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.

  • AngelaRiggs

    Great idea!

    I love that your students wrote and published a book review! Did they feel more motivated and excited about the assignment because they knew it would be published for the general public to read?

    Also, are there any apps in particular that stood out to you, that you’d recommend for classroom use?

    Thanks! 🙂

    • JessicaCuthbertson

      3 Cheers for Motivation and Engagement 🙂

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Angela!

      A resounding YES to increased motivation and engagement around the class book review.  This was their final assignment of the school year and I’ve never had kids work so hard on literally the last two days of school to polish, revise and present their work :).  Sharing it with an authentic audience definitely helped (especially once they started to get some comments from external readers :), but I think the fact that they collaborated on the writing during every step of the process — from brainstorming to drafting to revising, etc. also upped the ante on engagement and motivation.  Their writing in draft form was public for peer feedback much earlier in the process than when they write individually.  

      As for apps, I am admittedly still quite new in ed. tech. terrain 🙂 and haven’t experimented with too many yet.  But depending on your purpose or student need, there seems to be an app for anything and everything :).  I enjoy using the “classroom organizer” app through Booksource: to organize my classroom library.  Students used this app to check out books (which they can do from any computer and/or smartphone if you dowload the app) and while it was labor intensive for me to scan in all of my books in August, it was easy to add titles throughout the year and have a system that was web and computer based vs. old school index card systems I’ve used in the past!  This app also allows students to write brief reviews and “rate” books when they turn them in and keeps a classroom library system running smoothly and independently.  As I mentioned we used Googledocs a ton as students’ writer’s notebook/portfolio and Edmodo for our threaded discusssions, entrance/exit slips and assignment updates and reminders, but there are many other platforms out there that do what Edmodo does as well (Schoology, etc.) I’ve heard good things about Notability and Voicethread but haven’t tried either…yet.  Edutopia’s top 5 iPad apps can be found here: (and include a few I’ve mentioned).  There are lots of ed tech teachers and gurus on Twitter, so the great thing about being new to this is that support is often just a Tweet away!  Best of luck and hope you share some of your own tech. integration ventures!

  • marsharatzel

    Can you tell us more?

    This is a geat and inspirational story.  Can you explain more about how you incorporated the laptops in that first step….the one where they were doing exit slips?  Did they post all of those on  Edmodo?

    How did you go back thu and read what they said?  Or did you just read them and then know what you needed to do next?   Could everyone read everyone’s slips?

    I know it’s sort of detailish….but I was thinking Edmodo is tough to incorporate because I love having Edublogs….where they had full blown blogs.  The district has Edmodo and I would like to migrate more to that platform….just had so many issues with it when I tried it last fall.

    Thanks in advance for your help and THANKS for such a terrific idea generating/provoking post.




    • JessicaCuthbertson

      Edmodo Ups and Downs 🙂


      Sure!  Thanks for reading and for your thoughtful questions.  So…my ed. tech coach dragged me (somewhat reluctantly) into trying Edmodo first :).  I’m still not convinced its the “best” or even ideal platform but for teachers new to integrating tech. I would recommend it because 1) It’s super easy to set up and 2) It’s “Facebook for school” look and feel make it super intuitive and easy for kids to use.  So…in the early days I would post their bellringer/”do now” question there and they would log on and respond (5 minutes max.) and then often an exit slip or closing reflection as well at the end of the period (5-10 minutes max.) so that students were using tech. daily but in short bursts which just felt more manageable for me in the early days.  The great thing about them posting entrance/exit work there was that it was all in one place, it was “public” in the sense that everyone in the class could read (and respond) to each other’s, so it was a great way to teach digital citizenship skills and the importance of things like proofreading/clarifying your point, and just holding kids accountable to what a short, academic post should look and sound like when they were doing “rough draft” thinking.  

      I generally did look them over after class (later that day/night or early the next morning) to inform my planning, make adjustments, and plan my conferring or small group schedule based on issues or misconceptions that may have surfaced in their work.  It was very easy to scan for patterns, but initially I used their work on Edmodo the same way I would have an “old school” paper/pencil exit ticket.  As the year went on and I got more comfortable with the platform, and kids got more comfortable (and were using the machines for longer writing projects on googledocs, etc.) so I would read them in the moment and ask kids to come up and share their insights on the Promethean board by talking about what they posted and why, how/where they revised their thinking, how and why they chose to respond to a classmate in a certain way, etc. So kids’ posts ended up being models for other students rather than just data for me…that was a cool shift and one that my ed. tech. coach helped me make as well :). 

      So…at the end of the day I like Edmodo for really short informal writing/formative data gathering but still prefer Googledocs (and/or the edublogs you describe) for more sustained written work.  I would suggest Edmodo to a teacher new to tech integration because it is fairly simple to use, but I would definitely never see it as a replacement for their googledocs portfolio or individual blogs.  And, I think there are other platforms out there that are very “Edmodoish” that might be just as easy to incorporate.  Edmodo is free, very safe (you can lock the group so that only members of the class and parents, etc. can see the group’s work) and provided my students with a space for them to check in both with me and with each other outside of the class period as well (there’s an app version for smartphones that most of my students downloaded).  It also came in handy on the rare occasions when I had a sub 🙂 as a way for me to check in, answer questions, and monitor some of their work in the virtual space when I wasn’t there physically in the room. 

      Hope this helps!  Would love to know more about your Edublogs — how students use them and your process for incorporating blogging into the classroom — might be where I need to head with students next, since I’m looping and will have my sixth grade students as seventh graders in the fall so I’m hoping to “hit the ground running” from both a tech. and content perspective! Until then, back to summer! 🙂