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A Two-Step Approach to Integrating Technology

Mary Beth Hertz

K-8 Technology Teacher in Philadelphia, PA
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Just a few posts ago I provided a list of some of my favorite education books. One of them was Applying Standards-Based Constructivism: A Two-Step Guide for Motivating Elementary Students. In this post I want to revisit the book to explain how this two-step approach works well when integrating technology into the classroom.

The Two-Step Model

The authors break down the learning process into two steps, the Exploratory Phase and the Discovery Phase. During the Exploratory Phase, students are given a chance to explore the content or tool. They are assessed for understanding, but are not formally graded. It is this phase that prepares them for applying what they have learned in the Discovery Phase. Once students have completed the Exploratory Phase, they are given a task that requires them to show what they know about the content?to apply their knowledge.

Standards-Based Constructivism

This model allows for constructivist teaching and learning?student centered learning while also addressing content standards. Since we should be designing our learning experiences with the end goal (often a standard) in mind, this model helps our students 'get there.' We give our students a chance to explore standards-based questions, concepts or tools that will guide them toward the ultimate goal of being able to apply their new knowledge, showing their understanding of the standard/goal. The Exploratory Phase can be as short as 10 minutes or as long as a few days, depending on the goal in mind or the concept being taught.

The Two-Step Model and Tech Integration

So what does this model bring to tech integration? Plenty. As an example, when I was teaching my 5th graders iMovie for the first time, I dedicated an entire 45 minute period each to just learning how to add photos, text, transitions and music. During the class period I walked around, asking each student to show me that he or she knew how to add and delete photos from their project. This was a chance for my students to explore iMovie and its basic functions before being given a chance to show that they know how to apply these skills to building an organized story with photos, transitions, music and text.

On a smaller scale, when I wanted to introduce my 3rd grade students to creating stories in Storybird, I had to first make sure they knew basic word processing skills. We spent an entire 45 minute period practicing making the right number of spaces between our words, using the Shift key and placing periods and capitals in the right places. I walked around while students typed whatever they wanted and checked that each student knew how to format their text. The next class period, my students were ready to apply what they had learned to their Storybird stories. Were they older students, I may have spent only 10-15 minutes in the Exploratory Phase.

Why Use the Two Step Model?

We cannot expect our students to jump in and create a meaningful piece of work that shows their applied understanding of a concept using a tech tool if we do not give them time to really explore not only the content, but the tool itself. While it does tack on some time to completing a project, it is worth it in the end to know that your students have had a chance to investigate questions they may have, for you to address any misconceptions and for a student to have a good grasp on content and/or a tool before they are asked to apply what they know. By taking the time at the beginning, you will save yourself time while students are creating. They will be able to focus more on the content and less on the tool.

Your thoughts?

Comments (17)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Karla Valenti's picture
Karla Valenti
Empowering parents to empower their children (www.totthoughts.com)

I think the key to what makes this approach successful is that it helps children learn through the pursuit of meaning. "Meaning" is one of the primary drives for knowledge-acquisition. When we are inspired to impact others and our surroundings, we seek out the tools that we need to do so, we learn how to apply them, and we partner with others to teach us, in short, we aspire to learn. Enabling children to share in this aspiration is invaluable and technology is a worthy ally in this regard.

Digital media is an incredibly powerful medium through which to connect with others in a meaningful way. Moreover, it provides virtually unlimited access to information, learning tools, mentors, opportunities, etc. In addition, it is a tool that children are already using to create meaning and as such, is invaluable as a resource to help inspire them to learn.

I completely agree that it may take extra time and effort to acquire the skills necessary to utilize technology in a productive way but I also think that the long-term benefits are manifold and far outweigh the inconvenience. This is the future of education!

Dave's picture

This article describes how to help children learn to use an unfamiliar computer program. Is that what "integrating technology" means?

Shannon Walters's picture

My experience is that students discover new and exciting ways of using tools- if we only let them. Without time to test the limits of a tool, students may well lose work at a critical point, for lack of knowing what a button or keystroke can do. Before I use a tool with students, I always "kick the tires," creating possible products and trying to anticipate obstacles. This time to explore is necessary; why wouldn't we offer this same explore time to kids? Sometimes the learning begins when we're confident enough to let the kids lead. I love it when they share what they've discovered. Explore time is crucial if we're going to have students create products that are relevant and meaningful to them, and not simply high-tech versions of "cookie cutter projects."

Last year, we introduced students to glogster EDU, and I was amazed at what some students created during their free time (love that in glogster EDU, a teacher can see all of a student's work). These glogs were very different from the classroom assigned products, and the differences in design choices really demonstrated students' understanding of audience and task expectation. But the best part of it all? When kids got hooked on a tool like glogster, they opted to use free time creating content rather than playing arcade-style games.

Deb White Groebner's picture
Deb White Groebner
Life Science Teacher and Naturalist/Interpreter in Minnesota

In the current culture of high-stakes testing, it's so hard to justify spending more than one school period (about 30 mins. of time once I bring students to the computer lab and they get logged on) teaching the basics of a new 2.0 tool, but that's not nearly long enough for the necessary exploratory time. It usually takes at least 15 minutes to walk students through the registration process required for most applications. Add to that frustration the fact that it's difficult to schedule more than one day on the computers when all classes have to share two labs. I'd assign the registration and some of the exploration time as homework but about 30% of students don't have access to the Internet most evenings.

I agree that the exploratory phase is critical and very worthwhile (not only with regard to new tech tools, but for effective learning and development overall). However, I'm already under pressure from parents who don't think we move through the science textbook/content fast enough.

Any ideas on how to explain my justification for tech introduction and instruction for parents and students who are more focused on the traditional class structure of direct instruction-fact regurgitation-testing and grades? I'm a new teacher and I'd appreciate any insight.


Paul Bogdan's picture
Paul Bogdan
Student-Centered Secondary Math Teacher

My ideas always have to do with student-centered. I would write a detailed plan and give it to the kids to execute. The 70% that have computers at home could do it there. Half of the 30% could probably find a friend or relative's computer to use. The remaining 15% could find one at school or at the library. I look for ways to make myself their helper and consultant and ways for the students to be in charge and responsible. In many ways it is more work for me but it is more fun and fruitful and I like the different relationship.

My students and I have to plow through a textbook to cover the curriculum. In science, life science actually, I had a long-term sub job in Greece, NY. I think it was only a week or so, but I had a chapter in the book to cover. This was one of the first times I tested my paragraph notes student-centered learning technique. The kids wrote p23pa1 in the left margin of their paper. This means page 23 paragraph 1. They read the paragraph and wrote something and then wrote p23pa2 and continued until they got to the questions. They seemed surprised how easily they could answer those questions. The worksheet was also very easy for them. Math is my subject and I develop techniques that enable the kids to teach themselves and each other, with me as the go to person when they need it, and that is often, but they are asking me rather than me demanding they listen and learn. With these techniques I am amazed at how quickly students plow through material and how well they learn it. I could never teach it that well or that quickly, but the students do it.

Sorry to get off the subject of this blog post a little. Check out my guest blog post. There is a comment from a biology teacher who claims to have stopped teaching (but his students are learning more than ever).

Keith Heggart's picture
Keith Heggart
High School Teacher from Sydney, Australia

Couldn't agree more with what you are saying, Mary Beth. My personal thoughts regarding this matter are that we learn firstly through play, and secondly through structure. Therefore, as part of the exploratory phase, it is vital to take the time to 'play' with new material, and this is as true of technology as anything else. I think it's linked to the idea of students 'owning' their own learning - they need to see the benefits or interest to and for themselves, first and foremost, and to do that, they need to be able to explore parts of the learning process that interest them - after all, isn't this part of what is meant by self-directed learning?

Phil Brady's picture

I like the model that you are sharing, but I was a bit surprised when this post shifted from what I thought would be a focus on content standards to technology tools, though I can see the point that you are making--that students need time to get comfortable with a new tech tool before we can expect them to use it to produce evidence of their learning.
I feel that it might be useful to distinguish a bit between procedural understanding (how to import a video into iMovie, for instance) and conceptual understandings (what are important elements in effective communication or what is the difference between weather and climate, for example).
Like you, I want to provide students with the basics of a program before I expect them to use it; the program is a tool for creating and sharing meaning and shouldn't get in the way of that communication process. But the two-step process is, for me, more focused on the content learning that is desired and less on the processes for a specific tech program.

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