Teaching with technology: How, when, and how much?

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.

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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?
  • 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.

Students working on computers

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:

  • “When I say go …”: Students know that they are not allowed to log in to anything until they hear the word “go.”
  • “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.
  • “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)

Students working on laptops

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.

Photo credits: Monkey Business, michaeljung / Shuttershock.com

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