Spotting Successful Technology Integration

In the spirit of not reinventing the wheel, I would like to focus this post on how to recognize succesful tech integration, rather than on the definition of it.  Edutopia quoted a definition of tech integration that I cannot really improve upon:

Effective integration of technology is achieved when students are able to select technology tools to help them obtain information in a timely manner, analyze and synthesize the information, and present it professionally.   –NATIONAL EDUCATIONAL TECHNOLOGY STANDARDS FOR STUDENTS, INTERNATIONAL SOCIETY FOR TECHNOLOGY IN EDUCATION

I like this definition for a few key reasons:

  • It is appropriately vague.  The always-expanding nature of technology demands that we cast a wide net and allow all kinds of scientifically/industrially derived innovations to “count” as technology.

    Google's definition(s) of technology.

    Google’s definition(s) of technology.

  • It focuses on student choice and the importance of appropriate tool selection.  Technology never disappears, it only fades into the background.  Therefore, students will always have an ever-expanding toolset to select from.  It is important for students (and teachers!) to ask themselves, “What is the best tool for this task?”
  •  It focuses on higher-order thinking. It doesn’t matter if you are using the flashiest, latest, most high-def technology if all you are doing is stating facts, following a procedure, or wowing your audience with new features.  You’re just using the tool—not integrating the tool into your thinking process.  Sort of like using a microscope to pound a nail into a wall–it’s not about the tool, it’s about what you do with the tool. (For the record, this image makes me wince)

This last idea brings up an important point:  You don’t need to (and probably shouldn’t) always be using technology.  If your students are analyzing data, drawing conclusions, suggesting improvements, etc.,  using a whiteboard, let them!  Don’t yank that old-fashioned marker from their hands and insist that they blog about it or make a video or some awful mashup!  Not all tasks lend themselves to technology integration.  There is still value in low-tech learning experiences!

That being said, where possible, strive for finding opportunities to use tech in a way that offers a completely new experience, or at least enhances an existing experience. In other words, aim for the R in SAMR:  Redefinition.

Tech Integration in Grade 10 Physics

This week, we integrated technology into our grade 10 physics class to a level that I would consider as somewhere between M (modification) and R (redefinition).  I’ll describe the task and justify why I give it such a high rank.

We used Vernier’s Logger Pro data-logging software paired with a digital photogate (a pulley that is able to instantly calculate the velocity at which a string passes around it).  The data was passed directly into student Macbooks via the Labquest Mini. This is not a particularly expensive piece of kit, and is part of a suite of sensors that our school was wise enough to invest in.  The task was to analyse the acceleration of an object as an unbalanced force is applied to it.  We changed the mass of the object and repeated the experiment to collect enough data points to plot a graph.  This experiment verifies Newton’s second law: F = ma

Mass vs acceleration
Without this technology, it would have been possible to verify this law, but in a much more crude manner.  We would measure the distance that the object traveled, attempt to measure the (very small) time that it took for the object to travel that distance.  Dividing distance by time would give us the object’s average speed.  We would have assumed acceleration was constant and that it’s initial velocity was zero,  and then determined the value of the final velocity using the equations of motion.

In the “low tech” version of this experiment, the errors in measurement would have been extremely large–perhaps almost as large as the measurements themselves! The calculations would have been painfully long and would have clouded the point, or even completely lost weaker students.  Also, we would be relying on a central assumption–that acceleration was constant.

With the datalogger, this all changes.  We are able to directly observe acceleration!  This is only because a computer is able to sample thousands of times per second.  We were able to watch in real-time as the object sped up and verify that indeed the acceleration was constant, and that as we increased the mass of the object, it’s acceleration decreased in a non-linear fashion.

I felt that this task definitely did more than just ‘augment’ the original lesson.  It made the experiment so much more clear and reliable that I believe it justifies the title of ‘modify’ at the minimum.  Since the experiment was, at least in theory, possible to do without the technology, I stopped short of awarding it full ‘redefine’ status.

As students completed this task, I noticed:

  • Students were able to dive right into the analysis, because we have used Vernier’s software extensively in the past.  They were able learn how to use the newly-needed functions of the program on a “as needed” basis.  They didn’t need a tutorial (though they did need some technical help getting the sensor set up).  The focus was on the science, not on the tool.  

Effective technology integration is achieved when the use of technology is routine and transparent and when technology supports curricular goals.  — Edutopia

  • One student asked if we could use Vernier’s video capture function to determine the acceleration.  This was a real jaw-dropper to me and is a perfect example of how students should be actively selecting which tool to use for a given task.  We absolutely could use the video capture function, and I’ll be asking that student to do exactly that during the next lesson.  This provided a useful insight:  technology can foster differentiation.

As I continue to grow as a teacher, I am constantly learning new ways that I can integrate technology in meaningful way in my class.  This learning experience was an example of how technology can engage, inform and excite students.

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