Sunday, August 9, 2015

Dear Teachers,

Dear Teachers,
What an exciting time to be in education! The combination of more affordable devices and bandwidth mean more students have access to technology than ever before. For the first time since I became involved in educational technology, I feel like we are on the cusp of seeing what we can really happen when students have access to devices. But simply having access to devices is not enough.
Education philosopher John Dewey said, “If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow.” Think about the implications of this for a moment. Are we really preparing our students for their world or for the world in which we grew up? So many of us teach the way we were taught because that is what we know and are familiar with. Our need for comfort and our natural desire to resist change can often times stand in the way of progress. Change simply for the sake of change is typically not a good idea, but we can no longer ignore the fact that we have to change and adjust what we are doing to make sure we are equipping our students not just with knowledge, but with vital skills as well. The days of lecturing and taking notes for hours on end and having students read and complete questions out of the book need to come to an end.
Skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, research, collaboration, communication, innovation and creativity are not new skills. These are the same skills that have been valued for generations. Technology can be a game changer, but innovation does not happen overnight and it does not happen by accident. Districts across the country have wasted millions of dollars on devices because they made the faulty assumption that simply providing students with devices it would somehow miraculously turn their schools around. Technology with no purpose or vision is worse than having no technology at all.
Many districts hire technology integration support specialists to make sure they keep moving in the right direction. Striving for classrooms where instruction is personalized and differentiated so it meets the interests and needs of students is typically the goal. Technology helps make this process much easier because it gives us unprecedented access to resources including other teachers! Student-centered classrooms where inquiry and project-based learning are the focus are the key to helping students build the skills they need to thrive in 2015 and beyond. Many districts, including mine, have adopted the SAMR model of technology integration as well as the ISTE technology standards for teachers and students. The SAMR framework and ISTE standards have proved to be incredibly useful during our journey.  
As a technology integrationist, a large part of my job is to help teachers increase the use of technology in their classroom. Many times teachers start where they are comfortable. My job is to push teachers out of their comfort zones and support them as they learn and grow. If you are lucky enough to work in a district that has a technology integrations on staff please take advantage of their skills and expertise. They can help you get going in the right direction and provide guidance and support, saving you countless hours of frustration and oceans of tears.  

Using technology to substitute (S in the SAMR model) what they are already doing is the usually the first step in integrating technology, but we HAVE to do more. While Chromebooks (and other devices) are a handy for word processing, reading online textbooks, and taking quizzes, we cannot even think about stopping there! We would be doing a huge disservice to our students if those were the only things they used computers for.
If your students have access to technology here are just some of the things they can do this year:
  • participate in a backchannel chat with their peers and possibly experts in whatever they are learning about
  • work with their peers to find the answer questions and solve problems that are meaningful to them—-not ones found in dry, boring textbooks
  • take virtual field trips (Just wait until I show you Google Cardboard!)
  • Skype and Hangout with other classrooms around the world
  • Blog so their voice can be heard by a real audience and they can get authentic feedback from anyone in the world
  • Connect with experts in a variety of fields using a variety of social media tools
  • Develop a global perspective by connecting and communicating with students from around the world---they can talk about school, culture, music, food, entertainment or anything else they want
  • Use a social bookmarking tool such as Diigo to curate and mark up websites and have an asynchronous conversation around the content on that site
  • Design and publish digital posters using Tackk, LucidPress, and Google Drawings (as well as countless other apps!)
  • Create a website to serve as a digital portfolio of all of their projects during the semester/year
  • Create screencasts where they explain a concept
  • Create interactive images using ThingLink (possibilities for this app are endless!)
  • Use MyMaps in Google to map ANYTHING! (Locations of specific events in the novel they are reading, all of the battles in a war, a trip they plan in a geography class, etc)
  • Use the Google Cultural Project to learn more about different works of art—-great for ELA, world language, math, social studies, music and art classes.
  • Collaborate with peers on shared docs, slides, drawings.
  • Collect and sort data using Google Sheets
  • Use models and simulations to learn about the world
  • Come up with creative and innovative ideas and share them with the world
  • Demonstrate their ability to conduct searches online and evaluate information they find online
  • Apply their prior knowledge to create workarounds when they encounter problems
  • Demonstrate their ability to use social media responsibly by creating positive examples of their work
  • Communicate and express their ideas and products using a variety of media and formats (still pictures, video, audio recordings)
  • Write and publish a book
  • Open a storefront on a site such as Etsy to sell physical items they create
  • Work with their peers to identify issues in our community, state, nation and world and come up with ways to solve them

I'm not suggesting that you should do everything on this list. What I am saying is that if you continue teaching the way you were taught you are holding your students back from reaching their full potential and developing important skills. The world has changed and it is time that our classrooms reflect these changes. What are you waiting for?!

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