Balancing the work of integrating new classroom technology tools with the realities of a busy teaching schedule can be such a challenge! I remember all too well the sense of initial excitement I would feel heading back to school each August: in a flurry of workshops, slideshows, and handouts, we would be sent off to our classrooms with a bundle of new technology applications to try with our students. Sometimes, these new applications and programs would take hold in my daily lessons in meaningful ways, but often, they would fall to the wayside as I made way for other content demands. It doesn’t have to be this way for you!
So how can you make implementing new tech tools in your classroom both manageable and meaningful? Consider the following tech tips for teachers to keep your focus and sanity intact!
Start With Your Least Favorite Lesson
When implementing a new tool or application, our natural inclination may be to look for the easiest way. You might think: where does this fit with what I already do? Instead, consider your curriculum as a whole, and ask yourself: where does my curriculum need enhancing? See if you can use a new tool to energize those lessons, or seek out new applications to enhance your students’ learning in those specific areas. This way, you are always making needed, and hopefully meaningful, changes--and even if your first attempt isn’t perfect, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing you are working towards positive change.
Learn From Each Other
When you roll out a new tool or application, take advantage of the benefits of cooperative learning. Allow students to work in partners whenever you introduce a new tool. When students work with others to tackle something new, they typically feel more comfortable and confident. They also have someone to discuss challenges or obstacles with along the way! As a safety net, I always provided my learning buddies with print-outs of directions and screenshots, just in case an issue popped up (or a computer went down). This way, they could follow along, re-read directions, or save the directions for individual use later on.
A cooperative environment also gives your tech-savvy students an opportunity to shine! While teachers are the authority on classroom content, many students excel at troubleshooting new technologies. Encouraging students to partner up and assist each other with computer-related issues is good for everyone--you can maintain focus on classroom management and facilitating the lesson, while your classroom helpers can feel like useful contributors to the class activity.
Embrace The Power of Novelty
Many new strategies and tools work, in part, simply because they are new. Research confirms that novelty boosts learning. Brain imaging shows there are specific areas in the brain designed to recognize novelty, and when students notice something different or new, engagement and learning increase. Because of this, overuse of a novel concept or strategy can sometimes make it less effective. For example, when we first introduced AVID strategies in my school, every teacher started using “One-Pagers”in their lessons. At first, students loved these activities, but soon the novelty wore off, and students began asking if they could please just write their responses “the old fashioned way!” Keep the power of novelty in mind as you plan your lessons. Instead of feeling pressured to use that new tool or application every time you teach a concept, remind yourself that using a new tool once a month or every few weeks may actually be more engaging for students. This mindset can also take some of the pressure off of you to implement every new tool at once.
Take a Walk in Your Students' Shoes
It’s also helpful to consider how our students use technology throughout their day. How much screen time do they get each day, including with other teachers and specialists (and at home)? Is there adequate time for play, hands-on learning, and screen breaks? Asking these questions can help you design a technology integration plan that not only enhances your curriculum, but also honors the physical, social, and developmental needs of your students.
In an ideal world, teachers have the collaboration time to discuss these important questions. If you find this time lacking, consider creating a simple survey to gather information from your colleagues about the ways they are using technology and the time they spend each week engaged in tech-based activities. Once collected, use it as you develop your own plans, and share it with other teachers who may be looking to do the same. Knowing that students have opportunities throughout their day to learn through technology can also alleviate that push you may feel to convert all of your lessons as soon as a new tool is offered in your school.
Make Room for Reflection
In the push for new technology rollouts, it’s an empowering step to engage students in the process. A simple student technology survey, such as the one we’ve created here can be modified for learners of all ages, and can help you see technology use from the student perspective. I always found my high school students’ feedback in the first few months of school enlightening: some students were already burned out after their high-tech middle school experiences, while other students found it restrictive to work without access to tablets in the classroom. These early surveys can be used to shape your yearlong journey. In an addition to these more general surveys, allow students to share their feedback around specific tools a month or two after your rollout. Young people have so many creative ideas, and giving them a chance to share their learning around technology is sure to help you as you design more and more engaging lessons!
As a teacher, you see the importance of technology in your classroom. You recognize the benefits for both your students and yourself: the potential for increased engagement and collaboration, and the excitement of design and creativity! But chances are, you are also well aware of the major obstacles that interfere with technology integration, including time constraints and other commitments that come with the soaring expectations you and your students face.
We all know that our classrooms benefit most from the technology we are able to provide when we are given adequate training and time to develop meaningful lessons. If you find yourself saying, so much tech, so little time!, here is one final tip for you. Join us in Tech Study, course 997. Here, you can earn graduate credit while learning a new technology tool you want to master and bring back to your students!
Looking for more tips on how to incorporate and transform learning in your classroom with technology? Join our private Facebook Group, The Techy Teacher Society. We are a private Facebook group of educators interested in creating transformative learning experiences for students. This is a community for all those on the techy teacher spectrum. Whether you’re just getting started or are looking for ways to amp up your tech game, these are your people.
Join us as we spark ideas, share inspiration and explore ed tech topics. Techy teachers unite!