Sunday, November 20, 2011

Technology Integration Revisited

Technology Integration has been a buzzword for as many years as there have been educational computer users groups. Back in the early 1980's teachers talked about using a single Apple II+ computer to have meaningful engagement of whole classes crowded around one tiny screen. I was brought in as a presenter for one such group (The Milwaukee Educational Computing Association aka MECA) on a Saturday morning over 30 years ago. I showed a group of eager educators how to use the graphic editor embedded in Broderbund's Print Shop program. What I got from that moment was a membership into the most giving, passionate community of teachers I ever had the pleasure of meeting. They gave up one Saturday a month to share everything they could with each other and inspire new members to become tech evangelists.

Although I did not have my teaching degree at the time, I continued to attend these meetings and the excitement these teachers brought to their classrooms made me realize that was what I wanted to do with my life. Although it took me a very long time, I went back to school and made sure that every step of the way was linked to technology. My university (UWM-Milwaukee) had an extraordinary two courses for new teachers taught by Dr. David Edyburn.
The first was Productivity for Classroom Teachers which made sure that new teachers were proficient in the latest pieces of productivity software at the time. This included Hypercard/Hyperstudio, WORD, EXCEL, POWERPOINT, The Print Shop, and the newest of all e-mail and internet. We had to produce products we could use in our classrooms that proved that we were capable of using technology. We made schedules, calendars, posters, banners, worksheets, presentations, and more using all the basic tools. We also had to keep in touch with our small groups using e-mail and be able to do internet research. Each teacher in the class had a portfolio proving their ability.

The second class was Technology Integration and I still firmly believe what Dr. Edyburn said, "Do not simply add technology to a lesson. If the lesson is already good and the students are engaged and they learn the lesson well, leave it alone. Take a look at the lessons that are difficult for students and find a way to use technology to bump up the level of engagement and comprehension." That may be slightly paraphrased but the essence is, I believe, intact. We were put into small groups and our goal for the course was to create a fully integrated curricular unit that utilized technology. Step One was to identify a need.

I was put in with two prospective elementary teachers and we decided we would focus on 3rd Grade Math. We each talked to veteran 3rd Grade teachers and asked them what concept students found most difficult to understand. They all identified story problems as the culprit. So, ask yourself what in your classroom is the one thing that makes the kids' eyes glaze over? What do they struggle with in your content area? What concept is a bit dry and could use some pizzazz? That is the area on which you should focus to find meaningful technology integration.

Step two is to see what you have available to you right now. For many teachers, it is an interactive whiteboard setup given to you with the misconception that it would be the panacea to all technology needs and that you would fully embrace it because it was expensive. We all know that hasn't happened when we walk into a classroom and see an overhead projector shining a hand-made transparency up on the very misused SMART Board or Promethean. Worse, and I have seen this, is a huge chart paper set in front of the board.

Many districts did promote the use of the boards but not in a way that would jump start or sustain their use. I know teachers who took multiple "beginning" workshops, but never had anything in the intermediate or advanced range so they used the boards at a basic level for many years without progressing. Some districts gave workshops long before the teachers actually got the boards and by the time they got them, they had forgotten what they learned and their IT departments no longer existed for support.

Let's say you have an interactive board with little or no training, and you have identified a need in your classroom. This is exactly where you need to be to create meaningful engagement for your students. If you have one of the SMART products, you have access to a great set of teacher tools embedded in the SMART Notebook software that will have you creating engaging activities that support things like sorting and sequencing. There are also tons of teacher-created lessons online that can serve as a template for your own work.

To me, integrating technology into the curriculum is the same as integrating any curricular area. It has to be done in a meaningful way or it is superfluous.

The real key here is to work with lessons that need a bump. Why slap a shiny coat of technology on something that is already producing the results you want? That is a waste of time for all concerned. You want your students to tackle challenges don't you? Then you must do the same!

1) Find the real need. What lesson makes your students groan in pain and tune out?
2) Look at what technology you have available to you. How can you make the connection?
3) Stop being afraid. What is stopping you from becoming engaged with technology?
4) Find a mentor. Who(teacher or student) seems comfortable with technology? Seek them out!