Thanks for dropping by our blog. I know you’re busy. You’re probably a teacher, principal, administrator, homeschooler, preservice professional, library media specialist–in short, an educator. You’re here looking for everything about tech in the classroom–lesson plans, projects, tech tips, tech how-tos, pedagogy, trends, webinars, training.
Who is Ask a Tech Teacher?
Ask a Tech Teacher is a group of technology teachers who run an award-winning resource blog where they provide free materials, advice, lesson plans, pedagogical conversation, website reviews, and more to all who drop by. The free newsletters and website articles help thousands of teachers, homeschoolers, and those serious about finding the best way to maneuver the minefields of technology in education. They have published dozens of ebooks, workbooks, articles, and have materials shared throughout the world.
Ask a Tech Teacher Pedagogy
The Big Idea is to scaffold inquiry. We start many lessons with organic conversations about the purpose of technology/software/visual organizers (whatever we are working with), a review of math/history/science (class-dependent) they learned in class and how we can share/publish it with others through technology. This makes technology authentic for students, inquiry-driven, and encourages them to take responsibility for their own learning.
Instruction is self-paced where possible, differentiated and responsive to student needs always (I often accommodate specific students by adapting lessons, say, from a word processing-based book report to a visual organizer of story pieces). All lessons include Essential Questions, Big Ideas and self-reflection from students to see if the goals have been accomplished and if students are able to transfer what they learned to their classes and life.
What do we consider most important for student education? Here’s a short list:
- present information, with sufficient scaffolding, when students are ready to learn it. Kindergarten starts with mouse skills. By 2nd grade, they do PowerPoint slideshows (following two years of prep with Windows slideshows). By fifth grade, they are facilely using Adobe Photoshop (after completing image editing in Word), robotics, and pre-programming with Scratch. This is not difficult for them. They are ready because they have learned all related skills in an organized temporal fashion based on their level of maturity.
- be responsive to the class and always answer clarifying questions. We start a new unit with a conversation about the project, the technology required, how it’s different/the same as what they’ve used in the past, where it might be used in other parts of their life. Or whatever is required to help students integrate new material into old constructs. Sometimes, students have lots of questions (for example, when I explained during a unit on Digital Citizenship that Google images weren’t free, it launched a discussion on images, copyrights, fair use, legal issues that took the rest of the class. I rescheduled the lesson plan I had designed for a later week).
- technology is fun and easy. I pay attention to the student group to be sure that’s happening and adapt if it isn’t. I start a program like Excel in 1st grade with an age-appropriate project that students don’t even realize is in a program many adults consider intimidating. By 3rd grade, they are using formulas and graphs with ease.
- use technology (i.e., Google Earth, ZimmerTwins, Wordle) that students are likely to use in other classes and life. I know this works because I often have a full house during recess and lunch as students are using what they’ve learned for personal inquiry.
- be transparent with parents. Technology is intimidating for adults and they often transfer that fear to students. Worse, if they don’t understand something (like how to upload to a drop box), they assume it’s too difficult which means their children shouldn’t be expected to do it. I address those concerns early and often throughout the school year. I offer free parent training in everything students are doing (MS Word, PowerPoint, email, internet use) on my own time. I help them 1:1. I answer emails quickly and thoroughly. I share a blog that covers fun websites and useful tech tips to help them reach a comfort level with technology. I have an open door policy so parents know they can always drop in for help on a log-in that won’t work or some tech trick they don’t understand (even if it’s not school related). I invite them to help in the classroom so they can either learn along with the students or stay up to date on class requirements.
We spend much time in 1) faculty meetings so we closely align with their classroom conversations, 2) vertical planning to be sure students are prepared for the needs of next year’s teachers, and 3) study of current tech ed pedagogy to insure optimal outcomes for students.
Assessments include observation, evidence of learning, portfolios, watching students teach others, oral presentations, as well as the traditional quizzes and tests. Because most tech teachers have students for six years, we know what is most authentic for each child and can tailor summative and formative assessments to their needs.
Who Am I?
My name is Jacqui Murray. I am also the editor/curator/contributor for Ask a Tech Teacher. Often if you contact us here, you’ll get me! I am the editor/author of over a hundred tech ed resources including a K-12 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum. I am webmaster for four blogs, an adjunct professor on tech ed topics, Master Teacher, an Amazon Vine Voice, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on tech ed topics, and a quarterly contributor to NEA Today.
I teach K-12 technology in a virtual classroom, everything from mouse skills to Photoshop, teaching students to teaching teachers, creating curriculum to implementing it, basing lessons on guidelines from IB to Common Core. I am variously a guide, a computer repair person, a hand-holder, a problem-solver, a risk-taker, a negotiator, and a prognosticator. I wear all hats whether they fit or not.
Over the years, I’ve taught thousands of students and loved every minute of it. There’s nothing more exhilarating than to be let loose on the savannas of the internet with a toolkit chock full of technology tools.
Before technology, I taught community college business classes and before that, enjoyed a twenty-year career in management.
A quick bio: I was born in California to Irish-German parents. After receiving a BA in Economics, a BA in Russian and an MBA, and while putting my time in as a Working Mom, I raised two children and taught evening classes at community colleges. Now, my daughter has graduated from USNA and is serving as an officer in DC. My son graduated from University of California with a double major in economics and history and enlisted in the Army where he serves with the Signal Corps. My beautiful Labrador Casey is finally potty trained. I spend most of my time, teaching, reading, and writing. I wrote two tech thrillers, To Hunt a Sub and Twenty-four Days, and prehistoric fiction.
CA Teaching Credential
Real Estate Broker license (required in a prior child care job–now there’s a long story. What a lot of work!)
Fun Facts from an Interview:
- I am not comfortable talking to groups. How can that be–I’m a teacher. I meet with parents all the time. No problem with those. It’s presenting… which is why I never present at ISTE
- I owned a dance studio for years. A Fred Astaire franchise where I also competed professionally. I love dancing.
- I used to program in DOS. I still miss it.
- I worked in a recycling plant for years. I found people who wanted to recycle and sold or exported their material. What an interesting job.
- I know corrugated is the right name for ‘cardboard’ and people often say ‘cement’ when they mean ‘concrete’.
- I have climbed atop a lot of skyscraper-ish buildings and water tanks while installing cell phone antennas (part of a team). What a view!
- I designed and built onsite child care centers for universities and cities (again, part of a team). I can tell you what a toilet seat REALLY costs.
- Like Sandy, I love dogs. I can’t imagine life without them.
- Both my children are in the military. Their choice–I never was. They both love it. One’s a Naval office, the other in the Army Signal Corps. Guess which is the boy.
- I love my husband more than I ever thought possible.
- I read the entire Uniform Building Code when building child care centers. I also read the 1200+ page Affordable Care Act (before it exploded in size). I’ve also read the Common Core Standards. Do you see a trend here?
11 Questions for me to answer
- Why did you start blogging?–to promote a book I wrote on how to get into USNA. It sure has changed!
- What was/is your favorite lesson to teach in the classroom?–digital citizenship. Students are so amazed by what they can/can’t do online (I’m talking grades 2-5). They think it’s a free-for-all. By 5th grade, I’ve changed their minds.
- If education wasn’t an option in any form, what would you be instead?–a researcher. I write fiction (tech thrillers) and the most fun part is researching.
- What was the hardest lesson you learned?--that people often see me differently than I see myself. What an epiphany.
- What is your proudest moment?–two–when my daughter got into USNA and when my son joined the Army. She had worked her butt off to get there, and he was taking control of his future.
- How do you explain your job to people?--it’s complicated.
- If you could send a message back to yourself 20 years ago, what would it say?--read the warning labels about ‘life’.
- If you could wave a magic wand and fix one thing about the public education system, what would it be and why?–equity. Everyone deserves a chance. It’s a measure of personal responsibility what stakeholders do with the gift of knowledge.
- If you could visit any event in recorded history, what event would you pick and why?--assuming ‘recorded history’ includes records preserved in rock, I’d love to see how man came up with God. Was it the power of Nature?
- What is the title and author of the last book you read for fun?–No Less Than Victory–part of Jeff Shaara’s WWII trilogy
- What is your favorite movie?– Star Trek ranks way up there.
5 hints for technology teachers:
- Don’t stress over technology. The biggest worry among new teachers is that the computers won’t work. First, there are steps you can take to insure that happens less rather than more (which I will teach). Second, half of problems are caused by the same 20 issues (again, I will teach those). Teach students and yourself how to solve those first. Third, when technology doesn’t work, embrace the opportunity. Show students how to solve techie problems. They need that knowledge to comfortably use technology in other classrooms and at home. (I have a unit I teach with Oregon trail–old software that crashes often, but students love the program. I show them five things to do when the program stops working. Students happily become risk takers, performing outside of their normal comfort level, so they can continue the game. By the end of this unit, they are much better problem solvers.)
- Tie what you do into classroom Units of Inquiry. That’s important in Common Core (and ISTE) because it works. The best technology extends the reach of traditional education. Students see these projects as authentic.
- Be flexible. Adapt a lesson plan when needed to a class or one student. Optimize learning by following their lead. Not surprisingly, often this is simply a different path to the same desired outcome.
- Be a risk-taker. There is more out there than you can teach in a year, so don’t be afraid to experiment, throw out what didn’t work and try something new. If you promote inquiry and empower students to take responsibility for their own learning, you’ve had a good year
- There is a right order to introducing tech skills. I’ll teach that. When teachers expect 3rd graders to type with speed and accuracy, they’re setting all stakeholders up for failure.
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Oh–if you’re waiting for my tech thriller To Hunt a Sub, it should be out this summer. It’ll be worth the wait!