If you are a classroom teacher who wants to take advantage of powerful technologies in both your classroom and for other professional tasks but still have time to talk to your own family, read a book or even get some sleep, consider the following strategies...
Start with the problem, not the tool. Rather than scan the flood of "new and recommended" programs, apps and websites for programs that look useful, start with two or three challenges you have in your work life. Do you have a unit that doesn't engage your students? Are you having a problem getting a project done with your curriculum team? Is it frustrating keeping files current among the multiple devices you use? What might help meet the objectives of your PLC? Scan for tools that help solve real problems.
Be selective about where you get your recommendations. Let's face it, there are folks who get excited about anything that is new, shiny and beeps. For those who want to make trying out new technology resources their avocation and forgo any attempt at normalcy, that's great. But I would select two or three trusted sources of new programs. These sources might be a websites or blogs, your librarian or tech integration specialist, or a fellow teacher. But let somebody else do a pre-screening of the new stuff.
Try just one new tool at a time. Trying to learn too many programs can be as destructive to your professional life as ignoring technology completely. Pick one interesting resource and use it for a month. Then try another one. Nobody has to be the master of every technology available.
One in, one out. When I buy a new pair of shoes, I throw an old pair away. (This drives the LWW nuts.) When I start to read a new blog, I unsubscribe from an old blog. If you create an online webpage for your parents, stop doing the printed one. Figuring out what to stop doing is probably the hardest, but most important thing you need to do to stay sane.
Don't try to fix that which is not broken. If you are happy with your webbrowser, your online bookmarking site, your cloud photo storage space, your blogging software, your e-mail system, stay with them. Change for the sake of change is unproductive.
Weigh the time/benefit ratio. Evaluate the new resource as objectively as possible. Will taking two hours to learn this program well either save me more than two hours in time in the immediate future or will it help me reach students who could not be reached before? Let's face it, some programs are too complex, too time-intensive to learn to ever offer a decent payback. Evaluate.
Give back and become part of a community of learners. Be your school's guru on one helpful tool. Join a group of other technology learning educators either F2F or online. Make learning new technologies social and make friends. After all, misery does love company.
Another blog that is in my professional toolkit is School Library Monthly. Put together by an experienced and talented group of school library professionals, the posts are manageable, yet thought provoking. I especially enjoyed the recent Online Dating, the Tempered Radical, and Us discussing the role of library media in schools and the complex interaction between librarian and teacher that can so often go awry.
I work in a school of experienced high school teachers where, quite frankly, they don't want me teaching their classes for them. I can't do it better or even as well, and we all know that. What they want is for me to fill in the blanks, compensate for their weaknesses, and help with thorny assessment, technology, and information problems without undermining them. In return, I expect some professional respect from them. Of course, the balance of expectation and roles in your school is almost certainly different, but to be effective, you have to honestly evaluate what that balance is, whether or not the balance should shift for the improvement of student education, and how you can make that happen without killing yourself (or others) in the process.
I'm also wondering whether there is a very real movement to replace librarians with literacy coaches. The shrinking pot of resources is going to be spent somewhere. I used to think that the gold was going to technology, and a tremendous amount of money is being spent there, but I think that expenditure is almost taken for granted right now. While working through the MTSS process in our district this year--an amazing and professionally rewarding experience that I would not trade for the world--I'm wondering if in agonizing over where to put the resources where they will best impact student learning, the librarian might well find herself the expendable one. Joyce Valenza Ph.D develops that idea more in her slightly overwrought post on her School Library Journal blog. As usual, she says the disconnect between libraries and funding is our fault for making an ineffective case, but I am not sure that is true. The same forces that put librarians in schools in the 50s and 60s have shifted their attention in a new direction and there may not be a thing we can do about it.
The only thing I know for sure is that if the Powers That Be are effective in dismantling school libraries, there will be a movement within ten years to rebuild them with qualified personnel. The vacuum the loss of the school librarian will create will be profound and possibly irreparable.
Beware, because it is high volume, and I have to be ruthless about what I explore further, what I pass on to teachers, and what I ignore entirely. You may also find the overuse of the word "awesome" somewhat distressing. However, I am in favor of any blog that reminds me of the existence of OK Go while stretching for an application to education at the same time.
VocabSushi is a fabulous vocabulary building site for middle and high school students, including vocabulary games built on skill level that work like a vocabulary maze, only the sentences are taken from real world sources like Newsday and The Miami Herald, complete with links to the full articles. Be sure and look at the How It Works and Teachers and Tutors links to make the connections you will need to make in using this tool with your students. The site is individualized, entertaining, and exciting, at least for word buffs.
"The new classroom is about information, but not just information. It’s also about collaboration, about changing roles of student and teacher, and about challenges to the very idea of traditional authority. It may also be about a new cognitive model for learning that relies heavily on what has come to be called “multitasking.” Many educators voice ambivalence about the power of educational technologies to distract students and fragment their attention.
Do the new classroom technologies represent an educational breakthrough, a threat to teaching itself, or something in between?
To explore the question intelligently we’ve asked several experts on educational technology to join us this week for a forum on the subject at the Britannica Blog."
This Google Maps Mania blog features ideas of what to do with Google Maps mashups that have definite curricular and technology integration possibilities. Um, not to mention information literacy . . . . -mh