"The kids love it!" ... "My student are so engaged with this technology!" These quotes can have unintended consequences in our classrooms. Are we teaching WITH technology, or are we teaching THE technology? What's the difference, and why is it important? This bonus midweek blog post is a commentary as opposed to my usual technology tips. I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Please leave a comment below.

Had a recent conversation with an excellent teacher in our district. We were meeting to discuss the ins and outs of a “Legacy of Literacy” project we are working on for her 5th grade students. The plan is to have her students record read alouds of their favorite children’s book, and then create QR codes linked to those read alouds. The QR codes will be attached to the books in the school’s library, and anyone can scan the codes when they pull the book off the shelves, guaranteeing that these 5th graders will leave a legacy of literacy for those that follow in the library.

As we were troubleshooting and planning out the technology aspects the project would require, (which recording tool to use, where to store the audio, how to assign in Google Classroom, etc), the teacher remarked, “You know, this is not that different than a project I did long ago. I had my students record a read aloud, only then they used the cassette recorder instead of a Chromebook. Same kind of idea, same kind of stuff, but instead of teaching how to use the online audio recorder, I had to teach them how to use the cassette player. How to use the counter tool on the cassette player, How to insert a blank cassette tape ... Similar steps to follow, but different tools.”

It’s not about the new. There will always be a new new. I remember when I first started teaching in the computer lab in the late 1990’s. A few local business owners came to visit my computer lab and they remarked how happy they were to see the students saving their documents on floppy disks. These business owners announced to my students they will have a leg up on their competition for employment when they graduate, because saving files to a floppy disk are the skills that are required in business today. Now, fast forward to when these students graduated. Floppy disks were no longer around, there was a new technology for saving files, there was a new new. These students no longer had a leg up on their competition.

If we focus on the new, then we are focusing too small. Focusing on the new can often lead to focusing on a single tool. Focusing on a single technology tool works, that is, until the next new tool comes along. Yes, many technology tools are exciting, interesting, engaging, but they're only tools.

What then should we focus on? Let's broaden our scope. Let's use the excitement and engagement the tool provides to drive the focus on thinking, on metacognition, and no longer focus on the tool itself. For example, I love Google docs, Google Drive, and Google slides, but having knowledge alone of these tools is not going prepare our students for success. However, we can find success if we use these Google tools as the vehicle to directly teach the 4C's (critical thinking, communication, collaboration, creativity). Select a lifelong skill to focus a lesson on, then select a tech tool to use as a vehicle to teach that lifelong skill. The lifelong skill is the important focus, the tool is the vehicle to practice the lifelong skill.

So, before we push out that new shiny tech tool as the next big thing, let's make sure we have a purpose behind it. Ask yourself, “How will this tool actually help my students succeed?” If the answer is, “Kids love it,” or “the class is so engaged,” then we will need to rethink our purpose for using the tool. After all, it's not about the new.