Tech Tips (not tools) for beginning teachers

* This post is directed at the students in my educational technology class, though I think the tips are usable by anyone. Some of the mentions in the post correlate to things we covered during the semester.  In most cases, I’ve tried to link back to the specific class to which I refer.

Dear rising teachers,

At the beginning of this class you all took a survey about your level of experience and comfort with educational technology (results here). As you leave this class, I think it’s safe to say that you’ve expanded your technology toolbox significantly.  If this is all you leave with however, I’ll feel as if I haven’t been a very good teacher.  The primary purpose of this course isn’t to show you a bunch of interesting tools, but to promote a more student centric style of teaching in which technology is an assistant, not the driver of pedagogy.  I introduced this idea in the second class with two other mantras: 1. Move beyond the “bells and whistles” of tech; 2. Use tech to kill “two birds with one stone.”  With these ideas in mind, I offer a few final tips.

Tip 1: Beware of the PowerPoint

Presentations (PowerPoints, Keynotes, Prezis, etc.) are very teacher centric and often over-utilized in the classroom. Brain surgeons didn’t learn brain surgery from a PowerPoint and students won’t remember 30 bullet points about War of 1812 by tomorrow. You’ll know exactly what I mean if you check out the classic comedy routine titled ‘Death by PowerPoint’ embedded below.

Here are some tips on how to make your presentation more student centric.
• Instead of words, use a picture and then tell about it. Often, when I use a presentation, I only use pictures and have the students draw their own interpretation of it and include a caption about the picture. This works especially well if you are telling a story or historical event (see the 1300s Black Death sample).

• Keep it short – if you’ve got more than 25 slides or Prezi jumps (unless you’re just cycling through pictures), you are losing your audience.

• Have activity breaks after a few slides of your presentation for group shares, a hands on activity, or a quick assessment

Tip 2: Use educational websites and review activities (flashcards, games, interactives) to shrink your room.
We usually think of technology expanding the classroom, but it can actually help shrink your classroom in a positive way. Last year, I did a study on the impact of 1:1 on student progress. I found that 1:1 worked well for some activities and poorly on others.

One of the biggest benefits, which I hadn’t thought of until I got some data back, was that the students performed the best when I got to meet with them in smaller groups.

Instead of having everyone in the class on a computer related activity (reviewing for a test, completing a lab, etc.), the students performed best when we split up the class. Half the students worked on a web-based activity and the other half worked with me directly, then switched. Compared with whole class computer activities or whole class teacher led instruction, the results showed a distinct advantage for the blended model. Elementary teachers use stations very effectively (like our speaker @BarbInNebraska), but this methodology tends to lose steam as students get to middle school and beyond. Using technology to shrink your room through stations or dividing the class can increase student outcomes at any level.

Tip 3: Keep Diigoing, Keep tabs on your field, Keep Experimenting
• Many of you embraced Diigo from the first class and have been building your online storage tent of websites. I sometimes search my tags for sites that I bookmarked 3-4 years ago. Without Diigo (or Delicious previously), I’d have wasted time on searching and may have never found what I needed. Bookmark everything that has potential.

• In class on Tuesday, I’ll be sharing with you a list of people to follow in Twitter (organized by content area) and a starter list of blogs to follow. Take some time each day, each week, or even every few weeks to see what others in your field are doing. It will help you grow professionally and get lots of great ideas from fellow educators.

• Try out something new with your classes on a regular basis. If it’s a tech project, more than likely it will fail the first time you use it with a class. The first time I use something new with a class, it’s almost always disastrous. Don’t let disaster stop you from trying it again. Be patient – it’s not the end of the world if you have to spend an extra day on a project.

In closing, when it comes to educational technology, don’t be afraid to let your students teach you a thing or two. As our speaker (@catlett1) in class 13 pointed out, the digital generation knows a thing or two about all these devices. It doesn’t hurt to let them share some tidbits.

In the comments, or on the form sent via email, let me know what you think. Do you feel prepared to take on the classroom of the 21st century? Are there any other things you’ve learned in this class or others that you think are valuable? What challenges relating to technology still need to be addressed?

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15 thoughts on “Tech Tips (not tools) for beginning teachers

  1. After taking this technology course I definitely feel more prepared to take on the 21st century classroom, but I do think there is still a lot I can learn from other educators, students, and my own experiences. I think one of the most important things I have learned is there are a lot of different ways to use technology in the classroom, besides powerpoint to get students excited about learning!

  2. I miss your class! It was (by far) the best class I took in my MEd program. Hope this semester is going well!

  3. I came into this class knowing a lot about technology, but nothing about incorporating that technology into a classroom. I definitely learned a lot from this class, and I would recommend this class to anyone unsure if they want to take it or not. The only thing I think should change is the credit allotment for the course. I think the course should be worth a few more credits, and last a bit longer than simply one hour each week.

  4. After taking this technology class, I do feel much more prepared to enter the class room utilizing the 21st centuries advances. Diigo is by far my best friend. The most important thing I learned within the class is that the students need to be engaged in the classroom. Technology is something they have grown up with and can be easily integrated within the classroom. The only thing I worry about: is it possible to use too much technology? I think it is and needs to be equally balanced. That doesn’t mean just doing boring lectures with a plain PowerPoint or anything of that matter, but keep the importance of texts and primary sources in the mind of the students. Make sure they remember that, yes, there is such a thing as a book!

  5. Before taking this class I didn’t know much about incorporating technology into the classroom, or much about technology at all. After this class, I am extremely excited to use all of the technology that is available to teachers today. I believe I am more prepared to take on a classroom in the 21st century. Diigo, my website, and all that Google has to offer will be extremely fun and helpful when I become a teacher. As well as all of the other websites we have used throughout this class. I know that everything that I try in the classroom may not work the first time, but I am still excited to utilize these tools and work through any issues that may pop up along the way. 🙂

  6. I definitely feel much more prepared to use technology in my future classroom! We learned how to use so many great tools, and I am excited to integrate them when I start teaching. Since our last class with Brent, I have really embraced Twitter. In just a few short days of following different people, I was introduced to all sorts of new resources! It seems like educators on Twitter are very excited about helping one another utilize technology more effectively in the classroom. I can tell it will be an invaluable resource. I agree with Nick, that the only thing I can think to improve the course would be to make it more than 1 credit! This has been one of the most useful education courses we have been required to take, and I’m sure there is much more to be learned.

  7. This class has definitely given me a lot of information, tools, and ideas as to how to better engage students in the classroom. I am most excited to continue building up a library of resources (Diigo is great!) and to use technology in order to network with other teachers to share ideas about teaching (whether they be technology-related ideas or other ideas). I am also very excited about the possibilities for using Google docs to help facilitate group projects. I think the remaining questions that I have are a) how to teach “digital citizenship” and b) how to use technology in a balanced way (as Laura mentioned above). Sometimes I wonder if we are forgetting how to have face-to-face conversations, read books, refer to primary sources, wait for things that are worth waiting for, and be reflective, especially when we are constantly bombarded with messages and constantly receiving instant gratification from technology and the media. I wonder what role teachers have in the way that they incorporate technology into their classrooms in helping students to retain some of these life skills and learn how to use technology in a positive way.

  8. I must say that I am exceedingly glad that I took this course, but that was not always my perspective. When I first walked through the door I almost dreaded the idea of yet another course on technology. I definitely did not want to go through the uses of Power Points, Word Documents, or how to find primary resource articles online.
    As it turns out, these previously covered things were not a part of this course. I now feel as if I have a large tool box of techniques and ideas for incorporating technology into the classroom. I have already found myself to be planning for potential uses for QR codes in laboratory activities. One of my favorite ideas is to simplify, and remove risks, from dissection laboratories. Students could move from station to station and observe the parts of a frog, for example, that have been disected. And at each station would be a QR code linking to a short video of me performing the dissection and saying a few short words about that particular part of the animal. Or I could make this lesson more student centric and have each group responsible for making one of the videos and creating a QR code for future use.
    I believe that the largest challenge ahead of myself and all other teachers will be to stay on top of all the technological developments. Being able to understand the tools at our disposal in the classroom will only be the start of the work that we need to put into mastering the tools online. The real challenge will be to develop strong lesson plans that seamlessly incorporate these tools into the classroom in order to create student centric lessons and memorable experiences for our future students. I look forward to these challenges and, hopefully, being able to craft interesting and relevant ways to engage students in a deeper relationship with the subject material. Because, it is through this deeper relationship with the material that students will become more interested in the subject and will be able to recall, later in life, the lessons that they learned in the classroom.

  9. I was skeptical about technology’s purpose in the classroom at the start of the semester because I did not (and still do not) believe that technology is the end-all cure for fundamentally poor teaching. In other words, using technology should never be the ends of any teacher’s or school’s curriculum.

    As many have echoed before, technology has a useful function in the classroom as long as it is used effectively. Some of the strengths that immediately come to my mind are: it can shrink your classroom for individual learning, it can expand your classroom for worldwide learning, it can lighten the load of the teacher (working smarter rather than harder), and it can be an effective tool for student review, research, and reflection.

    Some useful tools that come to my mind are Podomatic and Studystacks (lectures/reviews), Twitter (update your class website and answer questions from anywhere), Diigo (personal use and class research projects), wikis and kwouts (don’t waste time trying to tell students a URL), and one of my personal favorites, Googledocs.

    Although our classrooms will only become more and more integrated with technology, I cannot help but consider two questions: 1) are we remembering that technology can never replace relationships with our students, communities, and families?, and 2) are we preparing our students well for universities and classroom that might not be as integrated as our own?

  10. I knew a lot about technology but never really thought about how I could use that in the classroom to make it exciting. Diigo will be a lifesaver in the future for all of the resources and extra information that we can save in the cloud. I’m sure that this is just a small portion off all the wonderful material out there that can be used in the classroom.

  11. I think that this class was incredibly helpful. However, I intend to teach kindergarten or pre-k, would you know of any websites for younger students? The google books one is great, but a lot of what we learned this semester is for more advanced grades.

  12. This is a very helpful blog post. Your point that “brain surgeons didn’t learn brain surgery from a PowerPoint and students won’t remember 30 bullet points about War of 1812 by tomorrow” really stuck with me. I know that it is easy to rely heavily on a powerpoint presentation when teaching a lesson, but it is not always the best way to teach. Your suggestion for infusing a powerpoint presentation with activities is one that I will try to implement in my practicum next semester. I also think that diigo might be one of the best “tools” I have gotten from this class. However, like you said–it is not all about tools, but rather learning how to make one’s classroom student-centered. Thank you for the tips. Even if we’ve heard them once, it is important to hear them multiple times to really sink in.

  13. This has been an EXTREMELY useful course; that is the consensus of our whole class.

    One worry I have about tech in the classroom is that I have a huge preference for Macs. What if the school I am at is all PC? Can I still justify buying myself an iPad for all those cool apps we learned about…will it still work as a mouse?

    • I don’t find that there is a barrier much more when it comes to operating systems within a single room/building. In my room, we’ve got a mix of Linux computers running Ubuntu, Mac OS X, and some mobile devices. Since most everything we do is web based, the operating system doesn’t matter – we just need a web browser.

      With mobile apps, it can be a little trickier, but many apps (like Mobile Mouse) work for iOS or Android devices and can tether to any computer Mac, PC, or Linux. In the past couple years, I’ve rarely found a limitation when it comes to the types of devices or operating systems we use.

  14. This class has been great at teaching me how to use technology efficiently. When I first took this class, I did not think that I would use a lot of technology in the classroom. I didn’t think that my field, math, could utilize many of the new technologies today. Math, I believe, is more about repetition in learning how to do it. But I do think that technology, used in the right way, could add to my classroom. I agree that it can shrink the room if you have half the class on computers and the teacher is working personally with the other students. And your thoughts on the power points are right on! My teacher at Benson will just sift through power points and the students will fall asleep. I gave a lesson the other day where I had 20 slides and no activity breaks. By the 15th slide, half of the class was asleep. So I recognize that need for activity breaks especially with power points. Technology is great when used in the right manner.

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