Oct 152010
photo courtesy of K. Sawyer on Flickr

Just last week I had the first serious observation I’ve had in a long time.  I was observed during the first time my 3rd graders used the computers all year (no pressure!). I was nervous because this is my first year in the school, but I was also nervous because very few people, aside from aides and TSS workers have seen me teach. In the 7 years I worked in the School District of Philadelphia I was officially observed a total of 3 times. Two of those observations were before I was even certified.

The best part about my observation was the post-conference. The Instructional Coach who observed me had a concise and specific goal for me to work on, and it was one that I knew I needed to reconcile.  She told me that I needed to decide what exactly my learning goals for my students are.

As someone who believes that technology should not be taught as a separate class, teaching in a lab is a bit of a conundrum. 

I want to make sure that what I’m teaching my students is relevant to what they are doing in their classrooms. I want my class to be more than just learning how to do x, y and z. However, I also realize that my students have never been taught how to do much on the computer at all (the whole Digital Native thing is farce, believe me).

Part of the post-conference conversation was about learning goals for my lessons. I have to make a decision. Is the learning goal about the content or the tool?

In a perfect world, I would love for the tool to be a pathway to understanding content. First, however, my students need to know how to use the tool.

So to reconcile this dilemma I have realized that I can teach the tool and make my main learning objective be focused around the tool while using a relevant topic or concept that is aligned with the grade-appropriate curriculum to teach the tool. Perhaps later in the year, or even next year, once my students have enough tools under their belt, we can begin to explore content, not tools. Until then, my role as a lab teacher is to provide my students the time to explore a variety of tools so that when it comes to choosing what tool is right for the job, their belt has a few options in it.

  9 Responses to “Reconciling Tech and Content”

  1. Hi Mary Beth
    I can appreciate what you are saying about "someone who believes that technology should not be taught as a separate class, teaching in a lab is a bit of a conundrum." I totally agree, however if that is the way school is set up (and that is how our school is setup) then it makes it pretty tough to seamlessly integrate tech into all content areas! I experience the same situation when I take students to the lab, some students can focus on the content and many others have to deal with understanding the particular tech knowledge they need to master before they can engage in the content. Setting differentiated learning targets (LTs) for those lessons in the lab is a way to reach all the levels in the class, students who have tech LTs and those who have content LTs…and in a perfect world laptops/Ipads/computers in the classroom couldn't hurt either!

  2. I feel like I could have written this post myself. I struggle also with the content vs. process problem. So far I think the best approach, like what you mention, is to create activities that focus on curriculum-relevant content but require students to learn new tools. For example, my students learn graphic design software while creating work that goes along with subject areas. I think we tech teachers are in a funny spot with lots to teach and a lot of responsibility for integrating tech into classrooms.

  3. I agree with Matt. I'm not a tech teacher, but a classroom teacher who tries to incorporate technology when I can. But just like you said, there aren't many students who have mastered the tool yet, which makes it difficult to assign fun techy projects. We just finished a science unit where I introduced the students to PowerPoint (that's how basic we are still) by making slides related to our science topic. I used the Promethean board to show them how to do each step, but I started to realize that kids were just copying what I did, not actually memorizing the process, and sure enough the next time we went to the lab, none of them remembered how to create a new slide or copy & paste an image. I've learned that they're going to need a lot more practice on these skills, but at least I can still push in a little bit of content as I'm teaching them. I think your ideas to teach the tool first is excellent, and maybe you can teach the tool using one of the topics they're learning about in the classroom. Best of luck!

  4. I was in your role three years ago, and I made sure to connect to curriculum as often as possible with our project work, but there were days when we really just honed our skills with a certain program or tool. So whereas a classroom teacher would use the tool as a medium to expose students to the content, you use the content/curriculum as the basis for why they're learning to use the tool in the first place. Eventually our learning environments will hopefully transform into places where you can't separate the two. They'll be so interdependent and the the tech use so natural that it will just be "what we do." I'm sure you're doing great things!!

  5. Hi Mary Beth,

    I was in your shoes 5 years ago when I was a tech teacher in the lab. Because our curriculum was written to focus on tools that is what I taught. I was okay with that for two reasons. First, I worked very closely with the classroom teachers to incorporate their curricula in my tech classes whenever I could. The second reason I was fine with teaching tools was because the kids were becoming more independent. In my mind I was hoping that the teachers, many of whom were not very tech savvy, would be willing to use technology more in their lessons if they knew the students were independent using the hardware and software tools. It didn't always work, but it was my own little way of trying to encourage tech integration in the classroom.

  6. Meg,

    It is true that the structure of where technology is placed (the lab) lends itself toward a certain way of teaching technology. I like the idea of learning targets being differentiated. If a student can use the tool proficiently then their goal will be to engage the content, not the tool.

  7. I would agree, Matt, though I think most people look at our job as simply teaching the tool. I think we are the only ones that see the conundrum because we understand that technology should not be separated from content.

  8. Deena,

    I have had that same experience where the students forget what they have learned. This is especially hard when then only come to you once a week! I've been, recently, experimenting with having the students follow along with me while I move through different steps. They seem to remember it better when they have already done the steps themselves.

  9. Thanks for the good faith 🙂 I'm hoping that after this year my students will be better equipped, making integration easier!

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