Become Better at Teaching with Technology, Conquering One Tech Challenge a Month for a Year

by Jean Tower


I recently became aware of a challenge started by Steve Dembo: 30 Days to Being a Better Blogger Challenge . Steve was well into the 30 days when I started following along the progress that some people (Beth’s Thoughts and ClioTech ) were making, so I decided I would take the challenge a bit later – maybe in January after the craziness of the holidays.

The whole idea of the challenge has sparked my imagination about creating a challenge for teachers. I think teachers might be intrigued by the idea that they can become better at teaching with technology in “X” simple steps. The challenge might take on the title: Become Better at Teaching with Technology, Conquering One Tech Challenge a Month for a Year.

So, here’s my question to the blogging world. What should be included in the list of ten challenges?

Let’s assume that teachers answering the challenge are already quality teachers in many ways – they embrace project based learning, they share their enthusiasm for their subject, they care about kids and learning, and they work to make the classroom to be student-centered. They have always taught for critical and creative thinking, they have high expectations, and they encourage collaboration. They just have not yet adopted many technology tools. Perhaps they use email, do research on the web, and feel confident putting together a PowerPoint presentation – that is, they are still pretty “novice” when it comes to integrating technology into teaching and learning. Given these assumptions (I like to assume the best), what should the challenges be? What tasks would best move them along the continuum from beginner to adaptive power user? What should they learn that would most benefit them and their students?

In an effort to gather input on this from a wide variety of sources, I am tagging a few bloggers to provide at least one idea for a challenge. However, I would love it if others would participate. It’s as easy as leaving a comment with a challenge.

I tag the following bloggers:

Steve Dembo (since he inspired this idea)

Beth Knittle (since she followed Steve’s challenge)

Jen Wagner

Scott McLeod

Chris Lehmann

And you.

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Stephanie December 2, 2008 at 6:28 pm

Hi – I would recommend that one challenge be to create a webquest. While it is relatively simple to do, many teachers are nervous to try creating one the first time. Simple webquests can be a great, fun way to help younger students learn to find information on the internet.

Steve Dembo December 2, 2008 at 9:23 pm

And here I thought I was done with challenges for a little while at least!

Ok, I’m game. Here’s one thought: Get an authentic voice to teach your class for a day. Inspiration credit going to Dean Shareski. Take a subject that you’d ordinarily be teaching in a traditional way. Then find an expert in the field that actually USES that content in a real world manner and have them teach it to your students, as well as why it’s significant to what they do. Bring them in via Skype, uStream, iChat, Yahoo Chat or any other video conferencing utility.

Great idea! BTW, one little tip for you, especially since you’re tagging people. Email them too. They may be busy and not checking their ego-feeds 🙂

Scott McLeod December 3, 2008 at 5:46 am

Hi Jean,

Fabulous idea for a post. Thanks for including me!

My challenge for teachers would be an ongoing one: to set up a RSS reader such as Google Reader and nurture it for a month. They likely will need some initial help to do this, in setting up and adding feeds to the reader and also in finding feeds to add. If teachers added three to five feeds a week for a month and made themselves dive into the received posts (and occasionally comment back), they would have a much better feel for how the Social Web works and the power therein.

Chris Prout December 3, 2008 at 6:07 am

I think that a good place to start would be with opening and using a delicious account. It would also be a good idea to have the teachers work with a partner or in grade level teams to share resources and links.

Lorelle Allessio December 3, 2008 at 6:10 am

Collaboration, collaboration. I would encourage the teacher to explore and use on line collaboration tools and then extend what she learns and incorporates this into her instruction.

Jeff December 3, 2008 at 6:16 am

I think you defined the critical piece: “Let’s assume that teachers answering the challenge are already quality teachers in many ways – they embrace project based learning, they share their enthusiasm for their subject, they care about kids and learning, and they work to make the classroom to be student-centered. They have always taught for critical and creative thinking, they have high expectations, and they encourage collaboration.”
Teachers that embrace such a philosophy of teaching and learning are, IMO, much more likely to be using technology in interesting and creative ways with their students. For those of us supporting and managing technology in schools, it needs to be emphasized that teachers first need to be here, in their minds and in actual practice, before the “tech thing” evolves beyond — paraphrasing Bernajean Porter — the look-it-up-and-tell-me-back approach.
I don’t even like having workshops or in-services with technology in the title any more. Doing so seems to divorce the content — in the minds of those attending — from the real focus of improving teaching and focusing on student outcomes.
My 2¢…

Cheryl Oakes December 3, 2008 at 6:19 am

My one thing to get a teacher or administrator or student hooked.
Teach Google Alert to help deliver content to your email. It is a great way to keep track of news about a single topic! You feel so important when that email comes in with just the nugget of information you were looking for, anywhere from a research topic to the news about the basketball team.

jclerch December 3, 2008 at 6:35 am

I would respectfully suggest three challenges to increase the use of technology while at the same time maintaining genuine collaborative learning experiences for students. By using these ideas, student investment in learning is encouraged, reliance in online collaboration is enhanced, and the intensity of interaction between classroom time and online interaction is genuinely supported.

First, put applicable standards in front of the students, and then ask them the question that is being asked here, and then follow up on their ideas. If students feel like they have a voice, they will let you know what they want to learn, and how their learning ties into the applicable standards. And if there is concern for anonymity, consider using a confidential survey.

As far as incorporating new technology, I would recommend introducing students to http://evernote.com, once it is up and running again, http://etherpad.com, and finally http://twitter.com. All three of these applications are valuable tools for collaboration.

A third idea that I am trying involves using Understanding By Design’s “Facets of Understanding.” I am having students write “Explain” essays on diverse topics (one topic per student in the class) and post them on a “ning” type site. Once posted, I expect peer editing, as well as for each student to develop an understanding of what is written. Next, we will put each author on the hotseat for ten minutes. Upper level thinking questions should be used to make sure the author (and the questioners) understand their topics. Then we move to the next “Facet of Understanding” – Interpretation, and a new student will add an interpretive addition to the already-started essay. We will continue doing this until each “Facet of Understanding” (“Apply”, “Perspective”, “Empathize”, and “Self-Knowledge”) has been written about, all of them by a different student. This entire process is supported by technology that allows for online collaboration. The end product should be an impressive, comprehensive essay that not only answers the question, but permits students to experience first-hand the power of collaboration.

All three ideas, each supported by technology, and each encouraging an in-depth use of some of the latest technology, will permit teachers with limited use of technology in the classroom, to introduce the use of technology in a meaningful way.

Rob Newberry December 3, 2008 at 7:39 am

Great ideas here.

As a technology teacher, I would say get teachers into really exploring Google Earth. The benefits of bringing the world into the classroom are huge – so investing in a projector, a laptop and an internet connection makes it worthwhile when you have amazing free apps like GE.
Students can get some fluency with GE, start photographing their community, and post it on the Google Earth Community. So many projects can be imagined with this and the GE Community adds a whole new depth.

jenwagner December 3, 2008 at 8:06 am

I think the tech challenge I would offer is to not see is ONLY as tech. To take a look at your worksheets and textbooks and then find an alternate way of teaching it……….same topic, new way.

I would also offer a challenge to teachers who say “well I don’t have a projector — so how can I” to start using their “teacher computer” as a center and start working with small groups. This will help you see student’s understanding better as well as learn yourself in a smaller setting.

I guess my biggest challenge would be to ADVANCE. If you have been teaching for 5+ years or more and have become content and confident…….it is time to change. So look for ways to do things new.

Heather Sullivan December 3, 2008 at 8:21 am

My suggestion is to embrace a Digital Storytelling Tool- that is, find a tool that your students will enjoy that will help them learn to OWN their voices & their words and to be PROUD of them too 🙂 Tools like Animoto & Voicethread are great for this. Every teacher in every subject can find a way to authentically incorporate digital storytelling into their curriculum (i.e. You don’t have to be an English teacher to help students tell stories. Stories are how we learn about EVERYTHING!). For example, if you teach science, you can have your students create digital stories to recount a lab they performed as an alternative to the traditional one-dimensional “lab report”.

The challenge sounds GREAT! I’m game!

Deanna December 3, 2008 at 8:25 am

What a great idea! I think one of the best things teachers can do when embarking on such a journey is to find a buddy! I couldn’t learn all these things without the help of my network on Twitter or here at work. Always include tech support in your buddy system. It doesn’t seem like such a huge leap to social networking when you are already working with someone else nearby on a regular basis. So maybe if you start with a LB (Learning Buddy) eventually you can develop a PLN! (Acronym for everything? AFE)

Beth Knittle December 3, 2008 at 12:48 pm

Coming late to the conversation so many great ideas have already been shared. Pigging backing on Chris’ comment about social bookmarking, I have found one of tools that get teachers hooked on web 2.0 are wikis. I would have teachers collaborate on a wiki. They can share resources and information with students, parents and each other. We have teachers create wikis that address specific needs for kids and they are well used by both students and parents.

E. Wilson December 4, 2008 at 6:23 am

Check out Curriki – It’s a free wiki for teachers to share resources.

As for the social bookmarking, I started with Delicious, but have since moved onto Diigo – a much better tool to introduce to students. Works very much like Facebook BUT has great internet researching capabilities.

Another freeware tool I’ve been using is C-Maps, which I have recently discovered has a sharing component to it as well.

And thanks for all the new stuff to look at!

Dave Solon December 14, 2008 at 8:52 am

I’m a few days late to this, but after reading the suggestions, how about #10 being: “Create a free blog to reflect on the 9 previous listed items.” You might just add another blogger to the fold. 🙂

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