Expert Educator Columns, Featured
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Tammy Dunbar: Teacher Geek is Chic!


by Tammy Dunbar
Expert Educator Columnist, USA

teachergeekThe first day back to school after a lovely summer break is rough on any teacher.

There’s so much to do- organize the desks, chart out lesson plans, decorate walls and hook up whatever technology was packed away and locked up over the break.

One such a day I got a frantic call from a frazzled fellow teacher: “My internet won’t work!”

When I arrived in her classroom (beautifully decorated and much more ready than mine), she pointed to the guilty tower computer. She showed me how she’d tried several desktop shortcuts, gone to internet connections and attempted to establish some kind of link to the web. She had used every trick in her book to open a connection to the Web.

“I’ve tried everything. I just don’t know what to do!”

As I watched her show me how hard she’d worked to make the connection, I almost didn’t have the heart to tell her about the yellow internet cable peeking out from under her desk, showing off the end that wasn’t plugged into the computer.

Though sometimes frustrating, making technology work can be simple – as simple as plugging the right wire into the right connection.

But some educators are uncomfortable connecting with anything more sophisticated than an overhead projector in the classroom because they think students know more about technology than they do.

If we’re afraid to try new technologies in our classrooms, how can we help our students learn today’s technologies and adapt to the new and exciting ways technology will change?

Our students are truly “digital natives:” their world has always included MP3s, DVDs, MOVs and USBs. They can type with their thumbs sometimes faster than many adults can type QWERTY-style. And they can search the internet much faster than we used to peruse the Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature at our local libraries.

So what can we teach our students?

How to best use the media they have known all their lives.

The Common Core Standards call for the use of technology and digital media to be “strategic and capable.” Students know how to find things quickly, but they don’t yet have the skills to determine if what they find is accurate, reliable and current. “Strategic” is where we educators are essential, helping students learn how to effectively access pertinent and reliable information and then apply it appropriately. We need to guide them through the process and pitfalls so they reach that “capable” stage where they find the most germane information in the most efficient way and apply it to the task.

We must empower our students with these capabilities because, as Richard Riley, Secretary of Education under President Clinton, said, “We are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist … using technologies that haven’t yet been invented … in order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet.”

No matter what we teach today, technology will change. Students with the ability to adapt to those inevitable changes will be the most successful.

We need to model our own adaptability so our students aren’t afraid of what they’re going to see in five, ten or even twenty years.

When you think about it, most of us are already pretty techie. We have cell phones to stay in touch, iPods or CDs for our music, remote controls with our entertainment systems and even (probably) a personal computer at home so we can Facebook the latest family photos or play a little Candy Crush.

We can’t teach what we don’t embrace ourselves. Our students need to see that we are comfortable learning an app, manipulating a digital device or Binging an answer. They need to see that even though we may be a little intimidated, we are not afraid to learn. They need to know that as technology continues to change, they must continue to learn how to use it, just as we have.

We need to overcome our trepidations and embrace our inner teacher geek.

I look forward to sharing tips, tricks and technology with you as we MIE Experts embark on a new journey to learn from each other and help our fellow teachers embrace technology.

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.

wonderful_wednesdayTech Injection: Start your students’ day from the moment they enter the room with a looped PowerPoint! One slide gives directions for preparing for the day, the second has a puzzler. Transition each slide with a simple fade, then click on the “Slide Show” tab and set up the show by looping the presentation. You’ve got time to take attendance and do what you need to do while they get to work!


  1. Pingback: Teacher Geek is in The Modesto Bee! | Teacher Geek is Chic!

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