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Keys to Using Classroom Tech: Shifting the Goals, Facing Fears

Delonna Halliday

Today's teachers—particularly those of us who graduated from college more than five years ago—must make some cognitive shifts in order to be tech-savvy. Here I discuss just a couple of that have been helpful to me.

Shift #1: Recognize technology as a tool for learning, not as the goal of the learning.

The other day, I was discussing classroom technology with a good friend. The two of us have worked together for many years, and collaborated on multiple projects. Our conversation centered on this shared observation: While many teachers want to use technology, some seem unaware that different tools work well for different purposes.

Not long ago, a teacher contacted my friend: "Come teach my students PowerPoint." My friend asked, "Why?" The response: "I want them to write a report."

All too often, with the best intentions, teachers use a wrench like a hammer ... simply because they know students should be able to use a wrench.

In this case, my friend suggested the students use a word processing program to write the report. The next step would be for students to use a tool like PowerPoint to create a presentation summarizing the report.

Of course, some would say developing a PowerPoint presentation on the fly (without the substance of a report to inform it) is a valuable task for 21st-century learners. It's a scenario they may face in real life. If you're seeking to fine-tune students' communication and presentation skills, then going straight to PowerPoint may be your best option.

But it's all about what you want students to accomplish. Establish the goal, and then select the tool.

Shift #2 - Get past the fear factor.

Remember the blue screen that meant you lost all your work? Many teachers recall misadventures with early computers: finding ourselves at strange screens with no way out, or accidentally deleting all our files. Pretty intimidating.

It may sound simple, but I was freed from fear by the power of the "Control + Z" key command. I was taking an Adobe Illustrator class when the instructor said, "Any time you find yourself in a place you don't want to be, or think you have completely messed up, press Control + Z until you are comfortable again. You cannot break this program."

Wow. Those few sentences granted me freedom! But once I started moving without fear, I rarely messed up. And when I did, I had my pinky on the Ctrl key and my ring finger flicking through those Zs.

Every tech class I teach, I mention the power of Control + Z. While it doesn't apply to every situation, goof-up, or uncertainty, it does remind my colleagues that there are solutions. That we are in charge of the technology. That Google is there for times like these. That it will all be fine.

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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