I can’t use technology in the classroom…

  • I can’t use technology in the classroom…I’m from a different generation!
  • Being aware of the technological generation children are currently members are can often be a challenge to those from different generations, who find all these new gadgets difficult to get to grips with.
  • Alessio Bernardelli sympathises with such difficulties, yet offers advice on supporting those “who don’t do technology” (we’ve all met them) helping to understand the technological futures that the students of today will encounter throughout their lives.

If you’ve ever thought, or said, that technology is not for you, that you do not get it, or that you are from a different generation, I sincerely sympathise with you, I really do! Using technology is not always the simplest of things and there is always the possibility that things might not work the way we tried them just minutes before and that if things go wrong we will not be able to fix them, so it is much easier to give up and leave technology in education for the few geeks who not only get it, but actually enjoy it.

But allow me to shift your attention to another problem. If you think you’re from a generation where technology doesn’t play a pivotal role in your everyday life, what generation do you think the young people you teach belong to? And what kind of exposure to technology do they get in their life outside school? A large number of young children will have received all sort of digital “toys” this Christmas, from tablets to iPod Touches, and high-tech devices are very much part of their everyday life before they even begin school these days. That’s the generation you teach, but what is the difference between the tools they have available at home and what is offered to them in school?

IT’s just about fun and no substance, or is IT?

Sometimes we seem to miss the point when people who use technology in education talk about engagement, making learning fun, creativity, etc… but there are some important considerations and observations to be made on these points that are often confused for lack of substance. Take gaming, for example – many parents would not see any learning benefits whatsoever when their children play video games. In fact, a good percentage of parents see computer games as hindrances to real learning, so they limit the time allowed on consoles, tablets and other devices (note that I am not saying that having a balance on the type of activities children do at home is a bad thing here). It is interesting to note how many of the parents who see video games as threats are perfectly happy to see their kids in front of the telly for hours on end without raising questions about the implications of that.

So, are video games bad, or good? Many would say they don’t add any real value on the learning journeys of our young people, but I would beg to disagree. I have seen many examples of the opposite happening. My favourite game of all times is Civilization, a great strategy game that took you at the very beginning of a civilization that you had to develop to modern age and beyond. Games like these not only offer opportunities to learn about history and other subjects, but they also develop problem solving and numerical reasoning skills. I remember getting so ingrained in the game that I would often find myself still stuck in front of the screen at five o’clock in the morning. Now you might say that this is really unhealthy and I would agree with you, but the point I am trying to make is that video games obviously have the power to engage children to levels that no other tool has yet been able to achieve. So, perhaps the right question to ask is not whether video games are good, or bad, but rather how can we design learning experiences that reach the same level of engagement? Is it even possible?

Let’s consider for a minute what elements are in the majority of video games. Some common features are:

  • A lot of action. Children rarely have to wait for something to happen in video games, as they are always very rich in action.
  • Children constantly fail! This is especially true of games with levels, like Angry Birds, for examples. In these games kids keep getting it wrong, but don’t seem to be phased by that, because they know they can try the level again and again until they get it right. My four year old boy is much better than me at playing Angry Birds now, just to give you a practical example. This ‘failure’ produces an attitude that allows learners to take risks without worrying about the consequences and don’t take this statement out of context, please. It doesn’t mean they don’t care, if things go wrong! In fact, they care so much and they want to improve so much that they are willing to spend a lot of time refining their skills, so that they can knock all piggies in one shot (in the case of Angry Birds).
  • They get immediate feedback. Instantly, you can get a lot of details about your performance with video games. So, you have failure, but you also see what you need to do to get better immediately.
  • The best games, the viral ones, are immersive. To give a classic example, Tetris was an overnight success because it fully engaged your brain. You had to give your full attention to the game, if you wanted to beat your personal and overall score of other players.

Are our lessons designed with those elements in mind? Would they at least improve engagement if they were, or would a ‘boring’ topic in science still remain ‘boring’ for our students?

Using technology at home can have some really nice side effects too. In fact, I remember when my nephew was 10 he needed to find out how to go through a particular challenging part of one of his Nintendo Wii’s games, so he sat at his dad’s computer, went on Google and searched for what he thought he needed to know. What really impressed me was the way he was searching, as he wasn’t aimlessly opening all the pages the search engine spat out, but he was selectively looking to identify the key words and sentences he was looking for before opening a page. He discarded some of the top pages immediately from the context of the text he read and when he realised his search wasn’t producing what he needed, he changed his search criteria and eventually got exactly what he was looking for.

Another example of how embedded technology is in many young learners is a seven years old boy who sat with his dad at the table in front of me in a very long train journey. We started chatting and he told me he really likes Maths, so I started to show him some Maths apps I had on my iPad. I eventually showed him MyScript Calculator, that turns your hand written calculations into typed numbers and gives you the result. Seconds after showing him how scribbling over the numbers deleted them, this clever boy shouted “Look! You can just draw a line on the numbers and they disappear.” In other words, he found a much quicker and more effective way of deleting previous operations than I had come up with having used the apps many more times than he did.

Because learners start using technology at such a young age these days, they find it a lot more intuitive than we do. My two year old boy can use Minecraft (bit.ly/uked14jul21) very well to create and destroy buildings. He can turn the iPad on, find FaceTime inside a folder, open it and video conference with my mum in Italy without any help from an adult, and he’s been able to do so since he was one and a half. It is hard to ignore such examples of how technology is used at home by many children.

Another initiative forced on me

I hope I have raised a few important points that will have made you think about where learners come from in terms of technology and the reasons why the way they use technology offers them really high levels of engagement. But many experienced teachers seem to resist change very strongly and often like to remind less experienced ones that they’ve seen it all before. A new kit came out, everyone followed the bandwagon, it made no difference and got replaced by the next new craze. So, what’s the point?

I will tell you something else that I have seen before, over and over again. Integrating new technologies in education has nothing to do with age, experience, nor background. It has all to do with willingness to learn and develop. I have been coaching and training teachers in the use of emerging technologies in education for the last seven years and I have never had anyone who embraced change come back to me saying it was worthless. When you meet teachers who are one year from retirement, but still get excited about a new tool you’ve shown them that could enhance the way learners collaborate in their classroom, the whole idea that “technology is not for me, because…” doesn’t really stand.

Is it possible that the majority of those who give up do so because they are not really sure what to do with technology and have not been given appropriate training and time to embed the change effectively? If you are reading this and you are in that category, I sympathise with you, as I said at the beginning, and I believe your SLT is asking you to do something quite unreasonable in integrating technology without sufficient support.

Another common critique of technology in the classroom is that it is just a waste of money to buy really expensive kit to replace things and tools that already work effectively. I couldn’t agree more and if new technologies are simply employed as substitutes to existing tasks it is completely pointless. Let me give you an example. A lot of science teachers get quite excited about using smartphones and iPads as data logging systems. Although it is true that handheld devices have a range of sensors within them and that there are quite a few apps that harness the power of these sensors, existing data logging systems that many schools already use probably do the job already and better in most cases. So, an iPad used in science lessons exclusively as a data logging system becomes a glorified and very expensive sensor, as well as a waste of money in my opinion.


The SAMR model is a description of what technology integration should produce in a school or individual teacher.

S is for Substitution and it describes the starting point of many, who begin implementation by using technology as a direct substitute with no functional change. This is the stage that causes frustration and that could potentially reinforce an unwillingness to change. After all, who would want to start using an iPad just to create worksheets on Pages? This is just another word processing app, so all of a sudden the same task that you could complete in Word within minutes, becomes really cumbersome. No one could blame you for not seeing the point in moving to iPads, if that’s all they have to offer.

A is for Augmentation where technology is used as direct tool substitute with functional improvement. Using the same example as above, you could create your worksheet using Pages on an iPad, but you could now share it directly with all your students using Air Drop. So, you might have had to learn a few new features and how to type on a screen as opposed to a keyboard, but you have some improvements in functionality that will hopefully encourage you to want to discover more about the potential of iOS devices.

M is for Modification and it describes the stage of implementation where educators use technology for significant task design. A classic example is the time when PowerPoint started to be used to replace acetate presentations. Suddenly things could appear on the screen at the right time and with animations, making presentations more catchy, effective and incredibly easy to adapt for different audiences.

R is for Redefinition and this is the stage every educator should aim at. Redefinition implies a use of technology that allows learners and teachers to create new tasks that were previously unconceivable. I would argue that this should be the only reason to drive change and technology integration, because if you can do the same tasks without the technology as effectively, there is no way you will be able to convince anyone of the need to change. But when you have devices that are as portable as a small book, but that have far greater computational power than the Apollo spacecrafts, redefinition is not only an option, it should be a priority. Front and rear cameras, combined with powerful video editing apps like iMovie, offer whole new ways for learners to record and report findings and information, just to give an example. Many other apps can truly change the way learners work and interact with teachers and peers.

Starting the journey

Here are a few ideas to start your journey towards Redefinition of learning tasks. If you have iPads in your school there are a range of great apps that allow your learners to become creators of knowledge as opposed to simply consumers of knowledge. Start from highly engaging apps like Puppet Pals that allows you to create stories with little characters preloaded in the app. As you move the characters around and change their shape by pinching, you can also record a narration and dialogues. Children can even become the characters themselves by taking their photos and cutting around their shape to be part of the story. When all scenes are recorded you can download your story as a video in your gallery, or upload it on YouTube. Another great use of Puppet Pals is to use it for paired reading and you can see an example of this in this Blog post (bit.ly/uked14jul22).

Or why not use Aurasma for peer assessment? Get your learners to create video feedback on their peer’s work and use an image from their work (like a diagram, or picture they drew) to trigger the video message in the Aurasma app. This makes your learners’ work look like the Harry Potter’s newspapers, where pictures come to life and, since you can add your ‘Auras’ to your school channel, parents can follow your channel and watch these video feedback from home. Aurasma works on Android devices as well as iOS ones, so it is a really comprehensive app. Finally, coming back to games, why don’t you let your learners work in small groups to create amazing worlds in Minecraft on iPads, or Android tablets? In this post (bit.ly/uked14jul23). I show how my boys recreated the Olympic Games in Minecraft and worked collaboratively to make various games, from fencing to hurdle racing. They even researched the colours of different flags to add them to their world. In another post they are shown creating a medieval castle after researching some of its features on the internet.

In both cases they took the initiative and were not prompted to generate these creative tasks, they simply wanted to work together and build something. In the process they learnt new skills and acquired new knowledge. Harness the power of games like Minecraft in your lessons and you will motivate your learners to become more independent learners. In Minecraft you can develop numeracy skills too. In fact, you could get children to work on constructions that must have a certain volume, area, etc… that you determine. You can challenge the more able and talented learners to work with fractions and percentages to build additional buildings, crops, etc… as fractions, or percentage of existing ones. Or even get them to build buildings from real places to scale.

These are just a few examples, but my advice is to start with one or two new ideas to try and then measure the impact in your classes. It will be worth it.

Why change?

So, why would you change?

Change for your students and do not be afraid to get things wrong and learn new things with them. If anything, you would be demonstrating to them that you are willing to do the same things you are asking them to do, i.e. learn new skills and apply them.

Use your learners’ expertise, as they are likely to know a lot more about technology than you do and they find it very intuitive, so when you get stuck don’t be afraid to show it and ask your students for some help. You are there to help them learn how to learn and apply skills within your subject, not to teach them ICT. So, use technology as a tool not as something you…..

To continue reading the full version of this article, click here to view in the July 2014 Edition of UKEdMagazine

Alessio Bernardelli is a multiple award winning teacher of Physics. He is the Co-Founder of CollaboratEd.org.uk and also works as a consultant for the Institute of Physics in the roles of Network Coordinator, Teaching and Learning Coach and Editor of Talkphysics.org. Alessio was Head of KS3 Science for over 5 years and he also worked with NGfL Cymry as a Field Development Officer and with TES as the Science Subject Lead. Alessio is an Official iMindMap Leader, a Peer Coaching Facilitator and a TASC Specialist with years of experience in developing teachers’ through effective CPD, coaching and mentoring. You can follow Alessio on Twitter as @asober, or @Collaborat_Ed.

Image Source: Flickr – by Matt Wareham used under Commercial Creative Commons 2.0 License.  

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