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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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Lauren M's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I teach a 5th grade class of students with learning disabilities in Massachusetts. I agree that technology can improve almost any classroom's effectiveness of student engagement and achievement. One are of struggle I face is practical ways to incorporate technology within my room. Every other classroom in our building has a smartboard, except mine! I think that I would be the type of teacher to use this almost everyday and would find it invaluable. I have a few computers in my classroom, but they are quite slow and my students generally only use them once every couple of weeks to do research or supplemental practice through internet-based games. Other than that, all I currently have available is an overhead projector (something I do not consider to be technology advanced!). I am really interested in finding ways of incorporating more use of technology in the classroom. Does anyone have suggestions? It is quite inequitable that I am the only room that does not have access to the same type of technology, but it is true. Are there any practical ways for me to incorporate technology so that it is effective by not too time consuming?

Lauren Mell's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I teach a 5th grade class of students with learning disabilities in Massachusetts. I agree that technology can improve almost any classroom's effectiveness of student engagement and achievement. One are of struggle I face is practical ways to incorporate technology within my room. Every other classroom in our building has a smartboard, except mine! I think that I would be the type of teacher to use this almost everyday and would find it invaluable. I have a few computers in my classroom, but they are quite slow and my students generally only use them once every couple of weeks to do research or supplemental practice through internet-based games. Other than that, all I currently have available is an overhead projector (something I do not consider to be technology advanced!). I am really interested in finding ways of incorporating more use of technology in the classroom. Does anyone have suggestions? It is quite inequitable that I am the only room that does not have access to the same type of technology, but it is true. Are there any practical ways for me to incorporate technology so that it is effective by not too time consuming?

pam's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I teach Kindergarten. My undergraduate degree required that I take a technology couse, I enjoyed and learned a great deal in this course. However, I had not used a lot of what I learned in the last couple of years. I wanted to update my computer skills so I took a technology course this past summer. It did not surprise me how much technology has changed. I learned how to make a slide show, created more friendly monthly new letters and even made an imovie with setting some of it to music.
We had a wide range of educators in this course. One of the teachers who was in the course will be retireing this year. I thought it was wonderful for her to be taking this couse so that she could teach her students something new this year. She also was bringing this new technology into her home. She was learning how to take digital pictures and how to download them to her computer so that she could e-mail them to family and friend who lived away.

Our middle school students receive laptop computers that they use throughout the school year. These computers go home with students to allow them to do homework and projects that are required of them. With technology changing so quickly it is up to educators new and old to keep up with the changes to support our students to meet with success.

Heather's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I think that the technology incentive that was offered at those schools would be great! I would love to see that implemented in my county. I currently team teach with a veteran teacher. He uses technology. However, most of the things he does are still outdated. For instance, I was teaching a lesson WWII and the Holocaust. He brought me a stack of paper that had information about the Holocaust Museum. I was very appreciative, but I did not use any of the materials. Instead, I went to the museums website. He is coming around, but I think that if applied technology more to his personal life he would come around a bit quicker.

Dawn's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am not currently a classroom teacher. I did teach first grade for 7 years about 15 years ago. I am working on my masters in education through an online university. Your blog peaked my interest because I am integrating technology into my daily life with my courses. I am certainly not tech-savvy but under these circumstances I am forced to learn as I go.
When I first started teaching,15 years ago, technology was limited to the Mac's in the "computer lab". Students used them for learning games and teachers used them for weekly newsletters. About my last year of teaching our district began offering in-services on internet uses and email. In the years that I've been out of the classroom the technology world has exploded. I am trying everything out at home, like blogging , for instance, so I can pass on what I learn to my students. Taking this online course exposes me to many areas of the internet like online libraries, research guidelines, sharing and interacting with educators all over the world. I love sharing and collaborating with other teachers and I believe technology is enabling me to do so more effectively.
I am learning to take baby steps and step out of my comfort zone and to not be intimidated by technology.

Casie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

While I fully support the reimbursement plan to help teachers get technology at home, I wonder how much of an impact this will have on their teaching. Being proficient with technology at home doesn't always carry over into being proficient with classroom technology. I am a "young teacher", 24 years old, I grew up with the internet, computers, etc. But I still struggle to use the smart board that is in my classroom. I KNOW how to use it, but because of the logistics involved in setting it up I don't use it nearly as much as I should. Instead of mounting it to the wall, my school has it on wheels so it can be shared between classrooms, which is good in theory but bad in practice. Every time you want to use it you have to calibrate it first. The laptop and projector are on a cart that needs to be hooked up to the board with cords, etc. It's too much of a pain to be used on a daily basis. For teachers like myself, having the right tools in the right place would make all the difference. If the smart board and projector were mounted, they would get used a lot more!

J. Moulton's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I could not agree more. The students have to be the reason. And as a kindergarten teacher, I am sure you find yourself thinking that there are not only times to use the technology, but also times to not use the technology! I tell folks that, for effective technology integration in a kindergarten classroom, I think the most important piece of hardware is the rug! The kids should be sitting on it, and you will be sharing images taken with your digital camera, via a projector, onto a big screen - and the kids will be talking about what they see. And because these images are from their own life, they will have more to say... And literacy will grow - organically, beginning with the real world of the students.

Have fun!

Jim

J.R. Moulton's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Casie -

Yes, access matters, and there can be no question but those classroms that have their interactive whiteboard permanently mounted, with a ceiling-mounted projector as well, will make more consistent use of the device.

But I would suggest that it is, in the end, the quality of work we do with the device that matters most - As one of the "younger teachers," have you considered purposefully partnering with one of the veterans in your school around the Smartboard. You bring your tech-heavy experience and the veteran brings his or her curricular and kid-heavy experience, and you both grow in finding ways to use this tool the most effectively.

Good luck in all!

Jim

Jessica Wellman's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I currently do not have a full time teaching position, but I am attending an online college to attain my master's degree in Integrating Technology in the Classroom. I began to learn about computers in high school where we were required to take computer classes. At school was the only place I was able to interact with computers since my family did not feel it was necessary to have one at home. While in undergraduate school, I was introduced to Smart Boards. Everyday we were required to sign in on the Smart Board. We were also required to present to the class on the board. The reason for this was to get acquainted with the "newest" technology to our area. My personal opinion on technology is, we may benefit from it but it may also hurt us. Yes, it can benefit us teachers in the classroom by providing our students with opportunities but on the other hand look at all of the jobs lost due to technology. I know with the community I am part of and the surrounding communities, many families do not have enough money to afford these technologies. Also, just like my parents, computers meant nothing to them so why would they buy one? Overall, I think technology is very beneficial and in the classroom can provide the teacher and students with many opportunities.

Craig's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree with your thoughts Casie, especially the part about being a young teacher and having the knowledge about how to use the technology doesn't necessarily ensure that you will use it. I especially think that this is true when inferior technology is used. For example, my school has several Mimeo's. Not that there is anything wrong with using a mimeo, and I am certain that it is a powerful tool that has many uses that I have not utilized, but the fact still remains that I used to have a smartboard...and using a mimeo compared to a smartboard is like brushing your teeth with a stick (at least to me). The problem might partly revolve around uninformed and older teachers that do not know how to use the technology, but also might be enhance by the fact that the technology is not always as easy to use as the "old way."

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