When it comes to new teaching tools, WHY is more important than HOW

Note to readers: Like every teacher I know, I am eager to get back in the classroom with students when it’s safe to do so. I deeply appreciate all of the educators nationwide who have protested the unreasonable expectations put on them and suffered the vitriol unleashed on them by those who don’t see COVID-19 as a serious threat. Teachers - let’s continue to support each other and create the best learning experiences we can under these circumstances. Our students deserve nothing less.

“Why do I need to know this?

It’s a question many teachers don’t like to hear. It’s hard to explain to a 14-year-old why they might some day need to know algebra or history or chemical equations.

But it’s a question teachers need to spend more time asking — especially when we are doing professional development work, and especially when that work involves educational technology.

In the past month, I’ve hosted a series of free webinars about teaching online (or in a hybrid model), with the goal of showing teachers how to make distance learning more engaging and effective. 

(Here’s a video link to one of the recorded webinars, if you want to check it out. The next date is Sept. 22).

The feedback I’ve gotten is always the same. Basically, this:

“Thank you so much for finally showing me why I would use these tools. My district’s PD always shows us how to use all these shiny new tools — but never why.”

It’s time to start raising our hands — virtual or real — and demanding answers.

Why would I use Nearpod or Peardeck or Edpuzzle or Jamboard? 

Why would I put students in breakout rooms?

Why would I use chat or polling features?

How will tool X or tool Y actually improve student learning?

I’m not saying we shouldn’t use these tools — many are fantastic. But our school leaders (and tech trainers) need to model effective technology use for us, not just show us how to log in.

We teachers also need to change the way WE think about ed tech tools — and frankly, any curriculum products we (or our districts) buy. The point of new tools isn’t to force us to use them. 

The point is to enable us to teach better. 

If a new tool or curriculum doesn’t do that, forget it. Leave it in the box.

I’ve spent a lot of time in the past few years tackling this problem from the EdTech and curriculum developer side. I work with firms (from little Glacier Peak to massive McGraw-Hill) to make their products more useful and usable for teachers. Believe me, they know implementation is a problem.

(For more info, see my re-launched Neverbore.org site and this explainer video.)

This year, I’m planning to use this forum and the Neverbore.org Teacher Hacks page to help you better navigate the EdTech jungle, too. 

The pandemic is forcing us to rethink the way we teach. But it shouldn’t require us to forsake the way we teach. 

We need to continue using high-engagement strategies like discussion, inquiry, pair-share and simulation. And we need to demand EdTech tools that help us do that.