New Tools or New Thinking?

If you’re like me and set aside as much time as possible during your hectic week to discover new technologies to use in your classroom, then you are already aware of the mind-blowing possibilities out there for us to find and explore. In fact, it can be a bit overwhelming. While there are lots out there that I’m excited about (Pear Deck, Recap, etc.) and plan to share with you all, I want to start with a bit of advice or caution.  Just like any tool we’re given as educators, the use of the tool determines it’s value and effectiveness, not the tool itself.  I’ve shared discoveries with teachers for years in every district where I’ve had the privilege to teach, and I’ve had some great responses and some not so great.  The problem with some educators is that they don’t change their thinking on teaching and learning as the years pass, they just add a technological component to their lessons so that they look up to date.You know who I’m talking about, and if you are reading this and realize that you are in fact guilty of this, which I find myself guilty of occasionally as well, then let me help you reboot your thinking. There’s nothing better than a reboot, hard or soft, to get things working properly again.


Let’s look at Google Classroom, for example. This is an amazing tool in the G Suite that I love and use frequently.  Do I have 1-1 in my small rural Missouri school? No, not yet. Do I have handheld devices for students to use? No, my class itself doesn’t, but most of my students own their own smartphone or tablet of some type. Do I have access to a few computers daily? Yes. Can I reserve a cart of Chromebooks once a week? Yes, usually.  Okay, so how do I use Classroom?  For starters, I use it daily in my short stories class. It is a small enough class to be 1-1 for that period of my daily schedule since I have some desktop computers in my classroom. I don’t use a textbook. (If this thought raises your blood pressure, take a deep breath or maybe go for a short walk and then come back.) I use links to the classic short stories I want to teach and post them in my Classroom. My students read the stories online during class. I can generally find audio links for every story too, which helps my students who need differentiation, and it’s fun for those who love to be read to, especially when I find audio files with great narrators or music to set the ambiance. Students who are absent know they can go to my Classroom and see what we read for the day and whether or not there were other activities or assignments also tied to the day they were absent.  I have several students who never have makeup work when they are absent (and one or two who always do) merely because they check our Classroom and then complete the reading or other activities on their own. I love that.  This is how I want technology to work.


So what’s wrong with that? Absolutely nothing.  But there are educators out there who can’t visualize this small revolution, and instead, they just do the “same ole same ole” but add Classroom.  How can using Google Classroom in education be perverted by a teacher? Well, I’m sure there are more ways that I can list here (plus it’s a beautiful Saturday outside, and I have nothing I have to do for my school or my contemporary Christian band, ONE, so the outside beckons),  but one way I see frequently is to make it a homework only resting place.  This practice is excused by the educational perpetrators in classrooms everywhere  by claiming they’ve flipped their classroom. Unfortunately, they haven’t flipped anything. The homework they normally would have assigned is merely posted in Classroom, perhaps doubled or increased by some increment because they feel empowered with this new-fangled technology.  Ring any bells?


If you truly want to flip your classroom, try posting a video or tutorial of your lesson for the following day (or post it on a Friday and due on Monday to give them a few days) in Classroom as the assignment or homework. This allows your students to be prepared to work on the new problems in class while you, the teacher, are available to provide assistance. The 60 math problems you have at your disposal to assign would not be posted in Classroom as their homework for the evening, due the very next day.  The class period would not be spent showing and explaining how to do it, providing no time for students to practice the new problems with teacher assistance.  Keep in mind that this isn’t flipping your class, nor is it a proper use of Classroom. Sure, it works, and yes, you are using technology. But consider for a second your methods, lesson design, and purpose instead of the tools you plan to use.


Is your interactive whiteboard being used as an interactive or merely a whiteboard?  Are you turning over the discovery of learning to your students?  Are you truly providing independent practice in the classroom? Are your students doing anything that helps them reach the upper levels of the DOK chart? Does having 60 problems a night help them learn? (Well, sure, they will learn something if they are able to keep up with all the work plus the demands on their time by their normal lives.) Rote memorization and lots of practice do help hone skills. I’m not saying there shouldn’t be homework in high school or at whatever level you teach. I don’t personally give out much homework to my students, and when I do, they have more than one evening to complete it.  But the problem with your thinking lies in the numbers (hehe-numbers).  Regardless of what subject you teach, if you think that giving students more and more work on the same level of DOK means that you are reaching analysis, synthesis, or even evaluation, then please reconsider.


Asking me to catch eight crickets instead of just one cricket and then label its parts does not move my assignment up on the DOK scale.  Asking students to read the chapter sections in history class and do all of the questions at the end, and posting that assignment online does not move it beyond the skill and knowledge level.  It does not increase the difficulty of the task unless you have students who do not have the internet at home (yes, those students still exist), and then you have increased their level of difficulty in completing your homework, which is not the same thing as the level of difficulty/complexity in the work itself. If that floats your boat, then perhaps you need a wee bit of a vacay.  Soon. Take it soon.


Instead of looking for trinkets you can sprinkle into your lessons to impress your administration that you are teaching Chemistry version instead of plain ole traditional chemistry from the 1950’s, look at ways you can update your thinking on the best practices being used in classrooms today (Please! For the love of Pete!) to present your information and better ways in which your students can receive, process, and produce once you have “taught” your objectives. After you’ve done this, then come see me. Boy, do I have some mind-blowing tools to show you.

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