A shorter version of this post appears on the Edtech 101 blog at TFAnet.org.
So you’re headed to summer Institute? You know you’ll need a laptop, Microsoft Excel, and toilet paper. This technology alone isn’t going to make you a great teacher, but there is an explosion of tech tools that can help. Problem is, there are too many to test and every moment at Institute (awake and asleep) is precious. So I’m going to try and “differentiate” my tech recommendations by aligning them to 5 out of 6 strands of the Teaching As Leadership rubric.
As you dive into teaching, you’re going to have a lot of technology tools and ideas thrown at you. But any technology is fundamentally a tool that helps you solve a problem. And the more problems a given tool can solve, the more useful it is to have in your toolbox. Think about a kitchen. Many specialized kitchen gadgets seem useful, but most are a waste of counter space. You’re better off with a small set of high-quality tools–a heavy fry pan, a sharp chef’s knife, and a sturdy wooden spoon–than you are with a juicer, a garlic roaster, and an ice cream maker. In cooking and ed tech, you have to be shrewd about which tools to use and which tools to discard.
Invest in students and their families
Maybe your summer classroom will have an LCD projector; maybe it won’t. Purposeful videos and short clips are one way to hook students into a lesson, start a discussion, or introduce a concept.
Arrange virtual visits. Investing students by exposing them to role models is another powerful approach. Find a video of a successful actor, athlete, or public official discussing the importance of grit and hard work. Even better: invite someone inspiring that you know personally to “visit” your class via Skype or Google hangout.
Make your phone a more powerful investment tool. There are also a host of communications tools that can help you mobilize student families and influencers. Start getting comfortable with a parent contact tracking system that works for you. Hint: a Google spreadsheet is a lot better than the back of a notebook.
Sign up for a Google voice account to manage your phone calls home and give you a separate phone number for work-related communication.
Your five weeks at Institute are a crash course in teaching, but one of the primary goals is to make you an effective lesson planner. Because lesson planning involves synthesizing large amounts of curricular material into concise unit and daily plans (and creating and sharing those plans with other teachers), your personal digital organization is likely going to need an upgrade.
Put files where you need them. You’re likely to get CDs of files tailored to your Institute and subject area. Copy everything on any disc or flash drive into a logical folder on your laptop. Arriving to a morning session and realizing that the disc you need is sitting in your dorm room means wasted time asking around the room for the files you need.
Setup a cloud file-sharing service that works for you and your colleagues. “Cloud storage” refers to services that allow you to store computer files online, or “in the cloud.” Several software companies offer cloud storage services that include powerful free accounts. If you want all the gritty details,
Chances are, you’re going to get invited to a Dropbox folder for sharing files with other corps members and your advisor. If you don’t currently use cloud-based file storage for your most important files, get on the bandwagon. “I can’t find that flash drive” or “my computer crashed” are no longer any excuse for losing your work.
Fortunately, Google just launched a very similar product called
If you still need more cloud storage, Microsoft also recently launched their
Use the cloud file-sharing service to share things that are useful. At the very least, you’re going to want to share a Dropbox folder or a Google drive folder with your collab partners–for lesson plans, student tracking data, behavior management plans, classroom procedures and systems, etc. If you felt you had to do everything yourself in college, get over it. Part of effective teaching is about begging, borrowing, and stealing. Or just dropping your materials in a shared folder.
And if you’re sharing files, be purposeful and consistent in how you name them, since other people may not understand what “monday lesson.doc” or “fractions.ppt” mean. Folders, organized chronologically, are your friends. As are logical names like “2012-05-27-pratt-lesson-fractions.doc”
Again, the kind of technology you have in your classroom will determine much of what you can do here. At Thomas Edison High School in Philly, summer 2010, we had desks, chalkboards, and chalk. A good teacher can execute effectively without fancy kitchen gadgets, but here are some suggestions that you can implement in a wide variety of settings.
Clearly present academic content. This can be as simple as making a screencast on your laptop or tablet that captures the minilesson (“I Do”) portion of your lesson. Why record yourself teaching ahead of time? There are three major advantages. First, it forces you to explain content clearly and succinctly. If you watch yourself over and it doesn’t make sense, erase and start over. Second, if you can playback your recorded minilesson for a class to see (on a projector or large screen), you can circulate among your students, managing behavior or supporting them while they take notes.
Need a refresher or a starter idea on how to present an objective? There are several growing communities where you can find screencasts of high-quality lessons. TFAnet’s
Manage student practice & check for understanding. The best tech tools for doing this require 1:1 classrooms, where every student has a computer, tablet, or Internet-enable device. If you’re in such an environment, get an account on Socrative or just
Reinforce rules and consequences. You’re going to learn a lot of classroom management techniques at Institute. Whatever those techniques are, they will be more effective if you can keep accurate track of how you’re implementing rules and consequences. Currently, the best tool for this is
Implement time-saving procedures. Ideally, any technology you use at Institute should save you time. If doing something digitally is faster, good. If paper and pen is faster, go with that technology.
Track student performance. Here’s a place where you may see a lot of difference between Institutes. Some regions have adopted tools like
If you’re eager to digitize student work as part of your tracking, however, there are a few exciting products that have appeared very recently or are still in development. One available now for free is
Continuously Increase Effectiveness
My first suggestion here is simple: open up your favorite word processor or email client and start typing about what you’re learning, what you’re messing up, and what you’re doing well. Hit save. Send it to someone whose feedback you trust, or simply go back and read it the next day. Asking for help and reflecting on what you are and are not doing as a teacher will go a long way towards improving along the TAL strands for “Gauge progress and gaps,” “Identify contributing student actions,” “Identify contributing teacher actions,” “Identify underlying factors.”
As for “Access relevant meaningful learning experiences”–see my suggestions above for TFAnet’s video hub and LearnZillion. Or find the
Lots of folks are going to tell you that you’ll “work harder than you ever have” at Institute. If you’re going to work that hard, then you had better work productively. That means that technology should never get in your way–it should help you be relentless, and it should help you protect your mental health.
Expand time and resources. Again, time spent trying to fix technology is time wasted at Institute. Save yourself time by creating a “cheat sheet” document that sits right on the desktop of your computer with all the passwords and login information you need for your college network, your school district network, and any tools that you’ll need to initiate when you don’t have Internet access. Sure it’s 2012, but you’re going to find plenty of situations where connections are poor or inaccessible. That’s another reason why file syncing services like Dropbox and Google drive are critical: they store your data on your computer and in the cloud, so you have all your files at the ready even when you’re offline.
Expanding time and resources also means making smart decisions about technology that helps you and technology that distracts you. In this regard, email and social networks can be a double-edged sword: great for staying in touch with loved ones and seeking advice and support, but black holes for precious time. So go through your inbox and unsubscribe from the email lists that you don’t really need. Turn off the frivolous notification updates in Facebook, Google+, and Twitter–on your computer and your phone..
That doesn’t mean forsake the communication tools that connect you to friends and family. In the pressure cooker of summer Institute, it can be easy to lose touch with people who need to hear from you and whose words can help you sustain your energy. In this regard, I like intimate social platforms like group texting. For almost my entire time in the corps, four fellow CMs in my region have kept in touch daily with a service called
This is hardly an exhaustive set of recommendations for technology that can help at Institute. Got any other ideas or suggestions? Please drop me an email or post in the comments and I’ll update this document.