Bippity, Boppity, Boo: 5 Tips to Prep for the Ed Tech Fairy Godmother

The shift to a 1:1 learning environment can feel a bit like Cinderella at the ball: it is an exciting and daunting endeavor for teachers and students.  Before the clock strikes midnight take a deep breath, and read these five tips to help you get started.

Once upon a time late last September, the ed. tech fairy godmother visited my classroom and granted my wish for a 1:1 learning environment.

She came in the form of a grant and partnership between my school and district’s education technology department. Instead of glass slippers, she provided two laptop carts and an instructional coach (in the form of a person, not a pumpkin). In return, I committed to work towards integrating technology to advance and enhance student learning.

Fast forward ten months. The machines have been unplugged, restarted, well loved and used regularly by over sixty sixth graders in my literacy classes. After a year of piloting a 1:1 digital reading and writing workshop classroom, it is time to reflect, refine, celebrate and plan for the future.

Should the ed. tech. fairy godmother visit a classroom or school near you, here’s five tips to prepare for the 1:1 transition:

·      Start small. The quantity of apps, websites, platforms and possibilities makes it easy to become overwhelmed quickly. Start with one tool or platform and engage students in short tasks to reinforce procedures and build your confidence around integrating digital tools into your practice. I started with entrance and exit slip reflections and polls on Edmodo prior to requiring students to write longer pieces or engage in more in-depth research work. Students had access to machines for about 5-10 minutes (during a 90 minute block) in the early days of integration and we built up over time depending on our purpose.

·      Community first, connections second. As much as possible, apply the same norms, procedures and expectations to both your physical and virtual classroom interactions. As a community, develop a contract that outlines and explains what responsible usage and digital citizenship will look and sound like in your classroom. When an expectation is violated virtually, address it in the way you would if it had happened in a face-to-face interaction. Balance online interaction with student discourse to ensure students are “plugged in” to each other and not just their screen.

·      Lead with the learning. While this may seem obvious, it is easy to become bedazzled by a tool or website. Instead, plan the learning first, and then figure out how technology might enhance or support the learning goals. I found myself asking the following questions as I planned for lessons that would integrate technology:

o   How will technology improve and enhance engagement and collaboration?

o   How can I use technology to monitor learning and provide students with both immediate feedback and feedback over time?

o   How can I use technology to more efficiently and effectively model a process for students?  How can I turn over the modeling to students through the use of technology?

o   How can I use technology and virtual spaces to extend the learning beyond the class period?

·      Take risks, and your students will reciprocate. Be honest (and extra patient) with yourself and your students when you are trying something new or asking them to try something new. Know that the first time navigating a new platform, process or tool will be time-intensive and include a bit of chaos and mess. Just as with other instructional endeavors, repeated practice, a gradual release approach, and a growth oriented mindset that includes learning from and with our students helps streamline the process. In the beginning, I lost sleep over the instructional time “wasted” having students get their machine, log on, shut down, and plug in at the beginning and end of each period. There were moments when I was tempted to throw in the towel and say, “We’re going back to paper!” Students’ tech. confidence and computer skills, including everything from web surfing to word processing, varied widely. Over time however, with clear procedures and daily opportunities to practice, we actually saved and salvaged many instructional minutes moving from composition notebooks to online writing portfolios in Googledocs. And students who were more comfortable with both the tools and with typing found ways to support their peers.

·      Keep audience and authenticity at the core. Use technology as an opportunity to connect your students to people, places and publishing spaces beyond your classroom and school community. Leverage social media to give your students a broad and authentic audience. We culminated the year by collaborating on a class book review to critique the memoir we closely read and studied earlier in the quarter. Students co-created the criteria and brainstormed what sections the review should contain and each student drafted one part (the lead, critique section, summary of the narrator’s life, etc.) independently first in their Googledoc writing portfolio. They then worked in teams to cut and paste all of their drafts into one document for each section and they determined what the final draft of their respective section should contain. We merged sections into one class text and mixed teams again to revise, edit and polish.  I posted their final reviews on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and our school’s blog, website, Facebook page, and Twitter. This allowed us to share our final class review beyond our school and parent community and solicit comments, feedback and input from other readers. It was a great way to end the year, and prior to 1:1 integration I would never have thought 25-30 adolescents could work together as co-authors on one piece of writing.

The gift of 1:1 laptops from my ed. tech. fairy godmother did not result in an overnight transformation. Rather, the tools provided an opportunity to embark on a learning journey with my students that is just the beginning of a fairy tale of possibilities.