George Lucas Educational Foundation

Schools That Work | Practice

Meyer Elementary School

Grades 1-4 | Lexington, MI

Tech Literacy: Making It Relevant Through Content Learning

Teaching technology at Meyer Elementary School goes beyond showing kids how to use email and apps. It gives students a context for learning technology through subject areas, making all learning more relevant.
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Tech Literacy: Exploring Tools Through Content (Transcript)

Students: Ready? Three, two, one, go!

Mary Krenke: I feel like I have seen a difference. The kids are more confident in using the technology when they bring it back into the classroom. The students can see it all relates together.

Donna Barrier: The way we use our technology is very purposeful. We try to make that integrated as much as possible so that everything students do is pushing them towards a goal.

Brooklyn: We learn how to, like, edit pictures and make slides.

Lily: And if we want to make, like, a presentation or a doc, then we hit the apps button.

Michael: Well, we get to videotape ourselves on green screen or use “wevideo”.

Donna Barrier: Last year was the first year that we actually had a technology teacher in the building and at that time our focus was on exposing children to different apps, but it was still a little bit in isolation from what the teaching was in the classroom.

Jeff Dahl: What we’ve been working on this year in the second year of the program is we’ve been trying to integrate more of the classroom curriculum into our tech time. So, I’ve been meeting with grade-level representatives and talking to them about what are they covering in class.

Mary Krenke: In fact, we have a Google doc that it basically is just a communication way of “This is what’s coming up in our curriculum and what can you do?” or “Can we have some ideas that maybe you’re able to add on in technology?”

Beth Rickerman: For example, if they’re working on stories in writing, to have that flow into, you know, his technology time as well.

Jeff Dahl: Okay, we’re gonna start a new project. We’re gonna start working on scar stories. It’s non-fiction, it really happened, and it’s story that belongs to you. A narrative is a story, a personal narrative, your story. We want sensory words, feelings, touches, tastes, smells, sounds. Action is key! And then the “So what? Who cares?” You crashed your bike; so what? What did you learn from it?

When they have a contextual tie to what they’re doing in class I think it lends validity. I can take those opportunities, teach them a tool, and hit content information at the same time.

Okay, are you doing green screen?


All right. Come on. Let’s do it.

That’s good. Perfect.

Cassidy: When I was little, like three or two, I hit my eye on something sharp in my kitchen. I had to go to the emergency room at the hospital.

Jeff Dahl: We purchased a green screen set this year and we’re looking at color keying technology in some of the video apps that are available online.

Great job. Nice job, Cass. Hey, start thinking about what are the images you want behind you.

Cassidy: The green screen’s gonna change my background. It makes it look a little bit more real and interesting.

Brooklyn: We’re making slides of different pictures of what happened and then you can either edit your face in by doing the green screen or you can just, like, voice do it so you don’t have your face on it.

You’re gonna go voiceover?


Yeah. What was the accident? Think of one that really stands out, because those are the ones that you’re really gonna have good details on.

Mallory: Well, I was in a car and there was a motorcycle behind us and then there was a car with a trailer. Then the trailer got out of control and.. crash! There was glass everywhere and it scratched me a lot.

Jeff Dahl: That’s awesome action. Go into presentation mode and see what it looks like.

Donna Barrier: It’s not just about substituting programming for something that we could’ve done in writing. It’s to be able to give students additional ways to express their learning, to go out and find information, pull that together, use their own voice.

Jeff Dahl: You’re the author, if you don’t like the way it looks, put it back.

Donna Barrier: We want all of our students to learn the content, of course, but we want our student to learn how to be learners for the rest of their lives. That ownership just pushes them to work even harder to produce that good end product.

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Embed Technology Throughout Content

The first year that Meyer Elementary School had a technology teacher, they focused on learning basic computer skills and tools, such as email, apps, and programs. Student learning of technology skills was disconnected from what they were learning in other classes.

This year, Meyer's technology instructor teaches tech through various content areas, presenting technology use as something purposeful, connected to their learning, and relevant to real-world situations.

"When they have a contextual tie to what they're doing in class, it lends validity," says Jeff Dahl, Meyer's technology teacher. "I can take those opportunities, teach them a tool, and hit content information at the same time."

How It's Done

Make Technology Applicable to Other Class Assignments

Instead of teaching only computer and web skills, as in their first year, Meyer Elementary has been embedding the classroom curriculum from other content areas into technology instruction.

"What I’ve been trying to do in my new position," explains Jeff Dahl, Meyer's technology teacher, "is go to teachers and remind them, 'Hey, I want to take some of your burden. If you’re going to cover bats this month, let the kids create a presentation on bats in my class. If you’re going to do a research project, let me help the kids with how to construct a Google search.' Not only does it help the classroom teachers and us meet the curricular needs of the students, but also it lends credibility when the kids see that we’re not making presentations just to make presentations."

Collaborate With Other Teachers

"The way we use our technology is very purposeful," says Donna Barrier, Meyer's principal. "We try to make that integrated as much as possible so that everything students do is pushing them towards a goal."

A big part of Meyer's tech integration program boils down to collaboration and communication. The teachers need to communicate and collaborate effectively so that Dahl can supplement their lessons in his class.

Here are two collaboration tips from Meyer educators:

Create a Google Doc

Dahl and Barrier created a Google Doc where students and teachers can share their ideas and begin collaborating with one another.

A Google Doc:

  • Is easily shared across grade levels and buildings
  • Isn't dependent on people meeting in person
  • Enables collaboration that fits into everyone's schedule

Mary Krenke, a Meyer third-grade teacher, shares what's coming up in her curriculum on the Google Doc. She asks Dahl for his ideas on what he can teach to tie her curriculum into his class.

Although Dahl is the technology teacher, he isn't the only person who gives feedback. Many teachers will share the assignments that they're preparing, and other teachers, Dahl, or Barrier will add suggestions on how to integrate technology into those lessons.

Utilize Casual Spaces

"There are projects that grow out of just talking in the staff lounge, casual conversations at the copier in the hallway," observes Dahl.

The staff lounge isn't solely for sparking new ideas, but it can be great for quick, in-person, follow-up conversations to supplement the Google Doc.

Embrace Discomfort

Before Meyer integrated learning technology with content, the school's technology focus was on the how-tos of learning a program or an app. Now, with the current approach to tech integration, students must call upon their critical thinking skills.

When Dahl's first-year technology students were introduced to choice in their projects, it was uncomfortable for a lot of them. Their focus was no longer on the elements of using a program like Powerpoint, but instead on researching and reflecting about content, along with the option of using various presentation tools. And while students weren't accustomed to open-ended projects that allowed them to choose how they would learn, they adapted.

"This year, right from the get-go," recalls Dahl, "I came at my second year students with a project involving some digital storytelling, and I gave them four different application options that they could work through. We talked about the pros and cons of each one, their ideas, and which application best suited their specific ideas -- and they really embraced it this year."

Barrier notes that not only are the kids more confident in using technology, but they're also learning that there are many ways to solve a problem or complete a task, and that if three people do it differently, each way can be correct, and no better or worse than the other.

"We want all of our students to learn the content, of course," she explains, "but we want all our students to learn how to be learners for the rest of their lives. Students get to see each other choosing different ways to learn."

Apply the SAMR Model

When Meyer Elementary first introduced technology, they focused on using it to teach technology separated from content, and on remediation for differentiation in the classrooms.

Since then, they've adopted the SAMR model, created by Dr. Ruben Puentedura (PDF). Defined by Puentedura, the four levels are:

  • Substitution: Technology acts as a direct tool substitute, with no functional change.
  • Augmentation: Technology acts as a direct tool substitute, with functional improvement.
  • Modification: Technology allows for significant task redesign.
  • Redefinition: Technology allows for the creation of new tasks, previously inconceivable.

"It’s not about substituting and using programing just for remediation or just to express a learning product that we could have done in writing," says Barrier, "but it’s to be able to give students additional ways to express their learning, to go out and find information, to learn how to pull that together, to be able to use their own voice in making a product that will show what they’ve learned. Going forward, students need to know how to learn."

Tech Integration In Action

"One of the things that I really embrace is reading and writing in the English language arts curriculum," acknowledges Meyer's technology teacher. "I’ve been looking for the last year or two at how that translates into a technology classroom, and a lot of people see technology as the downfall of reading and writing. 'Do we need handwriting?' 'Do we need to be able to write and read?' 'Can’t we just watch these things on YouTube?' And I don’t think that’s true. I think that these two things can coexist."

Dahl brought ELA curriculum and technology together with a personal narratives project called "Scar Stories."

"Today, we're going to start a new project," announced Dahl to his class. "We're going to start working on scar stories. It's nonfiction; it really happened. And it's a story that belongs to you. Narrative is a story -- personal narrative, your story. We want sensory words: feelings, touches, tastes, smells, sounds. Action is key. And then the 'So what? Who cares?' You crashed your bike, so what? What did you learn from it?"

By creating their video presentations, Dahl's students learned about key coloring technology and online video apps, like WeVideo, and then applied that knowledge to telling their personal narratives. They filmed themselves recounting their story on a green screen, or used a voice over and told their story through images.

"When I was little, like three or two, I hit my eye on something sharp in the kitchen," recounts Cassie, a Meyer Elementary student. "I had to go to the emergency room in the hospital."

Cassie described using a green screen to tell her personal narrative: "The green screen is going to change my background. It makes it look a little bit more real and interesting."

"In technology class, one of the things that I’m trying to do with our students is expose them to opportunities to communicate better, to collaborate more," concludes Dahl. "I really want our students to become creators of the web rather than consumers of the web."

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Eric's picture

Thanks for the kind words and great ideas. Technology will continue to develop, so I am looking forward to future blogs highlighting different ideas that can be used in the classroom.

Carol's picture

I read your article with great interest. I am currently looking into ways to more efficiently integrate technology into the classroom. I really liked your approach to reaching out to teachers and creating a Google Doc to collaborate about upcoming curriculum and possible project ideas.

I would like to see this happening more in my building. We have a computer lab and students are learning skills, but completing them in isolation. As you wrote, presentations for making presentations is what is currently happening in our school.

I have a couple follow up questions:

1. At the middle school level, each grade has several teachers. Any suggestions on how to handle the logistics of integrating technology projects with the curriculum so that each teacher has an opportunity? For example: The LA teacher may be working on essays for two months, but in science you really want the students to create a presentations about earthquakes.

2. The second question is how would you begin the dialogue with colleagues about changing the current set up of teaching technology in isolation with a more integrated approach that will enlist the support of the current technology teacher without offending the way it is currently being run?

3. Does your computer lab schedule allow for open lab time that teachers can sign up to use? If so, do you find that it is meeting the needs of the teachers or is it something that is either under-utilized or not providing enough time to meet their needs?

Thank you for your insights.

patriotmm's picture

Technology should be incorporated into the curriculum as much as possible! It can be used between teachers, students, and parents for quick and effective communication, differentiation, and gives students an abundance of resources online.

Edward1951's picture

I am really surprised, because this technique works. I didn;t know but now when I think about it, it's exactly what I do like a teacher.

Jeff Dahl's picture

I am happy to hear you found it helpful! Please let us know if we can share any further info.

Jeff Dahl's picture

I think that it more than possible, I think it is probable. Often the students who respond best to this kind of approach are students who struggle with the traditional classroom and/or teaching approaches. The technology adds a layer of voice and choice. I am always happy to collaborate with fellow educators, if you ever have a project in mind. BTW I found your blog post interesting as well. The tech vs. teacher debate is not going away, but I feel the two aces that effective teachers have is relationships and pedagogy. When you have sound pedagogy and a solid relationship with a student you can teach them most anything!

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