This year is proving to be quite different to the others in my teaching career. I have moved states (although I think I remain a Victorian in my heart!), changed from the public to private school system and am acting in the role of Head of Learning Technology for the term. Suffice to say, the learning curve was quite extraordinary but I am now settled in for a fantastic term of teaching and learning.
My new role means that I have spent the last week and a half in and out of different classrooms ensuring that technology, innovation and creation are hopefully on the forefront of people’s minds as the year begins. Here are some of the things that I have learnt about setting up the year for success using technology.
1. Make sure the expectations are clear from the beginning
Can the students have games on their iPads? Can they use their devices however they like after they have ‘finished’ their work? Are there any times when they cannot use their device and have to use their workbook?
For better or worse, each school environment has different rules around how students are able to use their device. Some schools require that student work is recorded in their books most of the time, while others are more fluid in their blending of the traditional and the innovative. Many of the behaviour management issues I see that are caused by technology can be avoided if the expectations are clear. There are lots of procedures that are taught in the beginning of the year to make sure the class runs as smoothly as possible – add in your technology routines and you will find that a lot of the classroom management issues will not arise later on.
2. Hook the students – and the teachers – in early.
Yes, students need to know how to use Pages/Word and how to print. But these skills will come if you provide them with rich learning experiences that allow them to play with the technology. Using technology should allow students to create things that were not possible ten years ago, to think outside of the square and connect their learning to the world outside school. It should allow them to have a deeper understanding of the content and better thinking skills as they get to manipulate the information, not just remember it.
In order for this to happen, however, you do not need to start with the boring stuff! Create a lesson that allows students to get to know each other using an interactive quiz, using Keynote and iMovie. Explore cyber safety by filming a role play of what to do if you are the target of online bullying. Give students an hour of ‘tinker’ time, a chance to get to know the different apps and programs available on their devices. All of this will give students an idea of what is possible using technology, so that when it is time for them to use it during a unit, they know they are not restricted to word processing and the lower stages of Bloom’s taxonomy.
3. Set up the basics
Are you using Google Drive this year? Take fifteen minutes to make sure all your students can access their account and can access documents you share with them. Do your students have email accounts? Take five minutes to make sure their accounts are connected to the default mail app so that they receive notifications.
These tasks don’t have to be done at all at once. Spend five or ten minutes each morning for the first week setting up two or three of the main tools you will be using, and you will avoid most of the issues arriving when you are teaching and go to use those tools.
4. Create classroom ‘techXperts’
Teachers are busy, and it is easy for technology to be seen as just one more time eater. In most classes there are at least a couple of students who love technology and would be happy to help you out. Even as someone who loves technology, I have ‘techXperts’ in my class to help trouble shoot and offer suggestions. They may help out with a common error message, or suggest an excellent new app for their classmates to try. I have found some of my absolute favourite apps through students who were exploring the App Store for fun after school. They’re an excellent way to make sure technology is saving time, not wasting it.
5. Try at least one new tech tool in the first five weeks
It is easy to start the year with the best of intentions to try that new idea, or test that new app, only to have time slip away from you. Make a plan to try one of the new things you learnt about over the holidays in the first few weeks of school. It could be as simple as introducing a new app to your students to a larger project, such as implementing Project Based Learning or trying the flipped classroom. Introducing it at the start of the year stops us as teachers form falling back on the same patterns that we use each year, and puts us in the mind frame of innovation to hopefully continue throughout the year.
What do you do at the start of the year to make sure your use of technology and innovation is successful?