Tag Archives: high school

When To Put The Tech Away In Your 1:1 (or Any) Classroom

This article was originally posted on Edudemic. You can read the original post on the Edudemic site here. multitasking-mobile-devices-557x362

When we work with schools embarking on 1:1 programs, losing classroom culture often tops the list of concerns. Teachers worry about too much screen time and lack of face-to-face interaction. Between the two of us, we have taught  in 1:1 environments with students in grades 2-12. Despite the wonderful learning opportunities afforded by these devices, sometimes, the technology is best when turned off.

Turning OFF an Elementary Classroom


“1-2-3 look at me!” I (Beth) exploded to my students. And then, as if I had been a teacher at Hogwarts rather than a PS-8 school in Newport, RI, the room magically went silent. All eyes turned away from their screens and focused on me standing in the middle of the room waving my hand in the air. Suddenly, I had ripped control back from the gleaming iMacs that lined the lab. We had returned to a state of control and learning could re-commence.

We’d had enough technology, and now it was time to re-engage as a class. Clearly, the iMacs had become a deterrent to learning rather than a catalyst, so it was time to re-group. Would I recommend the above strategy to middle or high school students? Absolutely not. However, with my elementary students, it worked – for a while.

Over the years, I established different routines with different groups of students. Some came straight into the lab, sat down at the computers, and got to work. Others gathered in a circle at the front of the room to discuss the goals of the day, answer questions, or collaborate on a project. With my youngest students, we often sat in a circle, on the floor, in an area devoid of all technology at the start and finish of each class. That allowed us to see and listen to each other without the distraction of the screen.

In an elementary classroom, children bouncing out of their chairs, loud screeching noises, and then occasional slew of waving hands amongst shouts of “it isn’t working” make it obvious to put away the technology. Even while teaching in a computer lab, times existed where we needed to sit in a circle and talk about learning objectives. We also needed to sing “C is for Copy” and play the“Server Game” to apply physical attributes to virtual concepts. However, as students get older, the signs may not be as obvious.

When and Why to Add Technology

tech-savvy students

Though failing to include any technology in the modern classroom is wrong, including too much, or employing it ineffectively, can be equally problematic. Having a list of specific instances where choosing to put away classroom technology is the right choice would certainly be nice, but like most pedagogical challenges it is also unrealistic. Oftentimes, it simply isn’t that easy to know whether to put it away or not., and the skill of making that choice develops over time – a bit like a callous.

At its best, technology enhances, extends or deepens the learning taking place. At its worst, it detracts, distracts, and otherwise frustrates you and your students. When these situations cannot quickly and effectively be remedied – without sacrificing your lesson’s learning objective – put the technology down and embrace the lesson.

The trick is to never let technology erode the relationships in your classroom.  It takes awhile understand to how to effectively create the same relationships that existed in a traditional classroom.  When the teacher is talking less and the students are interacting more, the process for building community looks and feels very different.

Lessons from Going 1:1 in High School Classroom

When I (Shawn) lectured more, it was very easy to end the class knowing that the students had shared a very similar experience together. When devices were added to my classroom, I had no guarantee that would happen. As we worked more individually and in small groups, I realized that I had eroded some of the community that I had prized so highly.  This created tension in the class and left me shaken. I  learned that I had to focus and find ways to build a better community and create shared values in smaller increments of time.

Until you find that balance, take time – outside of instruction if necessary – to build your classroom community.  You can come back to blazing a new trail, as it will be more successful and rewarding to everyone if they are doing so in a trusting and supportive classroom. It is an investment with a return and certainly not wasted time.

The first weeks and months of any 1:1 pilot are difficult. Facing each new learning obstacle with a new device seems awkward, ungainly, and not part of the normal planning process. There WILL be a moment when using technology to solve a problem actually becomes the problem itself. For example, the first time that I used dropitto.me, I failed to realize the importance of a standard naming convention. As a result,  ⅓ of the students assignments were lost. Oops!

Don’t Be Afraid to “Abort Mission”

focus in technology

Even the best lesson plans – complete with clearly defined learning objectives, tested tools, and the most creative intentions – can fail miserably, and technology can certainly expedite the process. When the class activity or project begins to unravel, there is nothing wrong with shifting gears or changing directions. My (Beth’s) virtual archaeology project looked beautiful on paper, but the web sites were above my students’ reading level, and the collaborative tools crashed. After three class periods of scaffolding, re-directing, and suffering, we just moved on.

Technology is a lot like sharing a good story with your class. When it connects to the lesson and provides a solid memorable story that students can wrap their minds around, go with it.  When the story fizzles, the connection is lost – or it becomes a self-inflicted class distraction – set it aside, regroup and try to be wiser the next time.


Filed under #blogging, #edtech, general education, pedagogy, professional development

The Textbook is Dead, Long Live the Textbook! What 1:1 is doing to Traditional Classroom Resources.

Yep I said it. The days of the traditional textbook are over.  The moment I brought devices into a classroom the textbook fell from its revered place as a THE respectable source of information and was revealed for what it is, a simplified and incomplete narrative of the past.


Teachers need to accept some blame for the fact that textbooks ever had this status in the first place.  While we brought in primary resources, we necessarily relied on the textbook because of its convenience.  We overstated the accuracy, thoroughness and status of the textbook because its structure gave us comfort and a place to turn when we were absent.  We basked in the glory of being able to provide historical facts beyond the book.  This made us seem really smart. The enticing worksheets that came packaged with the text provided neat questions and a structure that was perfectly mirrored in the text.  Our students grew comfortable with this and while we all knew that it should be different, and though we often did make great lessons that spat upon the folly of the worksheet, at some point, we found our way back.

My Matrix, Red Pill moment came last year. It started with a lesson called “Fact Checking Your Text Book.” The assignment was exactly that. Use the Internet to check the facts, see what is missing, look for bias, and assign a grade to a passage from your book.  It looked like this.

I expected students to find some problems but overall I just hoped they would at least give the textbook a good deep reading.  Yet my class found our textbook, a book that to this day I think is a good textbook, to be riddled with problems.  As groups presented, our unit became a discussion of bias, perspective and viewpoint.  It was amazing.

This year, my classes equipped with iPads, I set out to create other lesson frameworks that would also generate a discussion in class and if possible get students excited about digging deep and experiencing history.

I wanted to start by letting the students look for sources on a topic and then discuss how good they thought those topics were. I had no rubric or framework so I asked students to rank them 0-5.  Students worked in groups to discuss what was a good source and what was not.  I was impressed by how they are savvier than we give them credit for.  The assignment looked like this.  The students eventually found and evaluated over 250 sources.  But they needed an anchor. When set loose they had nothing to build upon or out from.

My next framework grew out of that last assignment.  We outlined the textbook and then researched online to do “Historical First Aid.”  We included what was left out.  We gave breadth to what was simplified and we expanded on value judgments that the book made.  The Topic was Good Emperors and Bad Emperors during the Roman Empire.  We set out to give it the paddles and breathe life into it.

By this point in the year I had started to struggle with how to unify all of the varied learning that takes places when students are researching and pulling together sources that I am not entirely familiar with.  I needed to get control, or at least enough control to bring the lesson together and drive home a point.

My solution was to have each group of students work together to create a thesis statement that summed up their overall impression of the topic.  It was a serendipitous stumble into success.  Students shared the grade they had given the book and discussed the discrepancies that existed between them and the sources they had found.  Then they finished the presentation by writing their thesis statement on the board.  As the bell rang we had our 6 thesis statements and a better sense that the history of the Roman Emperors is bigger than the one page of the book could effectively contain.  It looked like this.

My next framework was “Textbook Smackdown.”  Using copies of old textbooks I put them into direct competition.  Students collaborated to summarize two versions of an event.  Then they debated which was better.  They said things like, “how could we know?” But they had already started to revert to their past research activities and were checking facts.  Choosing the winner was not always easy. The books were selective in the narrative they told and they weren’t typically “wrong.” They often just took different paths through the events.  Sometimes they chose to focus on a different part of set of events.  Other times they chose to focus on different themes.  Ranks were given but it wasn’t always easy.

Students were getting their hands dirty doing real research. They were elevating events from the 2D versions in their books to something closer to the 3D reality.  They used the textbook as a launching point.

And then it hit me like a brick to the face.  Despite my assault, the textbook was still just as much a part of my class as it used to be.  I had smashed the pedestal and knocked it to the ground and gotten in a few good shots. It pages were tattered but it was there no less.

So the textbook is dead.  Companies may try to keep it alive for a bit longer.  They can animate it and insert video, create web links and interactivity, much like they did with pictures and graphs in the late 90’s, but even that will not place it where it once was.  We simply have too much access to too many sources and too many facts.  The world has changed and we can’t go back.

But long live the textbook. In its pages lie beautiful examples of how the age of information is changing the world and I will use them to show just how much we have moved on.  In a way these activities have been therapy for my classes, a transition that demonstrates clearly that they can move on and move beyond.

If a textbook is ever elevated and put upon a pedestal in my class again, I can assure you that it will be because my students have written it themselves.

Footnote A: Further activities are planned.  One I also plan an activity to compare historical versions of events and if possible regional versions that will reveal values in what they choose and choose not to address. Another activity will have the class aggregating the information from a collection of 8 textbooks.  Oh how they do reflect the decades in which they were written. Finally this year, I want to have my students create their own textbook chapter.  If I can pull this off and they can use resources to create their own, then truly and finally, the “Age of the Textbook” will be over. 

Footnote B: My humblest apologies to any of the many textbook producers who may have read through to this point. You performed a public service and took on a difficult task.  You deserve more credit than you will likely get. It was your work after all that created in me a deep love for history. But like the whalers who’s oil lit our country’s lamps through the early years of our nation, shift (and petroleum) happens.  (Ironically, I never learned enough to make that analogy make sense from a textbook. There was no room for it.) 



Filed under #edtech, 1:1, pedagogy