Wednesday (12/7/2016), the Media Specialist at one of my high schools, Nan Lanford, and I put on a BreakoutEDU experience for the staff during all four planning blocks. We each heard about BreakoutEDU earlier this semester, and we have been excited about the possibilities of bringing this experience to the teachers and (ultimately) the students. BreakoutEDU is a learning game based upon the recent escape rooms wherein participants are locked in a room and must solve multiple puzzles in order to break out within a certain time frame. The primary focus in these games is building teamwork and collaboration.
In a meeting a few weeks ago, I was completely surprised by a young teacher's comment that he did not like using technology. At all. I was shocked. He said he did not see a reason to use it and preferred to utilize lecture and book work. Double shock. How was this possible? A young teacher would not be who I expected to fight me on technology. He had grown up with technology - it shouldn't be intimidating to him. As it turns out, it wasn't that technology was intimidating to him; he just didn't care to use it. He saw no value in it. So I was left with the question - why do I use technology?
When I graudated with my Bachelor's in Secondary Social Science Education in 2006, I left school confident in my decision to not allow phones in my classroom. I had been trained that they were distractions, and with good classroom management, I would be able to avoid having students distracted by them. That lasted for approximately one year. I spent a LOT of time my first year fighting the overwhelming tide of technology crashing into my classroom. During my first summer "break" (that I spent most of training on how to be a more effective teacher), I spent some time reflecting on whether or not this fight was worth continuing. I began to wonder if maybe the key to technology was to just embrace it. I have always been fairly tech savvy, and I have enjoyed technology ever since elementary school playing Oregon Trail on the Apple IIe (see this article for GREAT pictures of those dinosaurs). So maybe technology wasn't really the horrific corruptor of children's minds that I had been led to believe.
I began to incorporate technology on a limited basis. When students wondered something in class that I wasn't sure of, I encouraged them to take out their phones and see if they could find out. Believe it or not, students became more engaged. I was starting to reach them where they were. As the years went by, I incorporated iCivics to engage with my Government students. They loved the games, and colleagues and I had competitions going for high scores as well! Eventually, my slow incorporation of technology became a snowball running down hill, and it grew larger and faster with every new tool. Within a few years, I actually flipped my AP Psychology class and utilized Twitter to divide and conquer the massive amount of vocabulary inherent in an AP course. (For more on that journey, check out a blog post I did for Sophia.org.)
All of this became a springboard into the position I moved into approximately a year and a half ago. What I have found over the years through my own battle against and then for technology is that technology has the capability to make your classroom more efficient, your students more engaged, and your teaching life more exciting and more engaging for you. However, true integration of technology becomes a transformative element in your classroom. If you were doing worksheets all of the time and you have moved to doing worksheets digitally, they are still worksheets. Contemplate using technology to move yourself one step up. It is not necessary for you to use all of the technology immediately. It's perfectly fine (and much more practical) to incorporate a few things at a time. As Vicki Davis said in her recent keynote presentation at GaETC in Atlanta, Georgia, innovate like a turtle.
Happy teaching with tech, my friends!
Leah Kurtz, Ed.S.
I am a Technology Training/Integration Specialist for a public school district north of Atlanta, Georgia. I am passionate about supporting teachers and students in transforming their classrooms using technology. I am a firm believer that technology should not be a special occasion; rather, technology is at its best when it is a seamless part of our everyday actions.