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Survive and Thrive with EdTech: Less stress and more success when learning new software and hardware

For teachers, learning to use new education technology can have its challenges, but the rewards are great. Below is a wonderful set of tips from guest blogger, Derrall Garrison, a master teacher who is spending 8 weeks at HP as a Teacher in Residence as an IISME Fellow....


- Jim




Survive and Thrive with EdTech:

Less stress and more success when learning new software and hardware

by Derrall Garrison - Master Teacher, Grade 5

There are two important lenses for a teacher to keep in mind when approaching involved trainings such as those experienced by teachers in the NETa project. Remember to participate in a beginner’s mind and a growth mindset.


Give yourself permission to be childlike. Think back to when you were a child and starting to learn something such as for example a musical instrument and thought that it would be only a matter of months before you were a master. Back then we didn’t know any better, but that’s just the attitude we want to rekindle. We think we know ourselves, but put aside your adult prejudices for a short time and surprise yourself with the simple joys of play, exploration, and learning something new.


Being good at using the tools will be a process of trial and error. Make sure to not be overly critical of your ability to implement what may be exceptionally different methods in teaching. Don’t allow yourself to think there is only one way to do what you’ve learned.


We remember all these positive ways to help our students master and learn through trial and error, but we forget when trying to maintain our mantle of control and mastery that we need to shift our thinking to give ourselves the same positive learning experiences.


Give yourself time to explore freely. Like a new manipulative or tool we always give our students time to explore kinesthetically whatever the object is. If it’s a new piece of hardware see what happen when you push buttons, chances are you can’t break it. And if the unexpected happens and there is a momentary sense of panic that you’ve caused something to happen, suppress that sense of having done something wrong. Understanding can only come by freely exploring and being open to new experiences without judgement. Set aside time and make it a focus and a priority not just something to do if everything is else is done and you have a few minutes. Actually schedule time for yourself by putting it on your calendar.


Learn by doing. When watching powerpoints and listening to a presenter who shares concepts behind what you are learning and then shows the fifty steps to accomplish it, remember to try it yourself right then and there. Remember that when the opportunity presents itself to start recreating what the presenter shared or try to solve some questions that have arisen in your own mind about what you’ve seen, to try it out. Don’t be a passive observer and then try to do the task later when you are alone. Everyone learns in their own way and make sure to engage yourself in the training in a way that best meets your learning style.


Learning new hardware and software should be a shared social experience. Just as we see the effectiveness in grouping our students for learning, so too will sharing the experience of working with new software or hardware through questions and observations with others help. There are no dumb questions and sharing your experiences will help validate uncertainty in others that aren’t comfortable showing their misunderstandings and also give insights that someone else might need. We all come to these types of training with varying background and experiences.


For example, rather than learning on your own, you can find a colleague and take on the role of teacher and student with some classroom feature and then reverse roles. Another example might be to brainstorm with small groups how to deal with classroom management for a new device and then capture the ideas on large sheets of paper to share out. When confronted with the 1000 questions you have, talk it out, process, share it with a group online. And if possible don’t let the conversations end that day, but let others who need more time to think and process contribute to the discussion.


Don’t blame yourself if something doesn’t seem to work right. It might not be you! Remember that what you are learning was designed and created by people that may have very little actual experience in the classroom. Many times hardware or software may be adopted from some other purpose for education. We see all the time some learning experience or lesson created by what someone thinks we need totally miss the mark. The same happens for technology. How would a software engineer working through some arcane bit of computer code necessarily understand what you need. You’ll make assumptions about the way this new tool should work and realize that it doesn’t work that way. It’s more than likely that the people who created the tool don’t have the same understanding as you, help them by giving feedback.


Keep notes of your thinking and experiences. Many times the trainer or presenter has gone through the steps multiple times which is the same rote memorization that you will eventually experience, but writing down the steps that you might have difficulty remembering could be invaluable later on. Not only will you have a key to being able to duplicate later what you are trying to accomplish, but you will also have a document to see your growth. Notes may be handwritten or typed, and sometimes combining that with taking a picture of a Powerpoint presentation or a computer screen works well.


Growth through failure - you can’t be perfect at something you’ve never done before. Allow yourself to experience failure as a positive movement towards implementation in the classroom. We all know that when we give something to our students that they see or ask or try to do things that we can never completely anticipate. Using technology in a classroom is not so much about showing mastery but modeling the process of a growth mindset and adapting to situations as they arise. Teachers that try to maintain control when we are moving towards personalization of our students learning experiences will struggle with these technology tools that were created to solve the same problems in a multitude of ways.


Don’t focus on the tools; focus instead on the learning outcomes. We don’t teach pencil so don’t focus on teaching technology but on the outcomes which the technology allows us to achieve. How will this tool enhance our student’s learning experiences and collaboration opportunities. What can we accomplish that wasn’t possible before with capturing a student’s ideas and allow them to work more meaningfully with other students.

Be a learner all the way through classroom implementation. Even once you are beginning to feel a sense of comfort understanding the tools, realize that actually using and giving your students access will present unforeseen opportunities for further learning. When implementing these new tools, realize that some students who fail in a traditional classroom environment will thrive in a 21st century classroom. Be open and aware that students when allowed to communicate understandings through ways other than raising their hand and speaking in front of others or by writing down their ideas will be given a new avenue that better suits their learning and communication needs.

The Bottom Line


However you learn best, These tips are by no means complete. If you have a success story about learning new edtech, I would love to hear from you! Tweet me @derrallg if you’d like to chat…






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About the Author
  • Jim Vanides is responsible for the vision, strategy, design, and implementation of education technology innovation initiatives. His focus is the effective use of technology to create powerful learning experiences that help students around the world succeed. He has been instrumental in launching over 1200 primary, secondary, and higher education projects in 41 countries, including the HP Catalyst Initiative - a 15-country network of 60+ education organizations exploring innovations in STEM(+) learning and teaching. In addition to his work at HP, Jim teaches an online course for Montana State University on the Science of Sound, a masters-level, conceptual physics course for teachers in grades 5 through 8. Jim’s past work at HP has included engineering design, engineering management, and program management in R&D, Manufacturing, and Business Development. He holds a BS in Engineering and a MA in Education, both from Stanford University.
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