So Where Is The Blueprint For Technology Integration In Elementary?

First I’m not sure having a blueprint is what is appropriate or really needed. Too much of what we have been doing in school has been pre-selected, pre-decided and scripted … the art of being a teacher … the creativity has been leeched from the system, especially in “at risk” schools.

I have been voicing concern to my administration for several years now that teachers that have taught for less than 8 years have NEVER taught when we weren’t doing “programmed” teaching. They have done little creative teaching outside of what is allowed by whatever the program says is appropriate. That scares me … especially if that trend continues.

I realize that part of the move to less teacher control of what we teach has been a reaction to lessons and units of instruction that while interesting and fun really didn’t teach the concepts they were supposed to cover.  The “Apples Unit” from “Understanding by Design by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe is a great example:

“Vignette 2
For two weeks every fall, all the 3rd grade classes participate in a unit on apples. The students engage in a variety of activities related to the topic. In language arts, they read Johnny Appleseed and view an illustrated filmstrip of the story. They each write a creative story involving an apple and then illustrate their stories using tempera paints. In art, students collect leaves from nearby crab apple trees and make a giant leaf print collage on the hallway bulletin board adjacent to the 3rd grade classrooms. The music teacher teaches the children songs about apples. In science, they use their senses to carefully observe and describe the characteristics of different types of apples. During mathematics, the teacher demonstrates how to “scale up” an applesauce recipe to make a quantity sufficient for all the 3rd graders.
A highlight of the unit is the field trip to a local apple orchard, where students watch cider being made and go on a hayride. The culminating unit activity is the 3rd grade apple fest, a celebration for which parent volunteers dress as apples and the children rotate through various activities at stations—making applesauce, competing in an apple “word search” contest, bobbing for apples, completing a math skill sheet containing word problems involving apples, and so on. The fest concludes with selected students reading their apple stories while the entire group enjoys candy apples prepared by the cafeteria staff.”

Most of the activities here are great on their own, however as a unit of study were the activities chosen to meet the standards that were supposed to be covered, or because they were cute and fun and covered multiple subject areas? I’ll bet too, that a teacher doing this unit would overwhelmingly get very positive feedback from the students’ parents, especially any that volunteered to help with it. So would the teacher most likely do the same “unit” again next year? Even if they moved grade levels because they were told what a great job they did and how much the children SEEMED to learn?

If what we do with technology in our classrooms is basically akin to the “Apples Unit” … it’s cool and fun and parents like it, we are doing a disservice to all involved. And I think too many times that is exactly what has happened with technology use in education. The technology is introduced (and teachers are given zero training in effective use and use the tech to do things the same way they always have)… its cool … students are excited and parents are overjoyed that their kids are excited about stuff at school …  and everyone feels warm and fuzzy inside … for awhile. Then the newness and initial excitement wears off and what is being done is no better (and maybe worse) than what was happening without the technology and we have yet again “proved” that technology use in education is a bust.

Tom Barrett has noted that in general there isn’t a lot to read and learn from about 1:1 technology integration at the elementary level:

“Much of what I read is to do with an older age range and far different environments than our own. The sites included “blueprints to 1:1 computing” and complete “guides” suggesting, just from the rhetoric of the titles, that one size (may) fit all. Although we may learn lessons from what other teachers, schools and districts have been doing it seems we will have to discover our own UK primary version of what a 1:1 classroom looks like.”

I know there are 1:1 initiatives going on, but not many involved are apparently blogging or otherwise sharing their experiences with us. I would also note that the vast majority of edtech bloggers are at the secondary level or are mostly involved from the training side of things and are not full time classroom teachers sharing the struggles and triumphs of 1:1 integration in their classrooms.

I’ve also noted in recent posts that integrating tech at the elementary level these days involves trying to integrate it into programs that were not designed with tech in mind. They tend to be fast paced reading programs that leave little room for the further/deeper exploration, collaboration, refinement of thinking and sharing of learning that tech integration is best at.

I’ve found that often when students are researching on the web they are more motivated to use the skills they’ve been taught to make meaning from text because they WANT to understand what they are reading so they can use it in the project they are involved in. The reading program already provides what they are supposed to read and react to, there is no time to do more, read more, learn more about a topic … and yet isn’t THAT what we should be promoting? Isn’t THAT what being a lifelong learner and teaching students to BE learners is about? Hence the frustration.

I think we have a general understanding of what effective tech integration should and could look like at the elementary level. I’m just not so sure we have those “Working, Breathing, Reproducible, Intriguing Models”
 that would help us find our way.

Learning is messy!

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6 thoughts on “So Where Is The Blueprint For Technology Integration In Elementary?

  1. I hadn’t thought about the pre-programmed aspect of all of this. I need to chew on it a bit. I’m less impacted by it because I’m teaching overseas at themoment.

    Our school hits us constantly with initiatives. Most are well planned and useful, but the pace has made it such that most staff have only basic tech skills. They have no online PLN, don’t read blogs, don’t have a clue about the shift needed, and as their tech coordinator, I’m really struggling to help them see the need for the shift. My first year on the job was a blur of new country, new school. Last year we made gains with they systems– this fall all teachers are local admin. We should have in-house wikis and blogs and other tools on hand for them. This year I need to focus on shifting the teachers. I’m fortunate in that surprisingly few of them are opening unwillingly. Most are just very tired of the pace and really trying to do good things for kids from what they know and are required to do. I’ll keep watching your blog for more ideas like these. Even if there isn’t (and shouldn’t be) a recipe, the more I read from people engaged in this struggle, the more tools I have at hand to help me move us all forward.


  2. I’ve visited a couple of 1:1 or 2:1 laptop elementary schools. I think you’re right that they’re not blogging but they are creating brochures, powerpoints, movies, and other creations that demonstrate learning. Maybe I’m a bit of a heretic in the blogging community but if I had to choose between filmmaking and blogging, I’d choose filmmaking because I think it’s a medium all to itself whereas blogging might not be a substitute for good writing in the classroom. Blogging does give students an audience for their writing but then so would letters to congress people, playwriting, and book publishing.

    I don’t think you do have to choose between blogging and something else, ideally we can do a bit of everything. However, I wouldn’t say that an elementary program would have to include blogging.

    Unfortunately, I think your example of an apple unit can also translate to technology use where classrooms might be doing elaborate units with tech, that signify nothing.

  3. Great post Brian. There has to be some creativity in the process or else we really don’t need the humans. One question, Is the Apple unit part of the “core” curriculum. Sorry, couldn’t resist.

  4. Mathew: In my experience blogging is a much better tool for teaching writing than

    “… letters to congress people, playwriting, and book publishing.”

    Blogging lends itself to almost every genre of writing. If a student wrote any of the examples you mentioned they could publish them on their blog as well. The congress person might respond to a letter, but it might be a form letter response, not a real interaction. Students often get feedback from others about what they have written, and even when they don’t they do see how many times others have read their post. That alone is an incredible incentive to them to write more and do a better job of editing.
    My students write so much more than I have experienced in all my 20+ years of teaching and I rarely hear students complain about writing too much. I do sometimes have students ask to come in before school to check their blog for comments or because they found an error they want to edit. Besides all the other writing we do in class most of my students have over 30 writing pieces on their blogs from this year.
    Students can blog about every school subject and even how they made the film or wrote the letter to the congressperson or the play.
    Students choose to write extra on their own. Since school got out 2 weeks ago I’ve had 4 blog pieces posted on our class blog, one from the local library since the student doesn’t have a computer at home.

    My students ask many more questions about writing, spelling and usage on what they blog. When others leave comments on their blogs they always want to reply to the comment on the other student’s blog … so they write more … I doubt many kids that send letters to congress people or write plays or publish books (all good things to have students doing) end up writing MORE about them later.

    My students blog with students across the country and the world so they are exposed to different cultures and ways of thinking. When they blogged about Thanksgiving we were asked to Skype a class in New Zealand to explain what the holiday was really about and how it got started.

    One of the keys to us being able to do all this is that my students all have their own laptop … they don’t have to wait for our once a week computer lab time or when someone else gets finished … this is really key.

    So I agree that filmmaking is a powerful teaching tool, but I would not elevate it above blogging.

  5. Hi Brian,

    Great post and great discussion.

    I think what you’re describing is giving students writing an audience which it often doesn’t have in the classroom and providing real experiences that students can write about. I’m still not sure that blogging is a necessity for those things at the same time that I obviously agree that blogging is a powerful tool.

    I’m sorry I set up a filmmaking vs. blogging dichotomy. However, as media is being pitched at students on increasingly smaller and more personal devices, I think that schools are almost completely inept at giving students the tools with which to think critically about and analyze media. Creating their own media is perhaps the only the way to truly understand the structure and elements involved in media creation in the same way that teaching writing increases students’ reading comprehension.

    I also have not had any complaints about writing in my classroom using the Lucy Caulkins writer’s workshop model.