Obstacles and Solutions for Integrating Tech

I am on this course because I believe in the power of technology to help us develop and improve the education of our children. Pretty simple really. The truth is that as with many things in our education system, change is very difficult and can be very slow. There are good reasons to not jump into things. Often we get it wrong, we can be too quick to embrace something before it is fully developed or given time to grow. I know why we must be careful, but it seems like the topic of Educational Technology causes some to become especially fraught at the thought of change. Maybe the opposite is true too – that change can be far too fast and embracing tech before it is fully understood can set us back. I don’t know but it makes me think a lot

For someone like me who has been an early adopter and passionate supporter of embracing new technologies in my classroom I have come across lots of obstacles when it comes to integrating. They seem to happen at 3 or 4 levels. Grade level, School level, Authority or District level and Nationally. I wanted to write about my personal obstacles as I think they mirror the ones which I have read about.

At a grade level, there are numerous obstacles to integrating technology into our planning and teaching. The biggest one has been a lack of resources, and I include teacher support and training in that category. Lack of communication between staff, which fails to create a supportive team environment has also hindered the process of trying new things and attempting to integrate new ideas and technologies. Staff like myself who are keen to integrate, can sometimes be too pushy and not understanding enough of the fears and anxieties of our colleagues and make it difficult to implement new ideas and approaches.

At school level, the single biggest factor which impacts and provides obstacles is the quality and support of the school leadership team. When they don’t understand the potential that technology has to improve and support learning, then the school ethos and environment suffers. If funds and training are not directed towards technology integration then there is not a whole school approach. Without a whole school approach then everything is harder.

In towns and cities across America, local school districts control and set both policy and budget. This directly impacts the schools and their ability to embrace new technologies. There is huge inconsistency across the country. It only takes 5 minutes reading online about the state of the Chicago Public School district and the condition of many school buildings to realize that, one-to-one policies, high speed internet, teacher training etc are pretty far down the list.

Nationally there are many voices and special interest groups shouting and trying to influence policy. More and more the value of echnology integration seems to be valued and is apparently  here to stay – but we all know that politics plays games with education and so predicting the future is difficult.

Now how does that impact the integration of technology cross-curricularly into a 5th grade classroom? It does and it doesn’t. I scrap, beg, borrow and . . . never steal what I can to try and find the resources I need to integrate the technologies which I feel will benefit my pupils. I make it work by being resourceful, pedantic, and probably annoying. I know I am a reflective practitioner and so I think about what might work and then when I have tried it, I share the good and bad with my colleagues. It works. To an extent. However, without proper investment in resources this year, it has been a struggle. Failing internet connections when lessons are planned. Only 14 computers working out of a set of 20. It gets frustrating and despite the best will in the world, supporting and inspiring others is not always easy, especially when the technical aspects don’t work.

The secret is to just keep going, to step back and ask yourself if you believe in what you are doing and then to try and find others link you to connect with. Twitter is great for making connections as are different online communities. From there, just don’t quit. Model to your pupils the residence that they will need when they enter the world and find a way. You don’t have to have the best, newest or fanciest technology to improve a lesson. You just need to have enough, determination and a can do attitude. I used to stress a lot more than I do now. I step back and remember that my pupils are with me for under 200 days of their education. If something doesn’t work and the tech fails. It’s not the end of the world.

As a subject area, social sciences have a wealth of resources and tools available to teachers. Sometimes it is hard to decide what to try and use and other times, it can feel forced to and link different areas of the curriculum. The difficulties lie in the areas I have mentioned and   in one I have not yet. Personal responsibility. Each and every individual teacher has to look at themselves and ask if they are doing everything they can to prepare their students for the world they are going into. Most are, some are not. In a perfect world everyone would be perfect. We are humans first and teachers second so we get it wrong. As long as we persist in trying to be better then we will get there.

A

 

 

 

 

 

Relative Advantages of Instructional Software in the Classroom

Prior to the reading for this week (Roblyer, 2016) , I was aware that there were different types of software which I used in the classroom. I was vaguely aware that they could be used in different ways for different things, but I had not really thought about categorization. I hadn’t thought about the type of software and how it would impact my pupils. I tend to stumble across things and then think about how I can add them to my classroom environment.

From my reading, I have learned about the following 5 different categories of software. Drill and practice, Tutorials, Simulations, Instructional Games and Problem-Solving Software. In this post I will discuss a little about each one and include some examples for each that could be used with 5th grade pupils. The final part of the blog discusses the relative advantages of using instructional software.

Drill and Practice

Drill and Practice software provides students with opportunities to learn by working through examples, usually one after the other and then receiving some form of feedback on their performance. There are different types of activities such as Branching drills, Flash cards, Chart completion and more Extensive feedback activities.  Given that this type of software was some of the earliest to be used, there is extensive research that shows that these types of activity can facilitate the successful transfer of knowledge to long term memory for users. Criticism often comes from constructivists who argue that drill and practice is synonymous with ‘old fashioned’ and out of date teaching methods. The following pieces of software are examples that I could use and adapt for teaching Social Sciences to my 5th grade pupils.

Sheppard Software: This webpage has a range of different geography and history based drill and practice activities.

https://quizlet.com is a flashcard based piece of online software.

Tutorial

Tutorial software is similar to how a teacher might teach, but virtually. It is usually designed to be completed alone rather than as a complement to other teaching. This type of software is either, branching or linear. A linear tutorial is as it sounds – a straight through piece of software which gives explanation, practice and feedback to the participant no matter the performance of the learner. A branching tutorial is more complex and will offer different ‘paths’ for different learners dependent on their performance. The software often includes drill and practice activities within the tutorial and so as long as the activities are well thought through so the same advantages apply. Difficulties lie in the effort and research required to produce an effective piece of tutorial software. Constructivists also argue that this type of software is simply an extension of direct instruction. This type of software is often limited at 5th grade level – often being designed for older students. I struggled to find an appropriate piece of software for use in Social Science with my class, so included a link to Khan Academy, a resource many of my pupils use for maths but which covers social sciences as well – albeit at a higher level that 5th grade.

https://www.khanacademy.org

Simulations

Simulation software varies widely but essentially is a piece of software which is a computer model which mimics in some way a situation with the intention of teaching the user how the system actually functions. Rather than teach the user what to do, a range of choices are usually presented to the learner. Simulations which teach a learner, ‘about something’ are categorized as Physical or Iterative and those which teach, ‘how to’ are categorized as Procedural or Situational. This categorization is attributed to Alessi and Trollop (2001). There are a number of advantages to using simulations, but the most apparent to me is the ability to let children participate in learning situation which would otherwise be impossible. Criticisms of the models tend to focus on the danger of eliminating, ‘hands-on’ experience for students especially in science lab software which tends to be the most common. The Icivics resource is free and can be used for history or geography.

https://www.icivics.org

http://mapzone.ordnancesurvey.co.uk This is a simulation I have used in the past which teaches pupils about flood defenses in the UK. Note it appears to no longer be supported but worked in Chrome.

Instructional Games

Instructional games are designed to add fun to educational experiences. They can focus of the learner having to acquire and apply knowledge but usually with some kind of rules and gameplay which might include competition. The engagement is one of the strong points as pupils seem to be engaged and drawn into the competition. I have created my own ‘game structure’ to use in maths lessons rewarding pupils with points, levels and awards and they love it. Simple tasks become much more motivated. While not a social science resource, I can not go past this site which we use in school a lot. The maths games are FUN and the pupils love the ability to compete amongst each other as well as against other schools.

https://www.mangahigh.com/en-us/

Problem-Solving Software

This category of software is very popular and might be mistaken with simulation and instructional games. The difference is that this type of software is created to help students foster specific problem-solving skills rather than focus on one specific curriculum area – although many of the elementary specific titles do focus on math or literacy. Supporters claim that visualization is encouraged, that students are more motivated and that some software helps students to understand how their knowledge can be applied. Critics have claimed that there can be a lack of skills transfer and that there can be a lot of confusion of the actual skills being developed. The following link came from a suggestion in the reading this week and I am going to try it with my maths class this week. Again not for social studies but valuable for 5th grade.

http://mathbydesign.thinkport.org/default.aspx

The Relative Advantage

I have learned a lot this week, and have found a plethora of new resources which I will be using in class. More importantly, I have a better understanding of the types of software which I can use. The relative advantages of using such software are clear to me – with one caveat. The software has to be evaluated carefully by the teacher to make sure that it serves a purpose and is appropriate for purpose. If it does, then the advantages are very apparent. Students might well be more engaged and motivated, there exists the opportunity to have more pupils learning independently and in an individual manner. For large classes pupils can all be engaged and often work at a pace that suits them more appropriately. There exists evidence that drill and practice software can help learners commit to long term memory more easily. Often the impossible becomes possible with different simulations. There are balances to be aware of but it is obvious that the advantages that well designed and thoughtfully implemented software afford outweigh the disadvantages.

References:

Roblyer, M. D. (2016). Integrating educational technology into teaching. 7th Edition. Massachusetts: Pearson.

Alessi, S., & Trollip S. (2001) Multimedia for learning: Methods and development. Needham Heights, M.A. Allen and Bacon

 

 

 

 

 

 

Relative Advantages Chart

We have completed a number of tasks for EdTech 541 so far and I seem to have been struggling. I am not sure why. I think I got off to a slow start and have been catching up. Taking two classes and working full time sometimes just creeps up on you.

One of the activities this week was to create a chart which looked at the relative advantages of embedding and using Educational Technology in class. I was stumped with this at first and am really not sure that I have done a good job. My original area for focus was 5th Grade computing but this task seemed moot with that as a focus. We have to use technology to teach computing and so I tried to think outside the box a little. I completed my chart for Social Sciences in my school instead.

I focused on Geography and History which make up part of our the International Primary Curriculum which we use in school. I hope this shift is ok – the result was I had to really think about ways in which my current learning goals would benefit from embedding technology and it worked. My research led me to a number of tools I had not come across as well as thinking about how to use tools we currently have in different ways.

The chart I created is below. Have a look and feel free to add any comments. I think there is a lot to improve but I also feel the process was good and I had some real world take away from the activity.