Friday, May 16, 2014

Seven Habits to Keep Technology Integration from Driving You CRAZY!

I admit it. There are days that I sit in front of my computer and resemble Goldie Hawn in one of my favorite movies, OverboardMy jaw is slack, my eyes are wide and glazed, and if "buh buh buh buh" comes out of my mouth, that is more intelligent than the other sounds I make

Those are the days that I let technology overwhelm me. Yes, I am a computer nerd and I love computers. Yes, I learned to program at age 12. Yes, I can sort my way through Google searches faster than a speeding bullet and leap over spammy sites in a single bound! But even super nerdy, computer loving freaks like me can quickly become overwhelmed in the world of technology integration.

The reason most teachers are overwhelmed by technology integration is not because a lack of technical knowledge or skill. It is because there is just so much STUFF on the internet! When it comes to technology integration, classroom tools, assessment sites, educational apps; the number of good quality, cheap or free resources is amazing. But how do you know what is best for you and your classroom? Should you try to integrate everything? Should you test them all out yourself before putting them in the classroom? How do you know what till work? And the biggest question of all, What if it ( I ) fail? 

I have come up with some self-guiding principles that help me navigate my way through the magical world called the internet. If I remember these, I enjoy what I am doing and find myself choosing tools that are more effective and more enjoyable for the students. If I don't, see the above "buh buh buh buh" reference.

1. Limit the amount of time that you spend researching educational tools. I have found that I usually do my best work when I limit myself to an hour every 2 or 3 days. There are days  that I go longer, because I am on a roll and it just feels good. But if I ever start getting frustrated, distracted, or find myself going in circles, I stop. Never spend your whole Saturday/Sunday trying out new technology. It will just make you resent technology.

2. The best sites can be grasped within 15 minutes. There are some sites out there that are so intuitive and easy to use, within 30 second of viewing them, you know exactly how to set up an account and how you are going to use it in your classroom. If you cannot understand how or why to use it within 15 minutes, it is going to frustrate you too much. You don't have to be able to learn it completely by yourself in those 15 minutes for it be effective. It is okay if that 15 minutes means using a co-worker, the FAQ, or a YouTube video on how to use it. We tell our students to use their resources. Well, teachers, use your resources!

3. Just because it works for a colleague does not mean it will work for you! Remember that little thing called learning styles? I have noticed that once a teacher gets out of college and into the classroom, they forget that those same principles they apply to teaching their students also applies to them. I am visual. Website like Symbaloo, Blendspace, ThingLink, Kahoot! they all appeal to me! But LiveBinders (which I think is a great site!) just annoys me. I can't use it to create binders effectively and it frustrates me. But I have seen amazing binders done by other teachers that I use as resources. We all learn differently and different types of technology appeal to us. Don't beat yourself up over it. Find what does work for you and use it!

4. Students are your best test subjects. Want to know if a tool/app/website works? Let your students try it out! I usually pick a smaller class that has students with average technology ability as my test group. If you are an elementary teacher, you may want to try it out with a small group first. I let them know that this is a new tool I have found and I want to see if it works. I advise them that their feedback is important to me, and that they will affect if and how I use this with all future classes. Most of my students love the responsibility and they take their role very seriously. I have even asked them for ideas how we can use it in class. Say I find a website that I really love, but not sure how I would use it in a lesson. I present the website to the students, have them explore it, and ask them for ideas how it could be used in class. Students are brutally honest. If you want tech that will work with your students, let them help guide you to the right stuff.

5. Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. Just because it doesn't work now, with this group, or with that lesson, does not mean it will never work. I have an entire list of websites that I really like, but just have not found the right fit for them. It does not mean I will never use them, just not right now. I go back and do a quick run down of the sites about once a quarter to see if they still seem interesting, if there have been any updates, or if I can think of a way to use it.

6. Technology should be enjoyable and educational. As a Common Sense Media Graphite certified educator, I have the privilege of trying out new websites and apps and writing reviews on them. I have found that there are many  apps and websites that hold themselves out as educational that have no real educational value. They may be fun, but are students really learning anything? Then there are sites that are very educational, but they are so mundane that my students learn nothing because they are bored out of the minds. No, not all technology is going to be fun. Try teaching Excel to high school sophomores. But if your subject is one students consider boring, adding a boring website or app to the lesson is not going to improve anything. The technology should compliment the lesson and make it interesting, not just repeat the same old stuff.

7. K.I.S.S. Good technology integration should not be difficult. If you have to struggle and fight to make it work in your classroom, then it is not good integration. Remember, the purpose of technology integration is to put tech in the hands of our students and complement the lessons we are teaching. Playing a Kahoot! review game with smartphones/tablets is a great way to use technology, have fun, and learn something. Having students post responses on PollEverwhere or Padlet by texting or using computers is a simple way to encourage student participation and collaboration while learning. Socrative is a great way to check for understanding with an exit slip. The key is to make it easy for you to set up and simple for the students to use. 

The bottom line is this. Do not let technology integration ruin teaching for you. Remember that you are human, just like your students are, and what works for your fellow Language Arts/Math/Science teachers may not work for you. That is okay. Use the technology that works for you and your students. Use the technology that makes tech integration fun. Don't get sucked into the educational technology tools vortex. It is an ugly, scary place and it is hard to drag yourself out of it. I know. I've been there.

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