system to host Career Day. Several friends and acquaintances offered to give short presentations to my students via video conference. We had callers from Kansas City, Missouri, to Seoul, South Korea, sharing their career experiences. My kids loved it! They were able to talk “face-to-face” with people from all over the world. Fast forward. Think about all the practical applications for such knowledge in their futures: Skyping with a potential employer for a job interview or hosting a digital presentation to colleagues on another continent.
5) Introduce technology careers to your students and their families.
One of the most successful sectors today is technology, with a plethora of jobs for a variety of skill sets. As we host career weeks and teach our students about economics, we need to weave this current industry into the mix. Read articles about technology jobs in your reading groups and ask local tech connoisseurs to speak with your students about their jobs and experiences. Invite parents to these events. It may be a career change opportunity for them as well!
In the end, teachers, not computers, teach our children; however, they can dramatically enhance the learning environment. By bringing innovation into our schools, we have the opportunity to heighten the ability of educators to deliver high quality content and expose students to new career paths. Critical to the success of this movement is investing in those who share these tools with our future generations.
This guest blog was written by Paige Hendrix who studied International Studies and Geography at the University of Missouri. In 2008, she entered Teach For America and joined the Las Vegas Valley Corps to teach fourth and fifth grade. During her time as an educator, she tutored students after school and taught them how to debate current events. While teaching, she also served as Co-Director of the Not For Sale Campaign in Nevada where she collaborated with community partners to combat local human trafficking. After departing the classroom, she worked part time at Apple, teaching classes about software and hardware, while also enrolling families in health care with the Urban League of Portland. Recently, she was hired as a policy advisor at Multnomah County. When not working, Paige loves to ride her bike, forage through farmers markets and tend to her garden. For questions and comments, follow Paige on Twitter @paigehendrix or LinkedIn.