Deena Kimmel, Marketing Specialist

ISTE 2018 Takeaway: EdTech tools are like onions

EdTech tools are like onions. That’s what I learned at ISTE 2018.

If you’ve ever seen Shrek, you’ll know what that means. But, just in case you haven’t, here’s the infamous quote:

“Ogres are like onions...Ogres have layers. Onions have layers. You get it? We both have layers.” - Shrek, the Ogre

ogres are like onions

So, edtech tools have layers. At their outermost layer, they bring a digital component to the classroom - whether that be typing instead of handwriting, using a stylus to draw instead of a crayon, or listening to a book read aloud instead of reading silently. But, if you peel back that layer and go beyond the basic functionality, that’s where the magic happens.

In Kasey Bell’s session on Dynamic Learning with G Suite, she encouraged attendees to go “BEYOND the Tools.”

beyond the tools slide

In peeling back the layers of the edtech, you can begin to answer one of the critical questions Katie Martin challenged all teachers to ask during her keynote: “How can I create new and better learning experiences for the learners I serve?”

Note that Katie did not ask how technology can create better learning experiences, but how I, the teacher, can create those experiences. With technology, you can’t just set it and forget it. It is up to the teacher to take that technology, peel back the layers, and find the uses that will support a more engaging, learner-centered experience that will stick with students well beyond the exam. As was quoted time and time again throughout the conference, “Technology will never replace great teachers, but technology in the hands of a great teacher can be transformational.” (George Couros)

The best part is? It doesn’t have to be that time consuming for the teacher to design these more valuable learning experiences. Take EquatIO for example. At its outermost layer, EquatIO is an equation editor that helps you make math digital. But, if you peel back that layer, you can start to see EquatIO as a tool that can support a learner-centered experience.

Katie highlighted 10 characteristics of learner-centered experiences during her keynote. In this example, I will focus on the first four: Personal, Agency, Inquiry and Collaboration.

10 characteristics of learner-centered experiences

Let’s say you ask your students to solve for X in a math problem. With EquatIO mathspace, students can choose how they go about solving the problem and showing their work. So, rather than telling them what method to use to solve the problem, leave your question open to interpretation. Maybe one student solves the problem by isolating the variable. Maybe another uses a graph. And another still uses manipulatives to solve the problem.

equation solved through isolation

equation solved through graphing

equation solved through manipulatives

By not only using that technology but also asking how you can use the layers within that technology to create a better learning environment for your students, you are providing a personal experience that gives students agency over their learning.

But the experience doesn’t have to stop there. Have students challenge themselves to use another method of solving the problem to promote inquiry. Or, ask them to share their EquatIO mathspace with a classmate to encourage collaboration and discussion about other ways the problem can be solved. As a teacher, you are now using additional layers of the tool to help “go further, deeper, and extend the learning”.

With just a slight change in your lesson plan or a tweak to a problem set, you can use the layers of technology to transform your classroom. It won’t happen overnight, and it may take a bit more work. But, the results - the student comprehension, engagement, inspiration - will be well worth it.

So, as you take the Summer to explore all the technology that you learned about at ISTE and start deciding which ones you’d like to introduce to your students this Fall, don’t forget to peel back the layers and consider how you can go beyond the tool to create a better learning experience for your students. Because it’s not just about bringing the technology into the classroom. It’s about how you use that technology to create an education transformation!

Looking for more tips on how to use EquatIO and all its features in the classroom? Check out Ben Rouse's pre-recorded webinar series on how to make maths digital in your classroom. Ben is a renowned educator and technology specialist who now works as a Google for Education trainer with AppsEvents. So, he knows what he's talking about! Access the series right here.


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