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With Classroom Tech, the Answers Are in the Questions

Delonna Halliday

"It's not that I'm so smart, it's just that I stay with problems longer."—Albert Einstein

Teachers are creative, inventive and keen problem-solvers. All most of us need is some encouragement to recognize how those skills transfer into adding technology tools into our classroom. People say I'm "smart" because I can use computers well. Truth is, I mess up a lot. I just don't let it get to me. I use that fabulous Ctrl+z to get myself away from an "oops" so I can try again. The learning is in the trying. And that is a change from the past.

Teachers are no longer seen as the gatekeepers of education. In the past (my past), teachers were the holders of knowledge who imparted their information onto us—the students. Those wise educators in front of us knew the gross GDP of major nations. They could recite the Periodic Table or concisely explain the difference between preterit and imperfect past tense verbs in Spanish. Now? In the past 10 minutes, I have looked up the quote from Einstein, confirmed the correct spelling of "preterit" and had a quick online chat with a friend who wanted information about James M. Barrie.

Teachers are not expected to be perfect. We need to be comfortable with the questions. This is similar to the disequilibrium students experience as they learn a new concept. It is awkward. Most of all, it is humbling. As teachers, we don't need to show students the answers to technology problems, we just need to show them how to work through the challenges. We need to show them we can sit with problems, and use creative thinking to revise, alter, and seek more understanding.

When planning a lesson for any subject, a teacher considers the students' needs, the end goal and then the best tools to propel students to that end goal. Then, the teacher proceeds to walk through the lesson, testing it in his or her mind for all the pitfalls or challenges their class may present. It is the same for technology. Have a backup plan for any lesson with technology just as you would have with any lesson. After all, if technology is just the tool, then what is really the focus? Communication skills? Writing? Presentation?

One of the greatest challenges to using new technology is time. It takes time to plan a quality lesson, and it takes time to then add a layer of technology. I wish curriculum would come with the understanding that technology would be used. Instead of it being an additional component (an online game, for example, that enriches or allows for remediation), the technology used in the lesson should be an embedded, intricate part of the lesson. I know we are all at different stages of technology. But I am thinking of lessons that almost anyone can use. For example, if it is a writing lesson, simply allow access to computers for students. If it is a math lesson, pre-recorded lessons with an online workspace for students would be ideal.

The need for teachers to be super-savvy-tech-rulers isn't as important as allowing students access to the tools. After all, if you are stuck, you have a room full of experts ready to impart their tech-knowledge to you. Stay with those problems longer; ask for help; see where it leads.

Delonna Halliday, a National Board-certified teacher and a member of the Washington New Millennium Initiative team, is a literacy coach at First Creek Middle School in Tacoma, Wash.

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