My sister, a first-year fifth grade teacher, just received a class set of iPads from her school district. When I heard this news, I was thrilled for her — after all, there is so much you can do! The possibilities are truly endless!
Sarah’s reaction, though, was filled with stress and trepidation. Though she’s taken ed tech classes and had plenty of professional development, she’s still feeling a little overwhelmed, as many teachers are when faced with integrating technology into their classrooms. Sarah asked me, as so many other teachers have asked before, “Where do I start, and how do I make the technology meaningful?”
Instead of spending 50 hours creating the most amazing month-long technology project, my advice is to start small. Think about your curriculum and what students are already creating in your classroom. Which of their creations could move to a digital platform?
Writing activities can easily be moved online in the form of blogs and collaborative writing pieces. Dioramas and reports can quickly become a website or digital poster. Student presentations can be transformed into screencasts and digital stories. Whenever students are creating something in the classroom, it can usually be adjusted to incorporate technology in some way.
Make it meaningful
Of course, just using technology is not good enough. That’s the rub: it’s one thing to stick technology projects into your curriculum, but how do you make the technology use meaningful, not just some gimmick to hypnotize students?
The key is using technologies that increase collaboration among students while widening their audience. This is why I’m such a big fan of Google Apps for Education — the tools have collaboration at their core and make sharing and publishing work a cinch. Whether you choose Google Docs, Sheets, Slides, Drawings, Forms or Sites, the tools integrate well together and provide a wide range of project possibilities.
Seek YouTube tutorials
Maybe you’re thinking, I’ve heard of these, but I don’t know how to use them! Don’t forget about the popular tool that’s at your fingertips: YouTube! It’s simply incredible how many educational videos are uploaded to the website each day, on top of all those adorable pet videos I can't seem to get enough of. Just search YouTube for the tool you want to try along with some key words: how to, tutorial and for teachers.
If the plethora of YouTube results is just too much to handle, try gcflearnfree, a website created by the Goodwill Community Foundation that offers tutorial videos, screenshots and text to teach everything from Twitter to Google Apps. Browse the website and you’re sure to find instructions for using a tool well-suited for your classroom. Then, all you have left to do is take the most difficult step: bringing it into your classroom.
Practice using it first
But wait — before you unveil a new tool for your students, make sure you take a little time to play with it first. Just have some fun with it — don’t feel like you have to be a pro.
Remember, students will always learn something you didn’t know about the tech tool, even if you thought you knew everything. Share that it will be a learning experience for everyone, and that you’re excited to learn too! Students will be pumped to discover tricks they can share with the entire class.
Don’t let setbacks get you down
At some point during your journey, you’ll hit your first setback. Remember: it is our responsibility as educators to create experiences for students to use technology. When we do this, we help students develop a level of comfort with technology. If they are ever going to be coders or engineers or, frankly, just live in the modern world, they need to be resilient when learning tech skill.
My sister’s fifth graders — and your students, too — may decide to become programmers 10 years from now, but they first need a chance to create, collaborate and have fun with technology. Set your students up for technological success in the future by starting with a small technology project today.
Amy Prosser is a technology teacher and a Google Certified Innovator. She has presented on technology integration at conferences, school sites and online. In addition to her work in the classroom, Prosser has worked for CommonSense Media as a professional ed tech reviewer.