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Tiny Techies

Last week was exciting as I had the opportunity to participate and present in the Indiana Connected Educators conference. I did two presentations: Tiny Techies and An App Smashing Good Time. These two presentations really sum up the last four and a half years of my career in education as it has been focused upon elementary students utilizing technology in a meaningful manner that empowers learning. Students should be creating content and building their knowledge and understanding through creative outlets. Technology is only a means to provide more opportunities for students to do just that. This most certainly includes primary students.

Tech Fluency 

When a kindergarten student first comes to school, there are a lot of basic skills (cutting with scissors, holding writing utensils, gluing and pasting, etc.) students need to know in order to start learning academic skills? Why...because students can demonstrate their learning through the use of various tools. I participated in a "makerspace" session at ICE. Why was it the most memorable part of my day? I was building. I was creating. There was a connection between what was said in the session and the application of participating in the learning. I was also collaborating with my peers about the tasks.

So what does this have to do with tech fluency? In order for students to build and create, they have to build fluency with the tool. They have to know it well so that when they are ready to utilize it to express their learning; the tool doesn't get in the way of the actual learning. By building tech fluency, the technology can speed up the process and learning experience. Just like in the "makerspace" session, my background knowledge with using a Snap Circuits set allowed me to quickly build and help others efficiently and effectively accomplish tasks. Those that had never used them, needed to follow the written instructions more carefully and closely.

A video posted by Lance Yoder (@edgaged) on

Culture and Choice

Primary students desire choice in their learning. It is the essence of a workshop model. Choice is what drives learning centers. Michelle Yoder, my wife and primary teacher, had a cycle with digital tools. She would introduce a tool and have the students use it for multiple purposes. After the initial shock of a new tool, the students become very fluent with the app. As the students build fluency, choice can come into play as they can then decide which digital tool would best suit the task before them. Choice is a great motivator in learning.

When students utilize digital tools in a creative manner, the true value of the device becomes instilled. Students begin to understand what they miss out on if they break or misuse their device. However, students denied the opportunity will push boundaries as they tire of skill and drill apps/websites. The value of the device has nothing to do with the amount of money it cost. The value is purely the opportunities it has to offer. How students value the device is mostly up to the culture the teacher creates around it.

Prior to my days as a technology coach I taught fourth grade. Early in my career, I couldn't figure out how my partner teacher's students were performing so much better than mine in reading. Finally, she put it plain and simple to me. She told me, "You don't love to teach reading. So your students don't love to read." It cut me deep, but that deep cut created change. She was right because I was trying to fool my students. Students see right through an act. After that, I read The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller. Very quickly did the culture and perception of literacy change in my classroom.

Empower Learning

All individuals desire to build and create. They also desire to chose how they do just that. The most difficult is having the money and materials available to make that all possible. Amazing things are happening now with the makerspace movement. However, students can create great representations of their learning with digital tools at an extremely fast rate. Whenever I hear that technology takes too much time, I'm reminded of when I first started teaching. For students to use digital devices, we had to pack everyone into a crowded computer lab, turn on old Windows 98 machines and do anything at all. With digital tools such as the iPad or Chromebook that start up in seconds, the amount of learning time lost is insignificant. 

Students can take and edit/annotate images, create video projects, and even use coding applications/websites to create their own animations or videos. When dealing with primary grade levels, a great place to start is to take advantage of the power of the camera. It is the main reason I'm a firm believer in the use of mobile devices for primary students. Students can use it to capture materials for their digital projects, but also of physical material creations. Have them take pictures/video of all their projects where they need to utilize crayons, glue, and scissors. Where the camera becomes powerful is the ability to share those images/videos with their teacher, classmates, or even with parents with applications such as SeeSaw or on a teacher's Google Site/Blog.

The big question is how you make this happen in your classroom? How do you create a classroom where students are able to utilize digital tools of their choice in order to express their learning and use it to communicate and collaborate about learning? It starts with a mindset from you. I referred earlier to the mindset change I had to experience in my reading instruction. I had to love teaching reading to build a class culture of readers. So start with you. Do you love utilizing technology to express your learning and teaching?