Making Things “Better” With Technology

There are so many ways that students of all ages can use technology. Yes, I’ve blogged and tweeted with students as young as Grade 1, and I know that there are even Kindergarten teachers around the world that are doing the same thing. Every time, we start to talk about using technology with young learners, questions/concerns always arise.

  • How young is too young?
  • What impact will these tools have on socialization?
  • What about the value of students learning to print, or even, dare I say it, “cursive write?”
  • What’s lost if students stop experimenting with tools such as paint, paper, markers, crayons, and pencils? These are all tools that we grew up using. What impact will this have on students if they don’t use them?

The truth is, before this year, I never worried about the answers to any of these questions.

  • I’ve been very vocal before about the benefits of using digital tools with young students. It’s amazing the thinking that we can capture with the use of these tools, and how we can teach even very young students, the value in a positive digital footprint. Imagine the benefits for these students as they grow up!
  • As someone, that’s used iPads, iPods, Livescribe Pens, and computers in the classroom regardless of the grade that I’ve taught, I’d say that even when using these tools, students collaborate on them. They socialize all the time. I wonder if this comes from creating a classroom environment that emphasizes the importance of collaboration, whether that be face-to-face or online. Students don’t need to be staring at screens in isolation to be learning via them. They can still talk, challenge, collaborate, and problem-solve, whether using or not using a device. 
  • First of all, I’m a firm believer in the fact that printing (and even “cursive writing”) is not the definition of “writing” in the curriculum document. Writing is all about generating and sharing ideas. Students can publish their writing by printing or using cursive, but they can also do so online. That being said, there are articles that speak to the value of writing with a pen (and while I don’t have them listed here, I know that they are not hard to find through an online search). But even if students are blogging, why can’t they also be writing on paper? Blogging is just another form of writing, and I think students should be exposed to many forms.
  • Even in a “digital classroom,” there is value to non-digital tools. No matter how many devices I have in the room, I have even more pencils, pens, markers, stacks of paper, paint, and plasticine. I don’t think that these tools need to exist in isolation. There’s value to using both tools together, and always attempting to pick the best tool for the job!

I still believe in everything I’ve written about, but my teaching position has changed this year, and my student needs have changed. The truth is that before this year, most of my students came to me printing with success. I didn’t worry about how often I had students putting pencils to paper because I knew that they didn’t necessarily need this practice. Now many of them do. 

If students can print on paper or print on the iPad, what’s the value in choosing the iPad option? Is there one? I’m not sure if there is, but I do know that there’s value in sharing student work, and the iPad allows for that to happen. I saw this value first-hand today. Last night, I sent out a tweet to Carrie Gelson and Elise Gravel. Carrie is an amazing teacher from British Columbia, and last weekend, I read her blog post about Elise’s books. I went out and purchased a number of them because my students love all creatures. Yesterday, we read The Slug, and I shared some of these experiences with Carrie and Elise through Twitter. Both of them replied to my tweet, but Elise’s request resulted in a wonderful dialogue today between an incredible author and my Grade 1 class.


Students were thrilled that their work captured the attention of an author that they love, and they were so excited to get receive this special “gift” from Elise. And it’s an experience like this that helps me see the benefits of using technology and realizing how technology can “transform learning everywhere.”


Technology provides a meaningful audience for student work. With an iPad, students have easy access to a camera, video camera, podcasting tools, and screencasting apps that allow them to not just capture and share this “paper work” with others, but also annotate it and explain the thinking behind this work.

I can’t help but think about the argument that we managed to “learn well in the good old days,” but I wonder if we would have learned more and/or gained a deeper understanding of learning with the use of technology. I don’t want to give my students what I had growing up — I want to give them a better experience than what I hadHow could technology contribute to this “better experience?” I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!


18 thoughts on “Making Things “Better” With Technology

  1. I think that you’ve done a nice job describing things, Aviva. I’m going to steal a line from your post for my reply.

    With an iPad, students have easy access to a camera, video camera, podcasting tools, and screencasting apps

    Compare these technology tools with those from the good ol’ days.

    Camera – perhaps there might be a few in the school and you didn’t even get to think about the pictures until all of the pictures on a roll of film were taken. Then, you’d take it in for developing and maybe get the pictures a week later. Forget about digitally editing them – heck, the problem may be remembering the context in which it was shot.

    Video camera – depending how far back, a school might not even have one. But, let’s assume that they were on the cutting edge and might have a camera that recorded to VHS tape. When you’re done, you play it back in a VCR through a TV set. Even the camera probably was tethered to an electrical outlet although the newer ones might have a battery. Providence willing, you might also be able to carry another of those batteries for those long shoots.

    Podcasting – I think in the good ol’ days we called those tape recorders. They were nice and often had a microphone built into them but most people bought an external microphone. That way, you could pass it back and forth. The really good ones had noise cancelling to them. And, if you had two tape recorders, you could edit one tape by playing it into the other.

    Screencasting – The closest that I could think about for this would be a flipchart. They often are held onto a stand and you draw on them with markers to highlight what you want. You had multiple screens available by flipping to a new sheet of paper. You could play them back by flipping them from the back to the front and then go through and reply by flipping forward. (Sadly, there are some people that still use this technology)

    You know what? The good ol’ days are a mere shadow of the opportunities for creativity and insight that the contemporary tools have. I don’t think you should even waste your time thinking back. March forward – full steam ahead.

    • Thanks for the comment, Doug! Not only do I love how you’ve compared each of the tools that I mentioned (and as a side note, I need to figure out what a flip chart is), but I particularly love your last paragraph (and especially the second sentence in it). I couldn’t agree more, but what would you say to people that question the use of technology in education or wonder if this is just a passing fad? In previous years, I’ve heard the line, “We learned well without _________, so why use it now?” Overall, I definitely think that people see the value in these new tools, but I also hear in teaching and non-teaching circles alike, questions about the use or value of them. I’d love to know how others respond to these same questions.


  2. “We learned well without _________, so why use it now?”

    I always reply to that question very flippantly. “Yeah, and it snowed more back then too.”

    Then I’ll continue….

    Are you serious? When you graduated elementary or secondary school, you were equipped with the best pedagogy and understandings at the time. Where would you be today if that’s all that you had to function in today’s society? Think of the technician at your garage. He/she connects your car to a computer and knows the problem and is offered solutions. In the good ol’ days, the mechanic would take it for a drive and try to replicate what you describe as a problem. Sometimes it would take multiple visits to get the job done. You can take any profession and compare yesteryear to today and there’s really no comparison.

    Your elementary school students will graduate to a secondary school where they offer complete courses in computer science, technology, business education, etc. where technology is integral. Then, they’ll go to a college, university or world of work where technology is so pervasive.

    The Ontario Curriculum very precisely describes what it is that students are to learn. You, as an educational professional, analyze and use the best tools that you have at the time to help your students succeed. The same tool may not work well for all students, but you’re prepared to offer alternatives until the students get it. You bang your head against the wall trying to find a way to engage students and give them the best possible learning environment.

    You should never have to apologize for that. You should always be reflecting on the value and whether it’s worth the time for you and the students to use anything that you bring into the classroom or field trips that you make to enhance the learning.

    Put into that perspective, it’s a disservice not to use all that’s available for use.

    • Thank you, Doug! I think that the next time I’m asked this question, I may just show your response. 🙂 I do love your thinking, but also your reminder that things have changed since we were in school, and we need to change with them. This doesn’t mean that we have to give up the use of non-digital tools, but just explore digital options as well. I do believe that both tools have benefits depending on how they’re used. Thanks for continuing this very interesting discussion!


  3. Bravo to both of you. You expertly remind all of us about ‘progress’, ‘evolution’ and ‘adaptation’. It is staggering to think about the number of classrooms which remain bound to the paradigms of the past! One can only rely on ‘merchants of hope’ such as yourselves as we move forward, influencing, albeit provoking others to redefine what it means for children and youth to think and learn and grow in this ever-changing world!
    Even when it feels like we are voices in the wilderness, someone MUST be listening, right? 🙂

    • Thanks for the lovely comment! I think that the change is worth it, even if at times, we feel more alone. Soon students will start to talk, excitement will start to grow, and people will begin to see the value in the changes we’re making. If these changes also come with increased student success, this is great, for as a wonderful person once told me, “It’s hard to argue with success.” So while maybe I’m the lucky one and certainly don’t feel like I’m standing in the wilderness (where technology is concerned), I do believe that yes, voices will be heard. 🙂


  4. I love reading your posts, Aviva. You’re such a great teacher. Reading your thoughts help me shape my own. Your comment about blogging being another form of writing struck home with me. We need to show our students that writing isn’t picking up a pen or pencil and a piece of looseleaf. It’s writing lists on sticky notes. It’s typing text messages. It’s leaving comments. It’s writing blog posts. I’ve heard students say they “hate” writing before, simply because they had done it in a medium that didn’t work right then for them. I recently began blogging with my class, and it’s been amazing. I am also so, so happy that your class heard back from an author. We’re doing the #GRA14 and author Jennifer Holm tweeted us the other day – I definitely can feel how much your kids must have been buzzing with excitement. Thanks for sharing.


    • Thanks for the comment, Jon, and the kind words! I think that you make a very important point here. Just like we speak about the importance of making math meaningful, we need to show students that writing is meaningful too. There’s value in teaching them all of these different writing forms, as hopefully, at least one of them will help them want to write more.


      P.S. Glad you heard back from your author too! It’s exciting when we can make these kinds of connections.

  5. I might have heard this from George Couros – I seem to attribute everything I hear to him these days ☺: The technology our students are using is the worst technology they will see in their lifetimes. Teaching students how to create, question, collaborate, organize, etc… with technology is no longer an option, it is essentially a life skill.

    All of what has been said here so far sits so well with me. What I’d like to emphasize is the wealth of possibilities technology opens for our students. As an example, paper and pen/pencil are fine tools for writing. For someone who doesn’t type or input text efficiently, they may even be a better choice. The minute any kind of significant editing needs to occur, that changes considerably. Writing and re-writing becomes a hodgepodge of erased lines, strikeouts and crumpled sheets. I’m thinking it is just this process that caused the students to whom Jon was referring to claim that ‘They hated writing before’. Technology makes the editing of writing so simple that it becomes unfathomable to think we would choose to use older technology when newer tech is an option. Perhaps, when thinking about the tools we are going to choose for our students, we should think about the tools a professional in that field would choose. The writer I live with jots thought and ideas down on every scrap of paper we’ve got but would be lost without her laptop. ☺

    If I or one of my students wanted to share my learning orally or visually, there are also a variety of ‘low tech’ options available including paint and brush, speech, debate, tableau, collage, presentation… you get the idea. But add a ‘now common’ tool like a tablet and the possibilities of what can be done to show learning have grown exponentially. When we record the progress from the outset, we get a minute-by-minute account of the learning that went on for each student. How is that possible without technology? How rich is the data that we as educators can gather in instances like this?

    On Thursday, our FDK team and one of our Grade 7 classes teamed on to go on a shape hunt. The 7s were reviewing and preparing for their classification work with triangles and quadrilaterals. Our kindergarteners were looking to identify basic shapes. Each class is part of a tablet pilot project. And both classes were teamed up and working throughout the school. It was like ‘book buddies’ on steroids. And since the tablets are connected to the students’ email accounts, the pictures of their learning go directly to a central spot. Parents can even log in and have a look. I’m trying to find an old-school parallel and can’t.

    One of my favourite children authors is Peter H Reynolds. On several occasions, he shared his feedback at some our student work around ‘The Dot’ and ‘Ish’. Both our FDK class and our Grade 8s have heard from Peter. He lives in Boston; we’re an Ontario K-8 school. I’m not sure we were getting many direct author calls and visits ‘back in the day’. ☺

    Every time I hear someone talk about the ‘good ol days’, I cringe. And then I think of educators like yourself and the many others I encounter every day and realize we are doing some amazing work getting our students ready for a future with technology. Because when our students shift into adulthood, barring some cataclysmic event, technology is going to be integrated into everything they do.

    • Thanks for your comment, Peter, and for sharing all of these wonderful examples! What I love about these examples is that with every one, there was a very clear reason to use technology and a great explanation for why technology made the activity better. This morning, I ran into a parent from my previous school. We started chatting about technology in the classroom, and what came up as part of our discussion was the importance of students understanding that technology is about more than just gaming: it’s a learning tool. When technology can allow us to take what was done before and make it better, it’s an incredibly powerful tool, and in so many ways, I think it can make learning better. I do think though that as educators, we need to engage in this professional dialogue about how we’re using technology, why we’re using it, and how it benefits students, so that we don’t just replace what we did before with a “high-tech equivalent.” Then the “good old days” are only perpetuated digitally.


  6. Aviva, I agree with you there is so much interaction and learning with technology that thinking is collaborative and transparent. Students build many skills with technology and have a large audience that could hear, read and see their learning and thinking and be able to give feedback and engage with them. You are setting your students to a valuable experience of the 21st century learning.

  7. Wonderful post!
    But there are some things I don’t agree with.
    Cursive has been adapted from the early ages. It is a form of “writing”. It teaches balance, patience, and stamina to the average student.
    Technology is a very good tool and I personally love it, but is there a ‘too much tech”? If we wipe out cursive, that just means we are spending to much time in front of screens and we really don’t need to have such a strong urge to have everything on tech. My teacher I trying to go paperless and have everything on technology. Personally, I don’t like her idea, because we are being leaded TOWARDS screens when we should be encouraged to play outside!
    Back to the point.
    I don’t agree that students will have a better future with technology. In fact, they will have bad eyesight, and soon people will forget how to write!
    (P.S. Please visit my blog, it is now based on Journalism!!)

    • Thanks for the comment, Yusra! I understand your point, but I wonder, what’s your definition of “writing?” If writing is generating ideas, then can’t this happen both online and offline? Why can’t screen time be balanced with outside time? When it comes to the discussion on technology, I wonder if it really needs to be an all or nothing conversation (as it tends to be).

      Miss Dunsiger

      P.S. Thanks for letting me know about your blog! I’ll have a look!

  8. Pingback: Game-based Learning and Technology Literacy | Thoughts and Reflections

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