Throughout the U.S., teachers are putting a lot of thought into their use of education technology, or edtech. Whether they’re creating a new makerspace, implementing a one-to-one Chromebook initiative, or flipping their classroom, some are considering how they can improve what they’re already doing, and others are looking to dive in for the very first time.
A new computer science initiative may prompt such reflection, but it may also arise when teachers receive new technology through a grant, or simply want to collaborate with colleagues in meaningful and efficient ways.
Whether novice or expert, every educator can level up their use of edtech to ensure that the intended student outcomes are being met. The following three strategies have helped me in this work.
Join a PLN
Think of a professional learning network (PLN) as a support system, a familiar place educators can go to learn and share. If you have a support system, leveling up your use of edtech and planning for instruction around it no longer have to be daunting because they aren’t solo endeavors.
You can form or join a PLN at your school—preferably within your grade level team, because it will be a strategic support for helping teachers who all teach the same students. Allying with colleagues outside of your grade level is also useful when vertically aligning the learning experiences of students.
In my previous teaching role, my colleagues and I leveraged our PLN by splitting our weekly meetings into three segments:
1. Working through the challenges of implementing a new tool or device: For me this included things like Raspberry Pi, robotics, and Autodesk Inventor, but the list of new devices and tools is nearly endless. When you’re getting started, focus on learning the basics rather than being an expert—don’t worry, expertise will come with practice.
I always devised a list of Need to Knows prior to a meeting, targeting primarily the items I knew my learners would need me to model for them as they gradually built expertise.
Whenever I’m learning a new tool, I look no further than my PLN, pairing up with either a colleague with a similar aspiration for learning the tool or one with more experience.
2. Reflecting on our new learning: Could a new tool be integrated into existing lessons, or would we need to create new lessons? We found that it was best to create a product ourselves with the new tool before introducing it to students. That way we could make the connections needed for rigorous teaching, and learning with the edtech was simplified for students.
3. Looking at student work: Whether we were planning interventions or celebrating our successes, we found that establishing protocols around what we were looking for in student work was great for structuring effective use of both our time and conversations.
There’s strength in numbers—learning new tech with colleagues can help you improve your practice and form connections that often extend outside of the school.
Show Students the Intended Outcomes
We want to develop technologically literate students who are good digital citizens and are able to master the intended learning goals of our lessons. ISTE has a handy downloadable poster (registration required) that shows students what they need to know and do when they’re using edtech.
When planning, I begin by rewriting the indicators within my targeted standards into learning targets that unify—and simplify, for student understanding—both the use of the edtech and the academic standards for the products they will create. This keeps the learning focused during instructional time and makes it easier to maintain plans for mini-lessons and independent work time.
For example, these are “I Can” statements that I wrote by correlating computational thinking, math, and English language arts to computer science. I’ve had success implementing these with students.
- I can decompose each step of the coding process into minute details so that I can explain to others.
- I can recognize patterns (similarities or common differences) that will help me make predictions about which bits (input, output, power, etc.) are appropriate for my game design.
- I can abstract any unnecessary information while coding my program.
Reflect on Your Practice
As with all new undertakings in education, leveling up the use of edtech requires educators to take practical steps for learning new concepts and tools and also a system for measuring the progress of their students in using those concepts and tools. I like to share this John Dewey quote with teachers: “We do not learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience.”
Two reflection strategies that I have found very helpful for improving my self-efficacy and confidence when learning new edtech are requesting feedback from colleagues and keeping a reflective journal. I ask more knowledgeable colleagues to observe me teaching so they can give me pro tips for refining my practice. I also write privately to reflect on my difficulties and successes, and to brainstorm better ways of implementing edtech with students.
By remaining consistent in these two things, I’ve learned that practice won’t always make perfect, but it does make better.