Build an edtech teaching toolkit that works for you with reliable tools
that suit your needs and circumstances. Learning should focus on
content, not on figuring out how a tool works. While I’ll probably use
100 tools during any school year, I have 12 in my trusted toolkit,
listed here in no particular order.
As the President said in his weekly radio and internet address, “In the new economy, computer science isn’t an optional skill. It’s a basic skill, right along with the three R’s.” We couldn’t agree more!
“For skills to improve, we must update an existing memory with new information,” the researchers conclude. If you practice the exact same thing the exact same way every time, you’re not layering much new knowledge over what you already know.
Get routines down first.
Before diving into using all the cool tech equipment in your classroom, take time to get to know your class and get into a routine. Teacher Paula Barr doesn’t put technology in the hands of her students for the first few weeks of school until routines, procedures and consequences have been established. “I want to set up a positive classroom environment,” says the second grade teacher, who has a blended classroom at Quail Run Elementary School in Lawrence, Kansas.
Set tech rules together.
Agree on rules about technology and collaborative group work as a class. Create a poster together and display the rules prominently in the room.
Teach kids how to search safely.
Using the Internet for educational research is a lot different from playing games online at home. Bing in the Classroom is a great starting place for students to get an idea of the digital world they are about to enter with short videos on how search works, staying safe online and evaluating search results. You can also get lesson plans from the Microsoft Educator Community website that teach kids in grades K–8 how to search the Web.
Allow some playtime.
When young students first get a chance to use the technology, let them have some fun. For instance, Barr might begin by letting her students click on a website to draw SpongeBob. “If you get that play out of the way, they are much more apt to give me the serious work I want with the tech later,” she says.
Be prepared with a back-pocket plan.
Before the lesson starts, check out all the websites to make sure students have access to the ones you need, and block others that are inappropriate. Have a back-pocket plan when you do encounter a technology glitch (It’s bound to happen at some point!), and be in the mind-set that you may need to shift gears, suggests Katie Owens, educational specialist with instructional technology for Henrico County Public Schools in Virginia.
If you’re passing out laptops, have kids wait until everyone has one and you’ve given the OK before they power them up. You don’t want the first students who get the laptops to just dive in on their own and get distracted before you give clear directions, says Jon Wirsing, also an instructional technology specialist in Henrico.
When introducing new technology, spend time up front explaining to students where they can go for help, including Web resources. “You want them to be problem solvers, own their learning and adjust when they need to,” says Wirsing.
Give yourself a 360-degree view.
Try setting up the computers in a circle with the screens facing inward. Then stand in the middle so you can have visual access to every student’s work, suggests Shane Donovan, physics and robotics teacher for grades 10–12 at E.L. Haynes Public Charter School in Washington, D.C. You can also use a central computer that allows you to tap into your students’ devices and monitor what they’re looking at in order to be certain they’re staying safe online.
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Here is an interesting article I came across in The Atlantic.
The story of a Teacher and how we portray our lives to others in the field. What are your thoughts?
I liked Devon. We were all first and second-year teachers in that seminar—peers, in theory—but my colleague Devon struck me as a cut above. I’d gripe about a classroom problem, and without judgment or rebuke, he’d outline a thoughtful, inventive solution, as if my blundering incompetence was perhaps a matter of personal taste, and he didn’t wish to impose his own sensibilities. When it fell upon us each to share a four-minute video of our teaching, I looked forward to Devon’s. I expected a model classroom, his students as pious and well-behaved as churchgoers.
Instead, the first half of Devon’s four-minute clip showed him fiddling with an overhead projector; in the second half, he was trotting blandly through homework corrections. The kids rocked side to side, listless. For all his genuine wisdom, Devon looked a little green, a little lost.
He looked, in short, like me.
Teachers self-promote. In that, we’re no different than everyone else: proudly framing our breakthroughs, hiding our blunders in locked drawers, forever perfecting our oral résumés. This isn’t all bad. My colleagues probably have more to learn from my good habits (like the way I use pair work) than my bad ones (like my sloppy system of homework corrections), so I might as well share what’s useful. In an often-frustrating profession, we’re nourished by tales of triumph. A little positivity is healthy.
But sometimes, the classrooms we describe bear little resemblance to the classrooms where we actually teach, and that gap serves no one.
Any honest discussion between teachers must begin with the understanding that each of us mingles the good with the bad. One student may experience the epiphany of a lifetime, while her neighbor drifts quietly off to sleep. In the classroom, it’s never pure gold or pure tin; we’re all muddled alloys.
I taught once alongside a first-year teacher, Lauren, who didn’t grasp this. As a result, she compared herself unfavorably to everyone else. Every Friday, when we adjourned to the bar down the street, she’d decry her own flaws, meticulously documenting her mistakes for us, castigating herself to no end. The kids liked her. The teachers liked her. From what I’d seen, she taught as well as any first-year could. But she saw her own shortcomings too vividly and couldn’t help reporting them to anyone who’d listen.
She was fired three months into the year. You talk enough dirt about yourself and people will start to believe it.
Omission is the nature of storytelling; describing a complex space—like a classroom—requires a certain amount of simplification. Most of us prefer to leave out the failures, the mishaps, the wrong turns. Some, perhaps as a defensive posture, do the opposite: Instead of overlooking their flaws and miscues, they dwell on them, as Lauren did. The result is that two classes, equally well taught, may come across like wine and vinegar, depending on how their stories are told.
Take the first year I taught psychology. I taught one section; my colleague Erin taught the other.
When I talked to Erin that semester, she’d glow about her class. Kids often approached her in the afternoons to follow up on questions, and to thank her for teaching their favorite course. Her students kept illustrated vocab journals totaling hundreds of words. They drew posters of neurons, crafted behaviorist training regimes, and designed imaginative “sixth senses” for the human body. Erin’s mentor teacher visited monthly and dubbed it an “amazing class” with “incredible teaching.”
Catch me in an honest mood, and I’ll admit that I bombed the semester. I lectured every day from text-filled overhead slides. Several of my strongest students told me that they hated the class and begged for alternative work. I wasted three weeks on a narrow, confining research assignment, demanding heavy work with little payoff. One student openly plagiarized another. I wound up failing several students who, in hindsight, I should have passed. Yet I know that this apparent train wreck of a class was, in truth, no worse than Erin’s.
That’s because I made Erin up. The two classes described above were the same class: mine. Each description is true, and neither, of course, is wholly honest.
I’m as guilty as anyone of distorting my teaching. When talking to other teachers, I often play up the progressive elements: Student-led discussions. Creative projects. Guided discovery activities. I mumble through the minor, inconvenient fact that my pedagogy is, at its core, deeply traditional. I let my walk and my talk drift apart. Not only does this thwart other teachers in their attempts to honestly evaluate my approach, but it blocks my own self-evaluation. I can’t grow properly unless I see my own work with eyes that are sympathetic, but clear and unyielding.
I had a private theme song my first year teaching: “Wear and Tear,” by Pete Yorn. It was my alarm in the mornings, my iPod jam on the commute home. The chorus ended with a simple line that spun through my head in idle moments and captured the essence of a year I spent making mistake after rookie mistake: Can I say what I do?
It’s no easy task for teachers. But I think we owe it, to ourselves if to no one else, to tell the most honest stories that we can. I’ll only advance as a teacher, and offer something of value to those around me, if I’m able to say what I do.
10 Game-Changing Ways to Use an Interactive Classroom Projector
My teaching partner and I were beyond excited when an interactive projector showed up in our classroom after the holiday break last year. We knew it was going to change our teaching. A year later, many of our classroom routines have shifted thanks to the projector—and we’ve learned a lot along the way. Below are some of our favorite ideas for using one.
1.Turn ANY flat surface into an interactive whiteboard.
Always wanted a touch-screen whiteboard? With the right projector
you can have one at a fraction of the cost. You can touch the wall or table with your finger or a special pen, and it responds just like a finger on a phone, tablet or other touch-screen device. How cool is that? We are dying to teach our next social studies lesson with an interactive map projected onto a table.
2. Stream videos. I teach little kids, so we stream dance-along learning videos like HeidiSongs. My friends in the older grades stream virtual field trips and other instructional videos. Using an interactive projector takes showing educational videos to a whole new level. Can you imagine pausing a video on an interactive projector and then using your finger or digital pen to draw directly onto the screen to highlight a point or concept? Your kids will flip! (And the concept will probably stick too!) We loved being able to get rid of the giant 80-pound beast of a television that had been hanging unused in the corner of our classroom.