Sunday, September 21, 2014

Technology is Both Awesome and Awful

I grew up in a technology infused family. It began first with Nintendo...the original Nintendo.

My parents would stay up late playing Nintendo and must have passed the gene on to my brother Andy, who began “gaming” at a young age and designing websites way back when Bush was still calling it “The Internets.” By the late 90s, all 5 of my family members had our own computers...and Andy was probably building an extra one too. Again, this was back when only about 36% of US families even had one computer, let alone five (I actually looked that up here:

I’m not trying to brag, merely trying to illustrate how large of a role technology has played in my life. I was a Digital Native before the label Digital Native was even conceived.

Which of course means it has spilled over to my profession.

The phrase “technology integration” is a major buzzword in the teacher world. It’s right up there with words like: diversification, response to intervention, adaptive learning, etc. More often it is referred to as “digital literacy” or “1:1.”

My new school is 1:1 iPads in grades 10 and 11. That means every teacher has an iPad and yes, every student in grades 10 and 11 has an iPad that they are responsible for bringing to class, fully charged of course, every day. Naturally, I was thrilled when I learned about this. Though iPads weren’t in my background, I took as many iPad-in-the-classroom workshops this summer as I could sign up for so that when the first day of school came around, I was ready to be a totally-teched-out-teacher. (Okay, that was corny.)

Maybe I dove in a little too quickly.

By week one I was having my students read all their assignments on their iPad. I stopped handing out paper copies on day 2 of school. I had them taking notes using Notability (a great app, btw) on .pdf assignments I pushed out to them using our Schoology course page. I had them uploading completed assignments using Dropbox. I used the mirror to reflect my iPad on the SmartBoard and then used my Random Name Generator app to call on students (the Jungle Theme is their favorite). I graded their writing on TurnItIn then had them analyze the rubric in class on their iPads. I had them create flash cards using StudyBlue and share them out with each other to study their vocab. I felt like a freaking technology rock star.

Then I hit some roadblocks.

This is where I can hear my college professor, Dr. Ruth Wood, saying “If you are going to use technology, always, always have a back up plan for when it fails.”

Because here’s the deal with technology: it fails. (Sometimes.)

The Google Doc Fiasco

My first roadblock was with Google Docs. I love Google. I really do. I mean, who doesn’t? I’m typing this blog in GoogleDocs as we speak. But here’s the deal, Google doesn’t make Google Docs or Google Drive easy to use on an iPad. And why should they? They’re in direct competition with them, i.e. ChromeBooks.

So when I attempted to have an interactive group discussion using a Google Doc and my SmartBoard, a few things went wrong. The first was not Google’s fault, it was that my kids thought I couldn’t trace who was typing what so they wrote things like “Heyyyyyyyyyy” and “Zach is a pirate” (yeah, I don’t know, 10th graders are weird). It took a good 10 minutes to redirect the class after they finished inserting random Emojis in to the Doc, then reveling at them as they appeared on the screen for all to see.

Once they got that out of their system, the next issue popped up. For some reason GoogleDocs has to be constantly refreshed on iPads, so what should have been a cool alternative to the poster-style “silent discussion” turned in to a lot of kids confused and whining that they couldn’t see what everyone else was typing. Then, while I was rushing about the classroom to each raised impatient hand, the program started crashing left and right. Just disappearing on their screens.

Needless to say, the discussion about whether Tim O’Brien was courageous or cowardly in “On the Rainy River” was a complete fail. I attempted to make do with what few legible words had been typed on to the document, then abandoned the activity altogether.

The Yellow Submarine Surprise

The second roadblock I hit was a fault of my own. I failed to put a password on my screen mirroring program. This meant that any student logged on to the school network could, at any time, tap in to my screen and mirror their own iPad on to the screen. I discovered this while showing a PowerPoint on MLA citations and suddenly, out of nowhere: “WE ALL LIVE IN A YELLOW SUBMARINE...YELLOW SUBMARINE...YELLOW SUBMARINE” blasted at full volume from my speakers.

The kids were startled. I was perplexed. It wasn’t until later in the class period that a student informed me about how the “mirroring” aspect could be tapped in to. He was kind enough to let me know that I could password protect it. I thanked him, then silently thanked God that the mystery student who had mirrored their iPad hadn’t blasted something far more Rated-R than “Yellow Submarine.”

The Wrongful Confiscation

My final technology experience story came about this past week. Obviously, if you give a 15 year old an iPad, their first priority is to download as many ridiculous, pointless, time-wasting games on to it as possible. As I attempted to infuse the iPads in to my classroom constantly, it became more and more easy for kids to look like they were participating in class, when they were actually playing a game.

On this particular day, while I led a discussion on The Catcher in the Rye, I decided to pull out my best teacher tools and peruse the aisles up and down as I taught, to ensure I could see any “illegal” iPad activity. Since at the time, I was leading a class discussion about Holden Caulfield’s fascination with where the ducks go in Central Park and what do you think that says about Holden? the only item the students should have had out was their copy of The Catcher in the Rye.

Then I saw an iPhone slide in to the pages of a student’s book. The old phone behind the book trick, I thought. I casually strolled to the culprit’s desk, held out my hand, and waited as she turned the phone over to me so I could place it on my desk. Finally, I thought, a chance for me to send a message to the entire class that I would not be played a fool!

Only a few minutes later, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a student tapping at the screen of his iPad. We were still in deep discussion, there was no reason for an iPad to be out, and the student had already been busted by me several times playing games in the past. I repeated my casual stroll while still analyzing Holden’s character, and took the iPad from the off-task student’s hands to retire it to the make-shift technology device prison that was now forming on my desk.

As the kids would say: I felt like a boss. I even made a cocky comment out loud to the class as I walked the iPad to my desk, “Wow, you guys, I’m on a roll today,” I said.

But as I flipped the iPad over, suddenly I realized that there was not a game on the screen at all. Rather, there was an electronic copy of The Catcher in the Rye, turned to the correct page, with yellow highlighter that the student had been using to follow along.

I was embarrassed, and I had just punished a student who was being resourceful.

Realizing my mistake, I later apologized to the student. To my surprise, he actually wasn’t upset, defensive or accusatory. He just took his iPad back and hurried along to his next class.

But after that and the other two incidences above, it made me realize that there is a whole lot about using technology in the classroom that I still don’t know. It’s changing so quickly that I’m sure I will be constantly having to keep up. Even being a Digital Native in my own regards, my students are savvy in ways that I can’t possibly know.

Overall, here are my words of wisdom when using technology in the classroom:
  • Learn from my, and other teacher’s mistakes (see stories above!)
  • Try everything. Don’t resist because it’s scary and unknown and might not work. Students are pretty accustomed to teachers just figuring things out. Surprisingly, they’re totally capable of going with the flow if it means they get to try something outside of the box during class.
  • Balance technology and traditional teaching. The point is not to flood your classroom with super-sweet technology tricks (like I tried to), it’s to use technology as a tool to aid in teaching. Also, the students of today are going to occupy a world with varying levels on technology availability. They have to be just as savvy at normal student-to-teacher interaction and lectures as they do with the digital side.
  • Follow the words of my wise professor Dr. Wood: Always have a back up plan.

P.S. I’m excited to announce that in Spring 2015 I’ll be taking my love for technology and teaching to a whole new level. I’m heading off to grad school to get my masters in Educational Leadership in Technology. Woohoo! Can’t wait!


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