Primary Preoccupation

A grade one teacher inviting the world into her classroom

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

Technology in the Classroom: Embrace the Bumpy Ride!

This article was originally published on the Voices From the Learning Revolution blog of Powerful Learning Practice.

I frequently get emails from primary teachers asking for help as they begin to add technology in their classroom. These teachers have a lot of questions. They want to use technology, but there always seem to be problems or glitches of some kind along the way.

Their emails go something like this: “How do you use technology so easily in your classroom? It seems to run so well for you. What is your secret? How does that happen? There are always problems when I use technology and then I want to give up.”

These are all great questions. I too have experienced many bumps in my travels with technology. Just when the journey seems to be becoming smoother, another roadblock comes along that needs to be negotiated. Experience has taught me a few things about the mindset that helps us navigate this bumpy road.

 

Don’t just “integrate” technology

The first bump in the technology road involves a new way of thinking. Don’t view technology as just one more thing to add to your day. And if “integrate” means (as it often does) adding one more thing to your already heavy load, then we probably need a better word. Technology should help us to teach better and in more meaningful ways. It should be used to connect us. It should give us choice and allow us to share. It should not be something that you do in addition to everything else you already do in your classroom. If technology is something that you try to add after you have planned your reading, writing and math, you are destined to fail at “integrating” technology.

Using technology does not mean keeping your students entertained with digital worksheets, or practicing skills with animation, or using computer time instead of a red checkmark as a reward. Instead, use technology when it allows you to do something in a better way than you have done before or to do something that was formerly impossible to do.

 

Technology supports new ways of learning

Thanks to advances in technology, we now have powerful tools to help students understand and learn in unique ways.

Kathy01You can select a tool or app that will give your students an online audience for their learning and connect them with other classrooms and experts around the world. That tool may be as different as a classroom blog or Twitter or Skype. Other tools make it easy for your students to create artifacts that show not just their learning, but their thinking processes and their self reflections. These are all examples of doing things with technology that could not be done before.

Use technology to make learning new and different in your classroom. Set your sights high and aim for activities that transform! Then, when you hit a bump, you will be more motivated to keep trying. Transformation is never smooth.

 

Expect problems

My days with technology do NOT all run smoothly. Sometimes there are many stops and starts. This is especially true at the beginning of the school year as my six year olds become familiar with the tools and apps we will use to learn and share what we know. Bandwidth can be an issue in my school, and access has often been as well. Sometimes a tool that I rely on will not work for some reason or other.

I think that everyone experiences these issues and they can be very frustrating. On the other hand, things don’t always run smoothly when I am teaching without technology either.

Kathy03When my students use pencils, they frequently break and need to be sharpened. Some of the children chew on the ends of the shared pencils we use. Erasers get thrown, children get poked. My students hold their pencils in a wide variety of ways, many of which need to be patiently corrected. But we don’t stop using pencils and erasers. I continue modeling the correct usage of those tools and helping students practice until they can use them well.

I don’t let the rough spots deter me because I know the importance of students learning how to use these and other traditional tools to assist and demonstrate their learning. The same holds true when we use a form of technology. Children already know how to use technology for entertainment. They need to learn how technology can help them to learn.

What is the solution? For anything that will become a learning routine in my early years classroom, whether it involves technology or not, I model, model, model it and then we practice it together until the students can do it independently. Even once that independence has been established, I still have to monitor how and what the children are doing to ensure the best learning outcomes.

Flexibility and a backup plan are important ingredients in any classroom, but particularly in a space that includes the use of technology. If the Internet goes down in the middle of our day, I have to be prepared to teach another way, just as if I had planned a trip to the school library and it was suddenly unavailable.

 

Start with just one thing

My suggestion for people who are hesitant to use technology in significant ways is to start with one thing. Think of one way technology could enhance or deepen the learning in your classroom and then just try it. If you fumble and falter for a bit, keep trying. Like the six year old learning to hold a pencil properly, you will gain mastery over time.

It’s easy to become overwhelmed if you try too many different tools at once. Most of us who have been teaching with technology for awhile have taken on too much too fast somewhere along our journey.  Focus on just that one technology-enhanced activity until you feel very comfortable with it. Then, when that feels good, try adding something else.

Kathy02bMaybe you would like to share what is happening in your classroom with your students’ parents and others who are part of your classroom community. Why not try aclassroom blog, a classroom Twitter accountor a Facebook page to showcase the activities and learning that are taking place? (You don’t have to do all three at once!)

Perhaps you would like your students to be able to publish their writing or their reading fluency or their math skills for a global audience. If this is the case, then why not trystudent blogs, a wiki or some other online program? Invite others in to view and give feedback to your learners.

Maybe you would like to use Skype to connect your classroom with another classroom far away to compare perspectives. Check out the resources that are available to help you do this. Plan a small event, perhaps with another teacher who is also just beginning to use Skype. Learn together. Building a network of online support is a great way to bolster your confidence.

 

It’s not technology – it’s the stuff of teaching

What do you consider to be technology? A pencil? An overhead projector? A computer? An iPod device? At some point, each of these items was considered to be the very latest technology for the classroom.

Many people think of technology as anything that came into popular use after they reached adulthood. To my six-year-old students, and in fact to all students in school today, computers, tablets, smart phones, interactive boards, etc. are not technology. They just are. It’s their teachers and parents who consider these items to be something new or unusual.

Students are comfortable using these devices to communicate and to find information. To them, tools and apps are just another part of the world they inhabit. These tools have the power to become the stuff of teaching and learning if we will let them. Don’t think of them as technology. They are just part of the fabric of life around us. Students need to be shown how to use them to learn.

Is using technology bumpy? You bet. But we need to begin thinking the way our children do. We use technology not just because it istechnology, but because of what it can do. It engages us and helps us to learn. So bring on the bumps!

“I Guess We Really Like the iPads!”

Because I was fortunate enough to win a contest from Best Buy Canada, I got to go on a $20 000 shopping spree last week to purchase technology for my classroom.  I chose to buy iPads.  Being 1:1 with some sort of device has long been a dream of mine, a dream I was ecstatic to fulfill!

Day One of 1:1

Friday was the big day—the iPads finally arrived in our classroom. To say my students were excited would be a bit of an understatement, but then, so was their teacher.

I don’t want the iPads to just change the way we do things in my classroom.  I want them to be transformative.  That is, I don’t want to use the iPads to just do things we could have done on paper.  An app should not just be a glorified worksheet. I want them to allow us to connect and to work and learn differently.  I hope that will happen more and more as time goes on.

Our First App

But for this first day, it was all about fun and about learning some of the possibilities of these new tools.  For our first app, I chose Letter Reflex.  Almost every child in my classroom is still struggling in their reading to consistently identify b’s and d’s. If you teach kindergarten or first grade, you know this is pretty common.  The Letter Reflex app allows students to tilt the iPad to select a b,d, p or q, adding a kinesthetic aspect to learning letters.  The students loved the game, and I hope they’ll go back to it often.  With so many students trying the game at once, hearing the voice on the app proved to be difficult, so everyone ran to get their headphones.  Success, engagement and learning—but no transformation yet.

Creating with the iPads

We next moved to Brushes, a drawing app that was recommended to me by Giulia Forsythe. It is more pricy than some other drawing apps that I could have chosen, but my students spend most of the year learning to read and write something that is readable to people who are not first grade teachers. They show their learning much more often through a drawing than through text.    I wanted them to have a great tool that will allow them to show their learning effectively through drawing if that is their choice.  The students used this tool to make (and to decorate) the number of their iPad. (I numbered them for organizational purposes.) I helped them to make a screenshot of their drawing, and to set these numbers as their wallpaper and home screen image.  I saw this as a higher thinking skill—the students were creating rather than consuming—but not yet transformative.

While the students were not complaining about the restrictiveness of the activities we had done so far, they really wanted to explore on their own, so I let them do just that.  Some of them gravitated to games that we had had on the two original iPads that were in our classroom.  Others returned to Letter Reflex. Still others began to explore the other enticingly coloured squares they saw on their iPad.  They were so engaged, that we all forgot to watch the clock for our gym time (a practically sacred time for my mostly male learners) and missed it entirely.

Taking Pictures–The Highlight

In the afternoon, we had a chat via Skype with a second grade class in Wisconsin about a project we are doing together called A View From the Window.  Afterwards, the students and I talked about how we would show them our view. Would we make a movie…draw pictures…take pictures?  The students felt that we needed to use a camera, not drawings, so we grabbed our iPads to figure out the camera app. This app is very intuitive, and the students only needed some support to tuck the cover into the back of our cases so that it would not block the camera.

This was their favorite part of the day. We agreed to wait until a sunny day to take pictures out the window for the project, but they joyously took picture after picture of the view from the window, objects in our classroom and each other taking pictures.  It was amazing how many pictures some of them were able to take in a few short minutes.  One student had dozens of pictures, including sixteen pictures of a computer mouse.  Lots of fun, and then, it was time to teach them how to delete unwanted pictures. The student with the most pictures quietly admitted to me that he had taken “too many pictures” and I showed him how to delete them more quickly. The students kept only those photos that they really liked. Most of the students emptied their photo gallery.  For them, the fun was in the taking—not yet in the sharing.  Sharing pictures—now perhaps that will begin to be more transformative.

My favorite comment from the day was from one of the boys when we realized that our time in the gym had already evaporated while we were so engaged.  “Mrs. Cassidy, I guess we really like the iPads”, he said.

I guess they do!  We’ll keep on working to make this technology transformative as well as engaging.

 

 

It’s Not About the Technology

Several people, including Dean and Darren, have posted “Day in the Life of” slideshows.  When Dean asked Darren, Clarence and I to speak to his class at the University of Regina via Elluminate, I decided to follow their example.  As my sister often says, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”.   Since my students are much cuter than I am, I decided to make it a day in one of their lives instead of my own.  I chose the student who was the first one in the door in the morning.  He got a little tired of my constant picture taking, so although he was still reluctantly humouring me, I branched out to some other students who were more than eager to take his place.   

I have had teachers ask me if my students ever write on paper.  Of course they do!  Almost every day!  Because of this, I wanted to show Dean’s students that technology is not always the best choice as a teaching tool. It is just one of the tools that I can choose from when I am planning the best learning option for my class.  It can, however, give us opportunities that no other tool can such as opportunities for connection, for an audience and for transparency.

I used two videos in my pesentation as well, one about comparing capacity of containers and another about how to kick a soccer ball.

 [slideshare id=314391&doc=a-day-in-the-life-of-a-student-deans-version-1205972250760060-3&w=425]

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