If you teach technology, you want to set the lab up so it’s inviting, non-intimidating, but doesn’t hide from the core ‘geek’ theme. In fact, from day one, exclaim that fact, be proud of your nerd roots. Even if you didn’t start out that way–say, you used to be a first grade teacher and suddenly your Admin in their infinite wisdom, moved you to the tech lab–you became a geek. You morphed into the go-to person for tech problems, computer quirks, crashes, and freezes. Your colleagues assumed you received an upload of data that allowed you to Know the answers to their every techie question. You are on a pedestal, their necks craned upward as they ask you, How do I get the Smartscreen to work? or We need the microphones working for a lesson I’m starting in three minutes. Can you please-please-please fix them?
As you organize your classroom, celebrate your geekiness. Flaunt it for students and colleagues. Play Minecraft. Use every new techie device you can get your hands on. That’s you now–you are sharp, quick-thinking. You tingle when you see an iPad. You wear a flash drive like jewelry. When your students walk into your class, they should start quivering with the excitement of, What new stuff will we experience today?
Here’s a summary of what happens your first day with a class. From this, you’ll figure out how to set up your classroom (no owl themes here. It’s all about bits and bytes):
- Introduce yourself—establish your bona fides. Share your blog, your background, your awards. Give them website addresses or post them to the class internet start page. You want to be easy to find.
- Tour the classroom with students. I walk K-2 around—they like getting out of their seats. Demystify any of the tech tools you will expect them to use—where they can get help in solving problems, what’s on the walls, where’s the printer/scanner/iPads/etc.
Are you applying to be a tech teacher–wondering whether you know enough or have what it takes? Is it making your stomach churn and your head throb?
I understand–I went through that when I applied. I’ve learned a lot since then and I want to share some tips that will help you with what could be a life-changing conversation.
Before I get into the tips, I want you to remember: Your students will know less than you. You’ll start the year with tech training that provides students with tools for learning, that integrates into the school curriculum. If you are learning these the day before so you can teach them–you will know more. Your adult brain will absorb, sort, problem-solve, connect the dots, develop relationships much faster than the students who sit in your classroom. There are so many tech tools out there, many (many) teachers stay just a step ahead of their students, relying on their ability to see patterns based on the transfer of knowledge from prior learning. Every year after the first, you’ll adapt to what students know–go faster or slower. You will learn along with the students.
Here’s what you do for the interview:
This is inspired by Jennifer Cohen over at Forbes who wrote a wonderful article on “5 Things Super Successful People Do Before 8am” (few of which I do, though I can claim #5). She includes chores like exercise, eat a healthy breakfast, map out the day–all great ideas, but not pithy enough for the average teacher I know.
Here’s my list of what the average teacher accomplishes before her first class of children crosses the threshold of her domain. These are gathered from chatting with friends and efriends on how they start their days:
- Research the answers to sixteen ‘why’ questions students asked during yesterday’s classes.
- Figure out how to run that dang iPad app students want to use.
- Wash Superman (or woman) cape.
- Close eyes for three seconds to invoke the memory of Emma [replace ‘Emma’ with the name of the Poster Child for why you’re a teacher].
- Accomplish the equivalent of stuffing twenty people in a phone booth–which means find son/daughter’s lost iPad which must be brought to school every day, get kids off to school with packed lunches and completed homework, arrange household repairs, sort dog and husband/wife, talk significant other down from an emotional cliff, and figure out how to make coffee by pouring hot water through yesterday’s grounds (oops–forgot to buy coffee).
- Eat breakfast–real food, not leftovers or peanut butter from sandwiches.
- Move what wasn’t accomplished yesterday to today’s To Do list, which is most everything.
- Promise that today, unlike yesterday and the day before, and the day before that, you won’t say D*** five times before the first class arrives. Set a goal of only four times.
- Do emergency morning yard duty instead of the project set up you’d planned to do this morning—and the reason you came in early.
- While doing emergency morning yard duty, imitate someone being patient rather than someone chewing on their last nerve.
- Keep an open mind to all nature of miracles, no matter the shape or size.
- Answer parent email and voicemail from the prior day because you promised the Principal you would–again.
- Paste on your Reasonable face when a parent drops in for an impromptu conference, shoehorned in after s/he dropped off her/his child and before the 8am start-of-day. Stow the one that says, ‘Leave me alone’.
- Take a nap, especially if you’ve been up most of the night grading papers or preparing lesson plans.
- Smile at the parent who always talks with that irritating tone reserved for women they consider delicate.
- Solve the education problems of the world.
- As Paul Harvey said in Broadcast, “In times like these, it is good to remember that there have always been times like these”.
- Remember that–as Edwin Louis Cole once said, you don’t drown by falling in the water; you drown by staying there.
When you accepted the job to be your school’s tech teacher, you were probably excited, visions of cutting edge equipment at your disposal, training in the latest Google Apps, and a chance to collaborate with colleagues on extending the reach of education.
Well, maybe that happened, but so did a whole lot more. I sat down with about twenty of my ecolleagues over a virtual cuppa and asked them, really, what do they do all day? The answers may surprise you:
- teach classes, anywhere from 22-35 a week (that’s right–35. I offer up a little prayer for that colleague every morning), 30-45 minutes per class.
- grade assignments
- run the school’s tech-based programs (i.e., report cards, grade books, Everyday Math Online, Type to Learn 4 Online, Fountas and Pinnell, the online writing program)
- set up online accounts for teachers (on websites like KidBlogs, wikis, Google Apps, online tools)
- try–and fail–to get teachers to troubleshoot their own problems
- help faculty teach tech in their classes (because they don’t quite understand the geeky stuff)
- help faculty write lesson plans that integrate tech
- troubleshoot tech problems for teachers: tech teachers are the first stop with tech problems. It may start with fellow teachers running into the tech teacher’s class–even if s/he has students–and begging for help. If they can’t solve it (after they’ve spent an unspecified amount of time trying), it gets bumped up.
Most of the teachers I know didn’t set out to be a tech teachers. They got here via the PE department or the 4th grade classroom or when laid off as an IT manager at some small company. Few took college classes to teach K-12 technology, nor did they say, “Gee, I have all the skills to be a top-notch tech teacher at my son/daughter’s elementary school. I think I’ll apply.” Most of us got here because 1) our current job disappeared (the Brits call it ‘made redundant’–isn’t that cool?) and this was the better alternative to unemployment, 2) our Principal offered us what Oprah calls a ‘life-defining moment’.
So here we are, doing our best, minute to minute hoping we can solve whatever catastrophe the Universe throws our way, usually with a solution that has something to do with servers and permissions. Fifteen years into it and still flummoxed on a daily basis, there are a few details someone should have told me when I first crossed the tech lab threshold. I mean, who forgot to mention these:
- You don’t need to know everything. Do what you can and the rest gets kicked upstairs. That’s right. You are human. You don’t wear a cape and you can’t leap tall buildings.
- You can make mistakes in front of the students. Really. Common Core is about problem solving–show how you work through a problem like sound doesn’t work or website won’t load. They’ll see your calm approach and emulate it when solving their own problems
- Tech isn’t a digital puzzlebox, the end of a Mobius strip, or the solution to an irrational number. There are only about twenty problems that occur 80% of the time. Know them and know how to solve them. I’d include them here, but that would make this a massive article. I’ll cover it in my next series (stay tuned)
- Common sense isn’t common. Don’t expect it to be. When a teacher frantically tells you their Smartscreen doesn’t work, start at the beginning: “Is it plugged in?” Every techie I know starts there and after fifteen years, I know why: It works.
- When you wake up in the morning, remind yourself that no one can scare you–you’re the tech teacher. You do know more than the teachers. Don’t start by apologizing because you don’t know what you’re doing or telling her/him how you’ve never seen this problem before. Take a deep breath, think about it, consider the options, and start. Chances are, you’ll figure it out.
- Tech works better integrated into classroom inquiry. Sure, you can create fun projects that use cool tech tools, but learning will be more authentic and scalable if students see you working with the classroom teacher. I use that term loosely–‘working with’. Sometimes, grade level teachers barely have time to breathe, much less meet to discuss tech tie-ins. I’ve been known to chat up parents about what’s happening in class, wander through and read room walls, ask students. I’m not above interrupting a teacher’s lunch with ‘just a few questions’.
- Don’t jump in to solve student computer problems. If they’ve already seen a solution, let them work it out on their own. I have three extra computers in my lab and parent helpers always want to move students to a new computer when their usual seat is ‘broken’. I don’t let them. I have the student explain what the problem is and think through solutions. Only if none of them work do I allow switches.
- There are days when coffee and aspirin count as two of the four food groups. Don’t let it bother it. It will pass. Your job as Go-to Geek requires you are always available. Tech teachers don’t get lunch hours or set breaks. When someone has a computer emergency, they need it taken care of NOW. Respect that. They’ve tried to make a tech lesson and now something doesn’t work and they’re frantic. Take care of them. It doesn’t happen that often. I promise.
- Let students redo and make up work. Without taking points off. Wait, you say–I’ll have double the work! Truth, I’ve been doing this since I started and get only a handful of redos for each project. Sometimes I grade it with students and use the opportunity for teaching. The students who really care will really benefit. The others won’t take you up on it.
- There will be days when you and Anything Tech are barely on speaking terms, when you wouldn’t fix another broken digital device if it came with a free puppy. When that happens, talk to other tech teachers. Online is a great way to do that. Join tech teacher groups, share problems, offer suggestions. You will feel brilliant and thankful for the kindness of others.
- A feature is not a bug. The computer or the iPad or laptops aren’t broken when doing what they’re supposed to do, even if the user doesn’t like it. Gently point that out.
Dear Otto is an occasional column where I answer questions I get from readers about teaching tech. If you have a question, please complete the form below and I’ll answer it here. For your privacy, I use only first names.
Here’s a great question I got from Sandra:
I am a Tech teacher, I was told that my school is thinking of eliminating our computer lab, and that students will use their computers in their classrooms. I would love to hear other Tech teacher’s opinions as I think a tech lab is useful at this point where teachers are not so at ease with using technology, so I think students would be missing out. I believe in students coming to the lab with their teacher or not, with their own laptops (as we have 1:1), but a Tech teacher at this time seems necessary to me. I feel many of the things that I do like Google Maps, Programming, keyboarding, and so many software that I introduce which they don’t know of, will be left out. Not to say that in a few years, teachers will not be IT literate enough to do it all themselves, but right now and looking at the teachers at my school, they still need a lot of Professional Development to get to know all the fantastic tools out there, and learn how to adapt and use them with their students.
Really look forward to hearing other views.
This is a hot question. We rolled it around on my blog about a year ago and my opinions haven’t changed since then. Click the link. I know it’s the direction Admin wants to go, and it’s the right direction to satisfy Common Core and ISTE standards. The question is: How does one make it work? The classroom teachers aren’t trained to deliver tech. It would be like we tech teachers asserting we could deliver their content as well as them. Just not true. Yes, tech will get integrated into the curriculum with the best efforts of the classroom teachers, but student knowledge, skills, comfort will suffer. Who will teach keyboarding? Digital Citizenship? Techie problem solving tricks? And when will the classroom teachers have time to uncover those fabulously useful web-based tools like Animoto, Prezi, Bubbl.us, and the new ones that pop up every day?
If you teach technology, it’s likely you’re a geek. Even if you didn’t start out that way–say, you used to be a first grade teacher and suddenly your Admin in their infinite wisdom, moved you to the tech lab–you became a geek. You morphed into the go-to person for tech problems, computer quirks, crashes and freezes.
Overnight, your colleagues assumed you received an upload of data that allowed you to Know the answers to their every techie question. It didn’t matter that yesterday, you were one of them. Now, you are on a pedestal, their necks craned upward as they ask you, How do I get the Smartscreen to work? or We need the microphones working for a lesson I’m starting in three minutes. Can you please-please-please fix them?
Celebrate your cheeky geekiness. Flaunt it for students and colleagues. Play Minecraft. That’s you now–you are sharp, quick-thinking. You tingle when you see an iPad. You wear a flash drive like jewelry. The first thing you do when you get to school is check your email
Are you going on road trips? Are you playing with your children, seeing friends you forgot existed, or engaging in retail therapy?
If I have time in between what I HAVE to do, I’ll join you. It might be a virtual trip, but we’ll make it happen.
Here’s what’s on my plate (so far) this summer of 2012:
- Attending ISTE 2012. It’s in my backyard this summer–San Diego.
- Attending training my school signed me up for on UbD, our new grading program (forgot the name), and robotics. One of the training sessions comes with a free lunch.
- Editing a K-6 technology curriculum and a keyboard book for Structured Learning (a great publisher of edtech resources for the classroom)
- Working on a tech thriller I hope to finish and get off to publishers. Of course it has lots of cutting edge technology in it and a quirky AI named Otto.
- Picking the brains of my two children. One works in cybercom for the Navy; the other the Signal Corps for the Army. Most of the stuff they can’t tell me, but I love hearing what they can.
- Working with tech teachers at my local school district on a technology curriculum for their K-6 classes.
- Presenting at several schools on tech ed topics. If you’re interested in working with me on that, please contact me at this link.
- Consulting with a Denver school district online to train their new tech teachers in what to teach in their computer labs next year.
- Getting back to my inquisitive, curious roots. I used to spend hours figuring out how to solve problems, find solutions, determine what made something tick. Now, I’m too busy. I can feel the rift in my spirit, my sapped energy, my fuzzy brain. This summer, I’m getting back to that. Here’s my promise:
For the next six weeks, when I see something techie I don’t understand, I’ll stop and ask the essential questions:
If you are the tech teacher and teach in a lab, there’s a fundamental truism about students and tech that you know: Students don’t make the connection that tech in the lab is the same as tech in the classroom–just smaller. Whether the classroom has a laptop cart or a pod of desktops, students think that they’ve never seen the programs and icons before and none of the rules they learned two doors down (or wherever your lab space is in relation to the student classroom) applies to tech use in the classroom.
It requires your physical presence in their classroom, speaking to them for the transfer of knowledge to take place.
Here’s how I do it:
- Make sure the class computers work
- CPU turns on
- monitors work
- headphones works
- CPU turns on
- Make sure class computers have all the links required for class work and that are used in the lab. Ask the class teacher what those are and make sure they are on both the lab computers and the classroom laptops/pod. These are some favorites:
- The school website
- Tech lab class internet start page
- Typing practice program
- Google Earth
- A math program
If it’s not possible, be ready to explain the differences to students so they can reach a comfort level
- Find out what the class teacher understands about the computers. Is she comfortable? How are students using them? Has she had problems? If there are reasons she doesn’t use them, what are they and can you solve them?
I get thousands of visitors a day–three-quarters of a million since I started. The most common reason why you-all drop by is for resources. I have lots of them–leson plans, tips and tricks–but one area I have little of is tech ed book reviews. I thought we could build a community library, right here on Ask a Tech Teacher!
I’m looking for:
- reviews of technology-in-education books or ebooks
- essays on tech ed topics
- White papers on tech ed topics
- Education pedagogy
Here are a few examples:
- Disrupting Class
- Endangered Minds: Why Children Don’t Think And What We Can Do About It
- My Evernote
- Savvy Cyberkids at Home
- Second Grade Technology–32 Lessons –by Structured Learning
- Seven Habits of Highly Effective People
These will be collected and offered as a resource to readers on my blog under Great Books.
If you’ve written a review and posted it on your blog, please send the link to me. I will provide a link back to your blog and we’ll develop a Book Group right here on Ask a Tech Teacher.
I look forward to hearing from you!