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Teachers and Tech Use: It's Time!

Heather Wolpert-Gawron

ELA Teacher, Middle School, Curriculum Coordinator TOSA
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I see technology differentiation as vital to the education of our students. It's like there are different tiers of possibility.

Tier I: There is one tool adopted by a single district or school that all students will see wherever they go. (Not my favorite model. It's very creatively stifling and doesn't differentiate between teachers.)

Tier II: Different classrooms in a given school have different tech tools based on teacher preference; therefore, depending on which classroom a student enters, different tools are being employed.

Tier III: There are a variety of tools available in each classroom.

In my opinion, I believe Tier III is ideal. But I admit it. I'm technologically greedy. If there's a new adoption coming down the road, I offer up my students to the guinea pig gods of Trying Anything New. And I feel no guilt for my greed because I'm doing it to lessen my own learning curve and to serve my students a smorgasbord of technological choices.

See, I'm a big believer in choice. I like my iced coffee with a little room and no sweetener. I like my desk on a diagonal in the corner of the classroom. I like my iPad for researching, but I prefer typing on my laptop. Nobody likes living in a standardized world. After all, isn't the movie, Office Space, about busting through the cubicles that can define us?

So I believe that whenever possible, our classrooms should offer choices to students, choices of what to produce, how to produce it, with whom to produce it with, and with what tool to use. By differentiating the technology I can offer, I can, therefore, further differentiate between my students.

However, there are some teachers who still don't use technology at all. We've all heard stories about the Interactive Whiteboard used as a bulletin board in the corner, or the teacher who put her one classroom desktop up-for-grabs in the teacher's lounge because she didn't know how to use it, and while I understand giving people choice, somewhere along the line, some educators were granted such entitlement, that they have closed their doors to their students' futures.

Rationale for The Reluctant

When I pick a battle (for you can't pick them all or you become a toxic person yourself that lives on the need to fight), I write. And when I am trying to be persuasive, I sometimes write in lists. So here is an abbreviated list of rationale for greater technology use, not just in the school computer lab, but in the classroom itself:

  1. It's Required. Using technology feeds into what the Common Core standards are all about. The Common Core standards are about college and career readiness, and technological fluency is key in being prepared for one's future. Also, all tests will one day be online, with not only the need to use a keyboard but to submit components of the assessments that were digitally created.
  2. It Addresses the 4Cs: Creativity, Collaboration, Communication, Critical-Thinking. We want students to create; technology helps us do that. We want students to be published; technology helps us do that. We want students to collaborate; technology helps us do that. We want students to learn skills in school that will help them achieve after they leave our district; technology helps us do that.
  3. Daily Use is Vital. It isn't enough to go to the computer lab on occasion, jockeying for time for the class to sit down and type. No. Using technology should be a daily tool, where there are no issues of log in and lost instructional time due to lack of exposure and comfort. If the tools are employed regularly to support the content then there are no issues of having to re-teach how to use the technology in the few times we have access to it. When we bring the students to the lab, technology becomes the lesson. When the lab is an integral part of the classroom, it becomes an organic tool supporting the content.
  4. Must Close the Gap. If we don't provide technology in the classroom, the digital gap grows. I can "flip" my classroom and provide Screencasts of my own, but only those with technology at home can view them. I can blog with my students at night, or set up a virtual classroom as office hours, but only those with access to technology will respond to the assignment or take advantage of my availability. With technology in the classroom, we can bridge that divide, granting access to all.
  5. It's an Issue of Equity. Much like providing a classroom library for students who do not own books at home, we cannot wait for more students to own iPads or laptops in order to provide them ourselves. Because of the accessibility and constant use of the devices in the classroom, the students don't need to have access at home to be learning how to use 21st century tools.

Twenty-First Century Classrooms

Access to technology allows for more differentiation. With multiple devices in each classroom, it can allow for students at different levels to function at different paces. There are many apps out there for EL students and RSP students that are also effective with mainstream students. Technology combined with great teaching, can reach them all, from GATE to at-risk.

Using technology must be the given. It shouldn't be debated anymore. It cannot be about "if" a teacher adopts technology, but "how."

I believe very strongly in teacher differentiation. However, that doesn't mean a teacher can turn away from using technology altogether. Instead, we must help to bring those teachers into this new era of education by giving them the choice of what technology to use with their students. Not every classroom needs to be the same, but every classroom in this country, in every discipline, core or otherwise, from ELA to PE, must reflect some kind of 21st century tool.

I want my students to leave my room being leaders in 21st century learning. In order to do all of this, however, takes students interacting with technology on a daily basis. I want my classroom to be that interactive, collaborative, and innovative place of discovery; technology is a key piece in achieving that goal.

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Troy's picture
8th Grade U.S. History Teacher from Minnesota

I could not agree more. In my school we piloted a 1-1 iPad program with 8th grade students this year. Overall it went great. Yes, there were bumps in the road and yes some iPads did break. All and all the MAJORITY of students were extremely responsible with their iPads. More students were engaged and active in their learning. Students had many more opportunities to actually create and present then they have had in the past. As a teacher it is wonderful to not have to reserve the computer lab and leave your classroom to do a project. I could not agree more with your comment that daily use is vital. I also believe that when you leave your class to go to the computer lab you stop learning content and go to learn technology. Unfortunately in the REAL world, technology is infused in almost every aspect of our daily lives. Why then are schools still holding back their students? Technology needs to be fully integrated within the curriculum of a classroom. Throughout this year I saw many students self-educating. When kids brought up new questions or had a topic they were interested in they would simply research it and many times discus what they found with their classmates. Many of my students created videos using the apps "Explain Everything" and "iMovie." We used these apps to create documentaries on the content we were learning about, but many students created documentaries on topics of their interest just because they enjoyed creating movies and experiment with their iPad. In the 7 years that I have been a teacher I have not seen anything like this. I am the first to admit that we had some bumps in the road. Most of our bumps were learning the best methods of implementation. That is why it was a "Pilot" year. We have learned a lot about managing a mass deployment of 1 to 1 iPads and we have learned a lot about different ways to prepare a non-technology native staff. As we expand our 1 to 1 program we will get better, but we also are not blind to the fact that there will always be difficulties along the way. It all comes down to what your goal is as a school and as a teacher. Are we trying to prepare students for jobs that were available in the 1970's and 1980's or are we trying to prepare students the best we can for jobs of tomorrow? I teach for tomorrow!

Lisa Narcisi Stewart's picture
Lisa Narcisi Stewart
High school English teacher from Rhode Island

You're singing to the choir. That is, you're singing to the choir in a church where everyone has lost their voices.
When I first arrived at my school, we had just installed new computers in the labs, and it looked like we were very technologically advanced. I was thrilled. Now those computers are basically destroyed and it is very difficult to actually get the opportunity to use them because the labs are always signed out. The laptop carts we used to use have been completely wrecked, and the best solution our district has to the problem is to allow students to bring in their own devices this upcoming year- which means that some students will have i-pads, pods, and phones and laptops while other students will have nothing. Technology, in this case, will likely serve to increase the gap between the rich and the poor.
I love the theory in Wolpert-Gawron's blog, but the reality is that I travel between 4 different classrooms with one classroom computer in each and have at least one colleague who throws an enormous fit if I allow a student to use it. I have to bring in my own laptop because our computers are so ridiculously slow that I cannot tolerate using them.
I love trying new things- technologies, apps, etc... What I really need to hear is where we can get the technology. Is there a company giving out i-pads? Our district certainly can't afford it.
We had to have protests this year because we almost lost all after school activities and sports. So where in this climate and with my town's opportunities do I get the chance to experience the marvelous tier III dreamworld scenario? It's certainly not an issue of my willingness to try out new things and keep on learning.

Troy's picture
8th Grade U.S. History Teacher from Minnesota

Hi Lisa,
I feel for your situation....Unfortunately I feel the only way to truly allow education to prepare all students for the 21st century is to have elected official stop saying they support education and actually support education. Unfortunately there is no immediate money available for elected officials so they only speak the game instead of participating in it.

With that said there are grants available to districts across the country, Some communities have large corporations or businesses in them that have a public obligation to give back to the community. In few instances persuasive people can get large donations for schools. I was in school that was financially strained and brought to the breaking point of closure. The school district did a great job of educating the public about what their kids were missing out on. As the general public began to realize what a disservice they were doing to the future generations of the community, they began to rally behind the school. I will point out that this really didn't start until after school programs and athletics were threatened. That got the publics attention and from that point the school district did a good job of making itself the focal point of the community. That community has since built a new school, remodeled the city park, and just last year introduced a 1 -1 iPad program for 5th and 6th graders. Now don't get me wrong it wasn't that easy, it wasn't over night, and it wasn't without numerous nay sayers. People are scared of change and scared of failure. This community found a way and had people slowly jump on board. I am just saying it is possible.

You mentioned that most of the computers in your district have been damaged, is anyone held accountable to the damage? Are kids taught that their destroying their home and opportunities by destroying the school. I bring this up because we had this problem at our school as well. Over the last few years our staff and school has went out of their way to promote school pride in the building and community. Sports teams have organized to volunteer and clean up the school and areas of the community. We have found that as kids have more of a role in building the atmosphere in the school they are more likely to take care of it. They have a sense of ownership. I know this is ra ra ra but that is why I became a teacher I have to be optimistic and look for the solution and work around the problem. You will always face people who say things can't be fixed or changed because that is the easy thing to do and it is human nature. If people say no and complain they have not responsibility and their bubble won't burst.

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tracygrahn's picture

Learners respond to information differently. As a result, it is often to our advantage as teachers to use many different formats and modes to teach the subject matter of a lesson. This is why teachers normally use some combination of lecture, text and hands-on laboratory for conveying information.

With the advent of the Internet and the multiple formats that can be communicated over the World Wide Web, we now have several new and exciting ways to present information. The Web allows the incorporation of animation, moving pictures, and sound into lessons and extends our abilities to present materials that encourage student interaction with the subject matter. Pictures and animations help bring to life scientific principles, and multimedia allows learners to take a more active role in learning: they can watch experiments in action, see microorganisms up close, and use a mouse or keyboard to navigate images, simulations and interactive material.

One of the advantages of using multimedia is to convey information quickly and effectively to all learners--and keep them interested in learning (Savage and Vogel, 1996).

Technology is becoming a necessity in the field of teaching. The use of technology allows teachers to diversify their lectures, display more information, and enhance learner's learning. Using different technologies in the learning center can help teachers save time and energy and allow for more attention for the other component of the program. There are many different learning materials available to teachers in order to help them with their teaching.

Mobile Teacher in this area has been using an LCD projector in the learning center in the Division of Angeles City for four months. It has been a wonderful tool. Videos can be played from united streaming and brain pop on the desktop. The big screen gives a very crisp and clear image for learners who do not have to squint. Projecting lessons on a screen rather than on a TV monitor makes everyone feel he or she is a virtual participant. There are advantages observed in the use of technology in the learning center. These are active learning, diversified teaching methods, better learner attention, visual stimulation and less time and energy for teachers in preparation of traditional teaching devices. Using technology in pedagogy is an innovative way of packaging ALS A&E learning session.
and Finger maths,Tablets must be employed to clear the concepts of mathematics.

Garry Marshall's picture
Garry Marshall
ITRT in Henrico County, Virginia

We need to hear more from folks in your situation, and we need to do more to address the realities of life with technology in the classroom. You made me laugh, even though what you said to expect is VERY true. From our adult perspective, we believe that students should be thrilled to be receiving laptops to use in the classroom. It is novel to us since that opportunity was not given to us growing up. However, technology loses its novelty over time. In addition, if the equipment we give students is poorly made, you can expect less student motivation to take care of the machine. My division has been at this for at least the 11 years I have been working. I think I agree with the author in that "Tier I" is not the best option as this represents a 1-1. We are now moving more toward a BYOD model and that will solve and create many problems as well.

Let me toss some ideas out there...

One thing that may work is to increase the amount of collaborative activities in the classroom. This puts enforcement of accountability less on the teacher. If a student doesn't bring their laptop often or plays on games all the time, the group will apply some pressure to get the student motivated more and it may work better than coming from a teacher. In addition, collaborative tools such as Google Apps really can help. The teacher and other group members can see exactly what has been contributed from each individual. When there are strict deadlines and lots of tasks, students will be less apt to visit distracting sites. As part of the communication & collaboration "strand," I will now suggest that teachers take time to focus on project and time management. Goal setting, task division, and time planning can be implemented when there are a few minutes to spare and can really help with the process.

I am absolutely a fan of balanced education and believe that there is a time and a place for technology. Some teachers will rely on technology exclusively to make their job quicker and easier, but true teaching is never easy and takes time. I think that, given budget restraints, you will see more arguments to increase PTR due to available technology in classrooms. BAD IDEA!!

I have often thought that corporations have a vested interest in pushing technology. BYOD may take us (government, education) out of that conversation. We shouldn't be supporting these huge technology companies and they don't always belong in our classrooms. However, think about what I said about novelty. Any device, given time, will see less use. Give students a new device and they do buy into it (even if only temporarily) and learn about new ways to approach old problems. As they learn, they make new connections necessary for creativity and innovation.

Thanks again for your honest response!

Nick's picture
4th grade elementary teacher from Melrose, Minnesota

I agree that 21st century tools are essential for success in the classroom. It is really frustrating to see teachers with access to tremendous tools waste them. In our school district not everybody has the same amount of technology tools and some of the people who have the tools do not use them at all.
When access to tools and resources are available teachers should be expected to use them. It should not be a request but rather a direction. Students have the right to experience technology daily. We as teachers have a responsibility to prepare our students for the future and technology is that path.

Renee Smith's picture
Renee Smith
Middle School Math Teacher

I agree with using technology in the classroom on a daily basis. I also agree that utilizing technology is about the how. We are required to have 21st century skills embedded into our classrooms; however, when we go to our mandatory professional development we are not getting trained on how to incorporate these tools. Instead, we are having training over the same items as last year and the year before. I understand that paperwork is important, but can we please learn something as well? I love learning new things, especially when it is a technological gadget. I believe that the students love to learn with these devices as well. The only problem, there isn't enough devices to go around and most of our students can't afford to personally have them. So now what? As teachers, we need to do our best to reach our students and provide 21st century skills in the classrooms. Depending on the class, it may be using the smartboard with a graphing calculator and a trip to the computer lab once a week. Whatever it is, we need to do a better job in reaching and engaging our students.

Becky's picture
5th grade teacher, Hesperia, CA

I am incredibly lucky to work at a school where technology is given such a high level of importance. We have an up to date computer lab, each teacher has an ELMO, a projector, a laptop, an ipad, about half the staff has interactive whiteboards and polling systems to give accurate and instant results on information being taught, and at least 3 functioning, albeit slow, older computers in our classroom to facilitate and allow students to take Accelerated reading tests and do research, if time allows. Also, the school has just purchased this year a complete set of ipads for a "roving computer lab" of sorts. I am very pleased with the amount of technology we have. However, there are still teachers that refuse to add more technology to their classroom due to lack of training and likely fear of the unknown. As lead, I try and help any teacher in need of help, yet I have found many teachers stuck in Tier I. No matter what help I try and give or support I provide, it just doesn't seem to be enough. My room is run, entirely at a Tier III level. I know with the common core standards coming through, it is going to become increasingly important, if not mandatory to provide each student with his or her own ipad or computer. That is simply the wave of the future. In time, publishing companies are going to stop producing paper books and go entirely to online books. I have discussed recently the need for technology not just for testing and books, but also because our students simply are not stimulated unless given technology as the backbone to their learning. I have found that my students have learned far more in the past few years as I have begun to implement more technology than ever before. Wonderful insight Heather. And I will strive to continue, if the budget allows of course, to add and update the technology and hopefully maintain a Tier III classroom.

Justene Kennedy's picture

I really like this blog. It made me realize that there are multiple tiers in technology and especially a huge difference in technology between school districts. I DO believe that we need to teach our kids how to use technology in the classroom however not at the expense of the students... for example, in our district we have had a huge technology incentive, spent a lot of money, failed to pass a levy and increased our class sizes from about 30 to 40 students. Yes, we have more technology but even that has been challenging to use in the classroom when classes are so big. The lack of true integration via communication has left us with technology but alas, no one seems to know how to use it! Hopefully this is a process and it will work itself out as time goes by.

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