We are not just typing anymore, Toto: Giving your Technology Applications Classroom the Gift of a Heart, a Brain, and Courage

Guest blog by Kelly Dowden, the Technology teacher at Martha Reid Leadership Academy in Mansfield ISD.

Those of us who teach technology can relate to Dorothy’s conversation with Toto. We aren’t in Kansas anymore, and things change swiftly in our world! The technology classrooms we had growing up are much different than the ones today. I didn’t have computers in the classroom until I reached Jr High. In computer class, keyboarding from a flip book seemed to be the only class objective. Then my teacher shared PowerPoint. It was innovative and allowed us to be creative. I still have my slide show on Winnie the Pooh somewhere on a floppy disc. In the current technology classroom, we need to bring innovation and encourage creativity for today’s students. We might just be like the Wizard of Oz, imparting gifts the student’s need for success.

Gift of the Heart

The technology classroom has to have heart. As a technology teacher I cannot follow my heartbeat; I need to find the heartbeat of my students. What are they playing? What do they enjoy? What would challenge them to dig deeper? As a former pre-K teacher I always followed the “Three P” rule of having my classroom Planned, Purposeful, and Playful. Today I apply those guidelines in preparing lessons for my technology classroom. Engaging students in a technology classroom sounds like it would be easy. The common belief is that all kids love computers and a screen is all they need to be engaged. BUT, if we do not spend the time planning, we will miss the mark. Our classrooms should be exciting. We need to stay up to date on the new, dare I say, fleek activities.

To plan well we must study well. Study your students. Talk to kids. Buy the app. Try new technologies. Sign up for trainings. Other educators can be great resources. Technology teachers are often lone wolves at their schools, so connecting with other teachers within the field can be a game changer. Going to an EdCamp training can be better than a bigger conference. Just like our students, engaging with peers can foster deeper growth and understanding.

Besides training, I believe aligning the technology TEKS with the national ISTE standards helps build a student-focused classroom. The research behind standards allows teachers and administrators to remain current in the ever-changing technology world. The technology classroom may just be the most important classroom in the school if statistics about future IT careers prove correct. Standards help us engage students in a developmentally appropriate classroom created to engage their hearts.

Gift of the Brain

The brain is a wonderful thing to picture as you plan a purposeful technology classroom. In our IT conferences we hear warnings about childhood exposure to technology as speakers share the latest stats. We discuss things like screen time and how it hurts attention span and human interaction. I am a glass-half-full teacher. Let’s choose to focus on what can be purposeful in the technology classroom. In a fast-paced IT world, our students get plenty of opportunities to engage in fun, even academic, programming. Parents, and I dare say educators, get excited when companies add elements appearing to be educational because they involve puzzles, the

alphabet, or math. Just as in an early childhood classroom, donated characters from network programming should have a purpose, or they are just toys and must go! Engagement does not equal entertainment. Classroom activities with purpose move student learning to a standard of excellence beyond entertainment in the technology classroom.

Gift of Courage

To have great technology classrooms and programs, teachers and administrators have to be playfully courageous! Try new things. Be OK with your students knowing more than you. With a good plan in place and purposeful goals for student learning, the technology classroom becomes a playful place for students to create, communicate, collaborate, and think critically. Though students still enjoy making a PowerPoint as I did twenty years ago, they need more from me. I’ve had to add skills to my portfolio to help them grow in theirs. Today I teach computer coding, robotics, collaborative writing, creating videos or music, and showcasing student research through a choice of platforms. Each year I intentionally focus on an area of growth for my students and myself.

Elementary students need early engagement in computer coding. For the last five years, I’ve used programs in my curriculum like Code.org, Tynker, Scratch and coding robots to promote computer coding skills. These opportunities to think critically, engage in collaborative problem solving and be creative are always a favorite, as well as challenging to students. Students begin in Kindergarten to become computer programmers!

Engaging students in research online and communicating what they learn are valuable skills for all ages. As a non-classroom teacher, this is a fun time for me to engage in conversations about famous writers, exotic animals, historic events, and world changing inventions. These conversations allow me to help them choose methods to share and express what was learned. Students can use the Google Suite, ABCya Animate, Kid Pix 3D, Canva, and Adobe Spark. When their creative presentations are their own, they have meaning and validity.

This last year, I really worked to find ways for my students to collaborate within a desktop computer lab. Collaboration activities create engagement in the classroom and healthy online interactions. Google drive allows students to collaborate starting in 2nd grade communicating over a shared document with me, their teacher. Third graders imagine they are across the ocean from their classmate (sitting on the other side of the classroom) and cannot talk. Together they write a collaborative story, communicating only with their computers. Fourth graders reach outside the school to peers within our district who enjoy a pen pal. They learn valuable appropriate communication guidelines that will help them be responsible digital citizens.

One of the best desktop lab purchases that can be made are web cams. Web cams put a personal touch on communication. When children see themselves within their work, a special, personal connection is made. Kids can create still shots of themselves to illustrate personal reflections, insert their own face into a fun KidPix 3D activity, and even video themselves sharing thoughts. Using cameras with the website Flipgrid has captivated my students this year.

Children from Kindergarten up can film their thoughts, reteach the steps to run a program, and create fun exit tickets for learning.

With personal growth and creative planning, technology teachers can effectively build meaning from the whirlwind that is technology. We can find the heartbeat of our students. We must purposefully engage the brain in growth projects and have the courage to bring in new, playful learning experiences for students. School districts which understand that meaningful technology classes help scaffold learning for future tasks are actively preparing students to express learning throughout their lives in a technology driven world. Classes full of successful learners are worth leaving our comfort zone and stretching the status quo in technology throughout classrooms, schools, and districts. Dorothy might have not anticipated the landing in Oz, but the journey she took taught her a lot more than she would have learned if she just stayed in Kansas!

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