What is it with humans and anything "tech?"
Teaching with technology is, without a doubt, the most automatically engaging approach to student instruction that exists.
I don't mean to say the only engaging approach...just the one that can be relied upon to catch kids' interest no matter what application or curriculum it is used for.
Unfortunately, this also promotes its misuse by many teachers. So first, it is important to talk about what technology integration in the classroom isn't.
Quiz time: Is there any difference between plugging a toddler into a Disney movie to keep him quiet and plugging a student into an educational gaming site to keep him quiet?
Answer: Very little...IF the content of the web game is disconnected from the curriculum for the grade level.
I have known far too many teachers who consider playing computer games either on or off the internet to automatically be a valuable exercise in teaching with technology rather than a potential time-waster. It's kind of like handing out a coloring book...fun, perhaps, but coloring - and computer gaming - are not standards.
And...when students are using computers...teaching and mentoring is still required. All too often, the computer lab is "teacher paper correction time" rather than instructional time.
To be fair, many teachers are uncomfortable with technology and are trying to expose their kids to something, even if they are not quite sure just how to make that happen effectively.
I also want to be clear: games have their place, and can be a component of multimedia in the classroom, but they must be an enhancement to instruction, not a replacement...see my "World Maths Day" example below.
So how should we be using teaching with technology correctly to leverage it's benefits without abusing it?
The recommendations I'll be covering in this section are built around three guiding principles regarding technology:
Here's an example of the second and third points combined to illustrate what's possible: enhanced interactive whiteboard use. Yes, the kids are using technology in the classroom hands-on when they manipulate items or work problems on the board and that alone is engaging. But allowing them to design their own mini lesson plan for reading to show the rest of the class using Smart Notebook take-home USB bracelets...that's hands-on engagement.
I'm fully aware that for many teachers, figuring out how to use an interactive whiteboard themselves is a challenge, but before you dismiss my example as unrealistic, consider this:
There will be no room in modern society for people who are not comfortable with all aspects of computers and being connected through technology. None. There is not a single job above the menial labor level where a worker is not required to interact with technology. And the higher you go up the scale on skills, the more you are required to use it.
So when teachers make minimal effort to put technology in the hands of kids in a meaningful way, we are not meeting our obligation to prepare them to be successful in the world of today. And there are so many options for integrating technology, as you can see in this list of elementary teacher websites.
I hear discussions at times about a particular teacher being "techie," as if it is a lifestyle choice rather than a job requirement. Would a teacher describe another as being "mathy," as if it's an option to not teach math?
Well, teaching with technology is now in the same category as reading, writing and math...there is no longer any option for leaving it out.
The final criteria that I follow when I'm considering technology integration in the classroom is this:
"Web 2.0" is all about users working with other users rather than by themselves. Facebook is, of course, the extreme end of interaction, but there are lots of meaningful steps to be taken in teaching with technology without diving into social networking.
As noted above, some games are great for instruction...when they can include this interactive component. I have had my class participate in World Maths Day (it's British) for several years, largely because they compete against kids from around the world as they receive continually more-challenging problems to solve.
And I am a big fan of connecting classrooms with Skype. Being able to share research findings or play "math Jeopardy" games with kids from another time zone energizes students to raise their knowledge to a new level.
Unfortunately, getting sufficient laptops in the classroom - actually in the hands of kids - is still a challenge for many schools and districts. But there are ways...for the teacher who is committed. I have enough laptops in my classroom so half my kids can be on them at the same time.
This is not normal in my building or my district. So how did I accomplish this?
NOTE: Any teacher can apply for a small grant for basic technology needs through Donors Choose, a non-profit that matches willing donors with deserving classroom needs.
If you wait around for computers to arrive based on your administration's schedule, you will likely never be teaching with technology to the level your kids really need. Make the effort to corral as many as you can using unconventional means.
You'll find that technology integration in the classroom becomes a constant thing if the equipment is easily accessible, rather than something relegated to special projects because you must make a trek to the computer lab to get online.
Tip number 1 for tech-savvy teachers...and those who want to become one...is very simple: Be nice to your IT department. I mean really nice. Treat them as fellow professionals who are there to help educate kids, not as tech peons who speak a foreign language and are just another part of the aggravation of computer maintenance.
And if you really want to get your computers fixed first, throw in a few Star Trek references and they'll know you by name!
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Skype in the Elementary Classroom
Connecting kids with technology integration
Computer Lab Rules - Part 1
Managing behavior and getting started in the lab
Computer Lab Rules - Part 2
Managing work and cleaning up
Elementary Teacher Websites
Online resources for effective teachers