Blogstitute Week 4: Lee Ann Spillane on getting fearless with technology

July 10th, 2013

Welcome back to another great post in our 2013 Summer Blogstitute series, this time from Lee Ann Spillane who admits that at one time she was afraid of “breaking the computer” while playing around with technology. The good new is, you can’t really break the computer. In this post Lee Ann shares some ideas for using the summer as your time to explore technology and how you can use it in your classroom.

Summer’s golden hours are here. I am going to spend my diamond minutes lavishly learning what I want to learn. To prepare for summer and the extravagance of time, I stockpile books to read, bookmark tutorials, browse Pinterest, and gather supplies. This summer I’m considering moving my classroom web page. The software I’ve been using to create it keeps crashing, and I want to shift from a static page to a page students can create with me. My students and I have been able to collaborate in our Bear English Ning space, but it’s getting expensive. I know a wiki would allow me to cocreate resources with students, but I’m not sure it will satisfy my design desires. I have a lot to learn, and I’m excited about the adventure ahead.

There was a time, though, when I hesitated. I was afraid I’d mess up the computer. I didn’t want to break it, so I didn’t play around too much.

Making It Work: Getting Beyond “I’m Afraid I’ll Break It”

11-diamond_minutesCleaning up my computer’s desktop one day, I right-clicked on the recycle bin. Right-click. Delete. I did it without thinking. I wanted to empty the recycle bin and free up some memory. Instead I deleted the entire recycle bin. It disappeared from my desktop. Once I realized what I had done, I was frustrated. How do you resurrect a recycle bin? I couldn’t just do without one, so I Googled a solution and found an answer on a discussion board. I followed the steps and replaced my recycle bin on my desktop, no harm done. Mistakes happen.

When I first started learning how to use the computer, I was nervous. Scared to break an expensive machine, I would freeze or sometimes avoid a task if I wasn’t sure which programs to use or how to use them. I was so afraid of breaking the computer that I couldn’t learn. Eventually, I realized that unless I threw the computer out the window or on the floor, my fumbling around in programs wasn’t going to break the machine. That freed me. To learn new technologies or tools, we have to set aside our fears—we have to be willing to try things, seek solutions, test, and ask for help. We have to play. We will make mistakes. We will probably delete things we shouldn’t. Failure is part of learning. Getting lost in the new landscape will happen. Reframe your thinking and let yourself explore.

It’s About the Teaching, Not the Tool

Integrating technology into your instructional routines changes teaching and learning. Technology fundamentally changes what we can do in the classroom. Innovating technology changes how you teach. Using a document camera and a laptop makes sharing or publishing student work immediate and accessible. Imagine crafting a mini-lesson on effective transitions between ideas in a personal essay using a draft a student has written just moments before. Or creating and publishing a short video to review a skill or concept students need, in under five minutes in the middle of class. That kind of teaching—the kind of teaching that assesses and adjusts to students’ needs in the midst of learning—becomes much easier through the use of technology. Be innovative. Figure out ways to empower yourself and your students.

Try One Thing

Set a goal and mark a course to a new place. My family is about to head out on a long road trip. We’ve updated the GPS. We have smartphone backup and maps packed. We want to learn how to geocache. My twelve-year-old is bringing a handheld GPS to use on the trip. Inspired by Hank Green, my son is looking forward to some fun. Learning is part of that fun. He could use a geocaching app on his iTouch or on a retired iPhone we inherited, but he wants to use the handheld. He and my husband are planning to learn how to use it while we drive north. They’re not afraid to break the tool; they’re excited to find the treasure—a hidden cache they can add to and log.

When my students reflected on our year together, they wrote about lessons learned. I wrote about their reflections here. On the exam, I asked students to write about one lesson they learned when using technology this year. Some wrote about royalty-free images, some about help videos I posted online, some about writing publicly on their blogs. Many wrote about the difference Google Drive made in their academic lives. My school is on the cusp of Title I classification. More than seventy percent of our students receive free and or reduced lunch benefits. Not one of my students came to my class knowing how to create, edit, save, or print documents (or presentations or spreadsheets or . . .) using Google Drive. Many did not have printers at home, and flash drives were often shared among friends. I am continually amazed at what students do not know, but my students don’t need amazement or complaint. Students need us to act, to teach. We all need different lessons. Using Google Drive—formerly Google documents—seemed so yesterday. Not to my students. Maybe not to you either.

Learning new tools or technologies is a road trip—some are planned, some spontaneous. When I want to learn, I set a goal, a destination. To get there, I explore and follow the road signs—bookmarking tutorials, attending trainings, or downloading podcasts that explain processes I want to learn. I learn the landscape and take note of the landmarks.

As you learn this summer, don’t worry about getting lost. Enjoy the learning along the way.

Lee Ann Spillane is the author of the Read & Watch book Reading Amplified.
Last week’s winner of a free book is Jenny. Don’t forget to leave a comment for a chance to win a free Stenhouse book! Also, you can use code BLOG on the Stenhouse website to receive 20% off and free shipping on your order.

Entry Filed under: Blogstitute,Technology

12 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Erika Victor  |  July 10th, 2013 at 11:25 am

    This is definitely something I am working on this summer! I love trying out new technology!I have just started a new blog and am setting up new projects for the next school year.

  • 2. Becky Amaral  |  July 10th, 2013 at 6:41 pm

    Great advice – even beyond thinking tech-y. Sometimes I find I over worry about planning a unit wanting it to be perfect and trying to anticipate every possible pitfall. But that’s impossible – I have to remind myself to just dig in and start. Nothing’s ever perfect … but like the recycle bin, pretty much anything can be recovered. 🙂

  • 3. Gwen  |  July 10th, 2013 at 8:05 pm

    This is the perfect article for me to read this summer. I have been putting off the technology part of teaching and your words have talked me into jumping on board and trying something new with my students next year. Working with first graders is my reason for not doing a lot with technology. You have given me the courage to give it a try and not be afraid of what might happen. My kids will love anything that we try. I can’t wait! Thanks again!!

  • 4. Lee Ann Spillane  |  July 11th, 2013 at 8:23 am

    Thank you, Gwen! Your students WILL love what you do because you bring your joy and enthusiasm to the task. As Becky said, nothing is ever perfect. It’s refreshing to remember that as we prepare for next year.

  • 5. Tracy Mailloux  |  July 11th, 2013 at 4:26 pm

    Thank you for a thoughtful and humorous blog! I had an ENO board in my room which was replaced with a SMARTboard and I have been the queen procrastinator making the switch and using it more. I also have been thinking about starting a blog since I’ve become a reader of others’. Thanks for the incentive to get going on these goals!

  • 6. Deborah  |  July 12th, 2013 at 7:47 am

    My school bought new Ipads. I am inspired to find a new program to engage my students next year. There are so many choices, the hard part will be deciding which one to choose.

  • 7. IJ Hamilton  |  July 12th, 2013 at 4:30 pm

    Because my students have learning differences and physical disabilities, we incorporate technology of some kind every day! I absolutely LOVE technology and research new ways to integrate ALL the time. Thank you for emphasizing that you have to play with stuff to help learn the stuff….if it “disappears” or moves to another file gets trashed, try again. It is an ongoing learning experience! 🙂

  • 8. Ariel Glasman  |  July 13th, 2013 at 12:17 pm

    Funny article and great video! I think what you said about emphasizing the teaching over the tool is really important. People can get caught up in iPads or computers or SmartBoards and forget about the lesson’s objective. Great reminder for all of us!

  • 9. Dana  |  July 15th, 2013 at 9:54 am

    Thanks for encouraging me to keep “putting my toes in the water” when it comes to technology. Students definitely develop confidence when presenting their work using a document camera and projector. My new goal is to capture students’ presentations as videos. Erik Palmer offered great suggestions in his Week 2 Blogstitute, too.

  • 10. LeeAnn2  |  July 16th, 2013 at 7:29 pm

    I think the fear factor is always with us. Even though I thought I had become adventurous it turns out that I still have some fear lurking in my heart. It’s really good to push ourselves to remember (or learn) the fear that students feel.

    My latest fear-factor–Learning to play World of Warcraft. I started this as part of a professional development course. It’s taken me beyond any of my expectations. I’m learning a lot about the knowledge and skills that gamers bring to the classroom. But, I was totally panicked early in the game. I was afraid of everything!

    An earlier experience–learning to snowboard in my mid-forties–was another opportunity to learn about learning. My instructor was also my grad student. We spent a lot of time talking about the lessons about learning as he pulled me up off the mountain. I learned about forgetting. I’d get up on the board and discover that I had forgotten what I had learned the last time! We also talked about fear. Every once and a while now I return to the bunny hill (it’s a short cut to the parking area). It makes me amazed again of how frightened I was by the “mountains” in front of me. (It’s the bunny hill!) I had huge fear of falling off the edge. Ok–maybe that was real!

    Lessons learned–our students face fear daily. It helps to remember that as we work with them.

  • 11. Mary  |  July 17th, 2013 at 4:40 am

    I enjoyed your article and laughed when you said google drive is so yesterday. I have not used it and that is one of my goals this summer- figure out all things google. Any suggestions for great tutorials?

  • 12. Lsperricone  |  July 17th, 2013 at 7:05 am

    I appreciated your article for it’s encouragement and reminder to cast fear aside and continue to learn by ‘playing’ with new technologies. I encourage my students to be creative, explore and move out of their comfort zones; and now, youv’ve reminded me to do the same. although i’m in the midst of completing another tweens novel; i’ve made up my mind to set aside some time to ‘play’ while there’s still some time left before the start of another school year. So, thank you for that!

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