Feb 17

Professional Learning and Technology

Some would argue that it has never been more challenging to be a teacher. The profession is under seemingly never ending scrutiny from numerous outside actors. Despite the pressure, it is also one of the most exciting times to be a teacher! Technology has brought the profession together in ways heretofore unimagined. Colleagues can connect with one another in an instant. If a teacher in New York has an amazing idea, it can be shared with a peer in Oregon, immediately. If you are having trouble with classroom management or finding a great idea for a math lesson, all you need to do is jump on the internet to find a multitude of suggestions. Technology has done more than bring teachers together, though, it has changed the way content is delivered to students. Smart Boards, iPads, apps, Chromebooks, and virtual reality are just some of the ways technology has invaded the classroom. With so many ideas and tools at our disposal, the question has shifted from, “What can I do?”, to “How can I do it?” Knowing that we as teachers are under the microscope, I would like to offer some thoughts on how to navigate the bevy of resources that can ensure your students are meeting their full potential.

Finding Valuable Resources and Communities

It is clear that there are resources out there for teachers to access. We hear about them from administrators, district staff, and at professional development days, so how do we navigate and pursue the resources in our day-to-day work? The first suggestion is join a Professional Education Organization. These groups not only work to share ideas and news with their members, but a good organization will provide its members with access to a community of professionals who can support each other on a daily basis. Through message boards, blog posts, and social media, teachers can seek help for burning questions and find inspiring new ideas.

There are quite a few of organizations, so what should you look for? A quality Professional Education Organization will offer a variety of resources. They will have books, webinars, videos, and conferences that teachers can access in the name of improving their practice and their classrooms. They will typically offer newsletters to make sure you can stay up-to-date on the latest information. Organizations that offer professional development opportunities are worth looking for as most teachers need to pursue these opportunities anyways. It is worth looking for organizations that advocate on your behalf, too. Are they working to make the profession better, provide benefits to their members, and create a more favorable environment for teachers? Most importantly, what kind of community resources do they offer teachers? Whichever organization you choose, the members should never be more than a click or two away. The advice the organization provides is great, but the biggest benefit is being able to connect with other teachers across the country to ask questions and share ideas. If the organization you are looking at does not make this easy, then find one that does.

One organization I would recommend looking at is the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD), Home Page. ASCD has been around for 75 years, and they focus on ensuring every child is successful through supporting educators inside and outside of the classroom. They have various levels of membership depending on what you are looking for. You can see a breakdown here: Link. ASCD has books on the latest education research, magazines and newsletters to keep you informed, videos and webinars, and a yearly conference to connect with other members.

They also offer easy access to a massive community of educators. You can join like-minded peers in local chapters, advocacy, professional interest communities, or share ideas and information on their community blog. Personally, I am a big fan of their Instructional Technology community, Link. It is a great resource for the promises and perils of technology in the classroom. If you are not the type of person who likes to check out websites everyday for new ideas, don’t worry. ASCD’s Twitter feed (Link) is a great way to stay current. They have a very active feed, so you can be sure you will still know what’s happening even if you only visit the website every so often. Also, if you happen to join a local chapter or one of their interest communities, you will likely find a Twitter handle to go along with it.

Some people do not like the formality of Professional Education Organizations, and I can definitely understand that. Though I would still recommend joining at least one organization, there are ways you can pursue professional development on your own or in a more informal setting. Edutopia has a great article for DIY Professional Development: Link. Essentially, it offers a lot of ideas and ways that you can build your own professional development plan and network. For those that know exactly what they are looking for, it is a great resource. Even if you don’t, it has some great ideas to get you thinking. I think it is a great way to compliment a more formal organization.

The Role of Technology in the Classroom

One of the biggest topics of conversation out there right now is: Technology in the Classroom. How can it be used? Is it worth it? Does it enhance or replace my teaching? These are great questions, and it is important to seek out answers to them. To start though, I like what Matthew Renwick says about technology in his ASCD blog post, “This work starts by examining our beliefs about teaching and learning, for today and for tomorrow. Our collective thinking then leads us to reassess our current practices, which finally leads to searching for tools that help us in our mission.” If you just go in search of tools for the sake of integrating technology into your classroom, it is likely to be a haphazard approach. You must first understand your teaching philosophy, and then you can find tools that match your approach. This way, you can ensure you are enhancing your practice rather than impeding it.

If you are starting from square one, a couple of resources I would recommend are Education World and Edutopia. Education World has a great article that offers some really simple ways to incorporate technology into your daily teaching, Link. You don’t have to completely change everything you do. It might be as simple as using the internet to provide examples that support your content, or integrating a daily current event or happening to engage students at the beginning of each day. Edutopia has a comprehensive article on integrating technology into your classroom: Link. Not only does it provide numerous resources broken down by the type of access to technology your school provides, but it provides some food for thought regarding the whys and how of implementation.

Cool, Clever, and Creative, or Just Practical

Now that you have started to think about the ways in which technology can support your educational philosophy, the question is do you go big or do you pursue something more practical? This of course depends on your teaching style as well as your access to resources. I want to leave you with a few examples of both to get you started, and to perhaps offer a little bit of inspiration.

Two of the things I am most excited about when it comes to technology are the use of iPads and Virtual Reality (VR). Used correctly, I think both resources can bring content to life. If you are teaching a lesson on volcanoes, books and videos are valuable resources. Imagine though, if your students could touch a volcano, play with a volcano, or explore inside of a volcano. Tinybop is an app developer with a suite of science related apps that focus on giving students control over the content. Checkout this short video from their Earth app here: Link. If you want to go from taking control of content to immersing your students in content, Google Expeditions is an exciting new tool that uses VR to transport students outside of the classroom. Watch this video to see students from Iowa visit the Burj Khalifa: Link.

Alternatively, maybe you want to start with focusing on small ways technology can enhance your classroom. Don’t worry; there are plenty of tools for this. ClassDojo (Link) is a fantastic application for building a classroom community, supporting classroom management, and providing a way for parents to be involved in their child’s education. Another free and easy to access tool is the Google Suite of Apps. From word docs to spreadsheets, presentations to cloud storage, Google provides you and your students a way to stay connected without an expensive subscription. Finally, maybe you want to find a way to assess your students without always resorting to worksheets. I suggest checking out Plickers: Link. This is a great app that allows you to do interactive, real-time assessments that you design, and it provides immediate feedback for you and your students. Best of all, you only need one phone to use it.

No matter where you are on your journey as a teacher, there are resources and tools available to help, support, and elevate your teaching. Whether you start small or go big, there is an entry point for everyone. Start by joining a community, explore resources, and most importantly, reflect on everything that you do. Teaching can be overwhelming if you try to do it alone, but it can be exciting and rewarding if you find ways to do it with your peers.

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