Tag Archives: Methods and Theories

Purpose-Driven Tech Integration: Beyond Bells and Whistles

Hi. My name is Kaye, and I am an “Early Adopter.”

As much as I’d hate to admit it, I have a problem. Whenever a new technology tool, website, gizmo, gadget, widget, whatchamacallit that comes along, I have to try it out.

Sometimes, this leads to quiet evenings spent alone when I could be out socializing with my friends. Sometimes it means burnt pizza in the oven. Sometimes it means the undeniable, “here we go again” eye rolls I get from my 8th graders.

Technology integration, for me, has become a necessary step along my professional development journey as an educator. It has taken me some time to get over all the fears that accompanied exploring new territories.  Will it be blocked?  Is it developmentally appropriate? Is it better than what I’m doing now? What if the kids know more than I do about this? 

Growth doesn’t come sans pain.  Pain from the limitations of our network. Pain from colleagues wondering why on Earth I have need for such “bells and whistles” when I should simply teach grammar and writing (because we all know there’s no room on the Internet for coherent writers, right?).

Pain from knowing there are limitations for me to plan for a sub with all this Internet-based learning. Pain from my own doubts about whether this is really the right thing to do for my students.

After years of continuously honing my “early adopter” skill set, I have come to this simple conclusion: If I can’t beat ’em, I’ll join ’em. Kids today have levels of connectivity that we could never have even dreamed of in the past ten years! I’ve got some learning to do of my own if I’m going to meet them where they’re at so let’s go.

When integrating technology into your classroom, it may help by starting with these considerations:

  1. Is this a tool, another path, of covering the content in your class, as determined by your common core standards?
  2. Is this technology developmentally appropriate for your students?
  3. Will this tool help students understand the essential skills you are attempting to cover?
  4. Does your school have the means to offer this tool to students who have no access outside of school?
  5. What is the “risk factor” involved with students trying out this new technology tool?
You definitely need a “yes” for the first four questions and a long, reflective pause for the last one before integrating technology.  Having a Facebook page for your class just for the sake of having a Facebook page doesn’t help the students carry out much.  Using Google Docs and wikis and digital poster-making sites are merely “bells and whistles” unless there is something academically sound to them. And this, my friend, is easy enough to.
Take one example from my classroom:  Every year, my students must give demonstration speeches, something they annually bemoan with uncanny precision.  I have very simple criteria laid out on my assessment rubric:
  • The demonstration speech must be five minutes in length. (Students know the bullseye is five; the inner circles on the target are four to six.)
  • A visual must go with their speech (typically a poster of a diagram, steps in the process, materials/ingredients needed, history/background).
  • They must be prepared, with all materials, on the day the speech is to be delivered.
That’s pretty much it.  Now, for the past ten years that I’ve taught demonstration speaking skills, I’ve required notecards, students present in front of the class “live,” and a stopwatch…all tools.
Knowing how much my students dread speeches and knowing how inquisitive and eager they are to try new things, I dug out some different, more web-based tools like www.glogster.com, YouTube, animoto, and PhotoStory3 (we had this free download readily available for our kids, so I went with programs we had. Why not?).
We approached it like this:  Some of my students ride the bus to school. Some get dropped off. Some walk. Some skateboard, ride bike and skip, for all I know. The bottom line is they all got to school.  The bottom line for mastering the essential skill of completing an effective demonstration speech is doing it.  The types of tools students choose to use was something I chose to let go  of, as long as they met the assessment criteria. Putting the power of exploration and educated risk-taking was liberating, to say the least.
Like it or not, we live in a day and age of educator accountability. We need to account for our students’ learning.  And, like it or not, the way we have gone about business with our kids isn’t cutting it anymore.  Engaged students achieve more.  When given a task, a variety of tools, and an openness about taking educated risks, our students will fully immerse themselves into the project (or content) and come out winners.
The kids will deliver their speeches.  They will have done it their way. They will meet the criteria and experience success.
And those winners’ bells and whistles are the type this “early adopter” loves to hear!
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