When Technology Does Not Love You Back. Some Simple Advice For Teachers

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Years ago, when I was first married, my husband decided to get Tivo. I personally didn’t understand it at all.  Why would we need to have so much TV? Surely this crazy gadget would not catch on. (Ha!) He used to walk around saying “I love my Tivo!” and I would always reply “You shouldn’t love things that can’t love you back”.

Now that I am knee deep into educational technology, I often hear my own words ringing in my ears. Do I love this technology? Absolutely! But there are times when the technology definitely does not love me back.  In fact, I would say that most days I expect to have some sort of snafu. When I don’t, it’s a pleasant surprise.  I don’t let it stop me though because the benefits definitely outweigh the drawbacks.

In my recent collaboration with teachers who are exploring technology use in the classroom, one of the universal fears is:

What if it doesn’t work?

Yes, this is a valid fear and a major concern.  This seems to be the most common reason that teachers are reluctant to use technology. However, I’d like to share some words of advice that may help you get over the hump and hopefully encourage you to keep on trying.

1. Just like with most things, the more you do it the more comfortable you will be.

This is such a catch-22. It’s like waiting to lose weight before you start going to the gym.  If you just start going to the gym today, you will get more fit and also start to feel more like you fit in.  You just have to bite the bullet and endure a period of time when it’s not so comfortable and you feel like you don’t really belong.  So you start on the treadmill, right? Because you know how to walk without looking like a fool and the machine is easy to use.  That’s why the familiar phrase “Just Do It” is so effective.  The same applies here. Start today.  In your classroom, find ways to use technology that aren’t quite so risky at first and vow to do something with it every day.  You don’t need to be an expert, if you wait for that to happen you will never get started. Just set small goals and follow through.  Maybe your students write daily journal entries. Have them write their journals on GoogleDocs. Then, you can have them share and comment on each others’ journals, etc. Keep it going and pretty soon it won’t feel so scary. Then you can try something new.

2. You don’t have to do it alone.

I am so fortunate that I have teaching assistants in my classes.  I even have a senior teacher for one period and peer buddies who come to help out. These extra people can help me keep my cool.  When something goes wrong in my class, (Yes, it happens to all of us) whether it be technological or not, it is so helpful to just be able to make eye contact with another adult who can at least empathize and hopefully help problem solve.  If you are fearful that the internet will break as soon as you introduce your online research project, ask for some help when you get started.  In many schools, the library media specialist is happy to help assist with getting these projects off the ground.  Teaching can be isolating but it doesn’t have to be. Find a partner in crime to come in and be the voice of reason. Even if they are not feeling comfortable with technology, at least you have someone to share in the moment and make it less frightening.  And if it goes well, perhaps you will inspire them to take the leap as well.

3. Have a plan B, but don’t make yourself nuts.

You do NOT need to write a million different contingency lesson plans!  However, any effective educator will tell you that even the best thought out lessons can fall flat whether technology is involved or not.  I typically like to have an extra plan in my head, just in case something goes awry. For example, is google drive not responding? Go back to using your notebooks for those journal entries. Or, this could be a great time to do some real-world problem solving with your students. Tell them what they need to do and ask them for some solutions.  If this sounds crazy to you then you are greatly underestimating the ability of kids to think creatively when it comes to breaking through barriers.  If the kids know they are going to need to do the work anyway, they will probably be motivated to find a way.

4. It’s Good To Give options.

I am a huge proponent of allowing students to have choices when it comes to their learning. I believe when they are given opportunities to choose they take more ownership and stick with the task longer than if I just told them what to do. If you are worried about the technology failing, give the students some options in the activity.  Some may involve tech and some may be more low-tech choices. That way, if the technology fails, you still have those other choices available to students.  I often have my students create something creative to show their understanding about a certain topic.  In my US History class, my students were working on the causes and effects of the Civil War. They were given guidelines and a rubric to show the content standards.  Then, I let them choose whatever medium they wanted to use to complete the project.  We had everything from old fashioned posters to Smore flyers to GoAnimate videos.  If one of the students’ chosen mediums was not working, they could just opt for a different one.

5. Please! Do NOT allow yourself to quit.

Recent research shows that it takes anywhere from two to eight months to build a new behavior into your life.  If your students worked on a new skill one or two times and then gave up what would you say to them? I’m guessing you would give them a pep talk about practice, sticking with it, not giving up, etc.  Here is a chance for you to model that for your students. It’s ok to let them know that you are trying something new and you are pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. Be optimistic and upbeat about it and your class will join you for the ride.

 

 

 

&nbspphoto credit: OUT OF ORDER payphone via photopin (license)

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In Defense of Year-Round Schools (aka there’s too much left to do before summer)

Spring is in the air! The weather is slowly starting to warm up, little green buds are sprouting on the trees, and my allergies are starting to kick in. Also, this week we began 4th quarter. It’s also known as “the light at the end of the tunnel” for both students and teachers.  The nice thing about 4th quarter is that everyone gets a little extra boost of energy. It’s like when you are running a race and you can see the finish line and you suddenly notice that you actually do have more energy than you thought because you are able to sprint to the end. There is one major flaw with 4th quarter… I feel like we’re just getting started. We’re on a roll, in a groove, and everyone is making nice progress. This would be the perfect time to get involved in some amazing projects, except the end of the school year is fast approaching.  What to do?   Year-round school is sounding more and more inviting!

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photo credit: The Start and Finish Line of the “Inishowen 100” Scenic Drive via photopin (license)

Here is the list of things I’d still like to accomplish this year (and why it would be so much easier if we were in school all year).

1. Connect with a class from another school. 

I think my students could really benefit from using technology to connect with students from a different school.  This would be a wonderful way to practice our digital citizenship skills, get feedback in a new way, and learn about a different place. There are so many options available from mystery skype to edublogs and google plus communities and more and more teachers seem to be jumping on board with inter-class connections.  This project requires long-term commitment to really establish a relationship. Summer is definitely getting in the way!

 

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A Letter To My First Year Teaching Self

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photo credit: Mail Box via photopin (license)

DearFirst Year Teaching Self,

You thought it was a mistake. They didn’t really mean to hire you. Or, they did mean to hire you because you convinced them that you knew what you were doing.  You were very convincing. But you didn’t feel like you knew what you were doing.  You felt like you were faking it. You sat quiet in department meetings trying to keep all of the acronyms and focus strands straight.  You wrote lesson plans for kids you did not know  very well and you wrote IEP goals that you thought were going to change lives.  You got so nervous when you called parents, even if it was to deliver good news.  You did the things that you thought a teacher was supposed to do. You wore sensible shoes and brought treats on Fridays. You waited, scared, for someone to discover your secret.

Well you were wrong.  It was not a mistake.

You really did know what you were doing but you had to wait until you found your voice.

Your voice.

Your teacher voice.  Not the voice that you thought everyone wanted to hear. It is the voice that has been there all along but needed to be convinced to come out.  You learned how to get to know kids from their core, from their heart. You learned that working with kids has a huge benefit: you get to have fun and laugh and watch “ah-ha” moments and make mistakes and let your students watch how you correct them.  You learned that boundaries are important but some walls have to come down to form relationships and those relationships mean more than any lesson plan or IEP goal.  You will always be learning because to be a teacher you must know how to learn, push out of your comfort zone, and grow.  You will always be nervous calling parents because you care so much.  But you know now, because you are a parent, that parents get upset and confused because they are scared for their kids and every single one of them just wants to do what is right for their child and they will each have different ideas of what that is.

It was not a mistake, you were meant to be here.  You will always feel like it’s a privilege and an incredible honor to be with students every day. You will come out of your shell. You will make mistakes, some really big ones that you will never forget.  But you will learn and grow from them.  You will watch some students exceed your expectations beyond your wildest dreams and you will watch some very capable students fall on their faces over and over.

Don’t ever forget what you teach.  You teach students, not subjects.  They will learn from you by how they feel when they are in your class, not by the assessments you give or the goals you write. You are also not alone. You have incredible colleagues and connections around the world who will share, problem-solve, and celebrate with you.

It was definitely not a mistake.  Just trust that voice and listen because this is where you belong.

Sincerely,

Your 19 Year Veteran Teaching Self

Like Riding A Bike

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photo credit: 1960 Schwinn Cruiser via photopin (license)
Do you remember how you learned to ride a bike? Have you ever watched someone try to learn?  It’s hard!  Really, really hard.  It’s often painful and extremely frustrating.  Eventually, you start to just get the feel of it and once you learn, you can’t un-learn how to ride a bike.  The phrase “just like riding a bike” resonates with me because the process of learning bike riding can be so different for each individual and yet regardless of HOW they learned, once they can do it they can always do it.  I have heard so many varied bike riding stories with different methods to get the kids to balance just right.  Some parents start their kids with training wheels, some start with a bike with no pedals at all. One popular method in my neighborhood is to take kids to a grassy hill and let them roll down it on their bikes until they are able to stay upright.  Then there are always a few kids who can simply climb on and ride around the block.

The same principle holds true of most learning.  It’s hard, and can be very frustrating.  It may take many different methods to accomplish “getting it”, but once you truly learn something it cannot be taken from you.  In the end it doesn’t really matter what methods were used as long as the end results in learning.  Think about how many different methods we have for teaching reading, writing, and math concepts.  With the use of technology, our toolbox just got infinitely bigger.  We also can’t discount the fact that kids learning to ride a bike are typically very motivated.  That motivation drops off considerably at a very early age for many of our students, especially those who struggle. Keeping learning fresh and fun is also a big part of the role of teachers and kids can be very picky consumers when it comes to classroom activities.

As a special educator I am passionate about searching for new ways to teach old tricks.  My students constantly surprise and amaze me and I’ve learned to always keep exploring new options.  I’m also beyond thrilled to share what I learn with other educators.

This blog will be a place for me to share tools, tips, tricks, and ideas as they relate to the science and the art of teaching.  Welcome! Now let’s go for a ride.