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Tammy Dunbar: Taking Time to Teach Technology


by Tammy Dunbar
Expert Educator Columnist, USA

teachergeekExcitedly showcasing an Hour of Code activity for my grade level teachers, I was speeding through how one could easily project the website onto the classroom screen and model for students how to snap blocks of code in place, programming the Angry Bird’s journey through the maze to capture the Green Pig.

When I looked up from my screen, expecting to see looks of amazement on their faces, I saw one of my colleague’s eyes glazing over. She was falling behind and beginning to tune out.

“How do you know it has to go forward?” she asked. “And what does a naughty pig have to do with coding?”

tammy-3-1We techies get really excited about new tech. We play with it, we push it to the limit, and then we tell everyone who’ll listen the amazing things you can do with it. But in our excitement, we often speak far too fast and use vocabulary that quickly confuses and discourages our non-techie friends.

“It’s really all vocabulary for me,” my grade-level friend told me later. “Once I hear a couple of words I don’t know, I start getting lost. And then most trainings go so fast, I can’t catch up once I’ve figured out what they were talking about earlier.”

Teacher technology leaders must remember that when designing lessons for colleagues they must be differentiated. Myles Horton observed, “You have to start where people are, because their growth is going to be from there, not from some abstraction or where you or someone else is.”

Studies have shown that the most important part of effective technology professional development is when there is a strong community in which teachers with more expertise and experience have ample time (and take ample time) to share with those teachers who are less knowledgeable. Our non-techie teaching friends need to feel confident about the support they are given, and that means we must take time to reflect on how we are supporting them.

Remember, when teaching teachers:

  • It’s more beneficial for beginning tech teachers to have their hands on the keyboard and mouse as much as possible. We must be the “Guide on the Side,” rather than the “Sage on the Stage.”
  • Instead of “teaching” a program or app by simply listing every one of its amazing features, show teacher-students one or two facets of a program (like design and title in PowerPoint) and then have them start a project using just those two tools.
  • Allow plenty of time for teacher-students to play with the new program or app.
  • Have them create something or learn something that they can immediately take back to the classroom and use with their students. Nothing gets people more excited than when they’ve created something on their own and are able to use it right away. My pre-service technology teachers’ final project is to create a PowerPoint presentation for the first day of school – “Welcome to My Class.”
  • Have fun and laugh. The best way to build confidence with technology is to create a safe and comfortable place to learn.

My confused colleague joined me at our school’s student-run coffee shop later that week, and with some much-needed morning caffeine, we huddled over her Surface Pro while I directed her through the first three steps of coding the Angry Bird through the maze.

“This isn’t so bad,” she remarked as she clicked to the next level without any prompting. “Let’s see if I can get that pig all by myself.”

techinjectionWhy not create a Welcome Back to School PowerPoint to use every year? Each successive year you can update your personal information and any changes you’ve made in your classroom procedure & rules, repercussions & rewards. It’s a great way to introduce your students to their teacher and what to expect in their new school year. You can put in on your class website for new students when they come throughout the year (print it to your class OneNote, upload it to AuthorStream and embed it, etc.), and consider saving a copy and then renaming/modifying it for times when students need to be reminded of the procedures & rules (after Winter or Spring Break, etc.)

tammy2Tammy Brecht Dunbar, M.Ed., S.T.E.M. teaches 5th grade in Manteca Unified School District and Pre-Service Technology at Teachers College of San Joaquin (Stockton, CA). She has presented at CTA Good Teaching Conferences (2014 & 2015), Cap CUE (2014), all three California Subject Matters Project Conferences, Capitol Area Science Education Leaders Conference, and several San Joaquin County Office of Education Conferences as well as many local district conferences, seminars and trainings. She won the 2010 eInstruction $75,000 Classroom Makeover Video Contest, wrote a successful Enhancing Education Through Technology grant for Manteca Unified School District in 2008, and was Teacher of the Year in MUSD in 2006.

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