How to Strategically Integrate Ed Tech Into Your Lesson Plans

Four elementary students working side by side on computers

If you’ve spent any amount of time in the classroom over the last several decades, you know one thing is clear: ed tech is here to stay (and will probably overtake everything). And it’s no wonder, really, that so many of us get so excited about the potential ed tech holds. Used the right way, ed tech can unlock both teacher and student potential and, where appropriate, remake the way we teach.

Still, it’s easy to fall into the “just get iPads into their hands!” trap. Interestingly, a recent Pearson survey on teacher technology use indicated that while many teachers have access to all of the technology they feel like they need, they don’t feel as confident in their ability to integrate technology fluidly into their lesson plans. In other words, while technology use definitely occurs in today’s classrooms and often in smart, interesting, and creative ways, it’s not necessarily the transformation that many advocates would have hoped.

There are countless reasons for this, the biggest of which relate to a lack of professional development around teacher use of technology, not to mention the kind of every day support that will take the stress out of learning the technology itself and put the focus back on creative use of that technology. In this post, I’ll focus on a few important strategies for integrating technology into your lesson plans at the higher levels of the SAMR model.

What is the SAMR Model and Why Does It Matter?

SAMR-Graphic

Picture credit: Pearson: No Magic Pill Report

SAMR stands for Substitution, Augmentation, Modification and Redefinition. For the purposes of this post, we’ll mostly explore those higher two levels, Modification and Redefinition, which are the hallmarks of more transformative technology use.

Modification refers to technology that is used to redesign new parts of the learning task, to the point where that technology is necessary in order to facilitate the types of instruction and learning that take place.

Redefinition refers to digital instructional technology that is used to actually create new tasks. This is the level at which entire educational models are transformed. It involves analyzing, thinking, and creating, rather than just plopping down in front of an iPad that may or may not augment the learning experience.

As you can see, both Modification and Redefinition go beyond simply swapping out one technique for another or upgrading those techniques but not substantially altering learning (Substitution and Augmentation). For more on the SAMR model, I highly recommend reading this excellent explanation from EdSurge.

Tips for Higher Level Tech Integration Into Your Lesson Plans

1. Use Technology to Get Students Collaborating in New and Powerful Ways

One of the biggest new and unique benefits of today’s technology is just how collaborative it can be. Rather than working entirely in silos, students can connect not just with their fellow students but also with their local communities and a worldwide community as well, to powerful effect.

Let’s take the example of Google Docs. When students are just using Google Docs to type of their essays, they’re sticking to the Substitution level of SAMR; they’re just substituting an older technology (paper and pen) with a new one (a cloud-based writing program). In contrast, having students collaborate using Google Docs in real time is transformative. Just think of the potential this one feature has for your lesson plans. Students can write a story collaboratively and then can publish it on Kidblog for the world to see.

They could work on a project together, edit each other’s essays and provide in-depth feedback. And that’s just a Google Docs project. Thinking deeply about collaborative technology use as you create your lesson plans will greatly alter the look, feel and experience of your classroom.

2. Connect to Larger Audiences

Collaborative creation and communication doesn’t have to stop at the local level. That’s the power of internet-enabled technology: your students can access a global community of learners and thinkers. This means that you can have your students use technology to, for example, research what life is like in a different community that you’re studying in Social Studies. You could have your student write a question or blog post on a certain topic that you’re studying and then publish that post in a community like Quora or a more subject-focused community that can provide expert feedback.

From a practical standpoint, these kinds of techniques will teach students how to gain access to communities that have direct, real world experience with your curriculum, think critically yet empathetically about the responses they receive, and integrate global feedback into revisions of their work. What’s more, operating in this larger community will teach students crucial online interpersonal and communication skills, which they are sure to need as they continue to grow into their diverse, global community. Integrating technology that connects your students to a worldwide audience will radically transform the learning experience.

3. Make it Student Centered

Student centered learning is a popular pedagogy these days, but you don’t have to teach exclusively in this manner to take advantage of student centered technology use.

According to the SAMR model, truly transformative technology use means fundamentally altering what students do in the classroom. Often, that also means personalizing the learning experience.

What does this mean for lesson planning? Rather than placing yourself, the instructor, at the center of the lesson, place students there instead. Give students prompts and a framework that sync with your curriculum content and the skills you’re required to teach, but have the students decide exactly what questions they’re going to ask, what technological tools they’re going to use in order to perform their research. Let students decide the technological medium that will be their expression of choice.

Rather than simply assigning an essay, for instance, give students the option to create a podcast report, film a documentary video, play, or news report, collage the information into a visual display, or do a Maker project that demonstrates a deep understanding of the physics of what they learned (for a science unit).

By putting students at the center of technology use, you’ll be truly flipping learning on its head.

4. Take Learning Virtual

Internet-connected technology isn’t just great because it can connect students to wider communities; it can also transport students to stimulating environments around the world. As I explored in this guide to virtual field trips, students can virtually transport into world-class museums, businesses, labs, and more. They can have celebrities, industry and subject experts, scientists, politicians and even students in a remote village tour them through the places where they live, work, and play. They can interview their tour leaders for multimedia projects. Virtual field trips naturally sync with curriculum standards, as you’ll use the subject areas you’re required to cover as the source material for where you’ll go, who you’ll talk to, and what you’ll do together. Just think about how much more powerful a unit on space will be when the lesson you’re teaching on gravity is reinforced by a floating NASA astronaut, who’s beaming live into your classroom.

In short, no matter what your school’s budget, students can go wherever they or you would like them to, broadening their minds along the way. Or, you could simply collaborate with a sister school halfway across the world, and Hangout casually as you celebrate each other’s cultures.

5. Augment Reality

Yes, you read that right. Recently, I got the opportunity to interview Brett Erenberg, a tech integrationist at Valhalla Schools. Afterwards, he made this awesome video for me about his class’ use of the virtual reality app, Aurasma:

As the video explains, with Aurasma, students create a virtual world that, when audience members look through their iPad screens, overlays the real world. For his unit on prehistoric humans, Erenberg had students research topic areas of choice, write educational scripts which they then filmed. There’s lots of creative and transformative technology use already here, but Erenberg didn’t stop there. Instead, he had students create posters for the project, and then had them teach the Aurasma app to recognize the images on the poster. This meant that when anyone scanned the image using the Aurasma app, the videos the students created played on the iPad screen. In this way, Erenberg and his students created an entirely virtual world within their classroom, in which they could fully explore prehistoric life. Pretty neat, huh?

In Short

There’s no doubt that educational technology has the potential to truly transform the way we learn and teach. But technology is not a cure all on its own; in fact, when not implemented strategically, it can be at least clunky and at most a hindrance. If our goal is to implement technology use in a way that unlocks both teacher and student learning and transforms the classroom into something that is far beyond the staid industrial model, we have to think deeply and strategically about doing so. This requires a shift in thinking, but I think you’ll find once that’s achieved, today’s technologies hold a wealth of potential and creativity. Technology done the right way can foster the types of creative and interactive learning experiences that got you excited about teaching in the first place.

 

About the Author

Leah Anne Levy is an education writer/editor and author of middle grade fantasy books that satirize the American schooling system. Connect with Leah on Twitter at @LeahAnneLevy, and join in the conversations around #ham,#binders, #fantasywriter, #edtech, and #education. See more of her writings on her website at leahannelevy.com.