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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Technology Integration Begins at Home

Jim Moulton

Technology Integration and Project-Based Learning Consultant

A lot of times, I find myself working just as hard, or harder, to inspire folks as I do to inform them. While I am consistently helping all the teachers I work with to increase their purposeful use of technology in the classroom, I find that too often I am encouraging veteran teachers to come over the threshold and begin using it.

A significant challenge -- which seems sort of counterintuitive -- is the fact that these are folks who already know how to teach their curriculum. And to compound the issue, students, parents, and administrators have told them for years that they are pretty good at delivering it. And then I show up to encourage them to teach in significantly new and different ways.

Building on Expertise

Refusing to lose the great assets veteran teachers can bring to the effective use of technology, I would never suggest that they simply toss away those years of experience and start fresh. Rather, I advocate for blending current technology with their years of classroom experience, strong control of content, and thousands of interactions with kids and parents. Combined, technology and experience create an improved ability to support even more kids in becoming even more successful. (Watch this Edutopia video in which a veteran teacher takes on technology.) So here's the question: Where is the best place to begin convincing teachers who don't use technology about the power of these tools?

At home -- that's my answer. You see, I think many educators are more apt to carry technology use over from their personal lives into their professional ones than to take it on as a new part of their job. A teacher who uses a digital camera to share images of a home remodel as email attachments with her grown children has begun to understand the power of digital communication in a personal way. A teacher who uses online resources to plan a trip has begun to understand the power of the Web in answering any question one is curious enough about to ask. Once they experience the power and ease of current digital photography or Web-based research in their personal lives, the stage is set for helping them bring technology into their classroom teaching.

Making Technology a Reality

In my experience, there is one best practice for supporting teachers in integrating technology into their personal lives. A colleague in Alaska put it in action there, and I was reminded of it recently. Here's how it goes:

In the spring, all staff that have signed continuing contracts for the next school year receive this announcement: "Staff Summer Technology Buy Plan! You may purchase any laptop or desktop computer, digital still or video camera, or other digital peripheral for up to $2,000. Bring the receipt to the business office and fill out the appropriate forms, and the school district will reimburse your cost up to $2,000. During the following school year, we will take the amount reimbursed out of your paycheck over the 26 biweekly pay periods in equal installments with no interest. For interested staff, we will hold after-school sessions to answer questions and to provide advice and training for any technology you are considering buying."

The results are striking in the few school districts where I have seen this happen. Teachers who were hesitant about buying new technology were willing to upgrade. Teachers who had never owned a computer saw this as a chance to jump in. And conversations in the faculty break room began to change:

"I found a great Web site with information about bed-and-breakfasts outside Edinburgh. They have pictures and everything, so we are having a blast plotting out our trip to Scotland this summer. There must be something like that for upstate New York, Sal. I'll show you the kind of stuff we're using if you'd like. I've bookmarked them on my laptop."

"Isn't there a way to make a digital camera stop giving people red eye? Has anyone figured it out on his or her camera? You have? Great! Now, show me how to do it before it drives me crazy!"

"You have to see the pictures I took at the picnic on Saturday. You have to see a couple of them at least. What email address do you want me to send them to?"

"Our daughter Alicia is getting married this summer. I want to do one of those slide shows with pictures from when she and Anton were little kids to today, but I'm having a hard time getting the music to keep on playing through the whole thing. Didn't you do one for your Christina last year? Could you take a look at what I'm doing wrong? I have it with me on my laptop."

And so discussions are created for using technology in classrooms:

"You know, the power to use attachments with email is incredible, but with our school's system, you can do it one better. How about making your handouts for that astronomy lesson you do available as documents that kids can download? Then, when a student needs another copy of something, or a parent wants to take another look at the rubric, they can just head to your Web site! It's really easy. In fact, if you're using attachments already, you'll get this right away. Let me show you how it's done. I'll use my laptop."

And on and on goes the learning. It starts at home, then is shared with colleagues, and -- with careful nurturing -- transitions into the classroom. So what do you think? Have you seen something like this happen in your school? How would you rate yourself as a tech-savvy educator? I look forward to hearing what you think!

Jim Moulton

Technology Integration and Project-Based Learning Consultant
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Holly  Brashears's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

That's great that you tried to help those veteran teachers understand the wonderful technology that they are about to encounter. If only my school had smartboards! I too had a similar reaction this year when during a staff development session, teachers were introduced to Photostory. I learned photostory over the summer and tried to help out my fellow colleagues compile ideas of how to use them in the classroom. I continued to hear, "When am I supposed to find the time to do this?" over and over again. So, after our first field trip and taking lots of pictures, I was able to make a photostory about the different types of rocks we found while exploring (part of our science unit). I included narration during the show and when I shared this with my team, they were amazed! After telling them it only took me about an hour, but it is something we could use as a review this year, or next year as a video to teach the unit, they were so excited. So, I think with a little hard work by colleagues, other teachers will begin to see how wonderful technology can be.

Amy W's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I, too, agree that if technology starts at home, you build up the confidence to work it into your classroom. I am so jealous that you have a Smart Board! Our old "tech guy" felt like they were out of date, and wanted to go with a newer option that the budget wouldn't allow for. That's awesome that the students are so tuned in to it.

I think that is part of our challenge with technology, finding something to really gain their attention. My sixth graders all have their own laptops. They can use Word, PowerPoint, e-mail, all of that stuff. The trick is to find valuable ways to integrate technology into their learning in a meaninful way. Sometimes I think the reason people (young and veteran teachers alike) are nervous about using the technology is they aren't really sure how to incorporate it. In addition to providing the funds for technological resources, implementation ideas would be great too!

Denise's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am new to blogging. I am taking my first online course towards my master's degree. I have been rather reluctant to use technology, but I am improving. I agree that it is helpful for older teachers to begin using it at home first to become more comfortable. I am amazed at the ease in which my second grade students and even my preschool grandchildren take to the technology while I constantly struggle. I have four computers in my classroom and have found several great websites for my students to use. I also find great resources online for my lessons. I am also becoming more computer friendly by participating in my online course. I have taken several smart board professional development workshops but I don't have one readily accessible for my classroom. I agree that we must be technologically savvy in order to keep in today's world. The more I learn the more comfortable I become using technology. I am contemplating buying some Leap Frog Leapsters for my students to use during literacy centers. My six year old grandson loves his and I see what he learns from it. My students have very diverse reading levels and hope that I might be able to offer some differentiated practice that they will love to participate in.

Benjamin's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I think this is a wonderful idea. I too feel I am tech-savvy at home and would be at school as well if I had more access to these new technologies. My school has started getting a bunch of new technologies including SmartBoards, but if you weren't a chosen teacher you don't get to use that technology. Being a new teacher, it is frustrating to have all these great ideas for interactive lessons and come to the realization that I only have a overhead to work with.

J. Moulton's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hey, Jessica -

You mentioned your projector and Promethean board, and how the kids love it... I hear that so often, "When I put content up on the screen, I've got them!

Now let's talk "home use..."

If that projector isn't attached to the board, take it home and attach it to a laptop and show a movie at home - The biggest white wall in your house becomes the screen!

In the summer time, take it outside and have a "driveway-in" and show movies on the garage door or side of the barn!

And if one was considering buying a big screen TV fior a sporting event, go with a projector. A big screen TV owns your living room - the projector disappears at the end of the game. ;-}

Again, once you see the power of the tools at home, their use in the classroom makes so much sense!

mary ellen 's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a high school teacher in RI. I am rather computer saavy and know my way around technology pretty well. In regards to offering incenstives for teachers to purchase computers, I think it's a great idea, but I'm not sure if this would translate to teachers using technology in the classroom. There isn't enough time to prepare lessons that would incorporate technology use in the classroom. I don't think the issue is lack of resources, it's certainly a lack of time.

Sonya's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I completely agree with technology starting at home. I am at a school with "veteran teachers." We have 3 smartboards, laptops, elmos, the works and unfortunately they are not being put to use.

Jorgie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Our lives are becoming so blended, that I think this is a fantastic idea. What a great way to get teachers to adopt technology. It looks like though what you are a talking about is an interest free loan. Which I am all for because then the equipment becomes the individual teacher's.

Utah where I work has a special fund set aside for expenses. Each teacher is given an amount (although I don't know about this year with the budgets so shaky) and whenever I can I encourage teachers to try out a new technology by using that money to buy a piece of equipment. Historically it has been around $200.00 so teachers can easily buy a digital camera, external hard drive, scanner or other peripheral.

As a Technology Trainer at the state level our group often teaches things like podcasting and digital video with a personal element. It works!

TI Teachers's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This is a great idea to get teachers, especially veterans, interested in incorporating technology in their classrooms! A lot of times, once teachers do decide they'd like to incorporate technology into their lesson plans they have to convince their principals or budget committees to fund the technology. One of our contributers at the TI Teachers Lounge, a high school math teacher from Kentucky, recently wrote an entry with some practical tips for convincing admins and parents to purchase technology for student use. He also gave some tips for how educators can save money on technology. You can check it his suggestions at: http://timath.com/blog/?p=390

Magan Lantagne's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

There is no doubt in my mind that teachers are more likely to use technology in their classroom if they feel comfortable with what they are doing. As a young teacher who grew up with technology I love finding new ways to teach things, as well as new things to teach that I think are interesting and necessary for the students today. I am currently teaching technology classes for all the elementary kids in my school district and I have loved watching the teachers react throughout the year. As the year continues on I have more and more teachers cutting their prep time short so they can come sit in on my class to learn what the students are learning. I think it is great! Many teachers have commented that they would love to do similar projects in their classroom and integrate technology into their core subjects, but they do not have the knowledge to do so. By taking the time to learn various programs, and learn how to take advantage of the Internet availability at the school, teachers are now starting to use more technology in their classrooms. I think it is so important that educators take on the responsibility of working together to help each other learn how to take full advantage of the technologies out there. This includes showing and telling about all the ways technology can be useful on a personal level and how it is being used by others in the classroom. Jim is right: when people start using things on a person level, they will quickly see the opportunities that it has to offer, not to mention the many ways it helps make live easier!

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