opinion

Should Tech Teachers be in the Classroom or the Lab

teachers

Where should tech teachers be?

The following question was posed by one of my readers:

I love your site and all the valuable information you put out to help others. I wish I would of found it sooner. Thank You!

I have a question and would love your insight ... I teach lower school Computer Class to grades 1-4 at a private school in Columbus, Ohio. Our Technology Vision for 2015 is to get the students out of the computer lab, where they now learn computer skills based on classroom themes, and move me into the classroom where I would be the “technology integration teacher” alongside the classroom teacher. I would help with Smartboard, Ipad, laptop lessons integration, etc. I think this is a good idea and have been told that this is the trend in education but have not gotten real clarity on why and how this transition should take place.

Here are my questions: Do you see the benefit of technology integration into classrooms as I stated above? Is this the trend in education? If so why and how do you make this big transition? My feeling is that students need to learn computer skills such as formatting a document, searching the web, tools within PowerPoint, etc…This is much easier in a lab setting than classroom. Should we have both a lab and an itinerant technology integration teacher?

I get this question often, not to mention how many times it pops up on my tech teacher forums and Nings. Tech teachers as a group are struggling with their future role: Are they to teach computer skills or are they to integrate technology into classroom units of inquiry. These are two disparate functions and as my reader suggests, their goals are accomplished differently.

  • To teach a technology curriculum that–as ISTE suggests–prepares students to be digital citizens, requires a gamut of skills not always conducive to classroom units. I can force almost any technology unit (say, Excel formulas) into a classroom topic, but it’s not always best suited there. And, if the classroom teacher wants to use Excel formulas in a math unit, I need time to teach the pre-skills that prepare students to use the program (page layout, toolbars, a lovely unit I have on drawing in Excel that painlessly teaches its use).
  • So much of moving tech into the classroom depends on the skills of the grade level teacher. If s/he doesn’t know how to use Glogster or create a trifold, how will those projects get finished?
  • If you’re lucky enough to have a class set of computers in each classroom, then you move your tech training into the class. If not–how do you efficiently teach five students at a time? Most of us don’t have the time in our schedule. And what if the classroom teacher considers the time you’re in her classroom as ‘planning time’ and leaves? Then what’s the sense of moving into the classroom?

Teaching in the lab emphasizes the skills-based nature of a program. Moving technology into the classroom re-forms it as a project-based approach to support classroom inquiry with a multitude of demands on the classroom teacher to understand your field. One approach is a separate class (like Spanish and PE) with a curriculum. The other is a resource for classroom units. Philosophically, they are night and day.

And what about keyboarding? Students need to learn the proper way to type so they can efficiently and effectively complete the work of classroom tie-ins.

My goal as a tech teacher has always been to inspire a student’s imagination–share the exciting tools that technology offers so students can select what works for them. I want them to see how Publisher magazines are prepared, Google Earth book tours work, Scratch videos created. Then, when the need arises–when they’re asked to communicate their thoughts–they can select which option works best for their particular learning style. This is student-directed, student-led learning. What could be more exciting? Each year, I follow a curriculum that meets ISTE standards and the needs of the IB program (my school is an IB International School). Like any subject curriculum, this is set up in advance. It is my roadmap to success. It can be adjusted–and is–but not tossed out. As the Captain of my ship, I need a path to success, not just a meandering route.

This issue is far from resolved and not one I’ve made up my mind about, so I posed it to my efriends over at Elementary Tech Teachers. Here are some of the thoughtful answers I got:

My question has always been how do you do a quality job teaching tech skills on top of all of the other requirements and prep time classroom teachers have. And, if you integrate tech into the homeroom why not music and art and all of the other specials that they currently have to provide their prep time.

Now, I go back far enough that my teacher training program included the specialties and my first probably ten years of self-contained classroom teaching, I taught all subjects, and I mean all subjects. There were no preps during the school day; you were expected to come in before the students and stay after. So, it could be done, but not with the same expertise that specials teachers bring to their subjects.

Ideally, if you’re going to integrate, it should be a collaborative effort – classroom teachers working with specials to integrate their content with technology or art or music, etc. The snag? Again, so all classroom teachers want to give up their time for collaborative planning. An alternative that works is curriculum mapping. Mapping provides a resource for specials teachers to follow and integrate classroom content into their skills areas without monopolizing teacher time.

This is the chicken or the egg argument and as long as contracts rather than educational process dictate how teacher time is scheduled. . .

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I have been both a classroom teacher and a computer teacher. My two cents says leave the tech training in the lab. The classroom teacher has too many preps already. What I am trying to encourage at my school is to let me do the basic training so that all of the students (550+) will have been introduced to the same things and then the classroom teacher can expand on what I have taught. I live in Texas and we have state mandates called TEKS. I cannot imagine how the classroom teacher could get all of the tech TEKS done with only 2-4 classroom computers.

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I also live in Texas and if you think you are going to intefere with teacher prep times,beware. Our district has gone to C-Scope this year and from where I am standing its a lot. I feel for the self-contained  teachers because they have all the subjects to contend with instead of one.  I teach computer skills in the lab, so when the teacher comes with her class to lab, students can fairly use the program that they need to work in. Our classrooms can only accommodate 3 student computers due to connectivity issues. (old school) so classroom setting would not help.

__________________________________________________

This is a great question and one that I struggle with. I call myself a “Computer Literacy” teacher. I do try to integrate skills at an appropriate time with what is happening in the classroom but the timing does not always work. Project are very challenging when you see students once a week for 50 minutes and students miss classes due to music lessons, vacation and illness.

Also, I think that keyboarding is a very important skill and it will become more important as standardized testing moves to computers and students have to do writing assessments by typing. I also think that keyboarding skills are tremendously important for all students but especially for special education students who can most benefit from features in word processors such as spell checkers.

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I find keyboarding the most difficult piece of the puzzle. Where 3rd graders should be starting a more rigorous approach to typing skills, I can’t do it because I’m trying to tie into classroom units on water and Missions et al. I have yet to solve this one.

What are your thoughts?

PS: If you’d like to pose a question to Ask a Tech Teacher, there’s a form in the blog’s sidebar.

–This article first on Innovate My School (Feb. 2012)

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Jacqui Murray is the editor of a technology curriculum for K-sixth grade and creator of two technology training books for middle school. She is the author of Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy midshipman.  She is webmaster for five blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.comEditorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing TeachersIMS tech expert, and a weekly contributor to Write Anything. Currently, she’s editing a thriller for her agent that should be out to publishers this summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

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26 thoughts on “Should Tech Teachers be in the Classroom or the Lab

  1. An interesting conundrum. I feel for the teachers in schools that don’t use both – it must be incredibly difficult for them to be “master of all trades”. It’s tough for me in my job sometimes – I’m employed to work in my specialty area, but as often happens in academia, I’m often told to do ancillary aspects of projects that would normally be done by other specialists (say if I was working in a non-academic setting). There’s no saying no to this! I just have to do it, but it takes me maybe 3 times as long as someone in that specialty area. Not a very effective use of my time.

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  3. At the independent middle school where I teach, I have dedicated time in my classroom with all 6th and 7th graders in a stand-alone, 3 semester technology course to cover skills and content that a) I know students will need or want to use in other classes at my school (immediate needs) and b) that they should know as digital citizens, regardless of short term needs. When possible, I collaborate with other 6th grade teachers for some of the content; for example, to teach iMovie video editing, all 6th graders work in groups on public-service announcements. The content is drawn from literature in language arts classes, students write the scripts with their LA teachers during those class periods, but the filming and editing is done during tech class periods under my guidance. I attend grade level team meetings and work actively to make sure that other colleagues know what I am covering so that they will know what to expect of the kids, and I incorporate specific units into my own curriculum when the need from other departments arises. My colleagues have quite willing to let kids initiate the use of tech tools for projects in their own classrooms because they know the kids are well-prepared and enthusiastic about applying what they’ve learned in tech class and it takes a lot of the perceived complications off the teachers’ plates. Even better, my colleagues have been inspired to learn and incorporate new technology themselves when they see how excited and competent the kids are. So far, my colleagues have been very supportive of the model of a dedicated tech class alongside other middle school classes, perhaps because we are a very student-centered school, so the students themselves are playing a large role in driving the integration.

    I am very concerned that if I do not have dedicated time as a classroom teacher who teaches technology, there will be significant differences among students in their exposure to important skills and content. Most kids will not fill gaps in their own knowledge on their own if they don’t even know what they don’t know or if they are not encouraged to try things outside of their comfort zone (programming, for example), and other teachers are not always willing or even able to make the time commitment needed to integrate technology skills consistently and adequately into their own curricula if they have to also take more responsibility for training the students.

    I thought the model under which I teach was going against the trend because many peer schools in my area have moved away from stand-alone technology courses, but your article makes me wonder if that is changing again as technology and digital citizenship continue to evolve. There seems to be more, not less, to learn and to teach!

    • You’ve voiced my concerns, too. Technology is skills-based or support-based, but it’s difficult to be both. So far, mine is skills-based, using class units of inquiry to provide projects to display the skills. There is much discussion among admin about changing that. But is the price for the kids too high?

  4. Pingback: Should Tech Teachers be in the Classroom or the Lab | 21st Century | Scoop.it

  5. I am a K-8 computer teacher. And the things I teach the students could definitely not be done in the classroom by our classroom teachers. However, I also unofficially coach the classroom teachers and offer them technology PD. I work in a low income district, so there isn’t much money, but what I’ve always thought would be ideal is if we had 2 computer teachers, one grade K-4 and the other 5-8. Each of us would teach those classes, but then we would also have periods where we pushed into the classroom and helped the teacher integrate technology into the lessons. But, I strongly believe that technology integration is very different than technology education.

    • That’s my thought, too. Teaching the skills required to become a digital citizen, to comply with ISTE standards and state standards (those that have them) is a different course than integrating technology into core units of inquiry. I am hoping to hear from someone who can meld those two for me, but so far it’s done only in theory. Thanks for sharing your situation.

  6. I’d like to comment on the importance of keyboarding for all students. Would you offer a book to a student without teaching them to read?? I see many schools throwing ‘technology’ at students who don’t know how to type! This creates frustration for the student and chaos when trying to teach this in a classroom setting!
    The educators at our school developed their own typing program using ‘fluency’ and ‘incentives’…not games…to teach our students to type. The students use this program at home. Within 6 months they are typing correctly! It has made a world of difference in their work! And only NOW can they appreciate all the finer aspects of technology in their world!

      • Keyboard Classroom was developed by Dr. Ian Spence of the Ben Bronz Academy in CT., It has been in use in the classroom for the past 15 years. Every student is required to learn how to type correctly within the first 6 months of school.
        If you go to http://www.keyboardclassroom.com you will learn more about “why” our program works ‘differently’ than the other keyboarding programs on the market. Meet Stefan who has dyslexia and couldn’t put his pencil to paper….but now types his work everyday and is excelling in his studies.
        I suggest you start with a Single User License for $39.95 to use with one student. Once the student completes the program you can erase the data and start over.
        For schools we have “Site Licenses” to accommodate classes of students at the same time.
        Thanks for your interest…..

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  8. Pingback: Should Tech Teachers be in the Classroom or the Lab « Ajarndonald's Blog

  9. If we all agree that the “digital divide” is a real issue for students with different tech resources at home, at least a technology curriculum levels the playing field. Should teachers integrate technology into their lessons?- YES, as a means of teaching their content. But at some point, if the technology itself isn’t the content in some kind of sequenced curriculum, the opportunity to achieve tech skills standards will be compromised for all but the most adventurous techie students.
    I teach K-8 technology classes, BTW.

    • You make an excellent point, John. Pundits assume that those tech skills arrive within students by magic, but they require lots of teaching. Just as we know teaching math isn’t always logical, learning internet research takes practice. Thanks for adding that thought.

  10. An interesting read for sure. I am a Technology Teacher (K-5) and things have very much changed at my school as well. I am of the opinion that classroom teachers do not teach Technology skills as well as we Tech teachers do as they are simply not tech teachers. I agree with integrating technology but the basics should be taught by a tech teacher. As for the keyboarding skills I have asked to still get the students for time in the lab every week to work on their keyboarding skills. So far so good, but not sure how long it is going to last.

    • I have never had a classroom teacher spend any time on keyboarding, though I load our software on their classroom computers. They don’t have time in their day to add that. I barely have time with the integrations we need to do.

      And yes, as I don’t teach geography as well as a K-5 teacher (though I am qualified to do so), they can’t teach tech skills in a fun, easy manner. There’s a trick to what is introduced when that doesn’t always match up with classroom projects.

  11. Pingback: Should Tech Teachers be in the Classroom or the Lab | Tech for the Everyday Classroom | Scoop.it

  12. Pingback: Should Tech Teachers be in the Classroom or the Lab–Follow Up « Ask a Tech Teacher

  13. Pingback: Should Tech Teachers be in the Classroom or the Lab–Follow Up « Ask a Tech Teacher

  14. Pingback: Should Tech Teachers be in the Classroom or the Lab–Follow Up « Jacqui Murray

  15. I just got into a discussion with our admin about flex scheduling for next school year and me moving into being a tech integration specialist. I am a K-5 tech teacher at our school and strongly believe that elementary kids do need the basic tech skills like keyboarding and digital citizenship to survive in this highly digital world but at the same time tech needs to be incorporated into the classroom curriculum through collaborative effort with the classroom teachers for a more authentic learning. I am excited about the idea of flex schedule and getting to work more closely with all our classroom teachers in creating more tech integrated projects but how do you implement it and make it work or does it even really work? Is this the best practice?

    • You’ve hit the gist of what all of us are trying to figure out. Integration is a no-brainer–of course, we want to make tech skills more authentic by tying them into classroom learning. That being said, classroom teachers don’t always understand that skills need to be introduced in a sequence so they’re fun and easy for students to learn. They do it in their curriculum; the same is true of ours.

      I’ve seen many comments from fellow technologists who believe it does work–as do I–when done a certain way. It seems there are two job titles: lab teacher and integration specialist. They are both full-time jobs.

  16. Pingback: Dear Otto: Lab Teacher or Integration Specialist | Ask a Tech Teacher

  17. Pingback: Dear Otto: Lab Teacher or Integration Specialist | Ask a Tech Teacher

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