Often times in education, technology is viewed as a piece of "curriculum dessert," a tasty tidbit that only gets touched after the content is taught and the students need to demonstrate their learning at the end of a unit. Technology isn't a dessert at Swanson Elementary, it's the fork that helps the students digest their learning. Here, Kendra Geise, Elizabeth Hall, and Crystal Parson (the 3/4 literacy and social studies team) have made daily technology integration part of their classroom culture.
The team credits the school's administration, digital teacher librarian, Shannon Feely, and technology committee for creating a shared belief among the staff that technology has a valuable place in the education of their students. "We don't do tech for tech's sake. That's not okay. It's not about the bells and whistles," Shannon shares. Instead, it's about the shared value of taking risks and failing. "[At Swanson] it’s okay to go ahead without knowing the answers. We don’t know how it’s going to work, but we are going to try it," she says. "Our teachers know good instruction and they know how to get the best from our kids." Shannon has trained the teachers on how to use technology to redefine their instruction. Rather than having students consume content through technology, the students are creating, collaborating, communicating and critically thinking in ways that were once inconceivable without the use of technology. At first, "It was all about the app, and now it's just the way we do things," the team says. "We are being more reflective on our practices. We stopped creating huge projects and are making small changes every day. We are picking 3 or 4 things [students] can use really well for productivity, rather than a whole bunch of new things. The students are becoming more proficient at using them and they really know what the tool can do."
Kendra, Crystal and Elizabeth also believe Google Classroom, a tool that creates a digital workflow for students and teachers, is another factor that has challenged and changed the way they are planning and delivering content to their students. "We are always thinking about where we can add technology...We think about what we are going to share with our kids in [Google] Classroom and what questions we can ask." Google Classroom has allowed the team to to be more effective with its assessment and its differentiation. The teachers make more exit tickets, collect more data, and provide more instant feedback than they had in the past. Google Classroom has had an impact on the team's students, as well. Students are more organized, they know what to get done, and they can see what's missing. There's no longer a question as to whether or not an assignment has been completed, and student's aren't singled out when work is incomplete or needs to be redone.
The path to integrating technology hasn't always been seamless. The team was purposeful in teaching digital citizenship to its students and modeled clear expectations about using the technology for learning. At the core of it all was an honest conversation with their students about respect for people and respect for their educational tools. Kendra, Crystal and Elizabeth trust their students to make responsible choices with their technology; the trust can be easily broken, but it can be earned back. The team has also worked through its fair share of technology glitches. The teachers' advice? "Be okay with those screw-ups when tech goes wrong. Turn it into a teaching moment. The kids are resilient with technology. They can problem solve the things [teachers] are fearful of and can figure it out before we will. They are the greatest teachers. You have to trust yourself that you are just as resilient as they are."