Ed Tech

Seeing tech in the classroom as ‘just another thing’

Technology doesn't have to be something else to add to your already full plate in the classroom. It should be the secret sauce that takes class from good to great. (Sketch by Matt Miller)

Technology doesn’t have to be something else to add to your already full plate in the classroom. It should be the secret sauce that takes class from good to great. (Sketch by Matt Miller)

Jam-packed curriculum. State assessments and required lessons. Field trips and school assemblies.

Our lesson plan books are already packed to the gills.

Class time is so precious. With all the interruptions and impositions on it, we feel like we have to make the most of every minute, especially when lots of goals and benchmarks ride on student performance.

Adding something else to that already full plate can feel back-breaking and impossible.

When teachers talk to me about using technology in the classroom, they’ll sometimes say, “I don’t have time in class to add technology. We already have this and this and this to accomplish.”

They see technology as “just another thing” that they have to squeeze into their already overloaded schedule.

I can sympathize with that, but I also know there’s a whole different perspective to it.

Don’t see technology as “just another thing.” See it as your secret sauce. Your secret weapon to doing more and doing it better than ever.

Using technology in the classroom isn’t the silver bullet to cure all education ills. But it can be the key that opens up:

  • More engagement with students
  • More efficiency in classroom activities
  • Extra access to information and resources
  • New experiences students couldn’t get otherwise

If done correctly, technology shouldn’t be an extra piece to add to the puzzle. It should be the secret ingredient that makes the whole product higher quality. (I hope I didn’t mix metaphors too much there.)

If it can’t make class more engaging or more efficient, if it can’t provide more access or better experiences, here’s what I say …

Don’t use it.

I still use a pretty low-tech survey tool: raising hands. There’s no faster way to analyze data in a group than to say, “Raise your hand if you …”.

I could set up a Google Forms survey. I could use Poll Everywhere or TodaysMeet to let people vote.

Or I could just ask them to raise their hands. No tech can beat it for simplicity, speed and results.

For a moment, just for fun, let’s swap out technology with tartar sauce and see what happens. Imagine a teacher who says …

They say that tartar sauce is really good. I’ve heard that it makes fish taste much better. So … I’m supposed to use it. I tried eating it with a spoon out of a bowl, but that was pretty gross. I tried it on various things, like cereal and fruit salad and toast. It just doesn’t go with any of it.

How do we use tartar sauce? Some people add it to fish because they think it improves the fish experience, but they probably don’t add it to much else. Tartar sauce works in that situation. We don’t force it into every situation.

And we definitely don’t see it as a stand-alone. We wouldn’t invite friends over and serve it as the main dish or even a side. It enhances the experience of something else.

I’m pretty judicious about what “sauces” I let into the classroom. (By sauces, I mean technology. I know … now I’m really mixing metaphors!) I hear about lots of new tools and new ideas for instruction and student activities. I use very few of them with students or with teachers in professional development.

For me, they have to be simple, doable and scalable to a whole class. They have to save time or make for a much better activity than I’m currently using. Or I throw them out.

An example: Google Maps Street View, a tool I’m on a mission to spread to as many classrooms as possible. We used to look at simple pictures of world cities and basic maps. With Street View, you can drop students down on the streets of practically any city and let them check it out for themselves. They can use their own devices and explore, learning lessons like they would if they were really there.

It’s simple. It’s doable. It’s scalable to a whole class. The experience is much better, so I stick to it.

Finding that kind of technology to use in your classroom is a wise investment. Put it into place and it will pay dividends for years to come … maybe for the rest of your teaching career.

Let technology in the classroom be your tartar sauce, or your secret sauce. Add it to your favorite dish to enhance the experience. And if it doesn’t go well on your cereal, then just leave it in the fridge.

[reminder]What do you think of the phrase, ‘Tech is just another thing I have to deal with’? How do you manage integrating tech in the classroom?[/reminder]

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