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Cool Tools Are Fun, But Learning Should Come First

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Cool Tools Are Fun, But Learning Should Come First

Some teachers can get caught up in the latest ed- tech resources and forget to prioritize educational value above all else.

posted June 11, 2014

The Internet is littered with lists of educational apps, Web 2.0 websites, and “cool tools.”

These lists certainly can help teachers keep up with the latest and greatest websites or apps in education, but what they don’t do is help a teacher understand why they should use them or explain the technology skills students will gain from using these tools.

Many teachers come to me asking, “There are so many cool websites to use these days — can you help me find a couple and show me how to use them in my class?”

While I’m thrilled when teachers are excited to try something new, I’m concerned that the excitement over the tech tools is headed toward a dead end.

It’s important to know what tools we have at our disposal and what they’re capable of doing. But it’s arguably more important to understand why we would use them so we can choose wisely when designing learning activities. According to a guide published by CoSN called Steps to Mobile Learning, a common pitfall with ed tech is “putting technology ahead of pedagogy.”

A slight change of perspective can pay huge dividends when integrating educational technology into the classroom. Before your next Internet search for cool tools, consider this approach:

  1. Identify the curriculum goals and pedagogical approach. What are you going to teach, and how are you going to teach it?
  2. Choose a set of technology skills. For example, the International Society for Technology in Education’s Standards for Students (ISTE Standards-S, formerly NETS-S) provides “standards for evaluating the skills and knowledge students need to learn effectively and live productively in an increasingly global and digital world.” Pick one or two standards to focus on according to their relevance to the lesson being taught.
  3. Find the right technology to facilitate the learning activity. Once the previous decisions have been made, the seemingly overwhelming list of cool tools or apps can easily be filtered, and the choice becomes much easier.

The following is a practical example of how curriculum and pedagogy can drive the choice of the technology tools. Here are the English language arts literacy standards we’re going to focus on, for use with a 6th grade class.

Common Core State Standards

English Language Arts Standards » Writing » Grade 6

  • Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, relevant descriptive details, and well-structured event sequences.
  • Engage and orient the reader by establishing a context and introducing a narrator and/or characters; organize an event sequence that unfolds naturally and logically.
  • Use narrative techniques, such as dialogue, pacing, and description, to develop experiences, events, and/or characters.

Pedagogical Approach

Teachers can vary their strategies from lesson to lesson, or use an established approach or philosophy with regularity. In this case, we’ll use constructivism as an example. Constructivism is a theory of knowledge that argues that humans generate knowledge and create meaning from the interaction of experience and ideas.

Technology Skills According to the ISTE Standards

The Common Core State Standards have clearly embedded technology skills within the curriculum, but ISTE provides a great quick reference guide for identifying crucial technology skills for students to learn. There’s no need to memorize the ISTE Standards-S. They can be found online in a two-page PDF file and pulled out as needed.

1. Creativity and innovation: Students demonstrate creative thinking, construct knowledge, and develop innovative products and processes using technology.

a. Apply existing knowledge to generate new ideas, products, or processes.

b. Create original works as a means of personal or group expression.

Find the right technology

Now that we’ve identified what we’re going to teach and how we’re going to teach it, there are many resources that teachers can use to find technology tools categorized by a variety of criteria.

A great place to start is the EdSurge Edtech Index, a community-driven database of ed tech products

Whether you’re new to integrating technology into the classroom or you’re looking to use your time more effectively, keep teaching and learning at the forefront of your planning. I’ve found that this approach relieves teachers from feeling overwhelmed by the sheer number cool tools available. Consider it just-in-time learning for teachers. Not only will this method save time and avoid stress, it will also lead to more successful teaching and learning outcomes.

As teachers, we all strive to produce students who are life-long learners. This is one strategy that can help us as professionals continue learning for a lifetime.

[title]Connect IT: Bridging the Gap Between Education and Technology

This article is part of the Connect IT: Bridging the Gap Between Education and Technology series. Please join the discussion on Twitter by using the #ConnectIT hashtag.

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