Back to School Tech Tips for Teachers

By Mario Stamegna

As educators, we are always looking to expand our practice for the betterment of our students. Technology integration in the classroom is at an all-time high and students are extremely comfortable with device-based and online delivery of curriculum. How can teachers keep up with the ever-changing landscape of increased technology in the classroom?

One thing that teachers have been hearing a lot about lately is STEAM based learning. It stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math. There are a number of STEAM based activities that can be found online here or here, but ultimately STEAM is based in the curriculum and is incumbent on the teacher to design activities where students can demonstrate their learning.

STEAM learning is not entirely based on technology, however, there are many web and app-based STEAM activities available to supplement or even enhance the learning done in the classroom. There are many different devices that will allow you to integrate STEAM activities with your students, as well as making own daily workflow more efficient.

School boards generally have a technology budget and will roll out class sets of technology depending on the population of the school. This could include iPads, Chromebook’s, Windows-based laptops or a combination of all of these. Occasionally there is a budget in place for teachers to also receive technology. In my first two years of teaching, I was given a laptop that worked very well for my board’s web-based apps, however I was not able to download anything due to limited administrative access and after two years the laptop had to be returned because it was a leased device. I have always been a proponent of purchasing my own device for classroom use ever since.

Many boards have adapted a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy for both teachers and students. Essentially what this means is that your students have access to the board’s Wi-Fi. This will include all devices from laptops, tablets and cell phones. It’s a wonderful opportunity for educators to teach students the principles of digital citizenship and collaboration. A phone is a computer, it can absolutely be managed as an effective and productive learning tool.

So, what kind of device should be purchased for classroom use? The answer to that depends on your budget. All the big tech companies (Apple, Microsoft and Google) offer the same type of tools with all the collaboration and editing features. It basically boils down to your comfort level with the technology, the direction in which your board has gone in its technology initiative, and how you plan on using the purchased device in the classroom.

It is extremely important to consider that when making a technology purchase for your classroom, all devices are not created equal. You will not get the same experience from a $600 laptop that you would out a $5,000 MacBook Pro, so be sure to think about you’ll be using your device for. You don’t need an insanely powerful laptop if you are just using it to check emails and posting assignments in Google classroom. Generally, however, the more you spend up front, the longer the device will last.

Many STEAM-based tools (robotics, coding, etc.) have either a web app or an app available for either iOS or Android tablets. These products do not usually require you to have a top of the line device, so you can stay within your desired budget.

One last thing to consider is that that many of the productive tools have become universal between all platforms. The core Microsoft Office tools (Word, Powerpoint and Excel) are compatible and work very much the same as Apple’s iWork tools (Pages, Keynote and Numbers), as well as Google’s G Suite (Docs, Slides and Sheets). Once again, your device purchase should be predicated on how you plan on integrating technology into your classroom workflow and curriculum delivery, as well as your overall comfort level with the device and operating system.

About the Author: Mario Stamegna is a 21st Century Learning and K-12 Resource Teacher at the Toronto Catholic District School Board. He is also an Apple Teacher, Google Certified Educator Level I. Follow him on Twitter @stamegna21c.

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