Seven Steps for Adapting Technology to the Classroom

By Sean Nank

As the recession of 2008 becomes a not too distant memory, some schools are finding themselves better funded. With this comes the acquisition of technology for schools and classrooms. The widespread introduction of technology can have amazing impacts on curricula, pedagogy, and student learning. But some schools have not experienced these results. Below I will share the seven aspects of adapting technology that will help you avoid lackluster results.


 Buy Technology for Teachers AND Students

From 2000 to 2010, the United States saw an influx of technology in classrooms. We started seeing computers at every teacher’s desk and slowly LCDs, Document Cameras, and laptops trickled into classrooms. But the real difference has come in the past several years as technology is making its way into the hands of the students. Now the true value of technology lies in student-centered learning. I am not talking about classroom sets of graphing calculators, not that there is anything wrong with that, but I’d take that $175 per device, buy a Chromebook, use one of the many free and high quality online calculators, and have the technology to do so much more.

 Use the 10 Percent Rule

If you have $100,000 total to spend on technology, then spend $90,000 and set aside $10,000 for professional development and training to support teachers while implementing the technology.  If you do not offer this support, then the technology could become old news for students and educators alike. Strategies will go unexplored, resources will go unnoticed, and opportunities to embed the technology in a meaningful way with the school’s curricula and pedagogy will not come to fruition. If you want change, invest in what matters most, the people.

The technology is never what makes a difference; it is what the teachers and students do with the technology that matters.  If we do not take 10 percent of the funds to support the teacher, we risk walking into a room a year from now and seeing cobwebs on that brand new technology, and at best seeing a staff who spends many personal hours trying to figure out what to do with the technology.

I teach a Learning with Technology course at the American College of Education (ACE) where students write a mini grant proposal for technology. The proposals that stand out are the ones that make people a priority over the technology and acknowledge that without investing in the teachers, the technology will be less effective.

 Give Teachers Time

There are never enough hours in the day for teachers to do all that is asked of them. Give teachers time to learn about the technology, plan how to use it together, check in to see what is going well - and not so well - and debrief with adaptive planning. Give teachers time to embrace a Growth Mindset (Dweck, 2016) and realize that mistakes and glitches with technology will be made, but mistakes are not failure. Without this time, eventually your plans for the technology could be derailed.

Time is needed to integrate and adapt the technology to complement your current curricula, pedagogy, and learning styles of your students. Find experts in your school and district - the pioneers of technology and the early innovators - and give them time to collaboratively help their colleagues learn to use technology.

Give time to explore technological resources like LearnZillion and Desmos, and take technology courses at institutions like American College of Education (ACE). Extra time is needed if we expect teachers to use technology in a meaningful way.

 Choose a Platform and Stick with it

It is frustrating at best when a student, parent, or teacher has access to multiple platforms for each subject. I suggest choosing one platform to house all your information and embed resources from other sources. If you find resistance in your school, identify who the fundamentalists are in your milieu and use Muhammed’s (2009) suggestions to promote change within this culture.

The buy-in is worth it because consolidating to one platform has major advantages. Parents and students always know where to go for information, and teachers can collaborate easier given one platform. 

 Technology for the Sake of Technology

Nothing can replace writing a geometric proof on a piece of paper or taking out a compass and constructing a perpendicular bisector. Ask yourself, “Is the way I am using this technology today helping students to understand some aspect of the subject matter in a better or more meaningful way than if I did not use the technology?” Sometimes putting pencil to paper is the best way to understand – and remember, that paper and pencil at one time was state of the art technology! Yes, watch a video on how to bisect an angle, but let the students do it as well.

I have seen an iPad or a document camera used as a glorified overhead projector many times.  It’s not a bad thing, but we must see the use of the technology in these instances for what they are and not expect any better results than when we used the overhead projector.  On the other hand, using a Chromebook to show a sinusoidal curve unfold as an animation next to the curve spins a point around a circle is an excellent way to conceptually understand why the curve looks like it does and why it is periodic.

 Students are (and are not) Digital Natives

Some students come to classrooms with years of technological experience and can show us educators a thing or two. However, they are only digital natives in the use of technology for social and entertainment purposes and are not natives in the use of technology in an educational manner.

Whenever I write on paper, I think in a different way than when I type. I find the same is true when I engage in mathematics with technology. For example, there is a lesson on LearnZillion about composing and decomposing numbers. When I use technology to solve these problems, I think about the patterns and organizations different from when I am using paper. Try using an app for linear regression, it is generally not intuitive. Students, no matter how native they are, need our guidance.

 Assess with Technology in a Meaningful Way

In 2011, three colleagues and I were granted a quarter of a million dollars to implement an iPad pilot program in math and science. The students in my classroom experienced success never before attained in the district. Before using iPads, the Geometry classes in the school had a 56 percent D/F rate while my D/F rate was 47 percent. In Pre-Calculus, the school’s D/F rate was 28 percent while my D/F rate was 12.5 percent. By the end of the first semester in the first year of the program, the school’s D/F rate maintained the same level and my D/F rate decreased to 26.9 percent in Geometry and 4 percent in Pre-Calculus.

Soon, the D/F rate in all of my classes reached zero percent. That’s no typo. It took a lot of time and effort but eventually no student failed. It was due in part to internet access, applications, and other resources. But the biggest contributor was promoting a Grading for Learning system with randomization of formative and summative assessments allowing for continual re-teaching, interventions, support, and opportunities to show mastery of any topic. 

I was worried this progress was temporary; after all I was passing between 40 and 50 more students than other teachers each year. So I monitored student progress the next year in their non-iPad classrooms with other teachers as measured with end of semester and year grades, and my students’ performance aligned better year over year than the campus as a whole. It was only a 2 percent difference, which was not statistically significant. However, not only were 40 to 50 students experiencing success and not having to re-enroll in their current course, but they were being proportionally as successful as all the other students.

This success was accomplished with multiple strategies. All warm up activities, quizzes, and tests were converted to the LMS where I coded the questions for randomization. Take the problem 2x + 4 = 8. I coded this and all other problems so the 2, 4, and 8 would be randomly assigned. This enabled all students to retake any assessment with a one in 100 chance that they would receive the same question. In different iterations, students would see 3x + 7 = 16 or 5x + 4 = 9.  I also programmed partial credit by coding the three major misconceptions while providing hints associated with the misconceptions.

Students attained tutoring before reassessing. This enabled students to continue learning until they understood the materials. That F on the first test of the year did not linger and affect their grade and performance for the rest of the term. Instead, students could continue to learn with a Growth Mindset and try as many times as it took with randomized assessments until they showed mastery.

There were other ways this model transformed the instruction, use of technology, conversations in the classroom, and minimized math anxiety. Assessments were not used as the determining factor for what to teach and as a convenient justification for how to teach (Nank, 2011). Instead, assessments were randomized and reattempted so students could continue to engage, learn, try, and succeed.

Some of the teachers in the Learning with Technology course I teach at ACE have embarked on such ventures and have seen similar results when they use technology in the classroom to randomize assessment items.

Technology will not “fix” all the problems you have in your educational milieu. If you are looking to fix anything, concentrate on the relationships in your school. Technology can foster and enhance these relationships through collaboration, visuals, and integrating strategies into your curricula, pedagogy, and student learning in ways that could not be possible without it. With access to the internet in classrooms, most human technology is at our students’ fingertips. The key is using that technology so students can access the information, determine the credibility, and apply it in context.  Supporting teachers and students in this endeavor will ensure the technology makes a difference.

Dr. Sean Nank is a senior core faculty member of Teaching and Learning at American College of Education. and has worked with the United States Department of Education, National Science Foundation, California Department of Education, and California Commission on Teacher Credentialing.
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Issue 19.1 | Summer 2017

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