Makerspace

The Chromebook Crusades: How to Win the War Against Technology

I always knew there was a place for technology in my classroom—and not just for typing papers. Yet when my school district began to push for integrating more technology into lessons, I initially refused; I dug my heels in and said no. Why? Because no one could understand my need to have my questions answered: What will that look like? And how, in my English classroom, did I move away from using technology for substitution and use it to transform student learning?

Crickets. No answers. So I chose to do what I had been doing—nothing. If I couldn’t get the answers and support I needed to move forward, I would stand in resistance to using technology in any new way.

My resistance was short lived with the announcement that our school would be going one-to-one. Our 1200+ students would begin the 2016-2017 school year armed with a fleet of shiny new Chromebooks. Technology would invade on the first day of school, ready for combat, and I suddenly realized I was not prepared to lead.

Crippling fear consumed me: Fear of starting. Fear of trying. Fear of failing. I was scared that I would not be able to best serve my students because while I was comfortable enough with checking my email, typing documents, and entering grades online, I remained unconvinced that computers could transform learning, at least in my subject area.

On top of my initial questions were now a smorgasbord of new ones: How was I going to face my students (who were more tech-savvy than me) armed each day with their computers? How was I going to continue to be an effective teacher in a landscape I didn’t understand? How could I engage my students with this slick new enemy to compete with? It felt like I was in a battle with technology, rather than an alliance.

Fortunately for my students and me, my trepidation motivated me to act. A learning opportunity arose in my district in the form of a technology cohort called Breakthrough Learning, where teachers could learn about technology together. I applied (again, motivated by fear) and was accepted. As a result, I joined the ranks of three middle school teachers and a fellow high school teacher in a two year commitment to learn about and integrate technology in our classrooms. We were going to steel ourselves, determined to rise victorious.

The monthly training proved a rigorous introduction, as any good bootcamp should be. We read Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros. We discussed and asked hard questions. We sought answers. We played with technology, practicing and setting goals. We attended (and eventually participated in) conferences. We supported and challenged one another. We shared our learning with the teachers in our budding battling on the frontline. We learned. We grew.

The fear did not dissipate after the first meeting or the second. But what did happen as I read and studied and discussed and practiced beside my colleagues was I became stronger, smarter, and savvier. Through the program, I was given permission to fail and was encouraged to keep going. In short, I learned to fail forward. When I tried something new in my classroom that didn’t work, I shared and brainstormed with my Breakthrough peers on how to adjust and try it again. I felt empowered and encouraged to take risks I could never have imagined taking prior to my enlistment in the group.

As a result, I started using technology almost daily in my classroom during student-centered activities, feedback, assessment, project based learning, communication, and presentations. I was even going gradeless and using technology as my primary means of curating student feedback and learning evidence. Students and parents were able to access all of the feedback and learning evidence from school at home and from their cell phones. My students and I even videoed their end of unit grade conferences for reference and to set goals.

Over time, I realized I was no longer battling against technology, but battling for technology. I was transforming into a high ranked General of edtech, earning my stripes by teaching my students about applications and shortcuts they were not aware of. I was also learning from my students. My students were teaching me applications they were using and loving in other courses and sharing how they could work in my classes. They shared shortcuts and tips and their favorite platforms for sharing and publishing. They introduced me to Snapchat and I’ve since learned ways to use it in my classroom.

My resistance is no longer against technology. Through my Breakthrough journey, I’ve come to understand the power technology has to transform. As for those questions I posed to my staff, I realize now no one was able to supply me with answers; I had to find them myself. But to find them, I needed a team to support me, to listen and explore by my side.

Today, I’m still on a journey, still learning and growing. But I’m no longer filled with fear—and I call that a win.  

Melissa Romero (@mromero0717) is an English teacher at Grain Valley High School in Grain Valley, MO. 

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