5 Unexpected Lessons from Tech

When our school received our first cart filled with 30 brand new, shiny iPads. My principal at the time, Jackie Howard, said to me, “Iram, this is all going to be you.” I went home that evening terrified. Tech doesn’t like me, it NEVER works. I don’t know what she was thinking!
Well, I sucked it up and acted like I knew what I was doing. Reflecting back, I have realized that I have learned many unexpected lessons from tech that have influenced other aspects of my life and career. Here are my top five.
1. Patience
Yes we are in the 21st century and tech can do amazing things, but sometimes it takes a little time for all the pieces you are trying to connect to register what you are asking it all to do. Who doesn’t work at a school that is trying to squeeze the limits of older tech on sketchy wifi, right? Just take a breath, and let it do what it is doing. That “circle of death” is now, for me, a “focus for meditation.” Who am I kidding, I hate the circle/line of death, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if it was a focus of meditation?
2. Have a Back-Up Plan… Or Twenty
If things aren’t going they way you planned, be prepared to shift gears and try another plan of attack. This is why it is important to have a variety of tech resources in your tool belt ready to pull out, like cords, dongles, apps, YouTube tutorials, the staff of Apple shrunk to an inch put away in your pocket etc.. There is nothing more frustrating than having a brilliant lesson ready to go and not being able to even begin because of “tech issues”. Most of the time, there are ways around the problem. Your tool belt just has to be full of different options and you have to allow yourself to think outside the box.
3. Let it Go
Sometimes, no matter what you try, things just don’t work at all. That’s when it’s okay to just shrug your shoulders, abort the mission and take time to chew on what went wrong.
4. Let it Go Part 2
The best way to teach tech and encourage tech integration is to let students and teachers explore and integrate it in their own personal lives. I can preach until my face turns blue, but until people have time to actually play, nothing will change. They will just look at you as the “crazy mentally unstable techie” who has drunk way too much of the kool-aid.
5. Build Capacity
The more people who learn the lessons above and the more we allow ourselves to learn from others no matter how old you are or what your job is, the easier it gets! It’s not rocket science!
Which leads me to the the phrase, “you are so techie”. I have realized this means more than just being able to set up and trouble shoot tech. It is a mindset. When someone asks me a tech question or throws a problem at me, I am now comfortable enough to say, “It’s okay, relax. I don’t know, but let’s figure it out.”

iPads aren’t for Everyone

Okay, so another teaching assignment change for me… Just had teacher librarian added to the mix. I’ll still be teaching Kindergarten one day a week, but I’ll now be in the library three days a week and vice principal one day a week. Phew! Just writing all that made me tired!

I took on the teacher librarian role as an opportunity to collaborate with all the enrolling teachers at my school and as a way to really get to know all the students. I also was excited about the ability to integrate technology during our classes’ library times.

While I know that technology is to be used as a tool for teaching and isn’t a magic solution to all children’s learning needs, I have never really experienced students not wanting to use technology!

Well, in come a group of 4th graders and I excitedly revealed to them that I would be pulling out the iPad cart for them to find more information on the different birds we read about. My announcement was followed by cheers and clapping; they could not wait to get their hands on the iPads! After searching on Google for a few minutes, one student nervously asked, “Are we allowed to go on YouTube?” Me: “Uh, yes, of course!” The library suddenly was filled with bird song and a lot of sharing. We watched videos of robins hatching, a warbler singing, a sparrow building a nest, and many more. So much engaged learning was happening! I was about to pat myself on the back, for a job well done, but then beyond the sea of happily engaged students I spied a group of boys on the carpet at the back of the library… with no iPad… and they were not talking about birds!

Me: “Boys, do you want an iPad?”
Boy 1: “No, I don’t like iPads?”
Me: “Well have you used one before?”
They all nodded and sneered in my general direction, not wanting to make any eye contact.
Me (totally thrown off and not sure where to go with this awkward situation): “Okay… Uh, hmm…”

And then it dawned on me, we were in… A LIBRARY!!
“Do you want to look at books about birds?”
They all nodded eagerly and stood up. I then skipped over to the 598 section (yes, I am becoming a Dewey Decimal System Master!), showed them where the bird section was and they happily looked at the books until the end of their library time… engaged in learning.

Now that was unexpected! The boys looking at books were just as engaged in their learning as their classmates who were using iPads. This was a big reminder that technology isn’t for everyone and it is just another option as we differentiate instruction for our students. Forcing every student to use technology to learn and present their learning is just as ineffective as forcing every student to all use pencil and paper and books in the library!

Oh, and in case you are curious, here are some of the bird videos these students found. Welcome spring!
Robins Hatching

Sparrow Building a Nest

Warlber Singing

Bring on the Technology!

My school this year was lucky enough to receive a grant where we have been able to buy 40 iPads, and a projector for every wing in our school.  Wow, has this ever transformed my teaching. This is why CanTeach, once again was put on the back burner. I have immersed myself in creating and collaborating. I kept thinking, I should add my thoughts to CanTeach!

My district has been so supportive with offering workshops and bringing in wonderful guest speakers like George Couros (http://georgecouros.ca/blog/) and Bill Ferriter (http://teacherleaders.typepad.com/the_tempered_radical/) who have inspired us to use technology as a tool to encourage 21st Century learning.

As a result of all this support, I have been able to do so much.  I haven’t immersed myself in technology since first starting CanTeach in 1998!  A lot has changed to say the least!  It has been a huge learning curve. I can even sync 40 ipads and give them all a iOS 6.1 update… and when it fails, I know how to fix it! If I have been able to do it, you can do it too!

I am so excited about what these new tools has done to my teaching and the connections I have been able to make with my students, parents and colleagues. This year has been the best year yet! My students are engaged, I am making more use of the time in the teaching day, and I have been able to make some deep connections with parents.

In future posts I will share apps that I have discovered for early learning and all the messy things we have been playing with, but for now I’d like to share a video I made with one second video clips.  I shared this on our class blogs to show how print rich our classroom is and how we are loving learning how to read and write.