Seeing tech in the classroom as ‘just another thing’

Ed Tech

Ed Tech | Thursday, January 21, 2016

Seeing tech in the classroom as ‘just another thing’

Technology doesn't have to be something else to add to your already full plate in the classroom. It should be the secret sauce that takes class from good to great. (Sketch by Matt Miller)

Technology doesn’t have to be something else to add to your already full plate in the classroom. It should be the secret sauce that takes class from good to great. (Sketch by Matt Miller)

Jam-packed curriculum. State assessments and required lessons. Field trips and school assemblies.

Our lesson plan books are already packed to the gills.

Class time is so precious. With all the interruptions and impositions on it, we feel like we have to make the most of every minute, especially when lots of goals and benchmarks ride on student performance.

Adding something else to that already full plate can feel back-breaking and impossible.

When teachers talk to me about using technology in the classroom, they’ll sometimes say, “I don’t have time in class to add technology. We already have this and this and this to accomplish.”

They see technology as “just another thing” that they have to squeeze into their already overloaded schedule.

I can sympathize with that, but I also know there’s a whole different perspective to it.

Don’t see technology as “just another thing.” See it as your secret sauce. Your secret weapon to doing more and doing it better than ever.

Using technology in the classroom isn’t the silver bullet to cure all education ills. But it can be the key that opens up:

  • More engagement with students
  • More efficiency in classroom activities
  • Extra access to information and resources
  • New experiences students couldn’t get otherwise

If done correctly, technology shouldn’t be an extra piece to add to the puzzle. It should be the secret ingredient that makes the whole product higher quality. (I hope I didn’t mix metaphors too much there.)

If it can’t make class more engaging or more efficient, if it can’t provide more access or better experiences, here’s what I say …

Don’t use it.

I still use a pretty low-tech survey tool: raising hands. There’s no faster way to analyze data in a group than to say, “Raise your hand if you …”.

I could set up a Google Forms survey. I could use Poll Everywhere or TodaysMeet to let people vote.

Or I could just ask them to raise their hands. No tech can beat it for simplicity, speed and results.

For a moment, just for fun, let’s swap out technology with tartar sauce and see what happens. Imagine a teacher who says …

They say that tartar sauce is really good. I’ve heard that it makes fish taste much better. So … I’m supposed to use it. I tried eating it with a spoon out of a bowl, but that was pretty gross. I tried it on various things, like cereal and fruit salad and toast. It just doesn’t go with any of it.

How do we use tartar sauce? Some people add it to fish because they think it improves the fish experience, but they probably don’t add it to much else. Tartar sauce works in that situation. We don’t force it into every situation.

And we definitely don’t see it as a stand-alone. We wouldn’t invite friends over and serve it as the main dish or even a side. It enhances the experience of something else.

I’m pretty judicious about what “sauces” I let into the classroom. (By sauces, I mean technology. I know … now I’m really mixing metaphors!) I hear about lots of new tools and new ideas for instruction and student activities. I use very few of them with students or with teachers in professional development.

For me, they have to be simple, doable and scalable to a whole class. They have to save time or make for a much better activity than I’m currently using. Or I throw them out.

An example: Google Maps Street View, a tool I’m on a mission to spread to as many classrooms as possible. We used to look at simple pictures of world cities and basic maps. With Street View, you can drop students down on the streets of practically any city and let them check it out for themselves. They can use their own devices and explore, learning lessons like they would if they were really there.

It’s simple. It’s doable. It’s scalable to a whole class. The experience is much better, so I stick to it.

Finding that kind of technology to use in your classroom is a wise investment. Put it into place and it will pay dividends for years to come … maybe for the rest of your teaching career.

Let technology in the classroom be your tartar sauce, or your secret sauce. Add it to your favorite dish to enhance the experience. And if it doesn’t go well on your cereal, then just leave it in the fridge.

[reminder]What do you think of the phrase, ‘Tech is just another thing I have to deal with’? How do you manage integrating tech in the classroom?[/reminder]

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  • Harry says:

    I consider myself a moderate user of tech. I am a 40 something teacher and am therefore not a native user. This year I adopted a digital textbook. It has been a weird transition, but I am committed to using it rather than complain about it. Is it the same as my old textbook, “no”, but it also offers interactive tools for my students and they don’t have to haul that big book home. I’m sure I am not using it to its full potential, but like old school textbooks, as I become more familiar I will use it more. I say that, but I also go weeks where I never use the book in the class because we are completing a pbl project. I like the blend of old school content and new school pbl. I must be experienced, but not too experienced.

    • Bonnie Campbell says:

      Perhaps the biggest problem is not being able to use technology to its fullest potential. I too am seeking the blend of text and data which sometimes drives my students, their parents, and the administration up the wall. Hang in there and keep expanding your horizons. That is what all excellent teachers strive to do.

  • Rhett says:

    I have embraced technology and its integration for many reasons. Holding on to the old norm and mores and teaching is hard to justify in the 21st century and that has driven me to fully integrate my class.
    Consider this: I teach Middle School Social Studies. Because everything is on the computer I never worry about students forgetting a book, paper, pencil, assignment, or resource. They only have to remember the computer.
    If they forget to have the computer charged, I have charging stations on the tables. I never have the debate about whether an assignment has been turned in or not graded. Everything is on Google classroom.
    Lessons only get stale if I let them. The web is an infinite source of new ideas and tools. I am trying new things all the time and as each new tool is presented, students then get to choose their favorite one. This empowers students.
    Technology allows me to incorporate my Global Collaboration seamlessly. My students have already talked to students in 5 different countries with 5 more scheduled for the rest of the year. My kids love doing this and it is so much fun.
    Finally, and most importantly, people who created the tech tools and lessons know that if that are to clunky or difficult to use people won’t use them! They have to be user friendly. My students watch a YouTube video, I give them a little sandbox time, and we jump in. Students know that they will be given the opportunity to express if that they like the new technology or not at the end but they MUST have a reason for their belief

  • James D Mendenhall says:

    It is a team effort involving parents and home. In Wichita we are exploring using increases visuals that allow the child to make their own decisions and discovery. Time is wasted forcing concepts that are resisted. By giving more choice the flow increases and will eventually inspire the parents to play a larger role in their own curiosity which works for both. Like kids using enthusiasm to win parents. There also may be experimental off campus connections with community, using desired role models to win the kids imagination to become. This positive role admiration goes both ways and creates the methods to win parents next. It does take a village

  • Jan Cox says:

    I teach 7th grade math, which is kind of the transition year from learning how to work with numbers to learning how to solve problems. I used to feel that technology was “just another thing.” I couldn’t figure out how to incorporate technology, inquiry-based learning, real-life projects, and the standards that are assessed every year. Thankfully, I discovered that technology can help me do many of those other things that we are supposed to do – differentiate to meet student needs, use formative assessments, motivate students, and of course provide quick and meaningful feedback. I use Forms if I just want to assess accuracy, and Formative or Docs if I need to see student thinking or how they are solving problems. Instead of worksheets to practice a concept, they use games, then take a quick quiz to show me they understood. My kiddos love the auto-grading – they want an immediate response on everything. For those that aren’t understanding, I use sites like Khan Academy to give them tutorials and extra practice. I also make presentations with Slides and embed videos so they have help at home. All of this is delivered through Classroom, which has been amazing to use. I spend less time grading, make way fewer copies, and have fewer students with zeroes.

  • Ken Keene says:

    Perhaps we could think of technology as the delivery system for what we want to teach, rather than “just another thing” to teach. Taking the food metaphors at “bite” further, technology may be the secret sauce to add “flavor” to the lesson, but technology may also be the bread or the bun that, like a “sandwich,” makes the lesson easier to get a hold of and munch on. Buon appetito!

  • Bonnie Campbell says:

    As a teacher of 40 years, I first ran from the thought of using computers in my classroom. I wanted to use paper, pen, and raising hands to communicate. Yet as I become immersed in this “brave new world” that allows the user to control not only the source of information but also the amount of information gathered, I realize that I must develop that ability to use and to teach using such tools as the CLOUD, GOOGLE CLASSROOM, DRIVE, and even social media sites. I want my students to know how to use the tools of technology so that they will succeed in both the virtual and real worlds. Many time I flounder trying to explain something I do not fully understand, but some one in class can usually translate what I am trying to say into language that most, if not all, students understand. The more I explore the possibilities for education that technology holds, the more I realize that staying only one step behind the explosion of technological uses, hard ware, and soft ware is fast becoming the norm.

  • Frau Davis says:

    I totally disagree with that attitude of tech being a burden. I consider myself a Digital Resident and I understand that makes it easier for me than for other teacher peers. I use tech if it makes my life easier, makes my students’ lives easier, or allows me to do something I couldn’t otherwise do. For example: I post our materials on our LMS (Canvas) so I don’t have to make a thousand copies a day. I assign homework through an app (Duolingo) so students can work on it anytime anywhere. Or I use things like Skype or Twitter to connect with people not in our building.

  • Chris Carter says:

    I think the concern about tech on the part of teachers is often misplaced. Here is a part of a piece that I am working for a Shanghai publication that addresses why I believe the focus on tech is a distractor, a chimaera:
    Life is fundamentally relational. This understanding is key to the teaching profession. The first priority we K-12 teachers have is to establish a positive relationship with all of our students. Our challenge is to prepare our students for a life of learning, growth, and collaboration in both formal and informal settings. We seek to guide our charges toward becoming insightful and conscientious citizens of the world. To accomplish this task we teach content and skills, model behaviors, and employ instructional strategies and tools that maximize the teaching/learning process and foster the teacher-student relationship.
    One means through which we build effective relationships while modeling lifelong learning is mastering the educational tools that are most engaging and effective for the task. Education Technology, or Ed Tech, is a subset of these tools. Like other tools, the focus must not be on the tool itself but rather on the task being accomplished. As Dr. Heidi-Hayes Jacobs, master of curriculum design, reminds us, “Teachers need to integrate technology seamlessly into the curriculum instead of viewing it as an add-on, an afterthought, or an event.” There really are times when a pencil and paper are the best tools for the purpose. At other times using Ed Tech tools that make possible the building and analyzing of data sets, constructing and programing of robots, or the crafting of virtual worlds are the best tools …
    Alvin Toffler, Sociologist and Futurist, is quoted as saying, “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” K-12 teachers use Ed Tech tools to teach the new literacy.

  • Tama TROTTI says:

    I think teachers have to find a good balance. It cannot be looked at as something additional in the classroom. Perhaps start small, give your students a Padlet or a Poplet to complete or an option to do a hand-drawn poster or a screencast. Build the tech in slowly. The technology piece has helped me tremendously in terms of not having so much paper. For example HW can be completed via Edmodo or other platform making for quick feedback to students. It is a big learning curve, but for me, it has opened up many more opportunities for students to show me what they know other than through the traditional assessment pieces. Thanks for an informative piece.

  • Marti Suddarth says:

    Sometimes the trick is using tech with just a couple of students at a time and keeping things simple. For example, this week I’m teaching my preschoolers to use the camera on our iPads. I show two at a time during playtime, and then I say, “Now, go find three things in our room that are circles and take pictures of them. Come back when you have three pictures.” I focused on one skill – using the camera – and just two students. At the same time, however, I was able to assess one of our math standards – identifying circles. Breaking big projects into smaller pieces makes the task more manageable.

  • Kyle says:

    This is exactly the post I was looking for! I am doing a PD session with my staff next week on this very topic. I agree, technology doesn’t need to be used just for technology’s sake. It also doesn’t have to be used an entire class period. But it should be used when it will enhance a lesson and when it will make a teacher’s job easier. Great post, Matt!

  • Stewart says:

    I LOVE this post! I was just thinking about writing a similar post, but you beat me to it. 😉 I’ve started using the world “intentional” with a lot of areas in my life. It works perfectly with tech integration. If I’m not intentional about using the technology, the students will see through the smoke and mirrors. Using tech for tech sake is a terrible idea. People are surprised when they come into my room, and I’m not using technology. I tell them that there are lessons I just want the kids to act out or draw on their desks or step away from the technology altogether.

    My school is going 1:1 next year, and I know this is going to be a common phrase we hear as we try and train the teachers in using the tech meaningfully and intentionally. I want to make the teachers’ jobs and lives a bit easier with great technology. I hope we can provide the teachers with a few sites and apps that’ll make their life easier and better in the long run.

  • Patrice says:

    Technology is just another tool; it’s almost like our curriculum and resources we have available. Pick and choose what works for you. You don’t have to do it all!

  • Bobbye says:

    I love the ‘tartar sauce’ analogy. It is hard to incorporate technology in meaningful ways, sometimes. Getting bogged down with day to day lessons, activities, and requirements can really overwhelm a teacher.

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