Day 19: "I Think In Word Not Excel" or "Tech In The Classroom?" #AprilBlogADay Challenge

Day 19: Tech In The Classroom?  How? Why? Should we?

When I tell my students that When I was in college... I didn't have a laptop,  and a cell phone didn't come until the last couple years and it was a clunker.  When I started grad school in 2006, the idea of having a laptop in class hadn't even dawned on me.  I like taking notes on paper.  Sitting in grad school, next to Millenials with their fancy shiny new Mac Books and me with my spiral notebook, I felt antiquated. 

Boy, have things changed in 10 years.  Today, I sit in the Starbucks a couple blocks from my house, my Venti Cold Brew (if you haven't switched to cold brew, from anywhere for that matter, you should) my morning pastry, the ridiculous music planing in the coffee shop, and me, sitting in front of a MacBook Air, blogging.  Could I embody a stereotype any more than this?

My laptop is provided by my school and I am beyond grateful.  I have gotten so many hours of work done on this little machine.  When I was with out it for a month last summer when they were doing inventory and upgrades, I was at a loss. I do have a desktop, but being tied to my office, especially in the summer, was an inconvenience.  I have embraced tech (well, most of of).

Working at a school that is ALL ABOUT TECH has meant that I ramp up quickly.  I fill in holes that were lacking of resources and find myself looking for new things that I may be able to use.  We have SmartBoards in every classroom, each class has a cart of laptops and as a result I was about 90% paper free in my English classes last year.  It was a eye opening experience.  It was the first time I felt that I was really preparing students for college too.  Using Google Docs and Teacher Dashboard by Hapara allowed me to support and engage with students in more ways than ever before.  Working in a school that supported this use of tech changed my teaching practice for the better.  (I will qualify, there are things I don't like and wont use that some of the CS Department uses and loves.  I don't find it user friendly (yet)  and despite training, wont use. I think in Word, not Excel.) 

Some of my favorites: 
  • Google Docs
    • It is still the gold standard, despite it's flaws (a completely inadequate grammar support and formatting options).  I lost all the lessons and materials I had created over my first year and a half of teaching thanks to a faulty flash drive.  Never again.  Hello Cloud, I love you.
    • I started using this platform for AP.  While not a new resource for students and teachers, it was new for me and I love it.  It keeps student plagiarism in check, offers grammar and punctuation tools/support (especially helpful for my ELLs) when students use it, peer review and feedback, and online grading and feedback.  I love it.
  • Quizlet Online Flash Cards
    • I have used this for both AP and for Theatre Arts. I can create sets of cards and students can create their own.  It can be used online and there is a mobile app. For courses that have a plethora of vocabulary, this is a great tool. You can also generate quizzes (I don't love this feature, but it is there and I have used it).
  • Shmoop

    • It just keeps getting better and better as year progress. I only use the free materials.  I love the videos they put together for books.  I think it is more visually interesting for students, especially those who struggle.  Adding "academic WD-40 to squirt on the tracks whenever we can." Indeed.

There are drawbacks to using and depending on so much tech- the biggest being, when hardware doesn't work or the network is down, I am screwed.  Thankfully, the percentage of time that this happens is small, but when it does, I have to think quickly.  I have learned to trouble shoot most connectivity problems and students always have a back up- good old paper and pen- just in case.  

I find myself thinking, pen and paper is not ideal and I can't believe that is my thinking.  But it isn't. This is the state of education and it isn't changing.  I hope that when my students look back on their time in my classroom, they say, "I learned to take really great notes in Ms. Towne's class," or "Ms. Towne taught me how to organize my materials when I am doing research." I learn a lot as I go.  Kids teach me more.  I am teacher future developers, coders and designers their inspirations is everywhere and who am I to get in the way of inspiration?


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