Teaching with Technology is Bad?

I had a teacher tell me today that she wished we could just go back to teaching the “old” way, that technology did not add anything to lessons and it was easier to teach before technology.

This statement reminds me of several things. The first of which was something a teacher said to me many years ago. She said, ” Do you think teachers had this hard of a time when the pencil was invented?” If you thing about that it really does make sense. Teachers probably did grumble and complain when students were getting up all day to sharpen that new fangled contraption – the pencil!

The other thing that this reminds me of is a quote from John Dewey, “If we continue to teach today, as we did yesterday, we rob our children of tomorrow!” This was said nearly 100 years ago but it is still so true! We as teachers cannot continue to teach the same way year after year! Like it or not our students need to learn in a way that is applicable to them!

We, as teachers, HAVE GOT TO BE WILLING TO LEARN! I cannot imagine not wanting to learn something new! My principal says all the time that as soon as we quit learning it is time to retire! Why do teachers think they can use the same old lesson plans year after year and still engage and motivate their students (There is a time and place for tried and true lessons – but every subject, every day)? If we as teachers don’t want to learn, what message are we sending to our students? Clearly the message is that we don’t value learning, so why should they?

So, my answer to this veteran teacher is, that we have got to learn technology, because we need to reach students where they are, not where we are.  Students are using technology! Students are wired all the time! If we want to engage and motivate, we need to be wired too!

Technology in Reading Class – Part 1, Book Trailers

One of my favorite things is to use technology in whatever class I am teaching.  However, when I use technology I want to be sure that I am using technology in meaningful ways to enhance my curriculum.  There are a lot of ways to use technology that do not enhance curriculum and just replace what we did before.  For example, a lot of my fourth-grade students last year decided to start using their iPads for their Reader’s Notebook rather than a spiral bound notebook.  I allowed the students to do this and didn’t have any problem with them using one form of technology to replace paper and pencil – HOWEVER, this is not meaningfully using technology as a tool to help my students retain more information.  

I want my students to love reading and I want them to love to come to reading class.  I also want my students to really work with texts to understand mood and theme of the text.  One way to do this is to have students use technology.  My FAVORITE way to use technology is having students make book trailers. Book Trailers are an incredible way to grab students attention and love of technology and combine it meaningfully with reading!  The students LOVE making book trailers.  When making a book trailer students have to think about the most important parts of the book and relate them to the viewer.  The students also have to think about the mood of the book.  I always tell my students that I should not hear Disco music if the book was a serious book!  The students have to match music and pictures to the mood and theme of the book! It is a perfect way to use iPads in the classroom!  iMovie even has pre-made book trailers in their library for students to use! Photo I allow my students to use the templates in iMove for the first couple of book trailers and then they have to graduate to making them from scratch in the expanded form of iMovie.  You don’t have to use iMove, you could use any video app or software that you have.  

I have used book trailers in 4th and 5th grade.  This year I am teaching a 3rd grade reading class and I am going to attempt book trailers with them as well. Below is an example of a book trailer from the book Hatchet.  Here is a link to my dropbox folder on Book Trailers.  I have taken some of these templates from all over the web – all free.  I have adjusted them to suit my needs.

I will continue in this series of posts about technology in reading with how we have used Puppet Pals in reading class. 

Kindergarten, Butterflies, and the iPad!

A few weeks ago I was in a kindergarten classroom to teach a unit on butterflies!  It is so exciting to be in kindergarten, but also nerve wracking because I taught 5th grade before moving into my current role of curriculum/technology coordinator at my school!  Kindergarten is quite different from 5th grade!

I had the best time teaching these little ones!  The best part about teaching kindergarten is the students are sponges!  They want to learn everything they can and have so many awesome questions!

I knew that I wanted to incorporate a lot of technology into this lesson, but I also wanted to encourage the students to do some hands-on projects so we could work on our writing and our fine motor skills.

I started the week by giving each student a post-it note and had them write or draw a picture about what they knew about butterfly’s.  The students came up with they fly, they have wings, they eat nectar, etc.  Then I gave I put the students into groups and gave each group a non-fiction book.  I wanted the students to discuss with each other what they noticed about the book, hoping we would be able to pull back together as a group and create a list of text features of non-fiction books.  I realize now that I hurried into this process and I should have modeled it with the students prior to putting them into groups.  However, with a LOT of scaffolding, I worked with each group and they found some features of non-fiction text.  Then, used the following anchor chart to describe non-fiction text (this isn’t mine, I found it on pinterest – I don’t know the reference or I would include(here is a link to my kindergarten board on pinterest).  Finally, I read the book Waiting for Wings and we tried to decide if the book was fiction or non-fiction.


We began the next day reviewing our features on non-fiction text and reviewed while reading a story.  Then, I took all the kindergartners to the computer lab and we worked on a game to put the lifecycle of a butterfly in order.  We used two websites.  The links are here and here.

The next day we did a craft I found on pinterest!  Don’t you love Pinterest!  The students loved this craft!  The picture is linked to the source.


We also worked on a non-fiction book project about the life of a butterfly.  Again, the picture is linked to the original file location.

Screen Shot 2012-03-23 at 7.53.01 AM

The last project we did was on the iPad.  I wanted the students to somehow illustrate the butterfly lifecycle, but I wanted them to use words and pictures.  So, of course, the iPad was the perfect solution.  I used one of my favorite apps, Puppet Pals HD.  I preloaded in pictures to be used and then I showed the students how to make a puppet show.  I let the students choose from a couple of different backdrops for this experiment AND I had given the students free time the day before to play with the app and get used to how it worked.  Below are a couple of examples of students explaining the life cycle of a butterfly with Puppet Pals. 

Great Tools for Teaching Spelling

I find that when it comes to spelling, most teachers have the students memorize the list, play a few games, do the workbook pages or a tic-tac-toe choice board and then give the test.  I have to admit that when I was a classroom teacher, I did the same thing.  Where in the schedule is there time for spelling?  Truly, do we need to teach the skill of memorizing how to spell words, because really isn’t that what spelling is? 

My son is a terrible speller (as am I!), but when he was diagnosed with dyslexia I realized how important the skill of spelling is!  However, I also know that there is limited time in the school day and is spelling really one of those subjects that I am going to spend an enormous amount of time teaching?  I think the best approach to spelling is one that incorporates spelling into reading and writing.  We know that spelling, reading and writing are very closely tied together!  Show me a student with spelling problems and I will show you a student with reading or writing problems.  If a student cannot spell then that means the student is having trouble encoding words.  If a student can’t encode words, then the student is going to experience extreme frustration with regards to writing.  For my son, he can decode words fairly well, because he has had years of explicit instruction in phonics.  HOWEVER, he cannot encode a word to save his life!  Writing is extremely painful for him and he does not carry over his spelling words from his spelling list to his writing.  I see this exact same model play out in the classroom over and over – I just didn’t realize the link until my son was diagnosed (I had already been teaching 6 years at that point!).

In order to really work on spelling for kids that have significant spelling51D3qQ4ZAdL._SL500_AA300_ issues I highly recommend the book, Words Their Way!  It is a fabulous book, that is labor intensive in the classroom.  This book gives explicit  instruction in spelling patters.  It lays out lessons based on the child’s needs.  This is not a book that I would use in whole class instruction, rather I would use it to remediate students that need extra help.  Additionally, on the Promethean Planet website their are a ton of flipcharts that have already been made that support this program!  I love it when I can find resources already made!

Playing off of ideas in Words Their Way,  there are many iPad resources that can photobe used to help students with spelling difficulties.  One of my favorites is the app icardsort.  I load my son’s words into this app and then have him sort the words based on the phonics of spelling rule that he is learning.   We then have a discussion on why he thinks cards are sorted together.  Adding new words is very easy and the decks can be emailed.  So, you can create one deck for your class and send it to your students (if they have ipads) or you can load it onto a class cart of ipads.  If you do not have ipads, create a center with flashcards.

Another tip for spelling, that really is just rote memorization, but makes the learning fun is to record a story with the spelling words that all follow a specific rule.  For example, my son could NOT memorize the “le” , “el” list.  He could just not remember which word had which ending.  We talked to his Orton-Gillingham tutor about how he could learn these words!  She suggested us making up a story with all of the “le” words and then a different story with the “el” words.  This was AMAZING!  All of the words were learned and he made a 100 on that test!  WE use this strategy each week now.  Also, his carryover to his writing is greatly increasing.  He can  remember the stories and will write some (not all) of his words correctly now in his writing.  We use the app Voice Changer Plus Voice-Changer-Plusto make it fun.  The app allows my son to record his voice but, then change the recording into a bunch of different sounds like mice, or a guitar, or a choir!

photo (2)

Finally, to study spelling words and learn them in a semi-fun way we use the app SpellBoard.  I LOVE this app.  My son and I load his words in to the app together (you have to record the words).   Then, my son can play games, study his words on his own and take a test (on his own) for the rest of the  week.  We have set benchmarks he must reach each day and he meets those goals every week.  One of the things I love most about this app is the freedom it gives teachers to individualize spelling instruction in her class.  Aphoto (3) teacher could conceivable have MULTIPLE lists going on in her classroom based on her assessments of spelling skills in students.  Students could load their own words (starting in 2nd grade) and then study and work at their own pace through the week.  Finally, students could take the test and then send the results to the teacher!  This would free up spelling time during the day for individualized, explicit instruction on both the high and the low end of the ability range in a classroom!


Teachers and Technology

In my job as an Instructional Technology Specialist I am in the classroom with teachers every day.  I am teaching alongside other veteran teachers and I really have the best of both worlds!  I get to go into classrooms and help teachers understand how to apply technology, but I also get to learn so much from the teachers I am with on a daily basis!  Every day when I am in a classroom I also learn from the teachers I am teaching with!  I get to see how teachers phrase directions, how they engage with their students, and how they simplify complex ideas!  I love my job in that not only do I teach, but I learn something new everyday – from other teachers and the students!

I have to say that when I took this job I really thought that teachers didn’t use technology because they didn’t want to learn something new.  I do still think there are a lot of apathetic teachers, but I also now know there are a lot of teachers that don’t understand technology!  I was in a classroom yesterday helping a teacher use her ipad.  The kids were telling us tips and tricks right and left!  The teacher was amazed at what the kids already knew about the ipad that she didn’t!  I told her that for the students, the knowledge of computers and technology is intuitive; they don’t have to be taught how to use the technology because they ALREADY know!  She turned to me and said, “I have been teaching for 20 years, you can put me in any grade level and any classroom and I know how to deliver a lesson.  HOWEVER, I have no idea how to use technology, this scares me because I don’t know what to do!”

I think that is really where teachers are right now.  It isn’t that they don’t want to learn, it is that the technology isn’t intuitive to them as it is to their students!  Teachers are not generally clickers – pressing unknown buttons scares them (we are rule followers – only doing what we are told!), whereas kids are eager to know what every button does so they just press all the buttons.  I always give my students “playground” time when I am introducing a new technology.  Playground time is time to just go in and play in the software or application.  I think what I figured out yesterday is that in professional development and working with teachers I also need to give playground time for them to just sit and play with their devices, encouraging them to press all the buttons and see what they do!

Mostly teachers do want to learn, but what they see in front of them with technology is so intimidating they don’t feel like they can press forward.  Teachers – please understand it is OKAY to make mistakes in front of your students and to LEARN technology from them!  I would just say to all teachers, just keep pressing forward with baby steps!

Bring Your Own Device Pilot – Day 1

Well, we did it!  We pulled together a Bring Your Own Device Pilot program for our 5th grade.  It was easier than I expected to be and amazingly ALL of the students are participating!  We sent home letters to the the students and the parents asking them to attend a meeting to discuss the pilot.  We also sent home a contract for the students and parents to sign.  On Wednesday when the parents came in, we only had 2 parents!  The parents had so much faith in the program that they didn’t even come to the meeting ( Pilot Letter and  Bring Your Own Device KR)!  One of the parents at the meeting said, “It’s about time the school did this!”.  The parents were ready for this and have been extremely supportive!  I can’t even say that we have had any problems!  In my estimation so far the pilot is going GREAT!  All of the students today opted to stay in and work on their project rather than go to recess!  I think for fifth-grade we can mark that as a success!

For this project the students will be creating a book trailer for the book Hatchet by Gary Paulson.  The students have brought in a variety of devices – one laptop, many ipod, ipad, and itouches.  No other types of devices – the apple devices really are preferred in my opinion.

I was worried about all of the students working in different software packages and with different resources and tools, but it has really not been a problem.  The students have all helped each other with their devices and I have really been managing the process and checking in with the students.  The students themselves are working hard and mostly staying focused – we have had a few music issues where the students get sidetracked by music on their device.

I will continue to blog about my experience with this pilot program, but so far I am very pleased!

The Perfect Lesson

I was in a first grade class this morning using the activboard to teach a lesson on related facts (I have attached the flipchart here).  As I was planning how to teach this lesson I realized that the perfect lessons do not include ALL technology, nor do they include ALL manipulatives.  The perfect lesson would combine the two in perfect balance – and NOT have too many worksheets (that is a pet peeve of mine).  I was teaching the students addition facts with sums through six.  I used the activboard to model the lesson using dominoes, but then I gave the students dominoes so they could touch and feel the lesson.  Then, we moved on to related facts.  I taught the students related facts on the activboard using cubes and dominoes, but then I gave the students cubes so they could model related facts with the using the connecting cubes.  The student’s LOVED this lesson.  They left the class saying, “Mrs. Daugherty that was so much fun!”.  I think it is so important for students to see and use technology in their lessons, but it is just as important for students to visualize what they are learning – especially in math.  So next time you teach a lesson with the activboard, be sure to bring in some manipulatives for the students as well!

Twitter and the Classroom

I was just reading a FABULOUS article entitled “Communications Checklist for 21st – Century School Leaders” and one the checklist items is “Are You Using Social Media to Communicate?”.  If I take that answer on face value my first response would be YES!  Our school has a Facebook page and we share pictures via Flickr.  But, if you think about how we really communicate we aren’t really telling what we are doing minute by minute or even just every few hours, we are posting an exciting event that we want to celebrate.  In order to effectively communicate with our parents and really bring them into the classroom via technology Twitter would be the way to go.   Twitter allows us to communicate in real time to parents and include them in what we are doing.  The beauty of a tweet is that it can only be 140 characters in length – so the teacher or administrator that is tweeting is not really pulling away from classroom time.  Also, how cool would the kids think it was to say that they were tweeting in their classroom!  I could completely see a classroom setup where one student might be in charge of tweets for the day!  How much would parents love that model?

I am going to try to get this setup at my school and I will keep up with the progress on this blog.  I would LOVE to know what is going on at my children’s school so that I could talk to them about it and I could be involved in their day when they are away from me.  We know that part of being in the 21st century community is realizing that everything we do is in real time!  Also, the more we can share the day with our parents, the more comfortable parents will be with us caring and teaching their little ones!

Auditory Processing and Technology

mypc-128x128In my class I am seeing more and more auditory processing disorders.  According to the National Institute on Deaf and Communication Disorders auditory processing is ” a term used to describe what happens when your brain recognizes and interprets the sounds around you”.  When a student has an auditory processing disorder that students may not hear what I say as a teacher correctly and may not then understand what I have said.  This disorder has a huge impact on academic performance.  As a teacher that loves to use technology I know there may be an answer to this problem using technology.

I read an article this morning by Robert Marzano that discusses the use of interactive white boards in the classroom and how academic performance is improving by the use of these boards.  I think that article could also be expanded and we would see that technology use in general, if applicable to student learning, will increase test scores as well – especially in students with auditory processing disorders.  Most teachers only teach to auditory learners, but we know through research that most students ARE NOT Speaker-256x256

auditory learners.  The reason test scores are improving with the use of the whiteboard is because we are finally reaching all of the other learners in our classroom – especially the visual and the kinesthetic learners!

When my student’s create a wordle they are interacting with words and visualizing patterns with words which is so much more powerful than me saying vocabulary words over and over.  When I use voicethread to help my students with vocabulary words, they are seeing a picture of a word and hearing the word, so I am helping visual learners again!  By giving all of our students opportunities for success our academic performance can only rise.

Technology enhances learning and allows students to visualize what they are seeing, not just hear the words.  It is important for educators to promote the use of technology for those students who need the extra visualization in class.

Too much technology?

As educators we are always striving to help students be a well rounded participants in society.  We have to look at balancing many different concerns in education, including the global society we live in and educating the entire child.  I have found in my experience that it is very easy to get wrapped up in using technology in all disciplines and neglecting other crucial aspects to a child’s development.  I LOVE web 2.0 tools and teaching my students to blog and be useful members of a global society, but it is also important that we teach children basic skills such as writing and cutting on a line!

I know it sounds intuitive but I think as technology driven educators we must balance where we use technology and where we decide pencil, paper and scissors are also a good choice.  This week in class I gave my students the option of using mind-mapping technology or using paper and colored pencils to create a mind map about nouns.  I was surprised when about 7 of my students chose to use paper and pencils.  We are also working on a writing assignment right now, journaling as a slave on the underground railroad.  My students asked if I was going to allow them to use computers and I explained that computers didn’t exist in the 1800’s and they were all disappointed!  However, as an educator I know the important of students being able to write in pencil on paper and cut out an object on the lines!

I wonder if research will come and prove that maybe too much technology too early is developmentally inappropriate for younger students.  I know my fifth-graders do not have very good scissor skills and the ability to color inside the lines.  I haven’t just seen that pattern in one class, it has been multiple classes over multiple years.  I think in our curriculum driven society we lose fact that these students still need help in basic fine motor skills.  I think as educators we need to plan our technology use and the lack of technology use, intentionally as we look at educating the entire child.  As much as it pains me to say we should be unplugged from technology for a bit each day, I think we need to offer our students a balance of technology with the basic cutting and pasting – with glue and paper – not ctrl X and ctrl V.