I am not an expert, nor do I claim to be an expert at integrating technology in my classroom. However, I do have personal experience with it and strive to improve the use of tech in my classroom daily. There is so much information out there on this topic it is astounding, and you could spend a lifetime searching to find the perfect cookie-cutter method and never find it. What I’ve discovered after much research and contemplation is that there are a lot of great ideas out there, and as a teacher you need to find what works best for you and your students. Not one classroom or teacher is the same, so tech integration should look differently for each of us based on our personal experience and students’ needs. The most important thing is that you continually embrace it with a growth mindset to strive to do it a little bit better every day so that you can adequately prepare your students to excel in this ever-changing 21st century.
As for myself, I have learned that there are a few key things that are beneficial, dare I say essential, to help me effectively, practically, and authentically imbed technology in my first grade classroom. I hope after reading this you will find these ideas useful for you to better integrate technology in your classroom on a daily basis as well.
Set Yourself Up for Success
Before you can begin to teach lessons that integrate technology, you must first carefully design and arrange your classroom environment to make it conducive to this style of teaching and learning. In my classroom I have created different areas that allow students to access different tools or spaces necessary for learning:
- Whole Class Instruction Area- At the front of the room it is helpful to have an area designated for whole group instruction to occur. Any time whole class mini-lessons occur, students know exactly where to go.
- Collaborative Areas- I say ditch the desks and bring in the tables and cushions! Tables allow students individual space when necessary but always allow for collaboration as well. Also, getting some comfy cushions to store somewhere easily accessible allows for students to collaborate on the floor if needed. This kind of flexible seating arrangement benefits the needs of all students.
- Tech Storage Areas- If you have tech in your classroom, students need to be able to access it easily whenever necessary. In my room we are 1:2 with iPads so I have a lockable cabinet that stores them at students’ reach. I also have a ‘tech table’ where I store other developmentally appropriate tech we have access to in our room that I have personally signed out for my students use (ie. Beebot, Probot, Ozmo, Snap Circuits, Ozobot, etc.). This table of tech is constantly adapting and changing depending on what tech fits best with our units of content at particular times in the year.
- Makerspace Area- This is a HUGE topic in and of itself but can be very simple to implement. It is basically a space designated for creating and making. It can be as simple as bringing in your recyclables and allowing students to design and create things with them. Here is a resource to get you started with a makerspace. I used this starter kit to set mine up and it only grew from there. I have a couple of sets of Makedo toolkits available for students to use to create as well as a few kinds of tape, scissors, and staplers.
Along with all of these spaces, you MUST have a system of management and organization for them. Make sure students know when they are able to access these spaces, how to care for the tech available, and create some sort of sign-in/out system to know who has access to what. Check out this article I found that gives some other ideas to create a 21st Century classroom.
Exploration Leads to Integration
Setting aside a specific time for students to simply ‘mess around’ with technology/design/innovation daily can lead to better integration in subject areas. At the end of every day in my classroom, the last 30 minutes is for exploration time. During this time, students are allowed to use the resources available in our classroom to explore their interests about anything and everything. I have created a list of choices students could choose to do during this time, or they could ask me to explore something else and I would assist them to get any resources necessary.
During this time I really get to see what each of my students is passionate about and I use that to guide my instruction. This time also gives me a chance to introduce new tech to students and give them time to explore it before using it later for learning purposes. For example, before having my students create powerful stories in writing, I used exploration time to introduce them to Puppet Pals, DoInk Greenscreen, and Stop Motion so that they could ‘mess around’ with the tech before we needed to use it to publish stories they would create later in the unit.
Because I teach 1st grade this idea of exploration time works best for my grade level. If I taught upper grades I would transform this time into more of a Genius Hour instead.
Using tech in the classroom just for the sake of using tech adds little value to the learning. Unfortunately, this seems to be a common occurrence in schools today. A new kind of technology comes out and teachers think, “I must find a way to use that in my room!” Instead, the learning should be the focus, not the tech. The technology is best used when it deepens student understanding of a topic, enables them to use higher order thinking skills, and empowers students to transform their learning.
Dr. Ruben Puentedura created the SAMR model to help teachers think about how to integrate technology in the classroom at a deeper level. I use this to guide my planning and strive to create lessons and activities that transform my classroom through modification and redefinition of tasks.
The world of technology is changing on a daily basis. Waves of tech that we think will transform the world come and go, and we as teachers need to be willing to roll with the tides. If I expect my students to be learning using technology, then I better be modeling it daily myself. For this reason I think it is so important for educators to always be willing to learn and try out new ideas. If we try and we fail, we simply readjust our teaching and do it better next time. Integrating technology is a learning process for all, the key is to simply keep doing it.