Thursday, April 11, 2013

Technology Integration; Not just another BUZZ word.

Today's teachers are overwhelmed with new buzz words. It seems like every other week, someone comes out with the latest and greatest thing in classroom management, teaching techniques, or testing. Teachers are being told "read this book", "implement this strategy", "stop teaching to the test", "the test is all that matters!". No wonder it seems like more and more teachers are leaving the profession.

One buzz word that has been making the rounds for several years is "Technology Integration". Lesson plan templates have a place for it. It is showing up on teacher evaluations. Even teacher's colleges are adding entire departments devoted to teaching technology integration and you can get a Master's Degree in it! Yet, many of my teacher friends and most of my colleagues are clueless about where to begin. The constant bombardment of websites and devices leaves them so confused that they just give up.

Technology integration does NOT require being a computer expert. It does not require that you use EVERY device, website, or classroom management system available. Heck, you do not even have to fully integrate any of the technologies that you choose to use. Technology integration is about baby steps. It is about EFFECTIVELY using the tools available to educate and involve your students. Do you read a textbook from cover to cover, using every exercise and test that they provide? No, you pick and choose what fits with your teaching style, the curriculum, and what will work with YOUR students. If you try to use a text book that you are uncomfortable with, it shows. The same is true of technology. 

So, here are a couple of T.I.B.S. (Technology Integration Baby Steps) to help you start integrating technology into your classroom. 

1. Do NOT compare what you are doing to anyone else. Just stop. Now. Everyone has different areas of expertise and different comfort levels. Your comfort level with technology is not indicative of your teaching skills. Nor is the type or amount of technology integration you embrace. Comparing your level of integration with other teachers will just frustrate you. So don't do it.

2. Pick ONE. That's right. Just pick ONE item of technology to start integrating. 
Are you good with cell phones? Are you fighting a battle to keep them out of your classroom? Then why not use them as an assessment tool? Use websites like Poll Everywhere to have students respond to multiple choice or open ended questions. They text their responses, and you can display the results on a TV or projector attached to a computer. 
Have an interactive white board? Learn how to use it. Or if you are not comfortable with creating interactive content, allow your students to use it. Technology integration is not just about you using tech, it is about getting it in the hands of our students. There are hundreds of great websites with fun games that require critical thinking and problem solving. No matter what subject you teach, problem solving and critical thinking are ALWAYS appropriate. So pick a game and project it on your interactive white board, then let your students work in teams to solve the puzzles. Bingo. Integration. One of the simplest and funnest sites I have seen and that works for ALL levels is Fantastic Contraption . 
Love social media? Then try one of the social media-like classroom management systems such as  Edmodo to communicate with your students and allow collaboration. 
Love YouTube? Why not check out Khan AcademyTeacher Tube, or School Tube to find videos that relate to your curriculum? Yep, videos are technology integration.  Or even better yet, have your students make their own videos teaching a concept to share with others. Depending on your school's policies, it may just be to other classes on your campus or you could share with the world on School Tube. What a fun way to show learning at the top level of Bloom's Taxonomy!
There are THOUSANDS of different ways to integrate technology. Do NOT try doing them all at once. Just pick ONE that you are comfortable with. 

3. Own It! Whatever you choose, make it yours. Become an expert at it. Share it with your friends and colleagues. 

4. Add new technology when YOU are ready. The more you use technology, the more comfortable you will become. But don't rush yourself. Move at your own pace and add new things when you are ready. 

5. Make sure your technology integration is meaningful. Adding technology to your classroom just for the sake of using technology is bad pedagogy. You should enjoy it, your students should enjoy it, AND it should teach your students something. 

6. It doesn't have to be flashy. The best technology does not have to be the newest or shiniest. If you are a tech newbie, stick to proven and simple technology for your first integration experience. 

7. Just because administration is pushing it, doesn't make it good. Guess what? They aren't in your classroom and it may have been years since they have been in any classroom. You know what works. If a piece of tech seems irrelevant to your situation, it probably is. Look it over, see if it fits. If it does, great, but don't force it. 

8. Learn from your students. I learn something from my students everyday. That is part of the enjoyment of being a teacher. Our students are "digital natives". They were raised with electronic babysitters and distractions. So, you don't know how to use those iPads your school just spent a fortune on? Your students do, or they will quickly figure it out. Let them show you how to use the new toys. You learn and they build skills that will benefit them in life. Worried they will mess something up? Don't be. Most of today's technology has been created to be user friendly and it is much harder to delete everything that you think. I AM a computer nerd, but I frequently find new "toys" that I have no idea how to use. I know what it CAN do, so I give the students an assignment and hand them the tools. When they ask how, I tell them that it is their job to figure it out. (*cough*PBL*cough*)

9.Have FUN! If you are not enjoying using technology, it will be obvious. Find something you like using and enjoy using it with your students.

Technology integration should not be a headache. It should make teaching easier and FUN for you. If you are struggling to integrate something into your lesson plans, then you are using the wrong technology for you. We all accept that each student learns in a unique way; the concept of multiple intelligences. Well, there are multiple tech intelligences, too. Find YOUR tech intelligence and use that to guide your technology integration.

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