Tips and Tricks from a First Year Tech Teacher

Jim Cash, the Instructional Technology Resource Teacher for my school, suggested I write a few paragraphs about what worked and what I wish I’d done differently this year in my new position as an Instructional Technology Teacher.  Great idea, but where to start – I’ve learned so much.  Let me begin with what worked for me this year.

1. Student Number Cards

When I got the class lists of students I’d be teaching, I wrote out each student’s login number (from Kindergarten to grade 2) on an index card and grouped them by classes.  That way when the younger students came in I gave each of them their index card and the first lesson on the computer was to practice logging in.  Keep in mind that some of the Kindergarten students won’t know their numbers yet so learning how to log in will take a lot more than one period (most should be able to log in independently by Christmas – no kidding).

2. Attached Headphones

Since most primary programs are sound based, make sure you have attached headphones to each computer. I used 3M hooks to hang them up on the wall beside each monitor to keep them all neat and untangled.  If you don’t have enough computers for all kids in some classes, make sure you buy headphone splitters so that you can attach more than one headphone if you need kids to share a computer.

3. Mini Timetable

The music teacher at my school always wore a colour coded, miniature version of her timetable on her lanyard.  I found it very helpful, as a planning time teacher, to always have your timetable with you as you’re running around the school getting different classes.

Mini timetable

4. Teaching Tech Vocabulary

This might sound silly, but despite this generation of kids being called ‘digital natives’, many of them needed to be taught the appropriate terms for different computer parts (monitor, mouse, CPU, keyboard) and simple technology terminology (cursor, double/left/right clicking, closing/minimizing a window). You might want to make this your first lesson.

5. Cursor Symbols

Similar to the above, as students begun working on different programs or navigating the Internet, they would get frustrated not being able to understand the different cursor symbols.  To help them I made a bulletin board that they could refer to:

Cursor Symbols

6. Lab Rules

Managing different classes each period can be a bit of a challenge.  Be sure to develop and enforce a set of rules students will need to follow in the lab.  Here’s mine:

Welcome to the Computer Lab

7. File Organization

Familiarize yourself with where files can be saved so that they can be accessed by the student alone (‘My Documents’ or the ‘G’ drive) or by all teachers (‘I’ drive).  This will make it possible for students to ‘hand in’ work to you via folders that you can make on the ‘I’ drive for different classes.  You can also save documents you’ve created in the ‘I’ drive that you want students to be able to access and/or modify.  Of course, you’ll need to explicitly teach your students how to do that.  For easy reference, I’ve typed up and posted step-by-step instructions for students to follow if they get lost.


8. On-line Sharing

Come up with an easy and efficient way that you’ll be able to share on-line resources with your students during class time.  You may also want students (and parents) to be able to access some of the on-line resources from home, in which case you may want to consider starting a technology blog where you can share links (see my blog Technology @ Floradale), or providing students an on-line learning space through Edmodo where they’d be able to share and collaborate.

9. Edmodo

If you have not heard of Edmodo yet, you’re really missing out.  It is “a free and safe way for students and teachers to connect and collaborate” Students love it because it looks like Facebook, parents love it because it requires a class code to become a member of the group (and allows parents to create their own account to monitor their child’s activity), teachers love it because it allows a space where teachers and students can collaborate and share resources on-line. There’s really no words to describe how awesome it really is.  I use it for all my grade 5 and 6 classes to have on-line discussions, post assignments, and share resources.  Be sure to check it out and see how it can work for you.  If you decide to use it, remember to carefully read through their Terms of Service and Privacy Policy agreements.  Also, you’ll need to send home a permission form before students sign up for an account.

10. Get to Know Your Google Drive

During the summer before I started my position as a tech teacher I was lucky to be able to get together for coffee with Nita Shori, a close friend of mine who has been teaching tech for several years now. Among many amazing tips and ideas she shared with me was an introduction to Google Drive.  It blew my mind what I could do with a G-mail account.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about ask around and have someone show you, or view this YouTube video:

11. Weekly Links

In this job you’ll come across many great resources that you’ll want to share and pass on to the staff at your school.  It’s important to remember that the teachers’ range of tech abilities and comfort level with technology is probably as diverse as the abilities of students in any classroom.  You don’t want to overwhelm staff members by bombarding them with all the great resources you find.  Instead, you may find that curbing your enthusiasm and limiting yourself to one link a week will be better received.  For my list of ‘Weekly Links’ see the Staff Room Page on my Technology @ Floradale blog.

Looking back, there are a lot of things I could have done over the summer to help prepare me better for this year’s new role.  Here are some things I’d do if I could go back in time:

1. Get on the Social Media Bandwagon Sooner

If you don’t have a Twitter or Pinterest account yet, you really need to sign up right away.  These have been my top two sources for getting ideas and resources for teaching technology this year.  I really don’t know what I would have done without them, or if I’d be able to survive in this role.  The reason I say you should sign up right away is because it took me a few months to learn how to effectively use Twitter and Pinterest to serve the purpose I wanted it to serve. Here is a link to a presentation I did for using Twitter in education that may help you get started: Twitter: not just for ‘beliebers’

2. Read More Blogs

Through Twitter and Pinterest you’ll find many links to blogs written by other teachers that teach Instructional Technology.  Take time to read and look through as many as you can find to see what others have done.  Here are a few excellent blogs that I found very helpful:

In Tec InSights

Elementary Technology Lessons

Mrs. Hyer’s Computer Lab

K5 Computer Lab

Ed Tech Ideas

Ask a Tech Teacher

Room 121

3. Develop a ‘System’

Having been a classroom teacher since the start of my teaching career, I did not anticipate how difficult it was going to be to remember what lesson I did with which class, and how much was covered during each class time.  I soon realized that I needed to develop a quick and easy system for recording what I covered with each class on a given day.  I don’t think there’s a ‘right’ way to do this, you’ll have to find what works for you.  My advice is to start thinking about how you’ll manage that now, or you’ll find yourself lost and confused really quickly after the school year starts.

4. Determine the Tech Skill Set for Each Grade Level

Since there is no set curriculum for technology, it is important to determine the set of skills you want to teach students at each grade level.  I wish that I had decided on what those skills would be over the summer, instead of figuring it out as I go along.

5. Develop Lessons for Digital Citizenship for Each Grade Level

I believe that the single most important responsibility we have as tech teachers is to instil a sense of Digital Citizenship in our students.  There are so many different parts to this; internet privacy/safety, cyber-bullying, netiquette, digital literacy, etc.  There is also tons of great resources available on-line (for example, see: Media Smarts).  The difficult part, I found, is combing through all of these resources and finding the right ones to teach the different aspects of Digital Citizenship at each grade level.  I wish I had put in the time to sort through and organize lessons for this subject over the summer instead of teaching bits and pieces here and there throughout the year.

6. Download, Play, and Experiment

I wish that I had used the time I had over the summer months to download, play, and experiment with some of the programs I used with students this year.  My advice to the ‘one year ago me’ would be to dedicate one week to playing around on each of these:

  • Pixie:  a drawing program I used with the primary grades (you’ll need to borrow a copy of Pixie on CD from your school to install on your home computer).  For an example see my tech blog post: Using Pixie to create digital books.
  • Frames: presentation software I used with junior grades (you’ll need to borrow a copy of Frames on CD from your school to install on your home computer)
  • Edmodo: as already mentioned above, I used it for grades 5 and 6 (you can sign up for a free account at Edmodo)
  • Bitstrips: software that allows you to create a virtual classroom where students can create, share and collaborate on comics, I used it with grades 3 and 4 (sign up for a free account at Bitstrips for Schools).  For an example see my tech blog post: Bullying Prevention
  • Scratch: programming software that allows students to create interactive stories, games, music and art, I used it with grade 6 classes (download from Scratch)

So that’s if for now, be sure to check back in for updates as I continue to learn on this exciting journey as Instructional Technology Teacher.  If you found any of this useful please consider commenting on this post to let me know what was most helpful.


Posted on March 14, 2013, in Ed Tech and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Hi Mag! On behalf of the many teachers I will send here to read this, thank you! It is so important to share and network with others regarding teaching practices and practical solutions to running your day-to-day program. I know for a fact that teachers will find this very useful. Thanks again for posting and sharing!

  2. Thanks for motivating me to write it Jim. I hope this is helpful to others who are about to embark on this exciting career path.

  3. Thank you for all the interesting and very useful links and posts! Very helpful.

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