Saturday, July 10, 2010

Technology: What are the questions to ask?

If we engage students in real writing tasks and we use technology in such a way that it complements their innate need to find purposes and audiences for their work, we can have them engaged in a digital writing process that focuses first on the writer, then on the writing, and lastly on the technology. Troy Hicks, The Digital Writing Workshop, p. 8.

You can call me Snow White. Not because I took an apple from the crazy lady in the woods, and not because I live with the dwarfs (just crazy teenagers), but because I feel like I've been asleep forever. I awoke about a year ago to find all that technology can do for me. It can bring me a recipe in a second, it can help me keep up with family and friends near and far, it can allow me to make a book/slideshow/photo album in seconds. It can get my pictures developed without leaving my house. It can take me into other classrooms and provide enough professional development (amazing professional development) to last a lifetime.

Since the awakening I have switched to a more functional e-mail account, joined social networks, and started following blogs. I've updated my tools to allow me better access. For the last year I've been learning my way around the place again. As I've been learning more about technology, I've been discovering all that is available.

Along the way I've started to realize (ok, maybe I already had realized, but now I'm doing something about it), I need to catch my teaching up to the world around me. This was never more clear to me than when we went on a multi-family vacation in Florida. The house was filled with kids and chatter. The adults surrounded the pool, and the kids started getting out movie cameras and computers. In a matter of hours, they had worked together (ages 6-15) to produce a YouTube video. They planned their parts, shot video, edited, put it together, and sent it off to be viewed by the world in minutes. It was this moment that shouted to me that our kids are way ahead of the teaching we are doing in school.

I am just past the anniversary of my awakening. I'm reading books about technology, developing a diverse learning community on Twitter to hold my hand, and have found a group of people who inspire me and push my thinking. I discovered a community of online bloggers who continually talk about tech and education (and great literacy ones too!).

I've been working to answer the question, "What is available to use with the primary (insert any age level) students in my classroom." However I'm realizing that I need to change my questions I'm asking about technology, but what are the questions I should be asking?

When our tech group meets we look at applications recently discovered as well as those members have used in their classrooms; applications we think have potential for our learners. Our group is diverse (teachers K-5, tech people, media specialists, intervention specialists), but we're always asking if we can use this in our school. I'm always inspired by the experience of these learners, and their unwillingness to accept obstacles.

I know I want my students to be able to choose the technology which helps them to get their message out to others. As primary learners, I know this is going to mean I'm going to have to find time to show them how to use different applications and give them time to explore. I will need to demonstrate, guide and support. I'm going to have to develop their visual literacy skills alongside their reading and writing. It's all about meaning, message, purpose, and understanding. I want to stop thinking about technology as something that sits in its own space in our curriculum, but instead as something that is woven within it seamlessly. I need to broaden my definition of literacy.

So, what are the questions I should be asking? How will I start my year differently? Where will I carve out time to teach about technology and allow for exploration? How will my literacy workshops change as a result? How can I teach content more effectively with technology? How are my students already using technology at home? How can we use technology to help us do what we already do in an easier way? I need to move beyond the "what" question, and I'm thinking you can help.

I'm hoping you'll comment and discuss some of the questions you consider as you think about the use of technology with your students.


  1. This is huge thinking. I'm a newbie to all the technology options also. My first thought with content is something small I've done but united streaming videos, small photographic clips to show things we are discussing has been huge for visual learners. I'm wondering and asking what are 3 things young, k/1 students should be exposed too? I think daily technology interactions will be needed close together instead of weekly trips to the computer lab or bimonthly. We need/I need to do more and look forward to following your thinking and comments section.

  2. I think you've already thought about the big questions. This post is very thoughtful and reflective.

    Time for me was the big question until I heard ML say last year that she switched from a writing workshop to a composing workshop. So last school year, I invested at least one "composing workshop" a week in the beginning of the year, when writing stamina was a little low anyway, looking at different technologies and then giving kids the time to play around with them. At the end of each session, we would always process how each technology might be used (flip videos, podcast, iMovie, wiki, Keynote,glogster, etc.). Charts about these hung in our room.

    Then, as the year went on, since writing workshop is built on choice, one of the new "choices" was HOW to publish a piece. Thinking about who the audience was and how best to reach that audience, helped them as writers/composers choose the technology that would best serve that audience.

    It was interesting to see that some 5th grade students still preferred to publish an actual book. The technology was just one more publishing choice.

  3. Mandy, I thank you for your thoughtful response and would love to hear more about the united voice video. I'm reading Digital Writing Workshop and just finished the section on photo essays. I'm thinking there is a lot of potential here, especially early in the year, for young learners to think, respond, and share.

    Karen, WOW! I'm going to have to sit and digest all of the thinking in your comment. I love how authentic the use of technology in your classroom seems to be and want to get to that point. I think I need to do more exploration early in the year as well. I like the thought of "composing workshop". Much to consider!

  4. Cathy, I found your blog because I am halfway through your book which so exactly embodies where I am in my teaching of literacy that I am highlighting and bookmarking like crazy on my kindle. However most of my reading and online searching this summer has been focused upon the questions you ask in this post. I too want to seamlessly integrate technology into my day. I am looking forward to this discussion and hopefully a learning process this coming school year.

  5. Cathy-
    I think when you said ..."It's all about meaning, message, purpose, and understanding." and then "I want to stop thinking about technology as something that sits in its own space in our curriculum, but instead as something that is woven within it seamlessly" really summed up what I embrace when thinking of integrating technology. Last year as I was encouraged by my principal to take some risks with technology, I, as you said so nicely, weaved it into what I already know what is right for kids. We had a blogging workshop, I pulled out the flip camera's during science observations, during math choice and other moments that I had time. I used the class desktops garage band software to record student's sharing their book choice for the morning and then taught the kids how to save as a podcast (easily emailed home to parents. I chose things we were already thinking about, used tools for tech to often enhance motivation and then made sure I modeled how we could share our podcasts, videos, writing,etc on all on their blogs to communicate. This has helped me get started. I think I will be continually changing and experimenting with how learning happens with technology. Now, heading back to first grade after looping, I am also thinking, how will I start the year out differently? I also like your question, what technology are kids using at home? Kids who have used tools and tech at home are the greatest models and teachers. I think they help us. I know I used a little boy (youngest of 3 boys) to model quite a bit as a first grader. He was savvier than I and even helped me on imovie. I know reading about what you, Mandy, Karen, and all the bloggers are practicing will help me as I go. Thanks for posting this and making me think!! Also, I found this link to a presentation by Kathy Cassidy about 43 ways to have kids use the pocket video camera in the classroom:

  6. Cathy,
    You already have a list of great questions and thoughtful ideas. For me the first question I always ask is, "How does the tool mesh with the purpose?". Even with tech savvy kids, it takes some time to introduce new ways to share thinking and work. I have made plenty of mistakes in the past few years where "the juice wasn't worth the squeeze." So I try a great deal to make sure the platform for producing or sharing doesn't get in the way of the process. Like you said in your post that your new adventures in tech have made things easier for you to learn and share, you want the same experience for your kids.

    I am sure that you will be thoughtful in your approach and like me, your blunders will lead to new successes. Your kids will definitely benefit from your approach to weave more tech into your classroom community.

  7. I can't begin to thank all of you for the thoughtful comments to this post. You are all accomplishing such impressive learning with technology and provide such inspiration to me. I appreciate you taking the time to put those thoughts in print so I can reread them and reflect on them. Looking forward to more conversations!

  8. Hi Cathy! I just read your comment on my blog! I'm so flattered that you like it! :) I'm so glad you are having this conversation about technology and that you yourself are incorporating technology into your classroom more. I work in a district where I wish I could incorporate technology more. There are some really cool ideas out there for using technology in the classroom. I created a blog to use with my students but the district won't allow students to access the blog from school so I haven't been able to use it how I wanted to with my students. I have seen teachers who use it to share classroom happenings and to share student work. I love that.

    One thing I myself have realized in the last year or so is that I have to be a model of literacy for my students. Obviously, I know about modeling for students when teaching, but I'm talking about modeling how I am a literate person in my daily life. I make sure students see me with a pleasure book that I am reading and I also write in my writer's notebook and refer to my book or my writer's notebook so the kids see that it is part of my life. I think that is critical. I read recently about how much kids are dying to turn 16 and drive because...ready? Because they see us doing it everyday! We model it for them all the time and they realize the benefit/advantages of being able to drive. We need to model reading and writing and technology for them to see the importance of literacy as well.

    In terms of technology, I love that you are using it more and more and I think that whatever you do, you should be explaining to them what you are doing. It's so important to use the vocabulary that goes along with technology. When I do computer games or even write in Word with my 3-year-old I try and throw in all the words that go along with what we are doing so he hears those and learns those words. It's just like reading, even if they don't learn it right away, you are exposing them to it and if you say it over and over and over and use it all the time they will easily add it to their own vocabulary.

    I've already written too much...can you tell I'm excited about this topic? I love the idea of using technology to publish student work and make it authentic for them. I also love the idea of the Flip cameras because they are sooooooo easy to use and so easy to work with on your computer. (I'm a Mac girl since I bought my laptop last year...go iMovie!). I'm excited to read about how you incorporate technology this school year! AND I'm excited to have "found" your blog! ;)

  9. Jennifer,
    Thanks for your thoughtful comments. Your point about "modeling how I am a literate person in my daily life" is key. Showing kids what we read, how we talk about books, how we use technology, and sharing our writing (& ideas) are powerful ways to help students grow in literacy. Having your writer's notebook with you at school is smart. My students give me so many ideas for my writing, but I usually scratch them down on paper and hope they make it to my notebook. Keeping my notebook with me in the classroom to immediately jot ideas down would not only send a message about my writing life, but honor all of the amazing ideas young children have each day. Thanks for taking the time to reply! Cathy

  10. Great info and comments, here, thanks.
    Here are a few web tools that students could use that seem pretty accessible:
    (I'm not a shill for TCI, I just thought the tools were cool. Someone should create a wiki page for all of these edu. web tools, if it hasn't been done already.)
    I should also note that I discovered this via Twitter, which is the main way I follow Cathy, too.

  11. Wow, nice coincidence:
    "U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced an initiative Wednesday to create a National Learning Registry to help organize digital educational resources for teachers and students. . . "