If you’ve spent any time reading about the intersection of education and technology, you’ve probably heard about the SAMR model, originally developed by Dr. Ruben Puentedura. It suggests that teachers’ use and integration of technology follows a progression from substitution to augmentation and then to modification and finally redefinition. The general idea is that teachers will move from doing what they currently do with the addition of tech to reinventing their practices to doing entirely new things because of the tech tools. It’s a concept that anyone who has provided support and professional development to teachers has experienced.
With all of that rolling around in my head, I recently looked up from my laptop to see my own kids playing with their LEGOs. Watching them build, unbuild, and rebuild with these ridiculously over-priced, yet wonderfully open-ended little bricks reminded me of the way in which I’ve observed teachers using and integrating technology into their practice. It occurred to me that the way kids develop as LEGO “users” mirrors the way teachers mature into technology-infused-educators. Here is the soon-to-be trademarked “LEGO Model for EdTech Integration”:
STAGE 1: Watching Dad Build
This is the stage at which the child may simply lack the dexterity to snap bricks together, or might not be able to understand the three-dimensionality of the images in the instructions. Either way, their contribution to the construction process is minimal, but they will gladly play with (and break) the finished product.
In the classroom, this is when a teacher needs the support of tech savvy colleagues and/or students to figure out how to use a tech tool. She is likely to become easily frustrated, especially when that support isn’t present. Many (most?) educators never leave this stage.
STAGE 2: Build and Glue
At this stage, my son and I would build LEGO models together, although I would be doing most of the work. This was a fun stage, but it was heartbreaking when the finished model fell into pieces soon thereafter and he would bring it to me to fix… every five minutes. My solution to this problem–and I truly regret resorting to such a “nuclear option”–was to use super glue to connect the pieces permanently.
I see this stage of teacher development when teachers learn one way to use a tool and are unable to adjust to differences or fix problems. They can become quite adept at performing one task with a device or app, but can’t apply those skills to new situations.
STAGE 3: Following Instructions Independently
I was really proud when my son (and later, his younger sister) were able to follow the instructions that come with a LEGO set and build a model on their own. To me, it was a demonstration of focus, hand-eye coordination, and attention to detail. It clearly wasn’t a very creative adventure, but definitely successful.
Teachers indicate that they are at this stage when they can dive into a new tool or technique and figure it out by themselves. Despite not being comfortable creatively thinking of new uses for the tool, these teachers can often troubleshoot minor issues related to the handful of ways that they know how to use a tool. They can even demonstrate the tool and its use for others to duplicate.
STAGE 4: Building Original Creations with the Bricks
This is the stage that my son has now reached in his own LEGO development. He will pull out a bin of assorted bricks and begin connecting them to match a pattern in his head. He spend large amounts of time experimenting with different arrangements to get the visual effect and structural strength that he seeks. In many ways, the bricks become just a medium, similar to a sketchbook or lump of clay. He doesn’t care so much that they are LEGO-branded, as much as he wants to have a sufficiently diverse collection of them to make his imagined constructs come to life.
This is clearly the ultimate stage of teacher tech maturity, as well. It’s a stage that I would love to see every educator attain, although so few (myself included, much of the time) have done so. At this stage, a teacher thinks first of the learning outcomes that she wishes to achieve. Only then does she choose the tech tool that will help her students reach that goal in the most engaging and effective way. The tool (or app or website or gadget) is simply a means to an end, not an end in and of itself.
Just as with the SAMR model, which Puentedura intended as a way to assess and promote tech integration in education, these stages exist on a ladder that moves teachers in the direction of better teaching. The goal for educators, schools, and larger organizations is to shift instruction in the direction of transformation. And that requires a serious commitment to putting quality instruction ahead of whiz-bang novelty.