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Friday, December 7, 2012

What's Annoying

You know what's annoying? To integrate a computer (or whatever) effectively, I most often need it for one thing in a class. I need like five minutes for kids to

 - go to polleverywhere and vote on something
 - go to a link and drag a red dot somewhere
 - take a photo of their work and send it to a dropbox
 - open Geogebra to construct something and mess with it a minute and make a conjecture

I would like this to actually take five minutes. We have other things to do, here. We have to argue about what they voted on. We have to look at everyone's red dots and talk about what information we need to figure out where it should go with some more precision. We have to project someone's proof and tear it apart.

But for those 5 minutes we need every student to do something on a device, it takes one or more of the following:
 - a coherent school-wide tech plan maximizing the chances everyone will have basically constant access to a functioning, charged device
 - signing out a mobile cart, tracking it down, and wheeling it to my room
 - websites we planned to use being up and running
 - all students bringing their school-assigned tablet and having it charged OR
 - students who don't, having a smart device on their person that plays nicely with whatever website or app
 - all students powering up and getting logged into their device with no unexpected "I can't login"s

So using the devices for something that I would like to take 5 minutes usually takes 15-20, with the associated distractions of attention and loss of momentum. It seems like with all the preparation in the world, I can't get these interludes to take less than 15 minutes, and I can't ever, hardly ever, get it so every single student can participate. And mind you, I am not a noob at this stuff. At the risk of sounding hubristic, I'm probably one of the more experienced classroom-tech-deploying teachers you are likely to meet. And everytime I'm like, "Oooh, we need a device for this part," I'm also like, "Crap. Is there any way I can avoid this?"


  1. Yes! Perhaps in the far future, tech will be used often enough to make that a seamless use, but here in the transition, it sucks.

  2. I agree!

    One solution might be to make the tech-assisted activity more than 5 minutes. Why not have them drag red dots around and vote and etc for multiple things that can prompt a week's worth of discussions?

    While the technology brings its own annoyances, I actually think this is just representative of a larger more common class of problems: The overhead involved in switching between tiny tasks sometimes overwhelms the tasks themselves. Whenever I have a plan that looks like...
    5 min intro
    5 min mini-task A
    5 min mini-task B
    5 min etc
    ...I notice that I have these kinds of troubles, and I always end up redesigning them (sometimes after painful trial runs) to have longer, richer blocks rather than small broken-up blocks.

    That sounds like I'm trying to solve your problem, but I still have this problem all the time, just sharing my experience!

  3. I completely agree with you Kate! I feel like I'm the leader of the behind the scenes crew at a musical. I spend all this time making the "props" and making sure the "curtain" opens and closes at the right time, and that the "timing" of all the things goes well.
    But, it's great to have a solid "performance" but it's the "review" that is even more important, and many times that opportunity is lost. More planning (please don't say that!). More set up time needed? ahhhh.
    If you find a better way, a smoother way to perform/review please share!

  4. Dry erase boards and markers?
    Magnetic red dots?

  5. Maybe this is an argument for 1:1 computing. I'm curious if teachers in 1:1 environments find that this is not the case, and that they are able to use computers for the "little stuff" more frequently?

    I typically find at our school that it's only efficient to use computers for a long task -- 60 minutes of typing an essay, say -- which means that lots of handy little tools (classroom polls, visual demos, collaborative notetaking, etc.) never even get considered.

    And as the person who's supposed to manage our systems for keeping devices charged and ready, I know how hard it is to make this happen when the ideal system faces the realities of teachers pressed for time etc.

  6. We are one to one. And I completely agree.
    One thing that has helped me is to have a Moodle page for each class, and then embed the web based thing I am working on right inside the daily lesson. For instance Friday students had to take a unit test paper pencil. While I was handing out the test I told students when they finish they need to watch one of my videos on Polar Coordinates, and then practice on a dynamic Geogebra sheet set up to tell them when they correctly graph the point. Quiz Monday. By the end of the period most had the test done and Polar Coordinates figured out. Although recently I went back to using mini whiteboards with computers closed for my instruction because I can't compete with Pintrest:) talk about a distraction.

  7. All I have to say is - I hear you!

  8. I'm at a 1-to-1 school as well. I only use computers for little things. Mostly getting students to fill out google forms or to do some practice problems on some random website I found the night before. Haven't done anything that involves group discussion afterwards--only individual stuff.

    I haven't had a problem with the time-suck in getting students up and running. I think because they always have their laptops with them. I do have to make a virtually daily announcement at the beginning of class to "close your laptops; we won't be needing them today" since the students do love the shiny things on the internet.

    I've been trying to use tech more this year. Though the change is incremental.

  9. @Tom Hinkle: I recently read this article from the New York Times about 1:1 classrooms.

  10. I have been in a 1 to 1 school for 3 years now, and the problems that you are describing are still an issue today as much as they were the first year. Every day we have problems: my computer is not charged, i left mine in my locker, mine won't connect to the internet, can i borrow a charger, blah blah blah. It makes what we think is a simple task turn into an ordeal. Our students computers don't even run windows, they use freeware so many java based applications don't function for our students, eliminating many potential resources. It's clear to the staff at our school that without the correct resources being provided to our students we are really just supplying them with glorified word processors or a tool to look at a scanned worksheet because we have limited photocopies. This is not providing our students with the "21st century learning skills" that is essential to their success beyond high school. You are not alone in your frustrations. Seamless integration of technology is an art form that we have not yet perfected, but we will keep trying and we can hope all of our efforts are pushing us in the right direction.

  11. Hi Kate:

    Have fun with the kids and forget about time. It is not the length of time or lack of it that matters; it is the cool math that we do with them that matters the most!

    Just another way of looking at things!

  12. The first problem we have here is that as educators we use these tools daily in our lives to simplify things and understand the benefits of them. Then, because we have become accustomed to "The Tech", we can't seems to find a viable alternative that does the job without taking ten times longer.

    The second problem is how "The Tech" has to be employed in schools in order provide a safe environment in which all students can operate, and prevent any possible law suits in case a child inadvertently sees a nipple of similar! Layers of security, blocks, and computer slowing software are employed. This is not the case for our own personal tech. We just turn it on and BANG, it works.

    When you put both sides of the coin together, you come to the realisation that "The Tech" is just not classroom savvy yet, and it is just not practical to harboring a learning environment.

    Being a classroom teacher who 3 months ago made the decision to quit full-time teaching and go it alone as a one-to-one maths tutor, I can tell you that these issues do not exist in one-to-one. Laptop ready on hibernate: Check. Ipad charged: Check. Iphone tethering ready: Check. Mechanical pencil: Check (for when reaching into my bag is too much of a stretch ;-D).


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