Technology Overload

When is technology too much??

Technology is empowering and restrictive at the same time. I’ve always been a proponent of advancing technology in the classroom because I believe teachers should be always, at the very least, one step ahead of the students.

I have always been the pilotER of new technology at my school, being one of the very first develop a website for my classes, using databases such as Turn- It- In and providing professional development on the uses of it, applying to have a Smart Board in my classroom and integrating it into my teaching…. the list goes on. Eventually, a technology team was put in place comprising of a teacher from each discipline; I represented my department.

Technology has a way of making collaboration an easier task. A colleague and I decided to pilot a collaboratively taught course with his AP Euro class and my British literature class– using technology as the primary tool of communication between our students. Google Docs was adopted school-wide, and we were among the first users paving the way for our students to use G Docs as the platform for their work.

Students set about designing websites depicting different eras of British history from a variety of approaches (including literary, history, psychology, autobiography/biography and language). It became a model for technology that was showcased later in the year before the Board of Education as an exemplar of technology use in the classroom.

When the IPad II became available, I jumped on board, with the hopes of creating a completely paperless classroom, discarding of my bound paper planner and gradebook. The IPad is an easy portable way to organize my information in one place.

I thought!

In ONE PLACE being the operative phrase.

With the rapid advancement of technology, I’m learning it’s difficult to keep up. Every time I turn around, there’s a new APP or a better APP. There are so many things I want to do, but OH SO MANY limitations.

First, my students don’t all own the same Smart Devices, and my school can’t afford to make sets of any one device available to teachers. SO, I have a mish mosh of students– who has an IPhone? who has a Droid? who has a tablet? who has a laptop? and what kind of laptop do you have? Are these questions important? Yes, they most certainly are!

The smaller devices are ideal for looking up information, but no so much for creating word documents. Throw in the fact that the school’s web is Web sensed… that throws another barrier in the mix, altogether.

While Google Docs is an excellent platform for sharing and collaborating for the students, it doesn’t have all the ability to gauge the authenticity of student work the way Turn-It-In does, which is absolutely necessary in this world of common this and common that. Kids are kids; they take the easy way out sometimes, and it’s my job to make sure I’m grading their own work. So, do I ask them to create their docs on Google Docs, then upload to Turn-It-In? It seems tedious, but necessary.

While my website has always been my HUB for all of my students, it’s quickly becoming a mish mosh of links, which, admittedly looks confusing to them. I provide a scavenger hunt at the beginning of the school year to ensure they can access all I need them to in order to continue moving down this paperless path. But I end up with students who forgot their passwords from last year, so I ask for them to be reset, but the students still have difficulty accessing what I need them to. I offer tutorials after school; I have even offered them in class. Sometimes I feel more like a technology teacher than an English teacher.

Trying to keep my APPS and links straight is becoming an organizational debacle that I’m not sure how to straighten out. It’s really giving me a headache!

How much is too much? I’m trying to find the line. Any suggestions are welcome!

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First Day of School

I stand in front of the mirror, a dry run for tomorrow, full-front, then turn to one side & then the other, smoothing out the wrinkles of my pristinely new dress. This will need to be ironed. Slipping the brown, flat, flip-flops on. No, the heals will look better even though they aren’t new. They’ll make me look taller. A taller teacher gives the impression of greater control. On the first days of school, it’s all about presence and tone. There’s something to be said about making a good first impression.

My book bag is ready. New multi-colored gel point pens. Folders of first week’s curriculum I’ve been reacquainting myself with. You’d think after eleven years of teaching the same courses, I’d have it all committed to memory. Not so. Mostly, I do, but I want to make sure I come off polished, not sloppy. Besides, I always change it up a bit to keep it fresh for me and, ultimately, them; if it isn’t relevant, it goes unremembered. New clips for holding large stacks of paper and plenty of white out (the school never supplies the good white out, it’s always the gloppy kind). And my IPad, including my rosters of names that usually take me no more than 2 weeks to learn. I direct my students to sit alphabetically, at first, to facilitate learning their names. Nothing more embarrassing than calling a student by the wrong name; I can literally see the expression on their faces, when I address them incorrectly, show signs of disappointment (eyebrows straight, eyeballsĀ  dilated, no curve at the edges of their mouths) imagining their stomachs sinking, thinking I’m not memorable enough for her to know. The truth its, it’s easier to learn the names of the loud ones, the odd ones, the uber nice ones before the others who choose not to stand out; if there is guilt to be had for succumbing to responding to certain stereotypes, I own it in the first weeks of school. Also, on my IPad is this new Planbook app I piloted for our school; I’ve been working with a beta group to test the compatibility of the Windows version. I like to be a pioneer.

The first day of school is hardly about that first day. It’s about the planning that begins weeks before. It’s about constructing each course like building a house. You need to understand what needs to be conveyed through the big concepts before you can plan out the details. It’s about creating an atmosphere that is a stimulating learning environment and slightly different than the year before, so repeat students don’t become complacent. Two weeks prior, I went into school with my daughter to reassemble my room. It’s important for me to have spaces that reflect who I am as a person and a teacher, but it’s equally important to have students spaces, so they feel welcome and comfortable there. In particular, they enjoy the colorful touches. The whiteboard paint in neon colors. The Expo markers of Caribbean hues. The college board, inviting students to write where they plan on attending complete with hash tags. I’m always proud, at the end of the year, when students tell me their college board in my room has the most names on it. Not for a competition or anything, but more to acknowledge my efforts in inviting them to take ownership of their space in my room.

When I walk in tomorrow, initially it will be close to silent. What stands out at first are the shiny floors and clean lockers which are like arms waiting for me to come in. Slowly, the voices can be heard. At first a hum, then so loud you could hardly hear yourself think, but it’s comforting to hear the laughter and see all of the smiles reacquainting themselves with one another.

I will wait in my room, greeting each student with a smile. My name written largely and neatly on the board to help them be sure they are in the right place. A bowl of Skittles will sit at the center of the round table in the front of the room. About half of them notice it; their curiosity already piqued.

I anticipate reminding myself that through all of the business and dissemination of information that needs to be dispersed, today, the most important thing is to convey my philosophy of teaching. I preface this by stating, “On the first day, I feel as if I’m vomiting information all over you. I promise every day will not be like this.” Then I continue, “This will be a student centered classroom; after all, you are the reason we are here. My expectations will be high but not unattainable, and I will be here to assist you achieve your goals in whatever ways I can. I don’t see teaching English as teaching students to learn to read or write. While you will be doing that too, the focus will be on using English to become a critical thinker. I hope to impart you with ways to be curious about and question your world, using different kinds of discourse as a vehicle for discovery– to discover new things about not only your world, but yourself and your place in your world.”

Yes, the anticipation is mounting. I can’t wait to meet these new young people with whom I will share my year. I know they will have just as much an impact on me and my thinking as I hope to have on them. I can’t think of another job I’d rather do. Second only to parenting, being a teacher, I believe, is the most rewarding job of all.