Tag Archives: Technology Skills

Tricks for Teaching Tech Quickly (The Series)

Technology can certainly help a teacher manage her classroom, or keep track of student progress. And there are students who will benefit from becoming computer experts by taking computer classes. But the most powerful use of technology in schools is when it is a learning tool for students, just like their texts, papers, and pens (well, maybe not just like…)

But to leverage the power of technology for learning, the technology needs to be treated as a tool, and most of the time allocated for the activity needs to focus on the curriculum, while making sure that students still learn what they need to in order to use the technology well.

This series of posts will help you do that well in your own classroom:

 

Kids Teaching Kids: Tricks to Teach Tech Quickly (4 of 4)

This is the fourth in a series of posts on teaching technology quickly so technology-based learning activities can be focused more on the curriculum than on the technology.

Kids Teaching Kids
Another effective strategy is “Kids Teaching Kids.” This strategy is important because many teachers still don’t feel they know as much about technology as their students do (whether they actually do, or not).

The good news is that same feeling of inadequacy translates into the teacher having 15-30 valuable resources right in her own classroom!

In its simplest form, “Kids Teaching Kids” can be as simple as when a student comes to you and says, “I saw that Moesha had some interesting animation in her project; will you show me how to do that?” You respond, “Why don’t you ask Moesha how she did that?”

More deliberate approaches include creating a poster listing typical tech issues, apps, peripherals, devices, and programs for your classroom, and the students who know how to use them, do them, or fix them. When a student needs help with using the iPod Touch as a digital camera, he can look up at the list and see which of his classmates already know how to use it.

Some teachers use the “three before me” rule. If a student has a question about how to do something, she must ask three other students before approaching the teacher.

Another strategy is to teach a new skill or tool to a handful of students, with the expectation that they will then go on and teach the other students.

Notice how each of these approaches both empowers students (often including students who may not have a lot of other opportunities in class to feel empowered!), and frees you to put your energy where it is most needed.

 

Cheat Sheets: Tricks for Teaching Tech Quickly (3 of 4)

Below, is the third of four posts highlighting techniques that will help insure that teachers are helping students succeed with their work by teaching them the technology skills they need, but doing it quickly, so that most of the time could be spent focusing on content from the curriculum.

Cheat Sheets
The third trick for teaching technology quickly is a strategy that works hand in hand with mini lessons: the use of “Cheat Sheets.”

Cheat Sheets are help guides: step-by-step instructions for using a specific program or doing a specific project. (My students always preferred this name to “help guides” or “instruction sheets,” although I’m not so sure my former Assistant Superintendent liked the name….)

If students were learning how to make Web pages, the teacher might give students a handout with step-by-step directions for making new pages, saving pages, inserting graphics, formatting text, making links to other pages in the project, making links to other Web sites, and creating tables to use for formatting the project.

Unlike mini lessons, there can be many sets of directions on the cheat sheets because students can go directly to the one they need, when they need it.

When teaching mini lessons, it’s valuable to have the teacher model following directions on the cheat sheet. For example, many middle grades students aren’t all that good at following step-by-step directions, and when I was a middle level technology integrator, had students that wanted to start with Step 3, or wanted to do the steps in a different order. In many cases this was simply because they hadn’t been shown how to follow directions (or hadn’t been shown for a long time). Saying, “Where do we start? What's the first step?” or “So, what's the next step? What step number are we on?” can go a long way…

Further, when a student asks how to do something that is on a cheat sheet, I’d often ask her what step she was on. Some students find it easier to ask the teacher how to do something, than to go back to the directions and do it themselves. Redirecting the student to the cheat sheet helped make them more self-reliant and freed me to work with the students who really did need my help (after all, why did we put all the time to writing out directions?).

I often found that after students followed the directions on the cheat sheet three or four times, they had learned the skill and didn’t really need the cheat sheet again. But they always had the cheat sheet to refer to if they came back to do this type of project in the future.

Be sure to share any cheat sheets you create with your colleagues. No reason each teacher needs to create all the cheat sheets themselves. Remember: many hands make light work!

“Just in Time” Lessons: Tricks to Teaching Tech Quickly (2 of 4)

This is the second in a series of posts on teaching technology quickly so the focus of technology-based learning activities can be not on technology, but rather on the curriculum.

“Just in Time,” not “Just In Case”
The mistake the Health teacher from the recent post made wasn’t doing mini lessons before letting students start their project. Her mistake was doing too many mini lessons. Teachers, often simply because they want students to succeed, try to show students everything they might need in order to complete a project.

The problem with this approach to education, according to Roger Schank (1995 – print book or hyperbook), is that it gives students information they might need before they perceive they need it, or answers questions students don’t have yet. This is “Just in Case” education. We teach students knowledge and skills just in case they will need it later. The problem is that because students don’t yet perceive they need it, it doesn’t get filed effectively in student memory and we end up re-teaching it later.

“Just in Time” education is either teaching knowledge and skills when students recognize they need them, or working to create a sense of need or to generate interest before teaching them. In terms of technology mini lessons, it means identifying the 3 to 5 skills students need right away to get started on the project, and doing other mini lessons only as the need arises.

For the Health public service announcements, it would mean teaching how to import video clips, how to build the video by sequencing the clips, and how to crop and edit clips. It would also mean not showing students how to put in titles or transitions or how to export their final project, because those are skills students will need near the end of their work, not when they are getting started. Those mini lessons might still be taught, but only days later, when and if students need them. Further, “Just in Time” education means that the teacher does not take time to teach those skills if students figure them out on their own. Although it might be a good idea to plan a minilesson because students might need it, that does not mean that it has to be taught.

 

Tricks to Teaching Technology Quickly: Mini Lessons (1 of 4)

Yesterday, I suggested that teachers sometimes make one of two mistakes when designing technology-based activities for students: either spending too much or too little time teaching the technology skills necessary for the activity.

I am not referring here to how teachers might use technology to help with their lecturing and direct instruction (although one friend reminded me that too much lecturing and “PowerPointlessness” are also mistakes teachers make when teaching with technology…).

Educators who read me often know that I'm not a big fan of spending too much time teaching about hardware or software, whether it is for professional development for teachers, or learning activities for students. I'd much rather see a lesson where the students, young or old, learned how to analyze data (and leave knowing also how to use a spreadsheet) than a lesson just on how to use the spreadsheet. But those kinds of lessons only work when you can figure out how to teach the technology quickly.

Below, is the first of four techniques that will help insure that teachers are helping students succeed with their work by teaching them the technology skills they need, but doing it quickly, so that most of the time could be spent focusing on content from the curriculum.

Mini Lessons
Technology mini lessons are no different than mini lessons in any other discipline: a short lesson covering some specific skill or fact.

For a video project, they would include things like importing video from the camera, cropping video clips, sequencing them, and adding titles and transitions.

For making Web pages, they would include lessons such as adding graphics, making new pages, making links to your other pages, or making links to other Web sites.

For making brochures, the mini lessons might be changing the orientation of the paper, changing the margins, and setting up columns.

Ideally, each mini lesson is followed by a brief period when the students can apply what they have just learned before the next mini lesson is introduced.


The Two Mistakes Teachers Make When Teaching With Technology

Even though we may be working with “Digital Natives,” students do not necessarily have the technology skills to do the work we want them to do with their laptops and tablets. In an environment where the technology is in service to learning the curriculum, it is important that teaching those skills is done quickly so that most of the student’s time is spent on the content of the activity, not the technology itself.

But good, well-intentioned teachers often make two inadvertent mistakes when they start out teaching with technology…

I once observed a middle school Health Education teacher work with her students on a technology-based project. She is an excellent teacher who comes up with very creative ways to engage her students. She also used technology quite a bit herself and had terrific ideas of how to use computers with her students. Although she was an experienced teacher and knowledgeable about using computers, she was a novice at teaching with technology. She ended up making a critical mistake.

She was preparing to have her students make thirty-second public service announcements (PSAs) about different health issues and diseases. Students would use the desktop video software available on their laptops. I was there from the first lesson, when the teacher described the project to the students. Enthusiasm was high! These students were dying to create videos and they were anxious to get their hands on their computers. The teacher had carefully and thoughtfully prepared a series of skill-building sessions to prepare students to use the desktop video software.

But it took her three days to go through all the skill-building lessons.

By then, many students had lost interest in the project or were off task, and some were really disruptive.

The teacher’s mistake? She had put too much emphasis on the technology. She spent too much time teaching the technology skills.

Teachers new to teaching with technology generally make two mistakes when integrating technology into their teaching.

Spending Too Much Time Teaching the Technology
Spending too much time teaching the technology takes the focus off of the curricular goals originally intended for the technology-based activity. Or, worse, this destroys the intrinsic motivation students might have for a project when it is introduced. The Health Education teacher’s PSA project was like this. It turned out well, but she had to work to get their interest and motivation back. Teachers want students to know all the skills that they might need throughout the project, and don’t recognize that students probably only need a handful of skills to get started and can learn new skills as the need them, if they don’t figure them out on their own.

Not Teaching the Technology Skills
The other mistake is not teaching any technology skills at all. For example, a teacher might want students to create PowerPoint presentations or to make a multimedia project to show others what they had learned from the research they have done in class. But the teacher doesn’t show the students how to use the presentation or multimedia software and simply expects them to figure it out on their own. Sometimes this is because the teacher assumes the students already know how to use the programs, or because the teacher isn’t sure how to teach them herself. Sometimes it is because she is concerned about the time it will take and she knows she has a lot of curriculum to address.

If we are going to expect teachers to integrate technology into teaching (hopefully because we believe in the benefits to learning!), then we certainly don’t want teachers to leave students floundering with the technology. Students deserve to be given support and instruction in order to be successful with the task. By the same token, we want teachers to be able to focus most of their instructional and student learning time on their curriculum and not to shift the emphasis of their teaching to technology.

What, then, is that balance between supporting students with some technology instruction and not taking too much time so teachers and students can stay focused on the curriculum? Teachers must not only design engaging technology-based projects and activities for their content, but they must figure out how to teach the technology quickly.