Education, Technology

The LEGO model for edtech integration

medium_7588638570If 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.

What LEGO are you at?  What would it take to move you forward?
photo credit: Robiwan_Kenobi via photopin cc


When Tech Can Actually Make your Job Easier

We’ve all been in that situation when someone raves about a cool new tech tool/toy, and we think “What would I use that for?”.  Or, more commonly in education, “Where am I going to find the time to use that?”  It’s a common refrain for teachers, and even early adopters like me find ourselves feeling this way quite a bit.

The problem is that, like so many educational initiatives, new devices and applications just pile onto existing tools which were themselves lumped onto established practices.  Many veteran teachers rightly question the value of taking what’s been proven to help students learn, and smothering it in a layer of flashing lights and whizz-bang features.  As a frequent leader of technology professional development in my building and elsewhere, I have a lot of trouble trying to make teachers appreciate the reason that many digital tools are an improvement.

And, I’ve been thinking lately about the practices that I employ in my own classroom and how I use technology there.  It’s second nature to me, but I realize that this is because the devices and software in my room actually make my job easier.  They do this in a variety of ways.

First, they can simply reduce the time or effort it takes for me to do something.  For example, my Livescribe smartpens allow me to digitize my master copy of our class science notebook simply and easily.  This takes place instantly with very minimal effort on my part.

Second, they can allow me to do new things that improve student learning.  My best example of this is Voicethread.  Students can create a Voicethread instead of a vanilla Powerpoint to communicate their understanding of a topic or concept, and then have an online discussion with questions and feedback from their peers.  I get an opportunity to assess the learning of everyone, not just the students who created the Voicethread.

Third, tech tools can often allow me to assess my students’ learning without them even knowing that I’m doing it.  At its core, assessment is communication.  Students must communicate to their teacher what they have learned.  To be sure, there are plenty of “analog” ways to assess students, but modern technology allows our students to communicate in ways that are rich, instantaneous, and automatically captured.  Consider the power of student discussion in a forum like edmodo where the teacher can review everything that is posted and pose probing questions that help reveal the misconceptions that her students have.

And, this is just the tip of the iceberg.  Assessment, especially formative assessment, is most powerful when it takes place with direct student involvement and as a natural extension of the learning process.  Many digital tools can make this sort of assessment seamless and simple.  Kinda sounds like something you’d like to try, huh?

What are the devices and software that you use to make your teaching life easier?

photo credit: f1uffster (Jeanie) via photo pin cc