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Category Archives: Tech Tips
If there was a standing job description for a tech integrator, it might include the following: “Ability to work with little supervision. Strong diagnostic and psychological skills. Able to shift focus quickly, easily and often. Must possess good sense of humor. Sales experience helpful.”
Tech integrators make their own schedules and are left to make decisions on a myriad of classrooms k-12. Sometimes it feels like we have no boss and sometimes it feels like we ARE the boss. Of course we have bosses but they are often stretched way beyond thin and self sufficiency is appreciated. Sometimes we operate like Tinkerbelle, spreading pixie-dust and performing magic to fix holes in teaching and learning with technology. What we seldom do is teach and train in a systematic method that is carefully planned and implemented building or district wide.
I’ve been an integrator for a very long time and always thought I did a pretty good job. I was busy, the teachers liked what I was doing in the classrooms, the kids were competent and engaged. Then things changed.
We’ve moved as a district to a student centered model of teaching and learning. Our teachers are tightly focused on student success. They spend hours working on strategies to help support the many levels of learners that are present in their heterogenously grouped classrooms. This tight focus has proved problematic for me.
In the past, I’d go into classrooms and do whole class lessons on digital citizenship, search strategies, or presentation skills (see the post on Dodging Presentation Fatigue). I shared weekly Tech Goodies via our conference email. I chatted teachers up in the hallways. Business was good.
Now it’s tough to get into classrooms. Students are working on a variety of things so whole class instruction is no longer appropriate. No problem- I’ll offer small group support in the areas I think they are most in need of. Off I go to organize the modules, send out the emails, chat in the hallways, and wait for the requests to come pouring in.
Except they aren’t. I’ve spent more time at my desk than ever before and it’s lonely there. It does, however, give me time to reflect on what’s going wrong and how to fix it.
Here’s what I realized. I am going about this all wrong. I am standing on the outside like a consultant. Change is happening all around me and I am still working in the same old “sage on the stage” environment, assuming I know what others need to know and just waiting for a way to tell them.
My district has spent a great deal of money sending me to graduate school to get a degree in Instructional Design. I originally pursued this because my grasp on content organization is weak, having gotten a degree in Equine Studies upon which to place my endorsement (another story for another post). I started looking at my job through the eyes of an instructional designer and quickly realized that I was working at the wrong end of the problem.
Most districts have a district technology plan. It’s usually a state requirement. It speaks to budgets and infrastructure and staffing and vaguely to student implementation. What they don’t have is a Technology Integration Plan. A district technology integration plan is a way to create a system of integration that gets to the heart of what we want to do with the technology that we are provided, district wide, in a formalized fashion.
Without getting deeply into instructional design pedagogy, it works like this:
Begin with a needs analysis. Both the district and your buildings begin each year with goals. Some of these will deal with technology or can be supported with technology. Have face to face conversations or submit surveys to the organizational leaders in your district. Find out where teachers feel they need help- or where they see the biggest gaps for their students. Ask students as well. This will help you eliminate assumptions that you will be bringing to the table. It will also help you develop goals for your plan.
Goals. Most of us have to write them and we do. Then we tuck them away and don’t think of them again, but they are essential to the success of your plan. Think of them as objectives for learning. Create them based on the results of your needs surveys, not based on your assumptions of what’s needed.
Once your goals are created, you can begin to brainstorm the problems and opportunities that will arise as you develop your training. This will help tease out the issues that can be solved by training and those that can’t. For example, if one of the goals is to bring more equity to the equipment distribution across your district, the problem may be that your budget won’t allow the purchase of more equipment. Solutions could include redistributing equipment and allowing teachers flexibility in their schedules to allow for sharing a well-equipped space. You’ll find that not everything is a training problem.
From here you can begin developing a system of training on the topics that will be most advantageous to your organization. You’ll find that it is beginning to look suspiciously like creating a lesson plan- and you are right. The tough thing can be finding time to present the training; however, since you are aligning your training with building and district goals, the buy-in may be considerably higher than what you have had in the past. You’ll have a good argument for sliding into inservice days.
Each district is different in how they handle their integrationists- but what is often universal is our ability to change how we work. We can be influential in how our buildings do business with technology. I’m working on this plan even as we speak, and have great hope that this will turn into a big win-win for everyone. Stay tuned.
Workflow has been the buzzword of the month. My task list today included adding a customized Symbaloo webmix to all of the classroom laptops. The goal is to help our elementary students get where they need to go easily without worrying about their sometimes weak typing skills. We also have iPads in the classrooms and as I was plugging away I was thinking about how to get Symbaloo on the iPads too.
Then I realized it- I don’t really need Symbaloo for the iPads. Many of the most used sites have apps that are already on the iPads. The one stickler was the link to the library card catalog. The librarian wants to be able to use Opals on the iPads but the website is long and difficult for students to type accurately. The bookmarking system on the iPads is not convenient for students with fine motor issues. We needed a better solution.
Turns out it is SO EASY to put a shortcut to a website on an iPad home screen. Safari does almost all the work for you- and all you have to do is organize the resulting app-like tile onto your screen so it makes sense. I found a YouTube video that shows how to do it in 45 seconds.
This is what our library login site looks like. I wanted an icon to it that students could easily access on the iPad.
How can this work for you?
1. Many teachers have sites they use for practice that contain games or challenges for students to use. Create a folder and fill it with these “apps.” Or create folders by content area and organize your links that way.
2. Is your iPad too old to manage the newest OS updates? Often times new apps won’t run on an old OS. IXL is one such app. If there is a website available, and often times there is, you can still provide easy access to the tool.
I have to admit that I have come a long way in my 14 years of teaching and guiding technology use. In my early days I struggled to know everything I needed to teach, and to make it rigorous and full of depth. Usually I just made it hard and confusing- for both me and my students.
Now that I’m “of a certain age” I have given myself permission to “Not Know It All” and be good at it. Yesterday was a good example of it (and one that worked out really well) so I thought I’d share a bit of what happened.
I am a tech integrator with a degree in horse training. I’m a good problem solver and pretty savvy- but there is a lot I don’t know. So, in the past, when the kids and parents asked if I could teach programming, I put them off without really telling them them that I could sooner teach them how to build a backhoe.
This year’s Hour of Code gave me a chance to provide a coding opportunity for the MS/HS community. In a nutshell, the Hour of Code is a program running during Computer Science Education Week. It’s sponsored by Code.org. They provide tutorials for different kinds of coding that are geared towards kids in a number of areas. The goal was to get 10 million kids worldwide to do one hour of coding during this week.
The directions from the site suggested choosing one of their tutorials, going through it so you’d be familiar with the process and could help the kids, and then presenting it to the kids at the Hour of Code event. I did the first part (and discovered 30 years too late how much I like programming…) but decided not to limit them to what MY experience was.
Had I been the one who had to “own” the information, very little learning would have occurred- for ANY of us. As it was, each kid worked at the pace that worked for them, getting just the help they needed when they needed it it. I wish I could share the way their faces lit up when they had their (many) AHA moments.
I’ll for sure put this model at the top of my toolbox.
Today I had a text from a student who (finally!) has recognized that her laptop is sometimes more of a distraction than a learning tool. In her senior year, she has ground to make up and she wanted help to stay connected with her work and disconnected from the things that pull her off track. She asked me if I could block a particular site that drags her off course.
I’ve played with the parental controls on the laptops and have found that when it comes to blocking websites, parental controls do more harm than good. For some reason, the parental controls DO block the websites we put in…and then they go a bit further and block ALL secure websites (those with https in the beginning of the address.) This makes it nearly impossible to use the internet- defeating the purpose of the controls in the first place.
And truthfully, it’s important for HER to regulate her internet use. I can clamp down the internet but it won’t keep her off her phone or her friend’s computer. She has to realize that the power to control herself lies ultimately within her- but it’s ok to add the needed supports.
And so rather than take her laptop and do unnecessary surgery, I pointed her towards the Chrome WebStore. A search of the webstore produced a number of apps and extensions that students can use to help keep themselves off of distracting sites. Here are a few that I like:
Strict Workflow– allows students to block sites for a particular time period, give themselves a break, then block them again. The default is 25 minutes of blocking with 5 minutes of break, but this can be customized as the student wishes. It can also be set so that it only allows certain sites for a time period – for example, a student could ONLY go on a limited list of sites during a 50 minute class period if it was on that setting.
Stay Focused – similar to Strict Workflow, StayFocused allows students to create a list of blocked sites. It allows a lot of customization- for example, there is a nuclear option that allows them to block sites or allow only certain sites, set the time, and go- with no way to cancel it until the time runs out.
Blocksite- like the other two, Blocksite lets a student customize a list of sites that won’t be allowed. The student can set a time to begin blocksite and a time to end it. In addition, Blocksite gives the option of creating a list of words that can’t be searched.
All of these tools are free. They are installed and controlled by the student.
They can just as easily be uninstalled by the student. They don’t give teachers any control whatsoever- which is a good thing. What these tools DO give teachers is the opportunity to take advantage of a teachable moment. Telling a student who is addicted to Facebook to “just stay off of it” isn’t going to work. Nor is trying to watch their every move. There is scientific evidence from brain researchers that says there is a chemical change in the brain that makes us seek the attention we get from others in social media. It’s OK for kids to understand that sometimes they don’t have the willpower to stay focused on a difficult task. I’ve used these tools myself to save myself from getting sucked into Facebook rather than doing homework.
I’m sending a link to this post to all of the students in grades 6-12. When the time comes, remind them that they have the ability to self-monitor themselves.
Anyone geek who knows me knows that I LOVE Delicious.com. I am making (sometimes reluctant) converts of my 8th grade students. It’s not the actual tool- I think Diigo is just as valuable- it’s the ease with which I can share what I find with others. For this reason, I think it’s a GREAT way for teachers to share resources with their students and colleagues.
Here’s how it works. Delicious allows you to make an account, save bookmarks to it, and add tags and notes to those bookmarks. It’s online, so you don’t have to have your computer to access your bookmarks. It’s social, meaning that it’s available to the world unless I choose to make bookmarks private- in which case only I can see them.
Each time I create a bookmark I give it a tag which puts it into a specific category- history, science, LA, etc. I can put more than one tag in for a bookmark, allowing me to further categorize them for easy retrieval. I can also add notes about the site for clarity.
Once you have a couple of bookmarks saved, Delicious allows you to search by the tags you have created. For this example, I’ll search by the tag “biology” to show what the search results look like:
I have 6 sites that are tagged for biology. You can see that each of the results also has other tags. That’s because I added more than one tag for most every site. This will allow me to further customize my bookmarks.
I can provide the address for this site to my students. In this case, the address is:
Here’s the beauty of using a tool like Delicious.
- You have eliminated the need to write an address on the board and hope that your students can copy it correctly. Your original Delicious address can be emailed or posted on your website. Once.
- This is a dynamic site, meaning that each time I add a site and tag it with “biology,” my students will be able to see my new content immediately. No republishing or resending of links.
- You can create “tag bundles”- meaning you can tell Delicious that any number of tags are shown in one category. For example, I can tell Delicious that I want “ecology” “anatomy” “plants” to all show up under the Biology tag.
- You can create whatever tags you want. Perhaps it’s easier for you to create tags with your class names on them. You have the freedom to use whatever names you wish.
- Students do NOT need an account on Delicious to access your bookmarks.
Hints for use:
- Your students can search for you on Delicious. I made a simple username (lleimbach) that makes it easy to find me. Kids can all spell my name.
- I have over 1,000 sites bookmarked and did NOT have a good tag system before I started. Take the time to map out how you will categorize your sites before you start adding them.
- Teach students to use Delicious as a search engine. It can provide those that get distracted by Google with a more focused set of results.
The Frequently Asked Questions section of Delicious has a treasure trove of information about what you can do beyond the suggestions here.