We are living in a new, exciting and daunting digital age. A time with cloud sharing, digital portfolios, blogs, apps, social media while the average Joe is coding!!! These platforms are all real realities we have to be aware of and incorporate in the modern classroom as educators. Yet this is a task that perhaps many teachers feel they aren’t ‘trained’ for or equipped to tackle. Furthermore the technology seems to be moving at such a quick rate, it is hard to keep up with the constant change and the students increasing abilities.
The big question really is how do you incorporate technology in the classroom, with the skills you already have, successfully and authentically? Here are my five top tips for including technology in the classroom easily, happily and with confidence (yes, these adjectives can be used when talking about technology and teaching!!)
Flexibility is the key
We have all been there… attended professional development, heard an idea about teaching in the 21st century, spent hours at home designing, organising and reorganising a lesson, spending the whole of lunch setting it up so you pull it off without a glitch and then with 30 bright-eyed students sitting in front of you the technology fails you! A computer isn’t working, the laptops aren’t charged, an app somehow disappears, the internet is down!!!! It can be SOOOOOO frustrating! But wouldn’t reading and writing be frustrating when you haven’t yet mastered all the skills involved? Wouldn’t it be difficult when you ask an adult how to spell a word and they reply “You can do it, sound it out… and don’t forget to include capital letters and full stops where you need them.”
Using technology effectively is like learning to read and write, there is a continuum, we all sit somewhere along it and we build up the skills to get better at it. While we are learning these skills, there needs to be an element of patience and flexibility. No, technology is not always reliable and easy to use, but that isn’t a reason to push it aside and not integrate it into your classroom. As teachers, we are professionals at doing a million things at once… lessons don’t always go to plan and we have skills to think of Plan B, C, D, and E on the go while everything is falling apart around us. Think of technology as the same thing. If it doesn’t work, go to Plan B, it may be what you always do, it may not involve the technology at all, but there is nothing wrong with that. The challenge is to have the courage to give it a go another day, your resilience will see you succeed!
2. Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue
As educators we are famous for recreating the wheel. We are more famous of constantly saying that we should be collaborating, sharing and communicating in order to provide the best education for our students instead of all recreating the same things in our separate classrooms. I like to use the saying ‘something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue’ each year when I consider how I am going to implement technology in my classroom. Not only does it provide me with a personal scaffold to create goals but it implies there will always be a happily ever after!!
To begin, start with something you are comfortable with and know well when using technology. It can be anything, word processing, email or a website your school has subscribed to. This one thing may feel boring or not innovative enough when we are talking about the digital age but this is your ‘something old’. It creates a foundation, a starting point, for where YOU are at. Implement it in the classroom. By starting with one simple thing, you are already in the race.
Good learners take risks, right? Learn ‘something new’ to apply in your lessons. Choose something that you can use across many different Key Learning Areas (such as a drawing tool, video, storytelling app or presentation tool). Take the time to learn about how you can integrate it into your teaching and then take a leap of faith!
All around us there are inspiring teachers doing great things in their classrooms. Use them as a resource. When you see something that you think is great, ‘borrow it’, ask them how to do it and have a go. You don’t always have to be thinking of the innovative ideas yourself, there are loads out there (or simply in the classroom next door).
Finally, keep an attitude that embraces these three ideas you are going to implement in your classroom. It is easy to feel ‘blue’ and overwhelmed about the concept of technology and all the things that can go wrong. Turn your attitude around, and have a go. Fail or succeed you will have learnt something either way!
3. Reduce, reuse, recycle
We all have that awesome lesson we do every year no matter what because it works. We can adapt it for kindergarten, we could teach it to adults if we had to. I challenge you to take this lesson, recycle it and add a technological twist to it. You already know it works… make one small change and see what happens. It may not be a raving success to begin with but it may provide you an opportunity to think further about how you could apply technology to all the other lessons you know inside and out and have sitting in your ‘teaching bank’.
Similarly, if you have something that works when it comes to technology, reuse it with another Key Learning Area. It can become daunting when we are always trying to find a new app, a new site a more interactive way to present our lesson. This isn’t always essential… take what you know, take what works and use it!
Finally, it isn’t necessary to get bogged down in the billions of apps, websites and software out there. All you need is a handful of good ones that you can use authentically in the classroom. Reduce the need to try and keep up with everything out there and work on finding a few really good tools you can confidently use that will complement your teaching. Over time, this will slowly build up into a mountain of amazing ideas and knowledge and the rest is history.
4. Role reversal
It is hard when students seem to know more than the teacher about all things technology. The thing is, they may not know MORE than you, they just are knowledgeable in a different way. Use this to your advantage. There are thirty of them and one of you… what a resource! I spent a few years recently as my school’s technology coordinator, it was during this time I learnt the most about how technology works and it was mostly from my students. As them, “How did you do that? Can you show me?” They will love showing you as much as you will love learning the quickest way to do something (and believe me, they know the quickest shortcuts and have the best tips). Furthermore, ask them to share their skills with each other, sharing knowledge is the best way you can facilitate learning using technology in the classroom, no matter how knowledgeable you are as the teacher.
5. Passion Projects
Google is famous for it and classrooms all over the world are instigating time for passion projects. Creating a set time per week for a passion project is an easy way to allow students to access and use technology at the level they are at in their own personal eLearning journey. I like to call the time I allocate to passion projects in my classroom, ‘Genius Hour’. Genius Hour is a ‘borrowed’ idea for me that allows students to explore their own passions, encourages creativity while using technology (be it iPads, laptops, chromebooks etc). Personally, the implementation of Genius Hour proved extremely successful due to its foundations being built on the principles of authentic learning. The learning links to the student’s real life experiences, provides enquiry thinking as well as opportunities to collaborate and reflect. The students without fail are motivated to complete their research project and enthusiastic to see and learn from the ideas and presentations of their peers.
“Genius Hour is great because you get to be the teacher for yourself for one hour each Friday. I would like to do it every year because it is fun, you don’t have to follow a teacher’s instructions and the kids get to decide how to learn and present your work” Sofia R (Year 4, 2014).
The benefits of passion projects in the classroom could probably be a blog post all on its own, but in the case of discussing technology, it is a great way for students to have access and learn how to most efficiently use the technology themselves as a educational tool.
When it comes to teaching in the 21st Century classroom, we need to provide our students with engaging learning experiences that allows them to collaborate, communicate and create. Technology isn’t the only way but it is a great way! Become a learner yourself, take it one app at a time and discover how rewarding the learning process can be!