Getting started with technology:
Many teachers have told me that they want to start integrating different types of technology into their projects but aren’t sure how to start. Here are a few suggestions:
Start with something that interests you. We work hard to find subject matter and texts that interests our students because it makes them more focused and motivated. We are no different. You will learn faster and teach with more energy when you are fascinated.
Test brand new ideas with a small, reliable group. When you are rolling out something novel and ambitious, things will go wrong. There will be problems. Problems in projects are actually a good thing. Coaxing students into become active problem solvers is one of the reasons why project based learning is so powerful. But too many problems leads to frustration and slow progress. For this reason when I’m trying something for the first time I like to test it with a small group of students that is focused and motivated. I’ve done this in class, before and after school, and during a summer school enrichment class. It much easier to work out some kinks with one group than with all of them.
Don’t focus on teaching the technology- Focus on helping students make something great. I want all of my students to become able computer programmers, but if I dive headfirst into a traditional sequence of coding exercises only a few will benefit. The rest will be bored and confused. If, instead, I first show them just enough to create a small, beautiful animation, then I show them enough to control the motors and servos on their animatronic puppets, then I show them how to write code to collect data from their homemade sensors- then many will be hooked. They’ll discover that a great power is within their reach. After three successful exposures, most of my students are motivated to learn more, and far more willing to struggle with difficult syntax and the frustration of debugging code.
Demand of yourself exactly what you demand of your students. We want our students to be inquisitive, diligent and ambitious. These are the same qualities required of teachers who want their students to become creators of technology. It is normal to be hesitant to introduce a project that has the potential to fail. But isn’t this exactly what we ask our students to do? We want them to try new things, to take intellectual and academic risks. We want them to plow forward through failure toward greatness. It is now possible for teachers who are not experts to introduce challenging engineering tasks to their students, and to link those tasks to their subject area. It is not easy. It requires dedication and desire beyond what is required by our contracts. But it is oh so satisfying to hear a student say, “I DID IT! IT WORKS!
Get help. I’ve had great luck finding outside organizations who are eager to help my students. It helps that I’m in New York city where groups like Beam Center and ScriptEd abound. But every community has it’s experts. Reach out to whoever is near by. Ask for help. You will learn as much as the students. And your local expert will learn the joy of teaching. These are extremely fruitful, mutually beneficial relationships.