Monday, August 13, 2012

Gearing Up for the New Year

It's happening again...

We're about to begin a new year with new students, and we're dusting off our file cabinets and setting up our rooms. In the midst of the meetings, the professional development, and the general chaos of these first days, you'll have to ask yourself the following questions:

1. What do I want my students to accomplish this year?
2. How will I go about making this happen?
3. What tools are available to me to make my lessons the best they can be?
4. How can I successfully measure my students' growth?

These are the normal, universal questions teachers ask. In the last several years, though, we've been asking a fifth question: Where can I fit technology into my curriculum?

And that's the problem...

Too often, teachers view technology, and I mean the hardware, the software, and web 2.0 tools, as an addition to their curriculum instead of an integral part of their curriculum. Admittedly, as an English teacher I was often stumped as to how to integrate tech into my lessons about literature, but I came to understand that I didn't have to use technology for its own sake, but I needed instead to use it to enhance my lessons.

If you are currently teaching in a traditional, "20th century" way, or if you think using technology means showing power points on your SMART board, then let's think about expanding our outlook just a bit. Here's  three ideas that you can use today to start integrating technology into your teaching practices.

1. Add some interest to your warm-ups by creating an interactive activity on your SMART board. Students can match terms and definitions, categorize items on the board, or click parts of the board to reveal answers to review questions or problems.

2. Consult experts in your subject by finding relevant videos on YouTube. Some great learning-based channels include TEDeducation, SciShow, CrashCourse, and 60second recap. Adding a short video to your lesson or to your website can spark interest and be a great way to reinforce that learning can take place outside the school walls as well.

3. Use Google Documents for student writing. Have students share their papers with you in Google Docs, then work with them through the writing process. Students have more frequent feedback from you, and you can watch them working with their papers in real time. You can even hold online office hours with students to discuss papers.

Remember that using technology effectively doesn't mean we are using it every minute of the day. Remember that the technology you use should be appropriate to your goal for the students. Remember that technology used for its own sake typically hinders learning rather than enables it.

So those four big questions from earlier? Don't add tech as your fifth question. Instead, think about how technology can help you answer those questions. Tech shouldn't be squeezed into your curriculum. It should support your current teaching.

Happy Teaching!

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