Teaching with Technology: How, When, and How Much?

*Check out the original post on the Classcraft Blog here*

Technology is to the classroom as a costume is to a superhero. Superhero in this context will be defined as someone with abnormal quirks that allow them advantages over the typical human. Many superheroes use their powers without any sort of accessory, but their suit often serves as a modifier, enhancing or structuring abilities so that they can take down villains with ease. It is important to remember that the suit is unique to the superhero.

Like a suit, technology should be unique to our classroom and our students. For technology to work, we have to consider a variety of factors before we use it. It’s kind of like the scene in The Incredibles when Edna reveals the suits she has been working on to Helen, aka Elastigirl. If I’ve already lost you, you can check it out here.

My point is this: As instructional-change agents, we must vet the technology and applications that we use in class. Above all, the technology that we choose should enhance instruction and allow maximum output, rather than be an additional hindrance that we are tacking on for style and flair.

How do I best use technology in the classroom?

Consider the needs of your students and the outcomes of your lesson. Each app or service that you choose should help you meet your instructional goal(s). Rather than focusing on the bells and whistles of the app, use the following checklist to decide if the app is just right for what you are trying to accomplish.

  1. Is the interface user-friendly? Not all students are tech-capable, which means that we need to plan for students who may struggle with the interface. Most good apps come with a basic introductory lesson for students. If it doesn’t, then you have to create one.
  2. What is the purpose of the application? Why is this better than a traditional method? If you find yourself saying “because it makes my life easier,” you may be choosing to use technology for the wrong reasons.
  3. Is this a one-trick pony? How often (really) will you use this? Time is precious. So the more often you use an app, as well as the variety of ways it can be used, will determine if this is just right for you.
  4. What technology is needed to make this work? Consider the capabilities of your school. Does this work on cell phones, tablets, laptops? Is this ideal for campuses that aren’t 1:1? Is it Google Classroom–friendly? Does it work with Microsoft 365?
  5. Does it have SSO? Single sign-on capabilities ensure that students only have to remember one password. This saves a lot of time and headaches.

Once I go through the available technology, I decide the key apps that students will need to be literate in for my class. These are published on day one for students, and then I roll out each app as we use it.

I plan in at least 30 minutes for an app introductory lesson so that students can learn how I expect them to use the app with me present as a troubleshooter. The implications of this practice mean that class time is used to teach students the application. It also means that I am taking on more than my content when I do this; however, I have found that once students feel comfortable with the technology, little to no time is wasted as students transition to the appropriate technology.

Click here for an example of the online websites list for my classroom.

Lastly, have a process for managing the tech in your class. The problem is not that students have access to technology. It is what students do once they get access. It is important that we teach students how to appropriately use tech in the classroom.

Having clear rules and procedures will make your life much easier when integrating technology. Strong classroom management will yield strong integration. If your students are not following directions during a traditional lesson, giving them access to the internet will not magically make them sit down and pay attention. Here are some catch phrases I use with my students:

 

  1. “When I say go …”: Students know that they are not allowed to log in to anything until they hear the word “go.”
  2. “45 degrees”: When someone is speaking to the group, screens should be at 45 degrees. This ensures that students are focused on the speaker and not on their screens. It also teaches students that when someone is speaking to the group, they should be actively listening.
  3. “Submit your work and log off”: No matter how many times we use Nearpod or Google Classroom, my students have to be reminded to turn in their work. Some of my kids share devices, so it’s important that they log off and leave the device ready for the next class to use.

When should we use technology?

Using tech during the discovery or practice components of the lesson ensures that the teacher is not substituting technology for good old-fashioned classroom instruction. Flipping lessons is great (I flip about 33 percent of my lessons), but students need the teacher to help them navigate confusion and misunderstandings. A typical lesson cycle involving technology in my class looks like this:

  1. Do Now (pencil to paper)
  2. Homework and Agenda (students write down their homework but reference the online instructional calendar)
  3. Introduction to Material (teacher-led)
  4. Check for Understanding (pencil to paper)
  5. Group Practice / Individual Practice (tech integration)
  6. Assessment (tech integration)

How much technology should we use?

Screen time is valuable but can be detrimental if used in place of methods that help brain development. A good ratio of technology integration to traditional classroom methods, in my opinion, is 60-40 (70-30 for a beginning teacher). This allows for teachers to continue to help students grow their brain and move information from short-term to long-term.

I personally never use technology to introduce new information. Tech is used to reinforce in my classroom. There is value in students writing things and creating study tools by hand. We regularly create mind maps and notes on paper in my class.

Remember, technology is a tool, not a teacher. It is the suit, not the superhero. Successful integration of technology requires intentionality from the instructional leader of the classroom.

Why I Switched to an Online Lesson Plan

I can still remember my first years teaching. Planning with curriculum binders, teacher guides, textbooks, and post-its covering every available surface, I would attempt to do the impossible and craft lessons that somehow covered EVERYTHING while also being engaging and rigorous. There was never a one size fits all program, and so I was constantly hodgepodging materials and having strokes of genius at 2 am. My plans were eventually housed in 3-inch binders along with every cool thing I picked up from trainings and worksheets I had stumbled across online. The problem with this method was as I moved classrooms, schools, and grade levels I was constantly searching for things I had done in the past or remembered seeing somewhere on someone’s blog not to mention lugging pounds of instructional baggage with me. Before my 9th year in the classroom, I stumbled across Planbook and to say it’s revolutionized my practices would be an understatement.  Here are five reasons why I say, “YES!” to online lesson planning as well as some pros and cons of the most popular programs out there. At the end of the day, we have to choose what works for our students and us, but at least be informed about what you’re doing and why. We have to make this work manageable lest we suffer the fearsome teacher burnout everyone keeps talking about.

  1. Don’t reinvent the wheel. If you find that you are recreating items from year to year, it is probably because you have items in various locations. Sure, at the time your organization makes sense, but then you can’t locate the plan or handout when you really need it. Online planning allows you to have everything you need within one click. If you come across something exciting or a new idea to try out, you can save it and have it on hand when you need it most.
  2. Keep your ideas in one place from year to year. On the same wavelength as #1, keeping your plans in order from year to year can be a pain. Online planning allows you to simply migrate your plans over from one year to the next. You now longer have to wonder, “What did I do during this unit?” or “How did I review this last year?” It’s all on hand. This method also allows for you to share plans with students and parents (in the case of absences or accommodations).
  3. Easily change formats to change with the times. If there is one thing we can count on as teachers is that every fall we will be introduced with a new way of doing the same thing. Whether that is new standards, new planning templates, or a new Learning Management System (LMS), we can count on having to somehow making what we do “fit” with the “new, research-based way of doing things.” Online planning allows us to keep what works and easily merge it with the new lingo and format of the present.
  4. Push paperless interaction with administration and substitutes. I remember teaching in a large independent school district with mixed feelings of nostalgia and “how the heck did I do it?” Each year we would get a box of printing paper. That’s right one box of paper for 150+ students, and somehow we were supposed to make that sucker stretch until May. This meant we were making handouts a quarter of their original size so that we could squeeze four papers into one. On top of that, we had to keep lesson plan binders and sub binders updated with, you guessed it, multi-page, detailed, lessons complete with handouts and copies. Let’s just say…the box of paper didn’t go far. Online planning allows for paperless distribution of plans and materials with administration and subs. Even though I’m at a school now where we can print to our heart’s content, the old me remembers the “good ole days, ” and as such I send my plans soft copy. The way I see it, if they want to print it, they can use their own paper to do it. (Petty, I know. But it is what it is.)
  5. Search for files and skills with ease. No longer do you have to have to search through binders and boxes to find that one handout or activity from when you taught something way back when. With an online plan, you can search for skills and lessons with ease. With a simple keyword or tag search, you can pull up lessons, units, and deliverables in the time it takes for you to take a sip of your coffee.

Here are some of the options for online planning that are available. This is not an exhaustive list, just one based on what I’ve seen and use. Below each one, you will find the link to the website and some general pros and cons. 

Screen Shot 2017-07-17 at 11.32.32 AM This is an example of my plans that I migrated from last year to this year. 
  • PROS:
    • $12 for the entire year. Even if you leave, your plans are still accessible.
    • Can share plans with admin, colleagues, parents, and students with view-only or editing access.
    • Can move lessons from one day to the next in the event of schedule changes or unfinished lessons.
    • Works well for secondary teachers with multiple classes or preps.
    • Add in important events and non-school days so that you have an accurate depiction of days and times when planning.
  • CONS
    • Is really teacher/admin centered. There is not much on the student end but viewing plans for missed work.
    • You have to set up your template first so that it is pre-loaded into each day’s plan.
  • EVERNOTE
    • PROS:
      • User-friendly. Evernote has a ton of videos and posts about how to best use it. It’s probably the easiest to get the hang of.
      • You can take an image of handwritten notes and plans, and the text is searchable within Evernote.
      • Probably the easiest to convert from handwritten plans to online.
      • Can use with students for note-taking, notes, presentations, etc.
      • Can use the online app or computer application.
    • CONS
      • You need a premium plan for full functionality such as student interaction and notetaking in a shared notebook. You can work around this, but it may be more time intensive than necessary.
      • Can be clunky regarding organizing your plans. Check out this post here for an easy way to setup your workflow.
  • MICROSOFT ONENOTE
    • PROS:
      • Free!
      • User-friendly. Microsoft has a ton of videos and posts about how to best use it. Here is one about setting up lesson plans and templates.
      • If you have multiple preps, you can set up multiple notebooks.
      • You can take an image of handwritten notes and plans.
      • Can use the Class-Notebook add in that allows for you to share documents with students, set up work groups, and review student work.
      • Can use with students for note-taking, notes, presentations, etc.
      • Pairs with most LMS systems (Windows users only)
      • Can use the online app or computer application.
    • CONS
      • Handwritten text is NOT searchable yet, so it works best with typed plans.
      • Handwriting recognition is only available with the Windows version (sorry Mac users! It’s a huge gripe that we all have)
      • Full Class Notebook functionality is only on the Windows version.
      • SLOWEST sync time out of all the apps listed. This means that if multiple people are working on the same page, you have conflicting changes rather than a seamless sync like with Google.
      • Works best if the school is already using Microsoft 365/Microsoft for Education.
  • GOOGLE SHEETS
    • PROS:
      • FREE, FREE, FREE!
      • Can integrate with Google Classroom.
      • A lot of templates are available online or through Teachers Pay Teachers.
    • CONS
      • Workflow setup on the front end is more intensive. Check out this FREE template for setting up plans with Google Sheets.
      • It is really for personal plans rather than for sharing with admin, students, or parents.

Now that’s what I’m talking about. With so much time saved by planning online, you can have some much needed ME TIME, and when everyone is freaking out at the copy machines and teacher in-service about what they are teaching next week, you can smile because you’re done!