So When, Where, Why and How Does the Technology Fit In?

I’ve read many articles and blogs and I’ve heard many discussions debating the role and place that technology has in the classroom. Some argue that classrooms should reflect the 21st century world that our students live in which means allowing them to learn with 21st century tools and media. Others argue that these 21st century tools and media serve as distractions in the classrooms and take away from the learning. I thought I would join the conversation and offer my thoughts.

I think it is important to differentiate between right drivers and wrong drivers and where that leaves technology. In Michael Fullan’s article titled, Choosing The Wrong Drivers For Whole System Reform, he states, “A ‘wrong driver’ is a deliberate policy force that has little chance of achieving the desired result, while a ‘right driver’ is one that ends up achieving better measurable results for students”. He argues that focusing on technology as a driver will not achieve the desired goal which according to Fullan is “the moral imperative of raising the bar (for all students) and closing the gap (for lower performing groups) relative to higher order skills and competencies required to be successful world citizens”. Therefore, the right driver should always be good pedagogy and in Ontario, I believe we are focusing on the right driver.

The School Effectiveness Framework (SEF) is a K-12 support document that is aimed to help Ontario educators with school improvement planning with the focus on students achieving success. The SEF highlights six components of effective schools with indicators and evidence that help schools build coherence in their improvement plans. On page 9 of the SEF document, there is a diagram that explains how the province, district, and school support the instructional core. At the classroom level, the instructional core is represented by the triangle in the diagram below. This idea of the instructional core originates from a book titled, Instructional Rounds in Education by Elizabeth A. City, Richard F. Elmore, Sarah E. Fiarman, and Lee Teitel where the instructional core is described as the important relationship that exists between the teacher, the student and the content. The instructional core allows educators to focus on improving student learning by creating rich instructional tasks. However, in order to create rich learning tasks that foster higher order thinking and student engagement, all three vertices of the instructional core (teacher knowledge and skills, the role of the student in the learning, and the curriculum) must be considered. The instructional core is the focus in many schools and classrooms (as it should be) but what is often left out are the conditions that can enable this learning to occur and this is ultimately where technology is often left out of the learning conversation.

So when, where, why and how does technology fit in? Many educators view technology as a great option for the end product, the culminating task that provides students with new and engaging media to create and showcase their learning. However, solely focusing on using technology for culminating tasks is a very narrow application of it and therefore technology is only used and viewed as another medium for assessment of student learning. Technology is bey0nd just a medium for culminating tasks. Technology is part of the conditions for learning in a classroom and a great option for developing 21st century learning skills. Educators need to start thinking about how technology can be effectively blended to the classroom to enhance the learning conditions for students in the following ways:

  • make thinking visible
  • increase reflection and metacognition
  • allow for synchronous and asynchronous participation anytime and anywhere
  • increase collaboration and co-learning
  • differentiate the communication of ideas
  • provide descriptive feedback
  • promote on-going learning

If technology is focused on developing 21st century learning skills and the process of learning then it becomes more than just another medium, it becomes an important part of the learning conditions needed for students in today’s classroom. The diagram below illustrates some key components that make up the learning conditions (blended learning, 21st century learning skills, and technology). However, there is often a disconnection between the instructional core/rich learning tasks and technology.

As I stated earlier, technology is often viewed as a distraction to schools focusing on the instructional core and that a rich learning task is engaging enough for students but in my opinion, technology as a learning condition cannot and should not be ignored. Michael Fullan best explains the relationship that should exist between technology and pedagogy, “The essential idea is to get the right learning embedded in the technology”. I made an addition to Elmore’s instructional core diagram below to illustrate that when you combine the learning conditions of technology, 21st century skills, and blended learning with the instructional core, you can increase, enhance, and bump UP any rich learning task.


City, E. A., Elmore, R. F., Fiarman, S. E., & Teitel, L. (2009). Instructional rounds in education: A network approach to       improving teaching and learning. Cambridge: Harvard Education Press.

Education, Ontario. Ministry of. School Effectiveness Framework K-12: A support for school improvement and student success. 2010. (

Fullan, M. (2011). Choosing the wrong drivers for whole system reform. Centre for strategic education, Retrieved from

Don’t Fight The Darkness

Whenever my wife attends chiropractic conferences or workshops, she always comes home with these great quotes that she hears from the speakers that I always try to apply to my role in education. Last week, she came home with another great one, “You can’t fight the darkness. You can only turn on the lights.”

When I heard this quote, I thought of an issue that is consistently brought up when I present to large groups or work with small groups of teachers; the limited access to technology in their classrooms. It’s very easy fall into the trap of “fighting the darkness” when it comes to not having access to technology. You can swing your fists as much as you want but it’s still going to be pitch black. Sure, it can be frustrating being in a classrom with only one computer and no wireless internet (I’ve been there) but having a classroom filled with expensive technology does not automatically increase engagement and achievement. Rather than “fighting the dark” and focusing on what your classroom lacks in terms of technology, “turn on the light” and take an assets-based approach. What does your classroom have and how can it be effectively be used to develop 21st century fluencies?

“It’s About Time, Attention, and Value”

Last Friday, I happened to come across a webcast on via Twitter when @AngelaMaiers tweeted about it right before she went on. It was a very inspiring discussion that didn’t really focus on technology at all. In fact, the topic of conversation was more about “seeing” students and helping them find their gifts so that they can make their contributions to the world.

Towards the end of the webcast (45 minutes in), Angela recalled a conversation she had with a group of students and she asked them what they thought about technology integration in education. One of the student replied, “If I have to do another Glogster, I going to jump off a cliff…Seriously, I wish teachers would lay off this technology stuff because it’s painful to watch, they’re trying too hard…If they just saw me, If they could just let us talk, If they could just let us share…” She went on to say that integrating technology in education is not that complicated. It doesn’t have to be a fancy project or a unit that is infused with technology, it’s about time, attention and getting students to feel they are valued and seen by their teachers.

After listening to this inspiring webcast for a second time, I realize that it’s not just about integrating technology in the classroom. It’s about establishing a community in the classroom and letting students become active participants in their own learning. Technology just happens to be a great tool to make this happen.

Screencasts of Students’ Math Thinking

Last year, I came across a very interesting blog that helped changed my perception of the web in education. Stretch Your Digital Dollar by Katy Scott offers useful ideas for integrating technology into all classrooms. After reading her blog about screencasts, I became fascinated by the possible positive implications this could have in the math classroom. This year, I am looking to delve deeper into screencasting and investigate its positive impact on student learning. I’m interested to hear/see how other educators incorporate this great use of technology in their own classrooms.

I have posted a Glog containing student screencasts of the multiplication strategies that they used to solve a word problem.

I choose the red pill…

“You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.” Morpheus, 1999

I can’t help but think of this quote from The Matrix to describe my new perspective on 21st century fluencies in education. I always thought myself to be a knowledgeable individual when it came to using technology in education. I was an I.T. teacher at two of my previous schools, I was a report card administrator, I knew how to use the Microsoft Office programs, I was familiar with a variety of educational software programs, and I also had experiences with Interactive White Boards in my classrooms. In terms of technology in education, I thought I was doing just fine….until I swallowed the red pill…

During a leadership workshop, two colleagues of mine, Zoe Branigan-Pipe (a teaching colleague) and Lisa Neale (now my leadership mentor) passionately spoke about using “web 2.0” in education. By the end of the workshop, I was still hesitant about using web 2.0 in education but was convinced by Zoe and Lisa to at least create a Twitter account and use it for professional purposes. It only took me a couple of tweets about some good math related resources, articles, and some more guidance and encouragement from my meetings with Lisa before I realized the power and the positive impact that social networking can have in education. Sure, I only had 9 followers but those were 9 educators that were possibly benefiting from my shared knowledge through Twitter. 9 people that wouldn’t have had access to my professional knowledge without this simple yet powerful microblogging site.

Twitter was just the tipping point. Soon after I joined Twitter, I created a Wikispace account. As I was searching for Wikis about web 2.0 applications in education, I stumbled upon Classroom 2.0, a social networking group for educators. For a brief moment, I thought my web 2.0 journey had come to an end until I discovered Glogster, Wordle, Jing screencasting, and etherpads. Every site I visited led me to 5 more and the number of websites that I discovered grew exponentially. I soon realized that the rabbit hole was becoming a bottomless abyss!

As a “born again techie” I am overwhelmed yet excited. When I look at the incredible applications of web 2.0 in the classroom and the willingness of so many to share and collaborate, I feel encouraged and proud to be an educator. I look at technology and web 2.0 as the key to student engagement, achievement, and equity. Web 2.0 has also made me realize that my professional learning community is not limited to my teaching partner, my divisional team, my school, or board. My professional learning community is now global with teaching colleagues in places like Johannesburg and California. When I graduated from the Faculty of Education from Brock University in 2002, I never imagined that I would be able to collaborate with educators from around the world and until a few months ago my perception of technology in education was very narrowminded. However, now that I have chosen the red pill, my blindfold has been lifted. I can no longer ignore the power of Web 2.0 and the positive impact it can have on student learning. I want to stay in this techno wonderland and see where this rabbit hole will take me.