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Many bloggers have written complaining about teachers not using technology in their classrooms. Rather than complain, Jeff Utecht’s recent post on “Evaluating Technology Use” established a rubric for evaluating technology use. But what if you are a new teacher or you aren’t using technology in your classroom now? It’s not reasonable to expect that you’re going to become a technology MacGyver overnight.

Here’s a letter I received from a new teacher and my (hopefully reasonable) response.

Hi Mr. N,
I am a first-year teacher (5th grade), and would love to consider using technology in the classroom. However, I feel swamped as it is, just cranking through the written Open Court [required district language arts curriculum] materials. Where do you find the time to use technology in the daily agenda, and how much of your own prep time to you expend getting it all ready to go?
Thanks, Pat

Dear Pat,

Welcome to teaching. My advice to you is to concentrate in your first year on teaching the core subjects. If you teach language arts and math effectively this year then you are doing very well. Look around you and see what other teachers are teaching. You will not likely find much technology in use. Nevertheless, do what other people are doing. Try to collaborate with the best teachers you can find at your school.

If there is no one at your school you can collaborate with (and even if there is) you might want to expand your teacher network online. Sites I like for networking with peers are Classroom 2.0 and Teachers.net. If you need answers or support there’s always someone on one of those sites to help out.

As you go through this year think about subject areas and units where you might integrate technology into the curriculum in the future. Inexperienced teachers often use technology for technology’s sake when it should be used seamlessly to support state standards and mandated curriculum at the same time that it empowers students and teaches twenty-first century skills. If everyone around you were using technology than I’d say work with them and jump in. However, since you’ll likely be on your own, work on developing your own teaching methods first, making sure you know why you’re teaching what you’re teaching.

In your second year, pick one unit and plan a technology project for it. If you pull off one good technology project in your second year (movies, eBooks, podcasts, or even powerpoints) then I’d say you’re doing well and then try to integrate a second technology project in your third year. You can keep increasing this as you go. So when you ask how I integrate technology on a daily basis, understand that it really isn’t on a daily basis. I’ve always had a one or two computer classroom and we do about three to four big technology projects per year. I’m not counting visiting web sites for research or inquiry, only times when students actually create something themselves.

As for how much of my own prep time I expend preparing technology projects…You may need to invest some time in professional development to learn how to use the tools but if you pick the easiest tool, you may already be ready to go. If you know what you’re doing and you let students do the work then you will spend very little time outside of school planning these projects.

In the beginning I used to make movies with students and do all the editing myself at home. That took hours and hours, probably more than teachers without a passion for filmmaking would want to spend. However, the goal of technology projects should be to put technology in the hands of students. Although early projects had a role in increasing reading fluency and comprehension, they did little to close the digital divide. In fact, they widened it by empowering me in my technology use and leaving the students behind. When students write, edit, and plan their own movies their learning is much deeper, richer, and valuable. These projects take up very little of my outside time. Again, since it is no longer my first year, I don’t have to spend as long planning the core subjects as I did in the beginning.

Good luck to you. Continue to stay connected online to the networks of teachers that exist and I hope to see some of your students’ work in a couple of years.

3 Responses to “Letter to a First Year Teacher Regarding Using Technology”

  1. Pat says:

    What great advice! I think this is good advice for anyone just starting out with technology so they don’t get overwhelmed. I will be sharing this with other teachers just getting started.

  2. [...] reminded me of an earlier post here by Mathew Needleman: » Letter to a First Year Teacher Regarding Using Technology In Practice and this piece on teacher training by Jennifer [...]

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