Eight Tips for the New Techy Teacher
By Samantha Ramsey
Two years ago, my principal rolled an iPad cart into my classroom. I’d been challenged to design and implement a 1:1 iPad program that would enhance the highly structured academic curriculum already in place. I was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as I set out on this technology adventure, but I quickly realized that trail-blazing wasn’t all glitter and rainbows. Here is some helpful advice for educators just beginning the long journey to establishing a successful, effective technology classroom.
1. Embrace Failure
As pessimistic as it sounds, this is the number one thing I wish someone had told me before I began. Failure doesn’t mean you’re a bad teacher, it certainly doesn’t mean you should give up. Sometimes, you’ll plan the perfect lesson and then watch it crash and burn before your teary eyes. Apps will go haywire. Students will click buttons. Projects won’t save correctly. Use these mishaps as learning opportunities.
2. Become Familiar with the SAMR Model
We are all aware of Bloom’s Taxonomy: asking our students to formulate higher-level responses can bolster their learning. The SAMR Model is the Bloom’s Taxonomy of educational technology. It can help you understand different ways technology can be implemented in your classroom and gain an idea of what each tier would look like at your grade level. Not every lesson needs to reach the most advanced stage, but some can—and should. It’s also important for you to take an honest look at your background experience and determine what level of the SAMR Model you’re currently at. There’s no wrong answer because whether you’re at the starting line of this tech marathon or nearing the finish, your objective should be moving forward.
3. Set Goals
It’s easy to begin a tech initiative with the best of intentions, but the follow-through is often the most difficult part. Set realistic goals for yourself about how often or how much you aim to use your new technology, and write them down if it helps you maintain focus. You might want to try out one new app each week or focus on enriching one subject area a month. Whatever it is, establish a goal that is both rigorous and attainable. Bonus tip: find another teacher or teammate who will share your ambition and hold you accountable for making progress.
4. Remember: Quality over Quantity
I began my tech adventure thinking that the more apps, the more valuable and impressive my tech instruction. I spent a lot of evenings and plan periods browsing the App store and downloading any app that looked mildly useful. The problem was that, between finding each app, downloading it, learning how to use it, and then training my students, it wasted precious time. Instead of trying to force a new app into your lesson plans, look at your curriculum and think first about what kind would be most beneficial to your students, most well suited to the content, and result in the most authentic learning opportunities. If you already have an app that fits the bill—use it!
5. Experiment First
There are some situations in which flying by the seat of your pants is acceptable. Walking the dog without a specific destination in mind, for example, and selecting a dinner entrée by closing your eyes and pointing at the menu are both relatively low risk endeavours. Teaching with technology, however, is not one of them. Give yourself the opportunity to play around with an app before you even ask your students to download it. Press buttons. Experiment with every feature. I promise that you won’t break anything. In the end, you’ll be better prepared to utilize all the best aspects of a program and solve any problems that might arise during an actual lesson.
6. Establish Policies and Procedures
Think of all the procedures you go over on the first day of school. You explain to students, in excruciating detail, where to line up, how to walk down the hallway, and what to do when they return from an absence. There are procedures for sharpening pencils, hanging up backpacks, and turning in homework. Technology is no different. Think of the little things, even though they seem insignificant. Assume, for example, that unless you tell students to carry an iPad with both hands, they’ll walk across the room with them balanced on their heads. Give students opportunities to practice plugging them in at the end of the day and placing them safely on their laps while opening their desktops. Hold students accountable for following correct procedures and explain consequences for when they don’t.
7. Keep Parents in the Loop
Technology at home is used in very differently than at school. When a parent hears that their child has been placed in a 1:1 classroom, they may envision their child playing Angry Birds and surfing the Internet all day. Be very open with parents from the beginning. Send home a letter or explain at Open House what technology will and won’t be used for in your classroom. Offer parents assurance that, rather than replacing the academic curriculum, technology will enhance the material and offer students new ways to be active participants in their education. Post summaries or photos from successful tech projects on your classroom website or send home updates in your weekly newsletter. You’re working your tail off to implement technology in meaningful ways, and your students are deeply engaged in the learning experiences you’ve designed for them.
Make a list of your favourite things and go buy all of them right now. Oreos. New shoes. Colour coordinated office supplies. Whatever floats your boat. Change is scary, and the introduction of iPads or laptops into your classroom can be incredibly intimidating, but look at you! You’re stepping out of your safe zone and growing as an educator. Apps will crash and devices will go rogue, debut lots of things will also go right. Students will be engaged in your lessons and interact with content in ways you may never have imagined possible. So celebrate—you’ve earned it!
Samantha Ramsey teaches fourth grade in Manhattan, IL and is also working towards a Master’s Degree in Educational Technology Leadership.