I’ve done a lot of technology integration projects over the last seven years, but this year I started doing things a little differently. I realized that technology integration is about more than just finding a way to embed technology into a project, it’s about planning an authentic assessment task which utilizes technology in a meaningful way. I’m starting to feel like a curriculum coordinator for technology, rather than a technology facilitator. I don’t just facilitate technology, I develop entire units in partnership with the core subject teachers, and if technology fits, so be it; if not, we don’t force it in. The ultimate goal is always the development of a solid unit of study.

This process really started for me at the beginning of this year when I attended a fantastic Understanding by Design workshop with Jay McTighe. I had been using the UbD process rather superficially for the last few years, but never really applied the process to my integration consultations with other teachers. I usually just sat down with the teachers, talked about what they wanted to accomplish and then helped them achieve their goals. Usually they already had their curriculum mapped out, activities and assessments defined, technology was basically just an fun new way to do the same old things – even though I never realized it at the time.

This year, though, I’ve been going through the UbD process every time a teacher approaches me regarding an integrated project. We spend a lot more time planning than I ever used to, but it is so worth it! For example, I’m currently conducting a great math integration project with our sixth grade math teacher, M. When she came to me to ask about doing a project she told me she was a “digital dinosaur” but she really wants to be a “digital immigrant” (this was right after our PD days). So, right away I had three goals:

  • Focus on making this experience a positive one – sometimes the best tool to complete a project isn’t always the most practical tool. This time was it going to be nice and easy – no pressure.
  • Thoroughly plan out this project based on her math standards to make it crystal clear that math was the focus, not technology.
  • Take all the stress of working with technology away from M. – make sure she does not have to worry about any technical issues, ranging from booking the laptop carts to software issues.

If I could achieve these three goals, I would in turn make some inroads towards the most important goal:

  • Have M. share her positive and stress-free experiences with a technology project around the school – maybe in an official way, like presenting at a staff meeting, but more importantly, in social conversations. Having a self-proclaimed “dinosaur” praising technology integration as an exciting and productive method for teaching math is the best sales pitch to get the rest of those “resisters” on board.

So, basically, there’s a lot riding on this project. I’ve worked with about 70% of our middle school staff this year, but they’re all enthusiasts, interested and ready to explore. M. is the first teacher that is really taking herself out of her comfort zone and experimenting with something that is totally new.

In setting up this project together, we spent at least 3 hours planning and following the UbD process:

  • On the first day M. showed me the project that she was trying to enhance (the previous sixth grade math teacher used to do this project) – a to-scale drawing of a park on graph paper. She knew there would be a way to do the project utilizing technology and she saw this as an easy, introductory way to start integrating IT into her math program.
  • After M. left, I spent about a half hour experimenting with the various applications we have at school to see which would be the best fit for her. My goal was to keep it simple and non-intimidating, so I ended up setting up a template in Macromedia FreeHand with guide lines evenly spaced to reproduce graph paper. This may not have been the absolute best solution, but I always think in practicalities – the simpler the better, especially for teachers new to technology.
  • The next day, we sat down for about an hour to discuss which math standards M. needed to meet with the project. We made a conscious effort to only apply the standards that will actually be assessed over the course of the project. The unit planner started with almost every math standard listed, but now we have 5 (which is still a lot).
  • After we had selected the appropriate standards, we talked about what those standards really were trying to achieve. What were the essential understandings for the unit? What did M. want the students to remember after they’ve graduated high school? What is the big picture?
  • Then, we re-phrased those essential understandings into questions. All the while we are focusing on the standards we listed in step one – what will the students be able to demonstrate if they have truly understood the standards?
  • Next, we took the project that the last teacher developed and looked at how we could adapt that experience to accurately reflect the standards. We rephrased and reorganized the project to reflect the GRASPs model of assessment planning (Goal, Role, Audience, Situation, Product). This was a lot of fun for M. – taking the somewhat stale project idea and transforming it into an authentic assessment with a real-world application. The students would now all play a role in designing an accessible park for our neighborhood as members of the Community Planning Committee They are responsible for taking into consideration the needs of all park enthusiasts and persuading the committee to accept their design. Every student in sixth grade will then share their own park, and have a chance to vote on the park which best meets the needs of the community, via our wiki.
  • After we had designed the final assessment task, we developed additional assessment activities to support student learning to enable them to be able to successfully complete the final assessment. Taking the time to plan activities through the lenses of the 6 facets of understanding really helped us to develop some exciting activities, all focused on the standards but not all involving technology. We thought about accessibility and had the students conduct a “field experiment” by trying to access our upper field on a wheelchair (impossible) to reach the facet of empathy. We also wanted to emphasize the real-life application of mathematical concepts through the use of a digital photo-story journal to reach the facet of self-knowledge. We honestly never would have thought of these ideas if we hadn’t utilized the 6 facets of understanding as we were planning.
  • Once we had the project sorted, we posted everything on M.’s brand new sixth grade math wiki (yay!) and created the corresponding student wiki for this project.

Honestly, it was so much fun coming up with all these ideas. UbD makes it so natural to develop ideas that are truly relevant to the standards, but also unique and exciting. And now that the project has started (yesterday, so no finished work yet) M. has been so pleased at how smooth and stress-free things have been progressing. Every day she tells me how nervous but excited she is about this project.

The cool part is that we did all of this to develop a technology integration project. Which, to me, means it’s not a technology integration project. It’s an awesome math project that utilizes technology in an authentic and meaningful way. To me, technology facilitator isn’t just about bringing technology into the core classrooms, it’s about the process – the process of learning how to plan a new unit in a new way, using new tools…