You May Be Teaching Technology Wrong

Categories: The Classroom
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Published on: September 9, 2013

Teachers, take a moment to think about the way you teach technology. Think about your instructions to the students, your expectations, and the words you use. If it helps, record a class and listen to it. Now, try to remain objective, and consider the following:

If you use a phrase such as “everyone type this address into the bar at the top of the screen” or “click the big blue E icon,” you may be teaching technology wrong.

If you are assuming your students all know computers better than you, you may be teaching technology wrong.

If you are assuming it’s someone else’s job to teach your students technology, you may be teaching technology wrong.

Finally, if you are frustrated because half of your students constantly have their hands up in the air when you are in the computer lab, it’s a sure sign you are teaching technology wrong.

When we teach a student math, we teach them the concepts. We don’t jump right into how to add 2+2, we start by teaching them what a number is, introduce them to counting, and teach them the number line.

When we teach reading, we don’t hand students a book and show them how to turn a page, we teach them the alphabet and letter sounds first.

Yet this is exactly how many teachers are treating technology. Students are expected to log in when many of them don’t know what a username or password is. Students are expected to surf to sites on the Internet without really understanding what all of that means, or even what the Internet really is. Students are expected to type papers with no more instruction than “open this program and start typing.” Students are expected to find their saved work when they haven’t been taught how to manage files, or even how the file system works. Then, when the students have difficulty with these things, the teachers are mystified.

The key is to slow down. Start with the basics. Assume the students won’t know what you’re talking about, because there’s a very good chance a number of them—if not all of them—will not.

Let’s start with logins for example. When our students hit 5th grade, they are given a Google Apps account and their own login for the school’s network. Their default password, in an attempt to make things easy (for the staff if not the students), is their eight-digit birthdate in the format MMDDYYYY.

Typically, a teacher would simply say “your password is your eight-digit birthdate. Go!” Then half the students put their hands up and I get trouble calls. The teacher’s assumption is a student’s password is bad in the computer and it needs to be reset.

The reality, I find, is one of two problems:

1) Students don’t understand what “eight-digit birthdate” means.

2) Students make keyboard errors, such as pushing two buttons at once or bumping the lower portion of the keyboard when typing on the number line.

After that it’s a small percentage of kids not paying attention or entering the wrong information, or it’s a new student who wasn’t on a roster when I created accounts.

Last week, I had the first session to teach 5th graders how to access and use their Google accounts. Before I turned them loose on the computer, I explained what eight digits meant and walked them through how it worked if they were born in March or on the 8th of the month. Then I explained to them what MMDDYYYY means. If they had been a year or two younger, I might also have put up a slide to show them the numbers of the months, because I have seen kids get it wrong. When they logged in, about five kids had a problem, and those were explainable by user error: keyboard errors, and one student had typed in her 4-digit lunch PIN instead. There was no panic, no frantic running around the room, and no need to fire up the admin console and reset passwords for no reason.

Keep in mind, if you are using technology in your classroom, you are teaching technology. If you want them to succeed, then don’t assume teaching the students how to use your tools is someone else’s job, or that the students should already know what they’re doing.

Slow down. Consider what the students need to know first, and teach them.

It will make your job a lot easier, and the students will come away learning more than just that science paper you asked them to type up.

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