One question I am often asked is, “How do you get started?” The answer is actually a simple one – humbly. I use my planning time (in school and outside of school) differently. I am no longer creating classroom materials. Instead I am exploring apps and websites. I am listening to others talk about the apps and websites they’ve read about or tried. When one sounds useful to our class, I write it down so I can explore it when time allows, and in those times at sports practices, I play with the apps and websites. While watching TV, I explore more, and while teaching a lesson, I bravely pull out an app or a website and I use it in my lesson, I stumble and the kids support me, and together we learn how to use these tools to support our learning.
There’s no sales pitch or hype about the tool. I simply use the tools in the midst of teaching. Students come to expect a variety of tools and to learn to evaluate the capabilities of the tools. Soon after the lesson, someone asks, “Can I use ___ to show my thinking?” the answer is always, “If that tool is your best choice and you have your ideas, of course.”
Exploring the tools we will utilize in our room is an important first step, but this is just the beginning . I also need to think about our community of learners, their needs, and how I will introduce the tools in a way that will lead to intentional and independent use for and in learning. I anticipate early days of “technoglam” and the students’ need to explore the many possibilities before they can settle into purposeful use.
Creating Community Spaces
As I step into the classroom to begin creating spaces, my first consideration is always community. After
teaching for 18 years, setting up a community meeting space has become instinctive for me, so when I wanted to add digital tools to our room I had to push my thinking for this community space and the classroom space as a whole. The space needs to be large enough to accommodate all students comfortably with a defined space and ample tools. I want the use the tools (digital to non-digital and back again) to be seamless. As I teach and I transition between tools the attention needs to remain on the learning not the tool. I want all tools to be embedded in our classroom. I also know I want access to the easel, digital camera, books, pencils, paper and markers simultaneously, so I arrange our meeting space in an area where we will have access to a desktop computer and a projection screen (I asked my technology department to install an app or software to allow us to project our iPads and computer on the large screen. We use Air Server). My daughter (a student herself) quickly pointed out the kids need to have seating space far enough back to prevent neck strain while looking up at the screen. All of this can be a challenge to accommodate in a classroom, especially a classroom you’re familiar with. I find asking other teachers to come in and share their input to be very helpful. The less familiar they are with your room the better.
Creating Individual Spaces
Anytime I fashion spaces for learning, I devise areas for kids to work in collaborative spaces, quiet spaces, space to work while standing, spaces to curl up on the floor and spaces to sit at a table. When integrating digital tools I think in the same way.
Portable tools seem to match all our needs without planning, but the desktops can pose challenges. They seem to demand their own space and often with the big tables and connection accessibility. To help streamline and blend the desktops in our classroom, I took out the big computer tables and placed the computers on top of the bookshelves on the back wall. I spaced the computers far enough apart to allow the kids to lay books, papers or whatever tools they may need beside the computer. This space is just the right height for kids to work while standing standing, the kids seem very comfortable in this space and can easily access the computers while on the go, stopping by for a quick comment or to research a question.
Accessibility of Tools
With the goal of embedding tools into the landscape of the classroom as pencils have been for years I knew the organization of the tools had to feel natural. I also thought about who and how they would be used, the students will be the ones to use the tools, so the students should be the ones to determine where they will be stored and how they’ll be shared during the day.
At the start of the year the kids typically decide on a basket on the back shelf, near the 2 desktop computers and an outlet for easy charging. The students like this location because it’s central and the availability of the tools is easily seen from anywhere in the room. Because we have only 6 iPads in our room, the way our tools are shared is also up to the students. Some classes want to start with a rotation sign up, and we do, but it isn’t long until that sheet fades away and gives way to on-demand use based on purpose.
It’s funny how the “technoglam” also fades as students learn more about purpose. They begin to release the reins and use the tools as they see an opportunity to improve their work. Soon, digital tools are seen laying on the tables, in baskets alongside pencils and post-it-notes, and even under the easel. I celebrate these sightings as these sightings are proof digital tools are just part of the landscape of our room just like pencils, paper, and glue.
My thoughts on tools in our community:
- The tools will be a natural part of our classroom just as paper and pencil
- The students will know the capabilities of the tools
- Students will choose tools based on need and purpose
- Digital tools should be as accessible as pencils
- Tools will extend our learning by creating new possibilities
- Students will have ownership in their learning
Be True to Your Beliefs
As I consider the organization of digital tools in the classroom I am also working to keep true to my belief statements in education. I realize adding new tools in our classroom does not change what I believe to be true about best practice. So, the challenge comes in avoiding the “technoglam” of digital tools and keeping the conversations always about the learning and not about the tool. Tools come and go and the tools the kids use today will soon be gone. What are students need to understand is how tools provide opportunities and can support our learning.
Let’s chat on Monday, August 10th at 8:30 p.m. EDT, when the eight of us host a Twitter Chat about classroom environments. Just search the hashtag #TWTBlog to participate.