Where is your cell phone right now? In your hand? Next to you? I’d bet money it is somewhere within reach or that you at least know it’s exact location (but not too much money, because, ya know, I teach). If you’re anything like me, your cell phone is a necessary part of your everyday life. If I didn’t have my Google calendar synced to my phone, I would never know where I was supposed to be. Technology is an integral part of our everyday lives and without it, most of us would be hopelessly lost, figuratively and literally, depending on the day. So, why are some people opposed to having technology in the hands of students? Technology helps us accomplish daily tasks, connects us to people around the world, and helps us settle those petty fights about what other movie that actor is in. IMDb for the win, amiright?
When I first started teaching, my classroom had 4 Chromebooks for 25 kids. That meant those Chromebooks were collecting dust on the counter because I did not have time (ok, I probably had time, but I had no desire) to create a schedule that gave everyone equitable Chromebook time, not to mention actually finding things for the students to do on the blasted things. My teammates had class sets of Chromebooks, but as a new teacher, I had missed the boat on applying for the grant. So, my classroom was “old-school” because we used paper and pencil for everything. That is, until I saw the amazing things the other teachers were doing with their students on Chromebooks and I wanted in. Fast forward to a year later…I successfully applied for and won the grant to get my very own class set of Chromebooks!
The day they wheeled in that big, beautiful cart was the day my teaching forever changed. Not only were my students more engaged in their learning, they were also doing things I had never thought possible. Using an app called VoiceThread, my students could record themselves solving a math problem, upload the video to a shared class page, and watch other students’ strategies and ask questions. Their explanations were far superior to the previous year’s class because the students had to really think through their explanation before they recorded it for others to view. The students asked better and deeper questions of each other. They also used VoiceThread to journal about the life cycle of butterflies, which they got to see firsthand in class. They uploaded pictures of the caterpillars growing everyday, documented the amount of frass (poop) each caterpillar produced, and when the chrysalises split apart to reveal butterflies, you would have thought we discovered a new planet! The level of excitement and engagement in my class was palpable.
Using technology in my classroom has been a game changer, but it isn’t all rainbows and butterflies. Sometimes technology doesn’t work the way it is supposed to and kids can get frustrated. Sometimes kids make poor choices and search things they have no business searching. Sometimes, technology is not the right choice for a lesson and the students would benefit more from a different activity. This balancing act of choosing the right mode of learning is one where I have failed more than once. But, the benefits definitely outweigh the costs. One way I keep myself accountable to make sure deep learning is the outcome for my students is to use the SAMR model. This acronym stands for Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, Redefinition. If we want our students to be held to a high standard of learning, we need to use technology in ways that modifies or redefines activities. For example, using a Chromebook to write a paragraph is no different than writing one on paper because you are simply substituting the device for a notebook. However, if your student could submit a video recording of an explanation of the math problem and get feedback from other students, that is modifying the assignment to increase learning.
Students should never be in front of screens all day long in your classroom. I will never advocate for that. There needs to be balance in your classroom in order to best serve students. But, if you keep technology out of students’ hands simply because it is technology, you are missing out on some great learning opportunities for both your students and yourself.