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Flexibility is Key: Knowing When to Change Tech Lessons

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“I won’t use technology in my classroom because I can’t use technology in my classroom. I can’t write this reflection, and I certainly can’t do a final digital presentation project that I would use in my classroom.”

That was a strange thing to hear one of my student teachers say in the Tech 110 course I teach at a local teachers college. Usually pre-service teachers are excited by the prospects technology can bring to their future classrooms and are eager to learn more.

But not this particular student teacher. She was adamant. And she was right. She couldn’t use technology in her classroom because she was teaching culinary arts at the local prison. She wasn’t allowed to have any technology in her classroom and neither were her wards. Not even a cell phone. It’s considered contraband.

Since the coursework assigned the rest of the class didn’t seem to work with her teaching situation, she wanted to know what she should do.

I decided to follow my own advice, which I put at the end of my sub plans whenever I am away from my grade school students: “Remember, flexibility is key! If you have to change the lesson, it’s all right!”

Instead of writing her first reflection (which was a reaction to an article about educational technology), I asked her to describe in detail a typical day in her classroom.

“Will it affect my grade if I don’t write to the prompt on our syllabus?” she asked. After being assured that it would not only have no effect on her grade, it would also allow me to better understand her unique teaching situation – a classroom with which I was completely unfamiliar.

Before the wards walk into my class, they are searched by security guards. The classroom set up looks like this: each student has a stainless steel table with retractable electrical power coming from the ceiling. Each student has his own knives, cutting boards, and induction burners that they can place on top of the stainless steel countertop. There are flat screens and projectors where the students are able to watch me demonstrate a cooking method, after which they have to duplicate what they just saw. … At the end of the period the wards are strip-searched on the way out because the knives and cooking tools are considered weapons.”

This was quite a different experience than most of us experience in the classroom. But clearly, there was technology in her classroom and she was using it! If she had flat screens and projectors, there must be a video camera around. When I conferenced with her before our next class, we had a great conversation about the possibility of adding a device to play videos of cooking demonstrations and techniques, farm-to-fork and other important cooking content. I suggested that she could even film a cooking lesson to show if she was unable to make it to class one day. She didn’t think they would allow a video player in the classroom, but she could see its value and would make the request.

She became enamored with Animoto, which had been part of the showcase in our class, so I encouraged her to make an Animoto of her favorite niece. She quickly learned the program quickly so she could complete her music video in time for her niece’s birthday.Tech110Presents

At the next class, she announced that she was working on a cooking lesson for her final presentation project, even though she had discovered she would not be able to show it at the prison. Too bad. It was a wonderful video with editing as well as opening and closing credits.

After her presentation, she told us she had come up with a way she could actually use technology to help her class. This was a wonderful surprise, since she had started the course with more antipathy than anticipation toward using technology. She had asked the warden – the only one allowed to have a cell phone in the prison – if the warden would take pictures of some of her wards working in class. She would take those pictures to the prison print shop to be turned into cooking posters, illustrated with actual wards from her class. Using the posters for recognition, she thought they would be great motivational tools.


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Tammy Brecht Dunbar, M.Ed., S.T.E.M. teaches 5th grade in Manteca Unified School District and Pre-Service Technology at Teachers College of San Joaquin (Stockton, CA). She is a popular presenter and trainer around the country. She presented at the 2015 Microsoft Global E2 conference (where she earned two global awards for project excellence), and will be presenting at ISTE 2016 (with Angela Maiers), CUE 2016, ETC! 2016 and CTA’s Good Teaching Conference 2016. Follow her on @TammyDunbar or find her at http://www.teachergeekischic.com

Dunbar is a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert, Certified Educator, Master Trainer & Regional Lead as well as a Common Sense Media Digital Citizenship Certified Educator, a PBS LearningMedia Digital Innovator and an NCCE Professional Learning Specialist. She won the 2010 eInstruction $75,000 Classroom Makeover Video Contest, wrote a successful Enhancing Education Through Technology grant for Manteca Unified School District in 2008, and was Teacher of the Year in MUSD in 2006. She serves on the MUSD Superintendent’s Technology Committee and as a district Tech Champion Expert as MUSD continues their “Going Digital” project.

  • Guest
    Arokia Seeli Priya Saturday, 23 January 2016

    This is a wonderful article showing how you can work around lack of facilities and bring about a change. I want to give 5 stars but unable to. Tammy Dunbar you are working wonders in your student community and teachers as well.

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