Monday, September 23, 2013


As the tech lead in my school, I have the unique privilege of helping my colleagues utilize the technology at our fingertips in their classrooms.  I see a wide variety of interest, skills, and ideas from the other teachers, and that's not a bad thing.

I spent many years as a regular classroom teacher, and technology integration was one of my passions.  However, I realize that teachers do battle on many different fronts. Technology integration is not always at the top of everyone's list. Since it was my passion, I approached every lesson and every unit asking the question, "How can I best use computers or iPads here?" Not everyone asks that question, but that probably means they are asking an equally important question that I'm not thinking about.

However, I think most of us can agree that the world has changed in many ways since we were students.  Technology permeates every aspect of our lives, with most people carrying more computing power in their pockets than what we used to have on a given city block when we were in school. That must change some aspects of how we teach, if for no other reason that we need to prepare our students for the world they are in and will enter as adults.

A good place to start in the tech integration journey is to see where you land on the SAMR model.  After all, knowing where you are is the first step in growth. The SAMR lodel is a quick and easy way to gauge how you utilize educational technology and what you could do with it.

This video is a great explanation of the SAMR steps.

This interactive picture also helps to understand how we can use various tools differently depending on where we are on the SAMR ladder. Hover your mouse over parts of the picture to see lesson ideas.

As you can see in the graphic, there is a line between Augmentation and Modification. Essentially, if you are teaching below the line you are using new teaching tools to teach old-school concepts.  If you are teaching above the line, you are using technology to teach students 21st century skills, things we never considered possible when we were in school.

Today it is possible to push students to create new things using technology.  It used to be that we would study distant lands with textbooks and encyclopedias.  Now we can actually interact and collaborate with students who live in those distant lands.

It doesn't take much online research to see that many teachers who regularly use the Modification and Redefinition rungs on the ladder feel that everyone should hoist themselves above the line. That may or may not resonate as truth for you.

Is it wrong to use today's technology to teach rote skills? Are you using technology tools to focus on personal fact collection or interpersonal idea dispersing?  In order to use the "above the line" rungs well, you need to have rote knowledge and skills. Without knowledge wedged tightly in your brain you cannot access that knowledge to apply it, create with it, and collaborate using it.   

However, with the tools available in our schools today, we can help students do more than memorize facts in isolation.  We can turn fact machines into true idea-creators.  First, we must assess where we are on the ladder as teachers.  Then, we must find ways to take steps (whether they be slow and steady steps or great and massive leaps) up the ladder.  

Vicki Davis (aka "The Cool Cat Teacher") recently put this quote on her Facebook page. "I don't want my students to buy the apps - I want them to make them." Climbing the SAMR ladder opens up a morphing of focus from students consuming media to students creating media As we begin to open up the doors to full uses the educational technology at our fingertips, this can become a reality in many schools across the country and the world. 

I would argue that the SAMR ladder is not something to scaled, like Everest, in an effort to reach the top because it's there.  Every teacher, every school, must weigh many factors when planning lessons, units, and school years. The SAMR model does not necessarily consider philosophy of education, learning objectives, state standards, individual student needs, and availability of technology.  As my wife once pointed out to me, it's not always about the technology. It's about teaching students to learn in the way that is best for them.  With that said, teachers should be mindful of integrating technology in a way that is beneficial for students. 

We can make this happen. Every teacher should assess their spot on the ladder, then strive to take a step higher.  Those of us who find ourselves a step or two above our colleagues shouldn't berate them for being technological slackers.  Instead, let's reach a hand down to help them feel comfortable in the next step of the journey.  Perhaps, you find yourself on one of the bottom rungs and are starting to see some potential for growth in this area. Seek out a colleague or two that can help you or look for online resources, like this one, that can give ideas for teaching 21st century skills.

Then, we can work as a team to help the students grow the way they ought. 

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