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Moving Out of the Shallow End

November 20, 2015

Our school started a 1:1 iPad program last year, and one of our main goals has been to take things slow. We wanted our teachers to be comfortable in the “shallow end” of teaching with technology before they moved out into the deep. Ironically, in addition to being the tech director for our school, I have been a Swim Coach for 20+ years, so this is probably the easiest analogy I could ever come up with.

The first step into the pool is to use technology as a simple substitute for things you already do in the classroom. Think about using a note-taking app instead of pencil and paper, for example. Then, you can use the tech to enhance the activity. Start exploring the other functions of the note-taking app, like creating categories to keep your notes organized.

Once you are comfortable using tech in this way, it will be time to move into the deep end. Here, you go beyond replacing the tools you already use and start getting creative. Note-taking apps can do more than be a digital version of pencil and paper. They can also help students make “clippings” from internet sources, or let them share notes to collaborate on a project.

The deep end is also where technology gets really exciting—moving beyond just digitizing the analog world (replacing books with ebooks), and allowing teachers to redesign the teaching and learning experience.  Students can use technology to create and explore in ways that were impossible before.  

In order for our teachers to succeed in their move forward, my goal this year is to be the Lifeguard and the Swim Coach. I want to be in the classroom in case things don’t go as well as planned, or if the students have technology questions the teacher may not be prepared to answer. I would consider their desired learning outcome to be their life vest. If they don’t have this with them, there is very little chance they will stay afloat in their class.

A good coach will prepare their teachers with the right tools, teach them the best way to use these tools, and be there as the lifeguard to ensure their safety when they wander into the deep end. The more support a teacher has, and the more I can build their trust, the more willing they will be to try this on their own.

Sean Scanlon is a director of instructional technology in Chicago Heights, Illinois.  A version of this blog originally appeared on his personal blog