The Classroom Teacher’s Technology Survival Guide

The idea of writing a book about classroom technology is a daunting one, given how quickly tech changes. So much information is readily available online, and it’s constantly  updated to include the latest tools, tips, and tricks. Why bother to put it in a printed book that starts becoming obsolete before it’s even available to the public?

I don’t know author Doug Johnson’s reasoning, but personally, I do see a huge need for books about technology. There are many, many teachers who don’t yet have personal learning networks or other educators they can connect with online in order to keep their pulse on what’s happening with ed tech. They want to learn, but they aren’t comfortable finding the answers they need on the internet. Many of them want a handbook they can pull out and reference as needed without having to go online. That’s not to mention the countless number of principals and other school leaders who aren’t particularly tech-savvy, but want to support their teachers and students. There are many, many educators who are feeling overwhelmed by the volume of information out there and need help cutting through what’s extraneous and getting to the heart of what really matters for student learning.

The Classroom Teacher’s Technology Survival Guide is poised to fill that exact void for educators who are beginning tech users. Author Doug Johnson has over 30 years of experience in education, and has been the director of media and technology for the Mankato, Minnesota public schools since 1991.  Though he’s written five other books, I know Doug best from The Blue Skunk Blog, where I’ve been following his writing since 2008.  The blog is a great resource for educational technology, so it’s no surprise that Doug’s latest book is so helpful.

The book starts by covering all the basic technology questions that I frequently hear from teachers I coach, from how to manage files on multiple computers to how to make use of the cloud. I like that Doug always offers an explanation of various options and allows readers to decide for themselves which works for them. Although I personally think the best response to the question “What type of computer should I have?” is simply “Get a Mac” (Always! Don’t even think about getting a PC!), Doug’s tip is probably more useful:

Purchase the same kind of computer your most computer-savvy friend or relative owns. You will have built-in tech support. You might also consider purchasing a computer running the same operating system your computer at school uses so you can concentrate on learning one system well. (pg  29)

Doug alternates between explaining basic principles about technology and ed tech with catchy sections that put the explanations into context. I enjoyed “Seven Stupid Things Teachers Do With Technology” (not backing up data, treating a school computer like a home computer) and “Seven Brilliant Things Teachers Do With Technology” (making conferencing real time, using the kids’ own devices to teach them). The chapter on using technology for professional productivity offers a wonderful tip for teachers who are overwhelmed by the amount of tools out there:

Use only the technologies that personally empower you with your students. You can’t teach a language you don’t know; you shouldn’t share a book you don’t like; and you can’t teach in a way in which you are not a successful learner. It’s the same with technology. (pg 47)

The next chapter offers equally practical advice on choosing where to begin when integrating technology into instruction:

Start using technology upgrades with activities that don’t work very well: that poetry unit that nobody likes; the rocks and minerals unit that bores both you and your kids; the unit on converting fractions to decimals that leaves too many students confused. You have them–be honest. Even if things don’t go exactly as planned, you wont be destroying already-effective methods if you start by upgrading the least effective areas of our curriculum. (pg 86)

The book provides great tips on assessing the work students do with technology and includes a few very well done examples. Doug’s advice on helping students use technology safely and effectively includes a nice analogy I’ve never heard before for how the internet has changed the way students conduct research: “The role of the teacher has rapidly changed from one of a desert guide (helping learners locate scarce resources) to one of a jungle guide (helping learners evaluate, select, and use resources of value” (pg 104). The information jungle survival skills that Doug shares are terrific (Know where you are going and make sure they trip’s worthwhile, learn to stay on the main trail to avoid the quicksand of irrelevant information, and learn to tell the good berries from the bad berries) (pgs 107-109).

I held my breath a bit when I got to the chapter on teaching 21st century skills. There’s a thin line between making technology accessible to beginning technology users and pushing them beyond their comfort zones. There are many resources on the market that refuse to challenge educators and disrupt the status quo, and the technology use they advocate is so similar to traditional teaching methods that I have to wonder why a school would invest in thousands of dollars of equipment if the teacher’s just going to stand at the front of the room and lecture while students listen passively at their desks. This is a sharp contrast from the other end of the spectrum: resources that advocate such revolutionary ideas that the typical classroom teacher gets completely turned off (let’s be honest: an educator who is just learning to use email effectively is probably not going to encourage students to use their cell phones in class to run a backchannel discussion.)

But Doug’s advice in The Classroom Teacher’s Technology Survival Guide is the perfect balance: it’s relatable and comes across as totally do-able. He’s in touch with what’s happening in actual classrooms and doesn’t labor under the delusion that change comes quickly to schools. He presents 21st century learning concepts in a way that makes sense and gets the reader excited about them. His advice to “try to only ask students questions to which you don’t know the answer” was thought-provoking; the guidelines for “choosing activities  and assignments that matter” are simple and easy to remember. Doug differentiates between truly engaging students with technology (holding their attention and inspiring them to participate) and simply entertaining them with it (providing amusement or diversion), and tells how you can make sure your classroom emphasizes the former.

Managing disruptive technologies in the classroom is a huge concern for teachers, and Doug devotes an entire chapter to it. He outlines the different strategies schools use (from banning tech altogether to enhancing educational practices) and explains the pros and cons of each. The five reasons he gives for allowing and even encouraging students to use tech to pursue personal and recreational interests (read: go off-task occasionally while online) are so compelling that even the most apprensive educator has to agree he’s got excellents points (pg 148.) Another excellent chapter is called “Practices for Safe and Ethical Technology Use.” Here Doug addresses not only ways we can train students to use technology responsibly, but also gives some solid advice for teachers, too.

The last section of the book talks about how educators can develop a long-term strategy and plan for the ever-changing future of educational technology. These might be my favorite chapters, because of both the practical advice and the inspirational, encouraging words about what’s to come and how we as educators can learn from and support one another:

As teachers, sometimes we feel that we cannot make a difference in solving ‘giant’ problems in education. But I would encourage you to carefully consider who in the long run can make the most improvements in education: politicians, departments of education, consultants, administrators–or every teacher making some small changes every year? (pg 207)

Doug Johnson and Jossey-Bass have not only provided me with a review copy of this book, but have also sent a second copy to offer as a giveaway here on the blog. You can enter through the Rafflecopter below. The contest closes at midnight EST on Thursday, January 17th. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Angela is a National Board Certified Teacher with 11 years of classroom experience and 7 years experience as an instructional coach. As founder of Due Season Press and Educational Services, she has created printable curriculum resources, 4 books, 3 online courses, the Truth for Teachers podcast, and The 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club. Subscribe via email to get her best content sent to your inbox!

{ 38 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Sue January 10, 2013 at 7:06 pm

Oh, the book sounds positively wonderful. I need a good read! :)

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2 Kim Bain January 10, 2013 at 7:11 pm

Sounds like every teacher in America needs to read this! It is now at the top of my list.

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3 Kathy January 10, 2013 at 8:04 pm

This looks like it will be a very useful book, one that many of us “teacher-types” can really use!

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4 Cheri S. January 10, 2013 at 11:55 pm

I love technology and I am always looking for new ways to use it in my classroom! Can’t wait to read this one!

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5 Jessica Z January 11, 2013 at 9:53 am

I would love this technology guide…sometimes we don’t get along very well..

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6 Stacey January 12, 2013 at 1:22 am

I am always looking for ways to add new technology pieces to my everyday lessons. Not just use it for projects.

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7 Emily January 12, 2013 at 7:35 pm

With my iPhone, iPad, MacBooks and SMARTBoard I am searching for ways to teach first grade with more than just apps

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8 Diane Mentzer January 12, 2013 at 7:39 pm

I teach technology and am always looking for new ideas and ways to help others. I would love to have this book,

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9 Michele January 12, 2013 at 7:41 pm

They book looks wonderful!

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10 Jennifer Flood January 12, 2013 at 7:47 pm

The book looks really interesting, and I’m sure it would help me a great deal.

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11 Linda Gonzalez January 12, 2013 at 7:50 pm

Though I’m not a teacher, I have worked in public education for sixteen years. I love your page and it has such great information. This is my seventh year in an elementary school library, and I think this book would be a great addition to our professional shelves!

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12 Christyn King January 12, 2013 at 7:50 pm

This book looks wonderful. I would love to learn more about what I can do with the computer and an elmo in the classroom.

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13 leila January 12, 2013 at 7:52 pm

I am trying to keep up with tech in school. this book sounds like a needle in a heystack.

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14 Doug January 12, 2013 at 8:00 pm

My school received a grant to convert 10 of our rooms to Digital Classrooms. I’m getting one, and want to make best possible use of what I’m getting!

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15 Amanda January 12, 2013 at 8:20 pm

I would love to learn about how to incorporate more lessons with tablets.

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16 Andy K January 12, 2013 at 8:28 pm

I would like to learn more on how to best help students who do not have access to internet and other technology resources at home when assignments and expectations are geared more on technology use.

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17 JohnK_Wright_V January 12, 2013 at 8:30 pm

Sounds like a great book. Education for our students does
Not end at 12th grade. We need to teach and use
The technology of today to be able to do jobs 10 years
From now, that don’t exist today.

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18 Kay January 12, 2013 at 8:43 pm

Sounds great

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19 Betsy Kilbrai January 12, 2013 at 9:14 pm

I so need this book!

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20 Alison January 12, 2013 at 9:32 pm

I want this book to share with other teachers at my school!

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21 Suzy January 12, 2013 at 9:32 pm

I would like to know how to use technology with limited choices. Also on how to use one iPad in the classroom.

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22 Mary January 12, 2013 at 9:33 pm

I would love to have help with starting a class blog for next year.

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23 Sandy January 12, 2013 at 9:42 pm

I’m always looking for more tricks and tools that I can use to help increase my awareness of technology in education as well as helping my fellow educators. I would love to win your giveaway. Thank you for the opportunity!

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24 Laura January 12, 2013 at 11:09 pm

I would love help with integrating technology into the lessons I’m already teaching, as an extra, but not the focus of the lesson.

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25 Lori January 12, 2013 at 11:34 pm

Sounds like a terrific resource.

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26 Lisa January 13, 2013 at 12:05 am

I’d love to share this with coworkers who want to learn but are often shy about asking for help.

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27 Toni Nicholson January 13, 2013 at 5:55 am

Sounds like a wonderful resource!!
Thank you so much.

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28 Dana Ingram January 13, 2013 at 9:58 am

I love love love technology! My school on the other hand lacks my enthusiasm! I can’t wait to read the Technology Survival Guide. After reading your post I was so glad to see his recommendation to include new technology with a lesson that was “not so interesting” or “falling apart at the seams” anyway! I was excited because I had done just that and it worked. Kids wrote and scored better on my lessons (using technology) with primary and secondary sources than they ever had before! I was so excited!

Thanks for sharing!
Dana

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29 Monni January 13, 2013 at 10:32 am

I would surely benefit from reading this book. Using technology in the classroom is a little overwhelming for me.

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30 Julianne January 13, 2013 at 11:44 am

I am just starting my student teaching and would love to have ideas about incorporating technology into my classroom!

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31 Sonia January 13, 2013 at 12:02 pm

I would love to know how to work a Smartboard!

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32 Kim January 13, 2013 at 2:12 pm

I am always looking for ways to help my teachers integrate technology into the classroom. Doug Johnson’s book would be a great asset .

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33 Nick H. January 13, 2013 at 3:37 pm

As the tech-savvy teacher in my school, it’s rare to find technology advice that is useful to my practice, but I really enjoyed the experts above. I’d love to read the rest of the book!

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34 Ellen January 13, 2013 at 5:02 pm

I’m always looking for ways to bring technology into my classroom, would love to win!

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35 Kate Peila January 13, 2013 at 5:42 pm

What a great resource! I think that it would be interesting to get another person’s take on integrating technology in the classroom.

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36 Cori Lyons January 13, 2013 at 8:31 pm

What a beneficial resource! I am looking for more ways to bring technology into my classroom.

lyons.cori@gmail.com

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37 Lori Labrum January 16, 2013 at 1:15 am

I’m sending a lik to this article to all my fellow teachers. Sounds like just what we need.

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38 Lori Labrum January 16, 2013 at 1:18 am

I need help with ways to use ipads in my classroom of third graders and not just drill and practice apps. I need something productive that they can do with me standing over them explaining every step.

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