My Top 20 Tech Tips for Teachers!
As a digital learning coach with more than fourteen years working in instructional technology, I have learned quite a few ways to help teachers integrate technology. I have compiled my Top 20 Tech Tips for Teachers into this handy infographic, which you can download below.
I find myself answering the same questions, dilemmas, and excuses over and over again. For those of you who have been integrating technology for a while, some of these may seem obvious. But we have too many teachers, even new teachers fresh out of college, with no idea how to utilize digital tools to increase student learning.
I want to inspire you to push the boundaries of traditional learning, but I also want to be someone who can keep it real and give you ideas to help you shake up learning in your classroom. Below are digital learning tips that any teacher can use in their classroom.
I blogged some of these tips during my first year as a blogger. In 2014, I kept it to my top ten, a la David Letterman style. Later, my very talented friend, Sylvia Duckworth, created an infographic of the tips. My list of tips keeps growing, and it is actually much longer than twenty, but for the purposes of a blog post, I gotta keep it (somewhat) brief. Let me tell you, that was a struggle!!
You will probably notice that most of these tips are NOT about tech tools specifically, but how to maximize their use to improve student learning.
I share these tips (AND MORE) in my new book, Shake Up Learning: Practical Ideas to Move Learning from Static to Dynamic. This book is all about learning, pushing boundaries, and helping teachers learn how to create dynamic learning experiences.
Now, on with the show, y’all!
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The Shake Up Learning Show Podcast
Check out the podcast version of this post!
20 Tech Tips for Teachers
I could talk about these tips all day with in-depth detail, but to keep this from growing into another accidental eBook, I will just give you a brief description. If you want to dig deeper, check out the additional links and resources provided, as well as the Shake Up Learning book!
DOWNLOAD THE PDF INFOGRAPHIC: Top 20 Tech Tips for Teachers
1. Shift Your Mindset
Mindset is the biggest battle to overcoming technology fears as well. I hear this phrase all the time, “I’m just not good with technology?” Make up your mind to be positive. The classroom is full of obstacles; technology is no different. Maybe you aren’t as quick to learn with technology as your peers, but never let that become an excuse. If your mind is holding you back, you have some internal work to do. Take the time to reflect on your current mindset and approach technology with a positive and flexible attitude.
2. Take Risks
The magic happens outside of your comfort zone. Don’t be afraid to step out and try new things in the classroom. Model risk-taking in your classroom. Let your students know when you fail or make a mistake so that they understand that is okay. Find ways to push students out of their comfort zones, give them new ideas, perspectives, and ways to approach a problem that can help them see the value in failing forward. Taking a risk during the learning process is a gamble, but one that can pay off big time. The difference is that a risk in the classroom may not guarantee success, but if truly guided with purpose toward the learning goals can garner valuable learning along the way.
3. Start With the Why
When you are planning a digital learning experience, be goal oriented! Begin with your learning outcomes, not the technology. This idea is perhaps the most important tip of all. Everything we do as teachers should always come down student learning and doing what’s best for kids. Just because you are using technology doesn’t ensure you are meeting any objectives or learning outcomes. If you cannot explain how the digital tool enhances or improves the learning experience, you are just using technology for technology’s sake. If this is the case, start over!
I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had with teachers that have started with this question,”How can I use [insert digital tool name] in my classroom?” The question should never be how to “fit” this awesome new tool into your learning experience. The question is always, “What are the desired student outcomes? What do you want them to understand and be able to do?” Then you find the best tools in your toolbox to help you get there.
4. Get Tech in Student’s Hands
Modeling is great, especially when it comes to technology use, but it is way more important to get technology into the hands of learners. Often times and with good reason, teachers can become overprotective of the technology in their classroom. Sticky fingers and clumsy hands can make you resistant, especially if it something you purchased with your own money. But if you really want to see an impact, that technology needs to be in your learner’s’ hands. Give them guidelines, show them proper use, then trust them. I see this a lot in situations like a one iPad classroom, or even when SmartBoards were popping up everywhere. The teacher became super savvy with the new technology, and the learners were engaged and excited to see something new, but don’t forget our purpose. Get technology in the hands of learners, even at the cost of giving up control.
5. Shop for Tools Like You Are On Amazon
There are so many devices, digital tools, learning ideas and gadgets to choose from in the twenty-first century that it can be overwhelming. Too many choices is a good problem to have! When it comes to the digital tools that you have discretion over, shop for your learners like you are on Amazon! You may actually be on Amazon, the App Store, Google Play, the Chrome Web Store, etc. Read reviews, talk to friends, get ideas from blogs and social media. Shopping is no longer a blind act. We can gather information on just about any idea or product, and we should find out what other teachers recommend. Find out what you can before you ever click download! Find out what you can before you decide to use it on your device and in your classroom.
6. Don’t Get Swept Away By New Tools
I am very guilty of this one! It’s easy to get swept away by new digital tools. I am often an early adopter and the first to sign-up to try something new; but if you are always trying to integrate something new, you run the risk of focusing too much on the tool and not enough on the learning. Give new tools time grow and evolve. Often times you will find that new tools that start off as free, could suddenly require a fee the day you decide to integrate into your classroom. Or worse, the company went under, and the tool is no longer accessible. New tools and ideas are part of what makes the 21st century so exciting, but we must be cautious when jumping into something new that hasn’t been proven or tested.
7. Be Consistent
When technology changes so fast, and new digital tools become available every minute, it can be tempting to try something new in your classroom every day, but learners need consistency. We all know how frustrating it can be to try something new that requires additional set-up time and then doesn’t really do everything you had hoped. Risk-taking with new tools is great, but not every day, that would risk too much instructional time. Stick with your tried and true tools, that your learners already know how to use. Then sprinkle in the new stuff! Be consistent so that your students have an opportunity to learn in-depth, focus on the learning goals, and become savvy with the best digital tools. Balance tried and true tools with sprinkles of new stuff to keep it interesting. You don’t want to be so consistent that it becomes predictable and mundane.
8. Don’t Integrate Too Many Tools At Once
Start small. Along with being consistent, resist the urge to integrate too many digital tools all at once. App-smashing is fun if guided by purpose, but if you try to do too much at once, you risk shifting the focus to the tool and just using technology for technology’s sake. If you love tech like I do, it can be easy to keep adding more ideas and tools to your lesson. But you should gradually build your student’s digital toolbox. It doesn’t have to happen in one day!
9. Don’t Be Afraid to Let Your Students Teach You!
Our students have a lot of knowledge and skills, especially when it comes to technology. Long gone are the days of the teacher being the gatekeepers of knowledge. It’s okay if you don’t know the answer when it comes to the technology, and students will love the chance to help teach you! As you are designing your learning experience, and you wonder about how a digital tool works or if there an app for that, ask a student! And even if they do not know the answer, they will be willing to help you figure it out!
The other thing that I love about talking to students about technology is they always show me something new, some new app, some new trick, that my adult world hasn’t seen yet. A lot of our students have their finger on the pulse of what’s hot, what’s right now, and while that may not always have a direct implication in the classroom, it could! Don’t immediately dismiss a tool because you think it isn’t educational. They will prove you wrong every time!
10. Utilize Student Tech Experts
It’s a myth to assume that every student is comfortable with technology. We still have a huge digital divide. But there are experts among us in our classrooms that can help bridge that gap. So not only should you leverage students to help you learn new digital skills, but you should also use them as go-to experts for other students in your classroom. This kind of leadership can be a very empowering experience for students. It can also help those with inclinations toward technology to explore their passions and interests, and it can definitely help get more girls and young women interested in technology as well.
Depending on how many savvy students you have in your class, this could be a permanent role or group, or even a rotating job for students in your class. Be careful though; you don’t want to force this role on any student who is uncomfortable or shy. At least initially, this should be a volunteer role. This idea can also be taken a step further by establishing a student help desk, genius bar, or Chrome Squad for your school. (Learn more about developing a student tech team for your school from this blog post series: The Chrome Squad.)
11. Ask Three Before Me
In my classroom, I would often deliver small group instruction while the rest of the class worked on other assignments, stations or learning menus. It became difficult to manage questions while I was working with my small group. Some learners just naturally go to the teacher with every little problem, and often times, these questions are easily answered by other learners in the classroom or found online. By implementing the, “ask three before me,” strategy my learners helped each other problem solve and complete their tasks and assignments, while I focused on my small group. This, of course, works well when digital tools are involved. If a student forgets how to log in, or where the rubric is saved, they can easily ask another student instead of interrupting the teacher. TIP: You can also make YouTube and/or Google Search one of the “three,” options to ask for help.
12. Use Digital Tools FOR Learning
When technology integration began to enter our classrooms, and a dedicated computer lab was all the rage, most used it as time to type a paper, do some research, or to create some type of end product like a PowerPoint or Brochure. But with so much technology at our disposal, and hopefully the end of trips to the shared computer lab, teachers should be integrating technology and digital tools throughout the learning cycle. Let’s maximize these tools to engage students from beginning to end and beyond, not just summative products.
13. Use New Tools to Do New Things
Think beyond using digital tools to complete only traditional assignments such as papers and reports. Use digital tools to do new things. Just going paperless or digital isn’t enough. Use some of these new tools to go further, go deeper and extend your students’ learning. Reach beyond what you think a digital tool can do and should be used for, and challenge your students to demonstrate their learning in a new way.
Use digital tools beyond their original purpose. For instance, did you know that you can create an eBook with Google Slides? Presentation applications alone can be used for many more things than just a presentation. As my friend Alice Keeler says, “I don’t use Google Slides to GIVE information, I use Google Slides to GET information from students.” Matt and I even did an episode of the Google Teacher Tribe Podcast on this topic: Google Slides Can Do Whaattt??!!. Think about how you and your students can get creative and use new digital tools in unexpected ways.
14. Give Students Voice & Choice
Giving students voice and choice is a vital component to creating student ownership of learning. There are many ways to do this. This may be as simple as giving them a choice in the digital tool they use to demonstrate their learning, or it could involve more student voice and choice like incorporating Genius Hour into your curriculum. For me, learning menus (aka choice boards) helped me to find easy ways to give students more choice in their assignments and provide a more flexible learning path. It doesn’t have to be complicated, but you will be pleasantly surprised at the outcome and the depth of understanding when you give students a little extra room to make their own decisions in their learning.
15. Get Organized
One of the best things you can do as a facilitator of digital learning is to organize the information, directions, objectives, and resources online for your learners. Giving learners ONE central location or website will make your life so much easier and will allow learners to focus on the learning tasks—and to help you keep this learning experience as paperless as possible! This is their one-stop-shop! Consider using Google Classroom, WordPress, Blogger, Google Sites, Weebly, or Wix as your classroom hub.
This one location is what I like to call, “The One Link to Rule Them All!” Don’t over complicate your classroom. Make it easy for you and your students. Use this central, “hub,” to give students everything they need: information about assignments, additional resources, enrichment activities, due dates, links to important school and campus information and web pages, classroom procedures, class rules, syllabus–anything and everything should go in your one-stop-shop and b organized for easy navigation.
16. Package Your Online Assignments
Don’t miss out on one of the BEST things about managing assignments online! When you create an assignment online using your preferred tool, be that Google Classroom, Canvas, Edmodo, Blackboard, Google Docs, Google Sites, Hyperdocs, whatever…give learners ALL of the information online. Give them detailed directions, the rubric, the due date, detail collaborative expectations, where and how to turn it in, what to do if they finish early, EVERYTHING you can think of! This will save you so much time answering questions. Learn about the ten things to include in your assignment package.
It is also convenient for absent work and demanding parents. This can also serve as documentation, a record of your lesson plans. You can fine-tune it and revise as you see fit throughout the assignment.
17. Don’t Assess the Bells and Whistles; Content is King
Technology can bring some excitement and engagement to student products and projects. But when it comes to assessing student work, always remember to go back to those learning goals. What was the original purpose of the lesson? Was it to include three animations in a PowerPoint? I hope not! The fun little extras, the bells, and whistles can give something special to a project, but that is most likely not your end goal.
Steer clear of rubrics that rely strictly on numbers, like the number of slides, the number of pictures, etc. Instead, use a rubric that focuses on the content and skills that the lesson was designed to teach.
18. Publish for a Global Audience
Every student should have the opportunity to publish for a global audience on a regular basis. Find ways to flatten the walls of your classroom and allow learners to publish their work, their writing, their videos, their projects, their creations, or even a full e-portfolio online. This will change the quality of their work and help them build a positive online presence. See my previous post, Every Student Should Publish for the World for more ideas and tools.
19. Always Have a Plan B
I say this one ALL THE TIME! No matter how much you prepare ahead of time for any lesson, even the ones that don’t involve technology, things do not always go as planned. We have all experienced those times when the technology doesn’t cooperate: the Internet connection or wifi is down, the website you were using crashed, the video you were going to play is blocked, the digital tool you planned to use is no longer free. It happens to all of us! That is why it is crucial to not only think on your feet, but to also have a Plan B. Plan B doesn’t mean a completely new lesson plan, but it does mean knowing what you will do if the lesson just isn’t working out. Sometimes this means going back to pen and paper. Sometimes this means going back to a tried and true tool like Google Docs. Being flexible is nothing new if you are a teacher, integrating technology is no different. Be prepared to transition to Plan B before you lose an entire instructional period.
20. Share Your Voice
I am a firm believer in sharing your story, your reflections, and your journey, and this is something we can also cultivate in students. This is a different type of sharing than sharing for collaboration and feedback. This is about sharing something more personal: the story of your learning. Reflection is an important part of the learning process, and when you are bold enough to share an honest reflection about your fears, what went well, or where you failed, it helps students cultivate a growth mindset. They begin to understand that the process, the good, the bad, and the ugly were all part of the learning journey. Help students to document their learning, reflect, and share with the world continuously.
Want to learn more idea like this? You will love my new book!
Check out my new book, Shake Up Learning: Practical Ideas to Move Learning From Static to Dynamic.
About the Shake Up Learning Book
Technology is not a magic solution for education. It is an opportunity! An opportunity to shake things up, to connect and grow, and to create dynamic learning experiences for our students!
In this three-part book, you will explore WHY it’s time to Shake Up Learning, WHAT changes we can make in our classrooms to support dynamic learning experiences, and HOW to plan meaningful lessons for your classroom.
Shake Up Learning is a powerful guide and planning tool to help educators at all grade levels make the most of technology. Educator and blogger Kasey Bell guides you through the process of using technology and proven techniques to make learning dynamic.
You’ll discover . . .
- Practical strategies to help move from static teaching to dynamic learning
- Straightforward and easy-to-use templates for crafting engaging learning opportunities
- Tips and tricks for fearless implementation of powerful lesson plans
- Advice for moving from one-and-done activities to learning that evolves and inspires throughout the school year—and beyond!
Be DYNAMIC and SHAKE UP LEARNING in Your Classroom This Year!
But wait…There’s more!
With this book, I have also created several interactive resources, templates, and downloads, all available on ShakeUpLearningBook.com.
- Get the FREE Shake Up Learning Quickstart Guide
- An online community
- Discussion Questions, Chapter Actions, and Embedded Resources for all 20 Chapters!
- An interactive companion website to help you continue and deepen the learning
- A lesson plan database (submit and search for dynamic lesson plans)
- Tons of free resources, videos, templates, and downloads, all available on the website: ShakeUpLearningBook.com.
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