Primary Preoccupation

A grade one teacher inviting the world into her classroom

Primary Preoccupation - A grade one teacher inviting the world into  her classroom

The Use and Abuse of Technology in the Classroom

This article was also posted on the kinderchat blog.

More and more primary teachers now have access to technology in their classroom. Whether it is an iPad or an iPod touch, a desktop or a laptop, a growing number of teachers are either being given access to this technology by their school boards or bringing their own devices to class to help students to learn. Because of the multitude of choices and opportunities that technology enables, this is a positive development.

I have been concerned, though, by some of the ways that I see technology being used. Technology should not just allow us to do things in a more engaging way; it should allow us to do new things that we thought were not possible. It is those new things that are the real value technology provides.  It is not enough to USE technology. You must use it well.

Having access to books does not mean that the students in my classroom will learn to read. I need to make careful pedagogical choices and use those books in a way that will gently and purposefully help those children to become independent readers. Very few children can make this leap themselves. Most need a thoughtful teacher to guide them.

In the same way, having technology in my classroom does not mean that my students will discover how to use it as a learning tool. I have to carefully select and structure what it is used for so that it becomes truly educational. As with reading books, should not our goal be to develop independent learners? Here are my personal abuse and use lists for the handling of devices in the classroom.

Technology Abuses

Technology should not be used as simply a digital worksheet. There are many apps and Internet sites available that are simply a technological version of a paper task, forcing students to practice over and over a skill that they may already have mastered.  Don’t get me wrong. Skills do need to be practiced. I just happen to think that students should spend most of their time using technology for more creative purposes.

Technology should not be used as a way to keep students occupied.  A small number of computers or devices in a classroom can be an inviting center, whether it is an assigned or a self-chosen one.  If you use technology in this way, choose wisely when you decide what the students will do with the technology. There are many, many creative options available. It should not be just to keep students busy while you work with small groups of children. (They’re working on mouse skills? Really?)

Technology should not be used to do what can be done without it.  Drawing a picture on an app or a computer program and labeling it is a worthwhile activity, but why bother if that activity is an end in itself? It may as well have been done on paper. Technology should allow you to do something new with that picture, such as sharing/publishing it in some way.

The good news is that there are other, better options for using technology. My heart does a happy dance when I see these.

Technology Uses

Technology should be for accessing what was inaccessible. In the past, my teaching materials were limited to what was in my classroom and in the school’s library. Now there are a plethora of materials available online to fill any teaching need I have, limited only by my online search skills. From classroom-ready videos such as those of Mercer Mayer and Dr. Jean to sharing and learning with other teachers on Pinterest or Twitter to accessing the creative commons photos of thousands of photographers—well, let’s just say there is no longer an excuse for not having appropriate resources.

Technology should be for doing good things in better ways
. For example, hearing books being read aloud is an important part of primary literacy.  Long ago, listening to books on a cassette tape became listening to books on a CD. Now, there are online books and apps that do a much better job of this, highlighting the words as they are read aloud.

Technology should be for sharing with the world.  The environment that our students are growing up in is wired for sharing. The hardware and the software that is available make it easier every day for children to share what they are learning with the world. Even young children can share their learning using drawings, images, blogs, video and digital portfolios. By sharing their artifacts digitally, students invite the involvement and support of their parents, grandparents and anyone who sees their work.

Technology should be for connecting. Before the advent of the Internet, classrooms were forced to be isolated learning hives.   Now, those hives can all be interconnected as classrooms can easily link with other classrooms and experts to ask questions, compare experiences and learn together. Tools such as Skype, Twitter and blogs make connecting and collaborating with classrooms from anywhere a possibility.

Technology should give choices.  We are blessed to have a lot of technology in my classroom and my favourite part of that is the choice it gives my students in both their learning style and in sharing what they have learned. When allowed to choose, some students prefer to read on iPads or computers. Others choose paper books.  I think choice is important as we accommodate the variety of needs our learners have.

Technology should not just allow us to do traditional in a different way; it should allow us to do things that we thought were not possible.


Unplug’d 2012–It’s International!

Last summer I had the privilege of participating in Unplugd11, an experience unlike any other I have had.   Unplugd11 was an opportunity for educators from across Canada to meet, to reflect and to write together, but it was more than that.

It was the people. Never before had I been in a place where every one of the people present were so passionate about education.  Participants gave up their time and paid their own way, flying as far as 4300 km (2700 miles) to get there.

It was the location.  We first met at a hotel in downtown Toronto and then travelled by train to a solar-powered experience at Northern Edge Algonquin. This retreat center is on a lake and surrounded by forest. Time seems to stand still there.

It was the fact that we all HAD to unplug. At the Edge, there is no internet access. No cell phone service. No contact with the outside world. There were only rich conversations.

It was the task. Going to Unplugd meant that you had to bring a piece of writing with you. Once there, we were divided into groups that worked on editing and bringing together all of the varied pieces of writing in a collaborative authorship experience.

And yes, it was the food. Mealtimes were a time of relaxed conversation and sharing over delicious organic and locally raised food.

This year, Unplugd is not just for Canadians. Unplugd12 will bring together people from around the world in an international education summit.

The best part is that I GET TO GO BACK! More meaningful conversations, more unspoiled wilderness, more writing and more great food.

If you are passionate about education and want to see change, apply to attend. I hope I see you there.

Pancakes and Boos

This week, on Shrove Tuesday, the primary classes at my school celebrated Pancake Day.  Because we made the pancakes together, this was another chance for me to check on the students’ ability to recall and retell a sequence of events.  I decided to use Audioboo to record the students describing the process.  I had seen references to this tool in a lot of places, but it was Chris Harbeck who really convinced me of its worth.

So, while the students were busy representing their learning with a picture, I took the students aside one by one and had them describe the process in their own words.  Audioboo takes a while to load the first time you record something, but the sound quality is quite good and the site is uncluttered and easy to use.

In the past, I have used Vocaroo to do this, but because of this site’s increased popularity, recordings now expire after 5-6 months if you are logged in and after 1-2 months if you record anonymously.   I’m hoping that the Audioboo recordings will be longer lasting.

The best part of making a “boo” (their word, not mine) is that an embed code is provided.  The next day, each of the students copied and pasted the html from their boo into an article on their blog. The students are thrilled to again have their voice on their blog.  Their parents have a chance to hear their child describe what went on in the classroom.  And I have another resource as part of the student’s online portfolio to showcase during our parent/student/teacher conferences later this month.

Below is a screenshot from one of the students’ blogs, showing both the embedded Audioboo and her drawing of our activity.

We have also begun using Audioboo to record our reading fluency.

The real power of this tool may be with its use for students who have a disability of some kind and are not able to show what they know in a coherent way through text, but are able to clearly enunciate their learning orally.  Audioboo gives them a way to do this.

What’s In a .com Name?

I guess the answer to that question depends on what your name is.

I began thinking about the whole .com thing a couple of years ago.

There are other people named Kathy Cassidy.  I know this because I occasionally get emails from pre-teen girls asking me for autographed pictures.  I have yet to oblige them and send one, but I’m sure the author Cathy Cassidy is glad to do it. Since I wanted to be the one to control the digital footprint of my name, I decided to take the plunge and buy a domain name.

At that time, had been purchased by someone, so I bought (.ca stands for Canada, not California) and just parked it, meaning to get around to doing something about it eventually.  The problem was that I was not sure which of my online spaces I wanted the url to point to.  I began thinking about it again this spring when my two years of payment were coming to an end, and I was getting renewal reminders.

By this time, was available again, so with the encouragement of Dean Shareski, I bought it for about $13.00/year from  I decided it should be a portal to many of my online spaces.  Some advice from Gail Lovely on Twitter led to my making the site on Yola, and then I used the 10Dollar site forwarding (which was free of charge).

So now I have a place to collect my digital identity with my own domain name. I’m not positive what I will do with it, other than point people to it who ask about what I do online.  It’s a work in progress.  I’m not totally happy with my site, but I’m learning as I go. Suggestions are always welcome.

That’s what’s in MY .com name.  What’s in yours?


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