Tools, Tools, Tools

by Jean Tower

pile of tools

My husband is quite handy around the house and takes on projects big and small. Big – he has gutted rooms and completely redone them – floor, ceiling, lighting, walls – and small – he’ll fix that leaky faucet. His workshop in the basement has grown over the years and he has accumulated the tools to fill the space. A few days ago he bought another(!) new work bench with built-in storage and then spent a couple of days puttering, cleaning, and rearranging. He popped his head into my office at the end of the second day and said it was time to weed his tool collection. “If I had to catalog every tool I have down there I would fill this entire notebook and at least one more!”

It made me of the cycle of innovation in schools relative to technology and to wonder how we get better at the weeding part of the cycle. There seems to be energy and commitment to the first phases of innovation – we explore new tools, try them out, use them with students, and then, whether they become a constant part of our repertoire or not, we tend to want to keep them in the toolbox.

A cycle of innovation is marked by a period of divergence, then trial, followed by convergence on what works well. At the beginning of an innovation cycle we might encourage brainstorming, gather input externally, and look at all the possibilities. Then there is a period in which we try out the most promising ideas and tools, refine, continue to innovate and generate possibilities, try out other ideas, and work with the new devices, apps, methods, and practices. During this time we continue to research externally, visiting other schools and classrooms, but we also put more time into our own experimentation and practice. But then we need to converge. We need to agree on a set of tools in our toolbox. And that’s where I encounter the difficult conversations.

Take a glance at this incredible list of mobile online tools that appeared in my newsfeed today- It’s nice to have tools and I am happy to have them, try them out, use them, and to adopt the best of class. I don’t adopt them all.

When I peruse this list and note that it doesn’t even include most education apps (tools) I come back to the concept that part of our job is to be very selective about the apps we bring in to our classrooms and our practice. Every digital tool takes up space, attention, professional development & support time, update time, and more. And it could be usurping the space of a more useful tool. It is way too easy to get “app bloat” or “tool fatigue” so I encourage us to be vigilant and picky when it comes to the digital tools we adopt. A laser like focus on a smaller set of tools that we can really strongly recommend and support will help us be more impactful. Rather than constantly look for the new bright and shiny tool, we need to build a toolbox of a smaller set of reliable tools.

Of course, all tools we adopt have to meet standards of reliability, student data privacy and usability.

Beyond the basics, I look for tools that:

  • have strong relevance to the curriculum, to teaching and learning
  • enable construction and curation more than consumption
  • encourage higher order thinking skills
  • are engaging
  • are “evergreen” (work across content areas and grades)

Last, I remind educators to adopt the concept rather than to count on the specific tool. Tools come and go – I mourned Google Reader until I found Feedly – and we can’t get hung up on a single tool, but rather the concepts of learning, sharing, empowering, collaborating, and communicating with digital tools.

How do you weed your collection?


Related posts:

Marry the Concept, Not the Tool





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