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Our Elementary EdTech Guide is Here

By Dr. Ian Kelleher

This week we bring you our Elementary School EdTech guide. Please distribute it far and wide to all your networks of teachers and friends of teachers. And they are free to pass it on. Please take this guide and last week’s EdTech Guide for Middle School, High School and beyond, and give them wings. There is nothing like them out there. They include field-tested tools, mapped onto a pathway for learning based on research. They were written by real teachers who work with real students every day.

But…there is no substitute for a great teacher being physically present in a room with a class of children. You may have stood unobserved by an open door at some point watching this magic happen and know what I mean. You may have been the one in the room, but I don’t think you fully appreciate the transformative power of a great teacher until you stand unnoticed, watching. Look at all the gestures and body language, as well as the careful choice of words that seems to flow effortlessly — all working together to keep 30+ children with 30+ different demands purring along at work. A great teacher in full flow is a powerful sight. Take a moment to wrack your memory and bring someone to mind…

In addition, in the past weeks we have gained an appreciation of the importance of so many small pieces of an in-person school day, often things we may have not fully appreciated before, like the cumulative effect of people smiling at you as you pass them in a hallway, or greeting you by name; or sharing a joke or story and watching the emotion unfold on the person’s face right in front of you. Again, take a moment to wrack your memory and think of a previously underappreciated nugget that you now miss dearly…

Our EdTech guides were not created to drive a technology-first agenda. We do not imagine a future where EdTeach replaces classroom teachers. Rather, the guides were created to help us find the right EdTech tool for the job when an EdTech tool might be the best tool to use. Or, at times like this, when they are the only tools in our box.

But we also hope it will help you determine when an EdTech tool is not the best tool for the job.

However teaching occurs, the blue table headings in the EdTech guides should happen somehow:

Step 1. ENCODING: taking in new content

  • 1.1 Building Engagement
  • 1.2 Delivering content
  • 1.3 Quickly checking for understanding as we deliver content
  • 1.4 Discussion

Step 2. STORAGE: building long term memory

  • 2.1 Practice of/with recently taught material (Guided practice and Independent practice)
  • 2.2 Giving students timely feedback and a chance to act on it
  • 2.3 Formative assessment of recently learned work (to inform next teaching & studying)
  • 2.4 Robust storage of material in long term memory (spaced practice & retrieval practice)

Step 3. RETRIEVAL: what have you learned so far?

  • 3.1 Mini-projects (quick, simple multiple-modality demonstrations of learning)
  • 3.2 Assessment
  • 3.3 Transfer of recently learned knowledge and skills to a new context

These steps are a research-informed rhythm for learning, for building knowledge and skills that are usable, durable, and flexible. So ask yourself, “Where in these blue boxes am I with my students right now? Is there an EdTech tool that will help my students in this step? Or is there a better way?” Let learning drive your EdTech choices, not the other way around. The word plethora is often misused. It means an overabundance rather than simply lots of. For example, “There is a plethora of ice cream” makes no sense as it is inconceivable that there could be such a thing as too much ice cream. So I choose this word carefully.

There is a plethora of EdTech. Our guide offers a curated list of field-tested tools, used by real teachers in real classrooms. But there are many other tools out there — and many good ones. Look beyond our list, but make your EdTech decisions for your students with our learning-first approach. Use our table to evaluate where a good tool would help your students, and make sure the tool you choose does this job. Don’t try and eat soup with a fork.

Dr. Ian Kelleher is a science teacher at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School, and Head of Research for its Center for Transformative Teaching & Learning. His work focuses on helping teachers translate the science of learning into everyday practices in their own classrooms, and measuring the impact. Ian is the co-author of “Neuroteach: Brain Science and the Future of Education,” and co-designer of Neuroteach Global. Ian is the the inaugural Joseph and Kathleen Dreyfuss Faculty Chair for Research, an endowed position at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School for the lead CTTL researcher.