Although educational technology is becoming increasingly common within our school sites and district, there are many classroom teachers that remain cautious about implementing technology into their classroom. In a sense, it is completely understandable. Technology is changing at a rapid rate and it can be difficult to keep up at times. In addition to this, it can be very intimidating to teach students in a way that is different to the way one has been teaching for the last five, ten, or twenty years. Yet, even though it can be difficult and intimidating, I truly believe that using technology can transform teaching if put into the right hands. Which leads me to this quote by George Couros:
“Technology will never replace great teachers, but technology in the hands of great teachers is transformational.”
Technology is simply a tool. It doesn’t replace good teachers or good pedagogy. Yet, if put into the hands of great teachers, it can begin to transform instructional practices to create a personalized and relevant learning experience for our students.
You might be thinking, “Well, where do I start?” If you have no idea where to start with using educational technology, I encourage you to read the four questions I have created below and to think about them as you begin to design your lessons over the next year.
The Four Questions
I have created four questions as a way to guide teachers who are new to using technology in their classrooms. In no way do I think that this is the only way to create lessons, but these are some questions that I try to keep in my mind as I am creating new lessons, projects, and activities for my students.
As I go through these four questions, I am also going to share an example of how these four questions helped me to redesign our Ratios & Proportions unit to create a student-centered learning experience.
1.) THE CONTENT: What will my students be learning in this lesson?
Start simple – what are the lesson objectives? What is it that you want students to learn? Whenever you begin creating a lesson that incorporates technology, the first focus should be on what you want the students to learn. Technology is beneficial and can transform your teaching but it should always have a focus.
When I began creating the Ratios & Proportions HyperDoc, I knew that I wanted my students to have an understanding of identifying and creating ratios and creating and solving proportions. Then, I started to brainstorm engaging and relevant ways for students to learn and demonstrate these concepts. How could I relate it to the real world? How could I create a project that was student focused and tapped into their own interests?
2.) THE PAST PRACTICE: How have I taught these concepts in the past?
Identify how you have taught these concepts in the pasts and/or the projects you have created for students to demonstrate their learning. Did you use direct instruction to introduce the concepts? Did you incorporate project-based learning? Have you used any technology previously? It’s always important to look at past practices and evaluate successful instructional strategies. Technology is simply a tool. Many of your past practices can still be used and transformed by incorporating technology.
In my past practices of teaching Ratios & Proportions, I have used some direct instruction, lesson practice, and project-based learning. Previously, many of these tasks had been completed by hand and with little technology. Students had some opportunity for collaboration but it was structured and teacher-dictated. As I began to modify this unit, I began to think of ways to use more technology that would offer students more voice and choice in what they were researching and creating.
3.) THE TECHNOLOGY: How could I use technology to “tweak” what I was already doing?
As I mentioned previously, many teachers are cautious of using technology because they feel like they would have to recreate everything that they are doing. This is not necessarily true. There might be times where you end up completely changing a lesson or a project but, many times, you can use the the things you have done in the past and simply “tweak” them to fit the current needs of your students. For instance, perhaps you feel that your students need some direct instruction to truly understand the concepts. Instead, maybe the lesson can be delivered interactively with PearDeck or created in a flipped lesson? Perhaps you feel that your students would benefit from the PBL you developed in previous years. Instead, maybe it can be created digitally to allow more options for student voice, choice, and collaboration?
If there is anything that you take away from this blog post, it’s this – you do not need to change everything you are doing, just tweak it.
In our Ratios & Proportions unit, I regularly lead the students through a “Road Trip Project”. For the sake of transparency, I am going to share the folder of this older project. The project was completed on paper and was very structured. Most likely, the students would end up with very similar road trips which would make it easy to check and grade. However, when I started to rebuild this project, I knew that the concept of developing a road trip was still something that would be engaging to students. So, I decided to tweak it.
I took my ideas from my “old” road trip project and created the Road Trippin’ HyperDoc. Through this process, I was able to create a PBL where students would receive some direct instruction and would be led through a series of tasks to create their own road trip. This time, the project created via Google Docs and students had the ability to use technology to research the cities they wanted to visit. They used Google My Maps to create their road trip with stops, hotels, food, and activities. Within the Google My Maps, they created a budget for each location and a total cost for the trip. Finally, they shared their road trips on a Google Site so anyone in the world could use their road trip.
4.) THE PURPOSE: How does technology add something lesson that wasn’t there before?
If we are going to use technology, then there must be a purpose to the way that we use it. This question is more like a self-check to see if we are using technology purposefully.
So, ask yourself these questions…How is it transforming your classroom? How is it creating new learning experiences for your students? How is it create a more personalized and relevant approach to their learning process?
With technology, you could personalize the learning experience for students by creating open ended projects that allow for student voice and choice. You could flip the classroom, embed questions to check for understanding, and group students based upon their particular need when they come to class the next day. Students could write a book and publish it online. Students could collaborate on projects with students around the world. The possibilities are endless! Yet, as teachers, I truly believe that we always need to ask this question to check that we are using technology purposefully and not just for the sake of using technology.
Through technology, my students were able to research cities and locations based upon their own preferences. They used the internet and a variety of tech tools to research and determine the cost of their road trip and whether they were able to stay within their budget. They were able to create their road trips and, not only share it with the class, but share it with the entire world to use as a reference for road trips. The processes from our “old” road trip were similar but, through technology, these students received a more personalized project that could reach the entire world.
If you are a new teacher, do you feel that these questions are helpful references when designing lessons with technology? If you are a veteran teacher, what questions do you encourage teachers to ask when they begin using educational technology?
Share in the comments below!