Part of the ongoing 1 Thing series.
When teachers start teaching with technology (and I do mean really teaching with technology), the first thing they better do is to “strap up their seatbelts and pull it tight”, because they are getting ready to go on the ride of their lives. Teaching with technology is a ride. You will find yourself trudging up the hill at times thinking you will never get to the top, yet at other times you will be flying down the hill wondering when you are ever going to reach the bottom.
Approximately 14 years ago, I along with several other science and math teachers from area schools took part in a 1 year workshop that met for 4 weeks over 2 summers and then once per month or so during school talking exclusively about technology in the classroom. The workshop entitled “Tech Tools” provided a launching pad for my use of technology in my Physical Science and Physics classroom. It especially introduced me to the use of Vernier technologies in the classroom. Upon completion of the workshop, I returned to school determined to figure out a way to put Vernier probeware to use in my classroom. With the help of the greatest technology director in the world, I received a $100,000 grant to buy probeware, computers, calculators, etc. Our science department went from having nothing to having what I firmly believed the best science lab in the area. I thought I was the technology guru!!! Not hardly. I did become a self-taught expert with Vernier equipment, but that is only where my ride began.
My students were exposed to excellent lab situations. I set up many of my labs as inquiry labs before Inquiry-Based Learning became “the thing.” I thought so anyway. The labs were always set up so as to have a “guide to the right answer.” I have since come to realize that true inquiry will result in a lot of wrong answers and that students learn as much from wrong answers as they do from right answers. With End of Course tests, I always argued that we just do not have time for wrong answers. Although it is a somewhat valid argument, I have done a much better job of letting my students get wrong answers as long as they are learning from them.
For my entire teaching career, if my students weren’t in the middle of a lab, they were in their seats and I was at my overhead projector. I loved lecturing and actually still do. I would walk around the room occasionally, but for the most part I could be found at the front of the room with my students staring at me as we went through a lesson. Last year to aid in classroom management, I along with the other physical science teachers bought a wireless mouse for our laptops, created PowerPoint lessons for every lesson we had and became “walk around the classroom lecturers.” Because our PowerPoints were self-made and pretty funny at times, our students enjoyed them, but still found themselves in their seats in a very static classroom.
Summer 2008 came along and after all those years of thinking I was a technology guru, I was treated to a week of Impact Training (named so because of a large technology grant our school system received). I finally got to tighten my seatbelt as I was about to spend a week with a group of educators who knew more about technology that I could ever imagine. We learned about podcasting. We learned about PowerPoint games (test reviews will never be the same again). We learned about Qwizdom (handheld response systems which can be used in conjunction with PowerPoints or used with their own software). We learned about Webquests (what a remarkable idea, students using the internet for learning while in the classroom). We learned that there was more than one type of multimedia presentation students could use to present research: Glogster, MovieMaker, and Audacity just to name a few. At first glance, it may seem like teaching would be easier when you are not standing up front at all times, but this semester has probably been one of the hardest of my career.
This semester has also been one of the most rewarding. My students are having fun. They enjoy class more than ever. There are still times they find themselves in their seats listening to me talk, but it will never again be a 1 ½ hour lecture. We break up lessons with Qwizdoms. We stop and look at different situations on the Internet. We work on multimedia presentations. We work on Gizmos from Explorelearning.com. As a teacher, you will not find yourself at your desk. You will be all over the place helping students, pointing students in the right direction, getting them back on task, etc. What a pleasure when you see a student finally ”get” a concept on their own and want to share that knowledge with the person sitting next to them.
Probably one of the greatest challenges, but also one of the most gratifying challenges is the ability to collaborate with other disciplines within the school. I spent 3 weeks working with an Advanced Functioning and Modeling math class studying roller coasters. It was an extremely tough 3 weeks, but quite possibly the most worthwhile 3 weeks of my entire teaching career. Our classes learned every possible physics concept as they applied to roller coasters on their own and applied those concepts as they built their own roller coaster with Legos. The students were able to Model data they gathered as a part of the math curriculum. I would never have dreamed this big 6 months ago. Before it was all said and done, our classes had completed a Roller Coaster Webquest designed by the math teacher and myself, they had gathered data using Vernier LabQuests, they modeled the data graphically, they built roller coasters they designed on their own with very little parameters, they created videos of their design/build and posted them to the school website and learned a lot about team work and thinking on their own along the way. What I discovered during this 3 week lesson was that using real technologies in the classroom takes much more work up front. I would hate to guess the number of hours put in prepping this lesson, but as I discovered it was time well spent. The lesson is still on my computer. I am ready to tweak the lesson and use it again next semester.
Teaching with technology is hard. It is hard on the teacher for all the reasons people throw out there for not wanting to do it. It doesn’t always work as planned. There will be times your lesson will not work at all. The Internet will go down at times. The students will try and check their personal email during class time. With only 2 years to go before retirement, why should I learn something brand new? I will tell you why, because our students deserve it!!! 21st Century Skills require the use of technology for a reason. It is not the way of the future; it is the way of the present. Using technology in the correct manner will add to your teaching and will also improve your students learning!!!!
So strap up and get ready for the ride of your teaching career, regardless of how far along you already are on your particular ride.
About the Author
Scott Rodgers has been teaching and A. L. Brown High School for 18 years. He is the co-share of the science department and currently teaches physics, physical science and project-based science. Scott is the proud father of 4 children who love teaching him about new technologies.