Archive for the ‘Ask a Tech Teacher’ Category

How to Talk to a Tech Teacher

27 Mar

There’s always been something mystical about people in technical professions–engineering, science, mathematics. They talk animatedly about plate tectonics, debate the structure of mathematical functions, even smile at the mention of calculus. The teaching profession has their own version of these individuals, called ‘technology teachers’. They used to be stuffed in a corner of the school where most teachers could pretend they didn’t exist, that what they did was for ‘some other educator in an alternate dimension’.

Thawritert all changed when technology swept across the academic landscape like a firestorm:

  • iPads became the device of choice in the classroom
  • Class SmartScreens became more norm than abnorm(al)
  • Technology in the classroom changed from ‘nice to have’ to ‘must have’
  • 1:1 became a realistic goal
  • Students researched online as often as in the library
  • Students began spending as much time in a digital neighborhood as their home town
  • Textbooks morphed into resources rather than bibles

Today, teachers who don’t use technology are an endangered species. Often, they’re too young to retire, so they get a map from a colleague to that place where they’ve been told they’ll find help–from a person variously called the ‘tech teacher’, ‘integration specialist’, or ‘tech coordinator’.

As they enter the room, Google Maps in hand (an effort to impress), they figure the person they’re looking for must be the one who looks up as they enter, fingers flying across the keyboard, never pausing and never slowing even as she smiles and says, ‘Hi!’.

Before you ask your question, I have a short list of signs that will help you have a more positive experience when you confront this big-brained Sheldon-look-like:

  • You can’t scare them (in fact, even Admin and a lousy economy doesn’t frighten them). They’re techies. Try kindness instead.
  • Patience and tech are oxymorons. Know that going in.
  • Bring food. Techies often forget to eat, or ate everything in their snack stash and need more.
  • Some days, tech looks a lot like work. Distract them with an interesting problem.
  • Start the encounter with a discussion on Dr. Who, Minecraft, or Big Bang Theory. Find a clever tie-in to your topic.
  • Understand that tech teachers often think trying to teach teachers to tech is like solving the Riemann Hypothesis (many consider it impossible). Bone up on basics before the Meeting.
  • Life after the 100th crashed computer is what Oprah might call a life-defining moment. If that just happened as you walked through the door, turn around and come back another time.
  • Understanding a techie who’s in the zone is like understanding the meaning of life. Again–leave the room; come back later.

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5 Reasons Class Size Does NOT Matter and 3 Why Large is a Good Thing

19 Mar

problem solvingAre you drowning in students, sure that the flood of bodies that enter your classroom daily will destroy your effectiveness? Does it depress you, make you second-guess your decision to effect change in the world as a teacher? Do you wonder how you’ll explain to parents–and get them to believe you–that you truly CAN teach thirty students and meet their needs (because you must convince them–of all education characteristics, parents equate class size to success)?

Take heart while I play Devil’s Advocate and offer evidence contrary to what seems by most to be intuitive common sense. I mean, how could splitting your finite amount of time among LESS students be anything but advantageous? Sure, there are many studies (US-based primarily) that support a direct correlation between class size and teacher ability to meet education goals, but consider how you–personally–learn. Sure, it occurs through teachers, but just as often by trial and error, peers, inquiry, student-centered activities, play, experiencing events, differentiated ways unlike others. Educators like John Holt believe “children [and by extension, you] learn most effectively by their own motivation and on their own terms”.

Is it possible the root of the education problem is other than class size? Getting Beneath the Veil of Effective Schools: Evidence from New York City (National Bureau of Economic Research) indicates that traditional success measures–including class size–do not correlate to school effectiveness. According to this study, what doesn’t matter is:

  1. class size
  2. per pupil expenditure
  3. fraction of teachers with no certification
  4. fraction of teachers with an advanced degree

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Celebrate Pi Day

14 Mar

Pi Day is an annual celebration commemorating the mathematical constant π (pi). Pi Day is observed on March 14 (or 3/14 in the U.S. month/day date format), since 3, 1, and 4 are the three most significant digits of π in the decimal form.


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13 Reasons For and 3 Against Technology in the Classroom

19 Feb

pros and consFor the 45 states who opted into Common Core, using technology in the classroom is no longer a choice–it’s required. Common Core’s Standards insist that for any student to be prepared for college and career requires they be digitally- and technologically savvy. From the English Language Arts Standards:

Technology differentiates for student learning styles by providing an alternative method of achieving conceptual understanding, procedural skill and fluency, and applying this knowledge to authentic circumstances.

…and from the Math Standards:

Mathematically proficient students consider the available tools when solving a mathematical problem. These tools might include pencil and paper, concrete models, a ruler, a protractor, a calculator, a spreadsheet, a computer algebra system, a statistical package, or dynamic geometry software. Proficient students are sufficiently familiar with tools appropriate for their grade or course to make sound decisions about when each of these tools might be helpful.

The standards themselves go into detail. Sprinkled throughout are constant allusions to the importance of using technology, its fundamental nature as the bedrock of education, and the necessity to weave it throughout the academic fabric, regardless the topic, skill, or requirement.

Here are thirteen reasons why this is a good idea. The first seven are directly from the Standards, the last six from classroom experience:

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8 Education Tools That Are Going Away

07 Feb

education trendsIf you don’t have children, you may not have noticed the massive changes going on in how students learn. Where adults are struggling with adjusting to the onslaught of technology in their lives, hoping to slowly inch their way into its use, students have no such luxury. Every year, there are new iPads, apps, online grading systems, a teacher website they have to visit every day for homework. As a teacher for twenty five years (the last fifteen in technology), it has my head spinning.

But students don’t mind a wit. They’re ready, wondering what’s taking us so long to use the tools they can’t get enough of at home.

For every tool added, one that has been a mainstay of education for decades must disappear. Here are eight that you should wave goodbye to because within the next ten years, they’ll be gone:


Do you remember when you used to have a textbook for every subject. When it was social studies time, you pulled the textbook out and followed along chapter-by-chapter, hoping to finish by the end of the year? Not anymore. Now, teachers use a variety of multimedia materials, rarely as mundane as a text with pictures. Now, history comes alive with primary source audio and video, simulations of events, and games that reinforce math and science.

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BYOD–the lowdown in one article

06 Feb

byodIn 2010, ‘BYOD’ officially entered the national lexicon with this pronouncement in the National Education Technology Plan:

Only with 24/7 access to the Internet via devices and technology-based software and resources can we achieve the kind of engagement, student-centered learning, and assessment that can improve learning in the ways this plan proposes. In addition, these devices may be owned by the student or family, owned by the school, or some combination of the two.

BYOD–Bring Your Own Device–one of the cutting edge tools available to schools. Rather than investing in schoolwide iPads or laptops or Chromebooks, everyone brings their own digital device. Sure, the school must make available some devices for students who don’t own one, but that’s a fraction of the investment in funds, training, and technology normally required without a BYOD program. With students bringing their own favorite digital device, students get to use the device they’re already comfortable with, one that is easily transferred to home use (which encourages its use for homework and projects). Suddenly, lots of activities that weren’t possible before become a reality. Like:

  • digital note-taking via Evernote
  • sharing and collaborating via GAFE
  • use of backchannel devices like Today’s Meet
  • feedback via Twitter (for age-appropriate students) and/or blogs
  • answer to questions that aren’t in the subject-provided material, something outside the scope of the curriculum but not the student curiosity

If you’re considering a BYOD program, here’s what you should think about:

Your unique infrastructure

Does the school’s physical infrastructure support the addition of hundreds–or thousands–more devices to your network? That’s not only bandwidth, but hot spots for WiFi. Know ahead of time what your network will handle so you can be prepared.

What about personnel infrastructure–faculty and staff? Students will want to use their extra computing power. Do faculty know what to do with this extra computing power? Do they require professional development to make this happen? What about teachers who don’t support this digital expansion–they’re used to traditional books-pen-paper. Be prepared to help them overcome old habits and find the bright future in these changes.

Decide if school resources will be used for printing and saving from student devices or will students save and print to their own device or the cloud.

Finally, will students be allowed to charge devices at school? Doesn’t sound like a problem? What if lots of students come to school expecting to charge devices prior to class and there aren’t enough outlets? You might decide it’s better to allow charging only at home (which can be adjusted in emergencies).

Appropriate use

‘Appropriate use’ in a BYOD program is no different than when the school provided all devices. Establish an Acceptable Use and Electronic Devices Policy for digital devices–whether these are school- or student-owned. Students must adhere to the policy. When students use technology inappropriately while on the school network, the same consequences apply, regardless of who owns the device.

Determine the consequences of violating these policies. Reserve the right to inspect a student’s personal device if there is reason to believe the student violated policies. Examples of inappropriate use include:

  • student bypasses the school Guest network to use a personal network.
  • student records a video without the permission of the teacher or stakeholders.
  • student takes pictures of other students and sends them electronically to friends without approval.
  • student uses device for non-school, non-approved activities.

Student concerns

Are students ready for the leap to all-things-digital? Some students are perfectly happy with pen-and-paper, not at all interested in moving to a digital delivery of education. How are you going to accommodate them as they stretch outside their comfort zone?

What about those that find digital devices distracting? Their own, but also those of classmates? How are you going to be sure these are a tool of learning, not play?


To protect privacy among a myriad of devices, require that students use the school’s Guest wireless network. Use of their own service bypasses the security filter. This makes it impossible for the school to enforce both the District Acceptable Use Policy and the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA). Both of these require all network access be filtered regardless of the device that is used to access it while in a public school. While students own the device, the network they are using belongs to the school, so Internet access must be filtered


Insuring that all students have access to digital devices–even if they don’t have a personal one–is easily solved by the school having overflow digital devices for use by students who either don’t have one at home or whose personal device isn’t available/working a particular day. To determine what that number is likely to be, survey your student body prior to rolling out the program. Find out what digital devices they use and how many will require school-supplied devices.

Responsibility for Device

Your school cannot be held responsible if a student’s personal digital device is lost, stolen or misplaced. Recommend that students enable the device locator, a password, and/or a thumbprint requirement if possible.

Make a decision about how much help your IT staff will provide students when they have difficulties. Will they assist with connectivity to the school’s network? Will they get programs on student device to work? Or will this be the responsibility of the student, their parents and friends?

Interestingly enough, schools using a BYOD program find that students take better care of the digital devices because they own them.

Parent involvement

The importance of parent support for BYOD programs cannot be over-emphasized. Include parents in planning.

Baseline for Digital Devices

Baseline expectations should include:

  • which operating system is allowed–Windows, Mac, Linux
  • which digital devices are acceptable. Does it include tablet computing (like iPads) or must they be full computers? What about smart phones?
  • device must be capable of wireless access. No Ethernet cable plug-ins!
  • current virus protection required.
  • student is responsible for their own device. If it’s lost or damaged, that is student responsibility, not school
  • each student must sign the acceptable use policy, outlining the correct way to use home digital devices in the educational environment

Pros of BYOD Programs

  • Provides personalization in student education, encourages flexibility & self-directed learning, provides a bridge between formal and informal learning
  • Offers potential for increased learning
  • Encourages parental engagement
  • Benefits staff productivity and efficiency
  • Encourages the initiation of problem solving by students because they are using a tech device they own and understand
  • Extends learning opportunities to wherever and whenever students have the time and inclination
  • Differentiates for student learning style. One student can use text while another uses art–it’s much easier when all the tech is in one place

Cons of BYOD Programs

  • Consider potential security risks via personal, unmanaged devices that connect to a managed network
  • Consider safety issues, theft in or on the way to/from school, breakages and insurance needs
  • Address equity issues–how to support learners without a device
  • Balance pedagogical benefits versus potential classroom distractions.
  • Determine the best way to support educators and encourage responsible learning behaviors (avoiding “bring your own distraction”)
  • Determine how to balance the different options available on different devices
  • Determine school’s LAN and broadband capacity–multiple devices and applications being used simultaneously may place a significant load on institutional networks and broadband connections
  • Understand power management and re-charging considerations
  • Determine how to insure privacy, especially considering that devices with 3G/4G capability can bypass school networks

When you consider the pros and cons, keep in mind that a 1:1 digital environment is the future. Within a short time, all students will use technology to shape their educational future. The only question is, what will that technologic world look like?

Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-8 technology for 15 years. She is the editor of a K-8 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum, and creator of technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. She is webmaster for six blogs, CSG Master Teacher, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on tech ed topics, a columnist for, and a weekly contributor to TeachHUB. Currently, she’s editing a techno-thriller that should be out to publishers next summer.

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7 Education Trends You Don’t Want to Miss

28 Jan

education trendsIt’s 2014–an era of increased understanding, patience, creativity…

And technology.

Really? Wasn’t that last year’s educational buzzword? Why can’t that geeky stuff leave teachers alone? Education worked fine with blackboards and chalk and desks-all-lined-up-in-a-row. Now, students sit in circles, yell out questions, stare at iPads, do state reports on something called ‘’. Smartscreens, 1:1 computing and iPads have turned classes upside down. What else can change?

A lot, actually. Here are six trends you don’t want to miss. Embrace them and by next year, your students will be as excited to come to class as you are:

On Demand Teaching

Not only is the teacher leaving the front of the classroom, soon, they will be appearing virtually on a screen in your home. Thanks to programs like Google Hangout, if it snows, if a student is sick or out of town or on a field trip, everyone can still participate in class. All that’s required is a Google account (like students get with Google Apps for Education) and an internet connection (at the student home, a friend’s house, or even the library). This works nicely too if the teacher is away from the classroom for faculty training. They simply tape the class, collect required resources, and students log on during class time.

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9 Mistakes Teachers Make Using Tech in the Classroom

27 Jan

tech trendIt’s easy to confuse ‘using technology’ with digital tools. Your school bought iPads and passed them out to all classes. Some of your colleagues think having students read in this tablet format means they’re integrating technology into their curriculum. Kudos for a good start, but next, they need to use the tablets to differentiate for student learning styles, enrich learning materials, and turn students into life-long learners.

That’s harder than it sounds. Technology hasn’t been around long enough to beget standards that work for everyone (not withstanding ISTE’s herculean efforts), the set-in-stone of settled science. Truth, that will never happen. Technology tools populate like an out-of-control rabbit. Or bacteria in a culture. Every time you turn around, there’s another favorite tools some teacher swears has turned her students into geniuses and her class into a model of efficiency. After fifteen years of teaching technology, chatting with colleagues, and experimenting, I can assure you there is no magic wand like that. What there is is a teacher not afraid to try new ways, test them out in a classroom environment, toss what doesn’t work and share the rest. Her/his success doesn’t come without lots of failure and mistakes, widgets that sounded good but were too complicated or non-intuitive for a 21st century classroom.

Which of these nine mistakes do you make? Then, see how to fix them:

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2014, I Resolve…

15 Jan

NY Resolutions

New Years–a time for rest, rejuvenation and repair. A time to assess. Do we settle into our life, enjoy where it’s headed, or is it time to grab our purse, our iPhone and keys and get out of there?

As most of you know, I am a K-8 technology teacher, but I have a serious interest in writing. It started with non-fiction technical writing and morphed to novels. I write techno-thrillers, scientific fiction–plots that are based in the cerebral and encourage readers to join my love of intelligent topics. Therefore, my resolutions are far-ranging and varied, so I group them. Here’s my plan for this year:


  • Seek out other tech ed teachers to see what is being done to incorporate technology into the classroom. Tech ed is a chameleon, constantly in flux, changing to suit educational environs. It’s a challenge to stay on top of it and one that requires attention every week of every year.
  • Keep pushing my students and colleagues to integrate technology into core subjects and add the exciting Web tools to their curriculum. Yes–it’s difficult because it’s not the way they’ve done it before, and yes–it’s worth it.
  • Attend ‘a few’ tech ed conferences.
  • Continue to work on my online classes, webinars, coaching, mentoring, and pedagogy.

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5 Tips for Keeping New Year’s Resolutions

13 Jan

new yearEvery year, millions of people worldwide create New Year’s resolutions. In my experience, keeping these goals will happen when Harvard wins the Super Bowl (I used to say when Notre Dame plays for the National Championship, but I had to revise my metrics). In fact, according to Randi Walsh at Empower Network:

  • … 25% give up on their New Years Resolutions after just one week?
  • … 80% give up on their New Years Resolutions after 20 days?
  • … only 8% actually keep their New Years Resolutions all year?

Here’s an example: On a group blog I write with, we were all asked to share our resolutions with the Universe in January, then check in throughout the year on our progress. No one in the entire group–read that Zilch.–had achieved theirs (well, I did, which made our group 8%). The reasons were varied and lame and left me wondering why create resolutions if you so quickly brush them aside?

Why? It makes people feel good. They want to believe their lives will be better at the end of the year than they were at the beginning. Let’s look at the top four resolutions (according to Amber J. Tresca at

  1. Increase exercise
  2. Be more conscientious about work or school
  3. Develop better eating habits
  4. Stop smoking, drinking, or using drugs (including caffeine)

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