Following Trends in EdTech

I am Michelle Phillips and have been teaching in north Texas for 11 years.  Most of my teaching experience has been with 4th through 7th grade science.  I have a B.S in Elementary Education and will adding a M.S in Instructional Media in May, Sustaining Digital Literacy (EDIM 516) is my last class before graduation.  I have two certifications through SMART:  SMART Certified Education Administrator and SMART Certified Trainer.  I am also a Discovery Education STAR Educator and SMART Exemplary Educator.

I started integrating technology into my classroom lessons about 8 years ago.  It started when I taught 4th grade math and science with my friend Rob Vardeman (@mr_v).  He told me about the Einstruction (@einstruction) remote system that he used at his previous school and I was hooked.  I immediately wrote two grants for my school and we purchased 4 sets. My school district soon started using SMARTboards (@SMART_Tech).  I wanted to learn more so I signed up and completed the SMART Certified Education Administrator certification.  I then taught other teachers on my campus and throughout my district how to use them with their students.  I furthered my training when my district paid for me to complete the SMART Certified Trainer program.

I have presented at and attended technology conferences locally and statewide to learn more about technology integration.  I flipped my 6th grade science classroom last year with great success and plan on flipping my 7th grade science classroom next year.  This year I made the switch from a larger, tech savvy district to a small district with far less resources and experience with technology.  Of course I wish that I had more technology available to me but it’s about what you do with what you have, not how much you have.  Quality over quantity, right?

This change has come at the perfect time for me.  The district has just started the process of writing its own curriculum and I have had great success in implementing new technology into the 7th grade science curriculum.  It is a great experience.  I am back at the beginning but with all the knowledge I’ve gained over the last 8 years!

Twitter has become my favorite place to learn about new ideas and technology.  I started using Twitter three years ago when I attended a statewide technology conference.  Rob told me that I needed to connect with a teacher he knew that would be attending.  I started following all the teachers of the presentations I attended and it quickly grew from there.  I join the DEN (Discovery Educator Network) and SEE (SMART Exemplary Educator) chats on Twitter as often as possible and check out new resources as people post about things they are doing in their classrooms.

I look to other educators and educational authors and bloggers when I research a technology tool or idea for my classroom.  I have expanded my educational reading collection through the textbooks for my EDIM classes as well as suggestions of great reads from others on Twitter.  I also experiment with the different technology tools and websites before I try them with my students.  This doesn’t guarantee success but helps work out some of the kinks before my students and I try to use them together.

There are many challenges of using technology in the classroom.  I talk with my students before we do something new with technology.  I discuss what we are going to do and what we hope to accomplish.  They need to know why we are using the technology tool and how it will help enhance the content of our lessons.  I also teach them that things don’t always work as expected and we may need to be flexible or find a new way to reach our goal.  My students are learning how to discuss the effectiveness of different technology tools and how to use their problem solving skills when the technology doesn’t work the way we want it to or stops working altogether.  Another challenge is the availability of technology now that I have moved to a smaller district.  I have learned to plan in advance based on what technology tools are open.  I teach at a 7-8 middle school with 1,000 students, 2 computer labs, 1 iPad cart and 4 laptop carts with 15 computers each.  The infrastructure needed to support these devices and our BYOD policy is lacking and the devices themselves are older and don’t always work properly.

I’m very lucky that my administration supports my use of new technology and lets me try new things with my students without prior approval.  I try to create a transparent environment so that everyone, including parents, can see what our learning objectives are, why the technology was chosen to enhance the content and how we solve problems that arise so that our learning objectives are always met.  I have learned that technology integration is not about the amount of technology available but what you do with it.    Quality over quantity!

10 thoughts on “Following Trends in EdTech

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  1. Thanks Michelle for this intro. I think the great part is working with a supportive team. The issue of devices/access are barriers that can be overcome, without a supportive administration and staff, it’s nearly impossible. Looking forward to learning with you

  2. It was always a team effort! You were the brains and organization to my off the wall ideas about how we could use technology. It’s been awesome to see how you’ve taken all it to new heights! Very excited (and proud) for you!

  3. Hi Michelle, your new Texas school district is lucky to have you! Your move sounds like a great challenge, but given your extensive experience and qualifications I’m sure you’ll make quick work of all things technology! As for your post, I connected immediately with your technology grant reference for I too have authored and secured some incremental funding (not nearly as much as you!) but every dollar counts. We used our grant to purchase cameras to support a digital story telling project, and even though it wasn’t a lot of money the effort overall gave us a new perspective on what could be done to support our quest for new technology. Conferences, on the other hand, can become a bit tedious, and while exhibit floors and break out sessions can yield incremental and meaningful information, they’re not my “go to” source for innovation. Your reference to the usefulness of Twitter from a collaboration point of view could not be more spot-on, in fact we’re using it this week to keep track of student activities and feedback during an extended field trip. However, I must say that your reference to not needing prior approval to experiment with technology has left me a bit jealous! That kind of freedom most likely is only granted in balance with your demonstrable mastery of organization and results-driven history. I enjoyed reading your post – congratulations on your forthcoming Masters!

    1. Hi Kim,

      Thanks for your comments. I think one of the reasons that I have so much freedom with trying new things is because I try to make my classroom as transparent as possible. I often email my administrators and parents when trying new things and share the reasoning behind the strategy, the research I’ve done and how it will enhance the content. It’s important for my students to understand that the technology is the tool we are using to learn, not the focus of our learning.

      Michelle

  4. Michelle,
    I am very happy for you that this is your last class in the EDIM program. What a perfect class to end your Wilkes journey because this class is about sustaining digital literacy and this really is the key to technology use. Tools will come and go as technology improves and changes but embracing the concept of digital literacy is where the investment of time will pay off.

    Twitter is one of my favorite resources too. I agree that it is a great way to find some excellent lesson plans, resources and ideas. It’s quick and easy. Basically, you start with a few people to follow and it seems to grow exponentially.

    I actually gasped when you mentioned that you went from a large district to a small one and described your small one as having 1000 students in grades 7-8. My district has only about 300 students in grades 7-8. Our middle school includes 6-8 so our numbers are at around 450 total. We have one computer lab with 26 iMacs, six chromebook carts (26 devices), one iPad cart (30 devices), 5 iMac desktops in each classroom, and 5 laptop carts with 20 macbooks in each. Each classroom room has a multi-media projector and our library has 14 iMac desktops. Seriously, you cannot believe how often there are complaints that we don’t have enough technology!

    Talking with your students about a project is so important. Students really should be consulted on their education as often as possible. It does take a bit of courage to do this on a new technology project so kudos to you for being so open-minded.

    Your technology experience is amazing. I am really excited to be in this class with you.

    ~Laurie

    1. Laurie,

      The district I left had 18 elementary schools, 3 middle schools, 1 9th grade center and 1 very large 10-12th grade high school. The district I am at now has 4 elementary campuses, 2 middles school (1 for 5th/6th graders and 1 for 7th/8th graders) and 1 high school. Our numbers are growing and a bond has been passed to build more schools but the town does not yet have the tax base to support these schools. So we are looking at another 1,000+ students in 7th and 8th grade next year. 🙂

      Most of my students have their own devices so one way that I plan to combat the amount of technology is to restructure our BYOD program, which is why I loved the BYOD class we just finished! Looking forward to having another class with you!

      Michelle

  5. Hi Michelle,

    I too teach in a small district that is slowly beginning to add more technology to the district. It can be quite challenging at times just getting good wifi hahaha. I teach 5th and 6th grade art so beyond the challenge of incorporating technology into projects, I also have the challenge of getting a computer cart on a regular basis. Best of luck with this class!

    Cheers,
    Kyle

    1. Kyle,
      I certainly feel your pain. I had a laptop cart almost full time at my old district and don’t have any computers in my current classroom. They removed all of our classroom laptops to make more laptops carts. I have found the key is planning ahead and it’s almost impossible to be spontaneous. 🙂
      Michelle

  6. I think that your ideas of a transparent environment are key to a good learning situation where everyone is on board with the technology. My district is constantly worried about the “what if’s?” What if the kids write something inappropriate on a blog, what if it becomes bullying, what if it takes up too much resources from the internet connection, What if it doesn’t get through the filter. Where I can see theri concern, it drives me crazy sometimes when we don’t have the ability to use technology that we have researched and can find a good use for. We too are missing good infrastructure and therfore resist the BYOD initiative. Years ago when we signed up for the CFF grant in Pennsylvania we ended up with great technology, today we need to keep that technology running but the budget says that it is impossible. It is nice that your expertise can be used for your new curriculum writing.
    Look forward to working with you,
    Tim

    1. Tim,
      I agree that the what ifs can be daunting. I always test the technology tool I want to use with my class first to see how to direct my class. I make my expectations and directions clear so they know exactly what they are allowed to do, what they should not do, and the consequences if they make a bad choice. It’s also important to make sure that you monitor it constantly which can be very time consuming. I hope that you get to use some of the technology we learn about with your students.
      Michelle

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