illustration of a man pole vaulting over a computer

Problem and Project based learning, and technology integration, are  topics frequently advocated for here.  In a recent piece on edutopia (which is publishing great stuff these days), Suzie Boss has offered five steps for integrating technology without great additional expense.  Boss is author of a book called Project-Based Learning: Your Field Guide to Real-World Projects in the Digital Age, a book I have recently acquired and am looking forward to reading and reporting on.

Step 1: Innovate with the Tools You Already Have. Boss makes two points in this section.  First, she argues that there is much you can already do without getting new tools,  but the larger point in this discussion is one close to my heart:  teachers need support from principals to experiment. “To support her nontraditional approach, Norfar required one more thing: “I needed a ‘yes’ principal — and I have one,” she explains.”  (I hope I am seen as a “yes” principal!)  And another: “It’s not about the stuff,” Carleton emphasizes. “It’s about making connections and working with what you already have. Our principal trusted us and allowed us to take that risk.”   A neat site for carbon footprint studying is also provided here.

Step 2: Seek Out Free, Easy-to-Use Digital Resources.

“Most important is a supportive environment,” says Knee, who also takes advantage of webcasts, podcasts, and other vehicles for professional development that are free and available twenty-four hours a day. “You won’t know about a technology until you start using it. Just go and do it.” Leslie Conery, deputy CEO of the International Society for Technology in Education, applauds this “Just do it” message. “We can’t wait until every condition is met to get started with technology,” Conery states. “You have to jump in with what you have.

Step 3: Overcome Your Fear of the Unknown. This is an excellent discussion, and again, close to my heart, because it urges teachers to take risks, try new things, AND, just as importantly, share with and support each other.  Particularly recommended are PLC’s, which is a big part of what we are doing this year with Critical Friends.

Teachers meet in small-group professional-learning communities to discuss issues that relate to student learning, including technology integration. Creating time and opportunities for teachers to share ideas has led to “a common language about student learning and has accelerated our use of instructional technology,” Moore notes. “You can’t do that if teachers are working in isolation behind closed doors.

“Education consultant Gary Stager, a longtime advocate of what he calls “truly disruptive” technologies in education, agrees. Educators need to see other educators teaching in different ways in order for new practices to take hold, he says. His suggestions for accelerating the process: “Create rituals. Have teachers bring examples of something cool that their kids have done. Build a community of practice. Get teachers more comfortable talking together. It doesn’t cost anything, yet this seems to be hard for schools to do.”

Step 4: Start with Small, Fast Projects That Enhance Learning. Smart- don’t bite off more than you can chew, but get going with something upon which you can build.

“Teachers need to be successful early,” he says. “You want to start with something familiar and close to what they are already doing, but so different that it can be a portal to new possibilities. It’s about paradigm shifting.” Muir suggests starting with inquiry-oriented lessons called WebQuests.

Step 5: Learn with Your Students. I am always enthusiastic about teachers leaning with, and from students, and what an open-ness to learning from kids will do to enhance the teacher-student camaraderie and collegiality.  One of my favorite ways of re-thinking classrooms is to conceive of them as teams, teams led by teachers but jointly exploring and seeking out new ways of understanding and new solutions for problems, and teams learn from one another.

Boss focuses on the wisdom on this topic coming from Generation Yes, and I like everything that is said here:

“We’ve been trying to talk teachers into integrating technology into the classroom for thirty, maybe forty years. It’s not working,” says Sylvia Martinez, president of Generation YES (Youth & Educators Succeeding). The company enlists students — whom Martinez calls “the other 92 percent of the population in schools” — as part of the solution. “Can we teach students to help teachers use technology more effectively in the classroom? We’ve got twelve years of data that says we can,” she says.

GenYES encourages teachers to learn about technology in the context of their own classroom, side-by-side with their students. Professional development that’s embedded in the classroom has more staying power than one-shot workshops. More than 1,200 schools have participated in GenYES programs, which include training for students and on-site professional development for teachers. Martinez also advises sharing the vision of twenty-first-century learning with students. “Say to kids, ‘Here are the things we imagine could happen with this technology. What do you think?'”

I love this last line above– teachers should regularly ask students: how would you use technology to advance or accelerate your learning here, how would you use digital tools to better research, collaborate, communicate, and publish your learning?    Ask your students, and learn with them.