I got nothin’.

Earlier this week, I attended a conference geared toward ed tech specialists, technology integration specialists, and tech coaches. One of the last activities involved sharing a cool tool or strategy we’ve seen or used. Since there were so many people at the conference and having everyone share one tool would have taken forever, we broke up into groups and shared our tool in our groups and then voted on the best one, which would later be shared with the whole group.

I couldn’t do it.

As I sat before my assigned slide of the Google Slides presentation my group was collaborating on, I sat there, stumped. I had nothing (which is exactly what I put on my slide: “I got nothin'”). I’ve seen, promoted, played around with, participated in, and been introduced to lots of different tools and sites that teachers are using. And for some reason, I had nothing to offer up.

Then it hit me: This is never the way I approach teaching. And for that reason, it’s never the way I approach technology integration.

No tool or strategy, regardless of whether it is high tech or an engaging activity, is ever the right place to start planning a lesson. Doing so forces a level of thinking that tries to fit all of what students need and what needs to be taught into the tool. Then the tool dictates what you can do. Unfortunately, I’ve seen this work poorly too many times. The result is that the needs of students and the demands of the curriculum get short-changed at the expense of the “cool” tool, and genuine learning gets sacrificed on the altars of novelty and perceived student engagement.

The Noble Problems of Teachers

One member of my group jokingly accused me of being anti-establishment. I will gladly own that–because the established practice in too many circles is backwards in my opinion. The place to start is not with the tools or strategies we’ll use, it’s with the noble problems teachers have always tried to solve:

  1. What do my students need to learn?
  2. What are their needs in learning it?
  3. How can I best meet those needs?

If our goal is effective teaching, this is the only place to start. These are the problems to be solved. Since technology–by definition–is humanity’s practical response to the problems it faces, technology can be part of the answer. And, until we recognize that technology, by that definition, encompasses everything from Chromebooks to Kahoot! to… (brace yourself) …pencils, we’ll fail to put things in their proper place, we’ll mis-identify the problems to be solved, and we’ll get lost in our pursuit of less noble goals. When we start with the noble problems teachers have always tried to solve, only then will we be able to find the right tool.

 

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