A few days ago I attended a lecture by Dr. Alec Couros at a Leadereship Launch for Peel educators. During his talk, Alec showed a few images of people using their phones or other PEDs to take pictures or send text messages while in the midst of important life events (a kiss, a reunion, a plane crash). He pointed out that although technology can make us more connected, there is a potential danger of missing opportunities to live in and enjoy special moments with those who are physically around us at the expense of constantly documenting our experiences for others through social media.
As he was saying this I was trying to connect to the Wi-Fi network with my iPad, and although my heart was in total agreement with his point, my mind was racing with curiosity about what others were tweeting about the lecture. As Alec went on, my palms were actually getting sweaty from pulling down my twitter feed, hoping the Wi-Fi would finally connect. I realized, as I sat there trying to focus on the amazing lecture, that I have become like the people on the pictures, not able to fully engage in and appreciate the moment.
When did this happen? I used to be the person telling my husband to put the camera away during family vacations or special occasions. I constantly reminded him that we should enjoy whatever experience we were immersed in, instead of capturing everything for others to see later. Yet here I was, after looking forward to Alec’s talk for days, all stressed out and frazzled over a poor Internet connection.
As our school’s Open House was scheduled to start at six o’clock that same day, I had to leave the lecture early and rush back to school. On the short drive back I went over some of the things I wanted to communicate to parents about the use of technology in our school. However, the thought that kept running through my mind was how uncomfortable being ‘unplugged’ made me feel during the lecture, and how disappointed I was with myself for feeling that way. Was I becoming a Twitter ‘junkie’? Did I need a social media detox, a fast from all electronic devices to help me appreciate being in the moment?
Recently, students at Rick Hansen S.S. did just that, for 23 hours. The idea was to give up using all PEDs in order to raise awareness about the dangers of distracted driving. During their overnight fast, students stayed at the school and “took part in a variety of team building exercises and workshops to build skills in face-to-face communication and advocacy” (http://www.marketwired.com/press-release/-1838082.htm). Although some reported that being without a cell phone was difficult, the majority of tweets after the event were very positive:
That evening I spoke to many parents during our Open House, mainly discussing the use of technology in our school. However, I also ended up having some honest conversations with several parents about the need for balance when it comes to technology. As much as I am in favour of using social media to collaborate and make meaningful connections with people around the globe, I think it’s increasingly important in today’s tech-filled world not to do so at the expense of truly appreciating and experiencing real life events. Without the temptation of using our mobile devices, it can actually be liberating to purposefully unplug once in a while (just like the students at Rick Hansen S.S. have done) and allow ourselves to fully appreciate the moment. So, as the saying goes, I’ve decided to make a conscious effort to “stop and smell the roses” more often, instead of taking their picture to post for others to enjoy on social media.
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.
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:
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:
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.
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:
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.