Here in HWDSB, we’ve been talking about how to transform relationships, environments and learning opportunities. The driver is pedagogy, but the accelerator is technology. Asking students to do this is one thing – but what about the educators? I’m asking connected educators around our district how they use technology to accelerate their learning.
Bill Hughey is an elementary teacher who uses digital tools in the classroom such as his student centred blog: Hughology. His focus on students and how he can not only help them learn but learn with them is evident. It’s great to have the perspective of a junior classroom teacher and insights into his journey of using technology. Read on to get to know Bill better!
What is your role in HWDSB?
I am currently a grade 5 teacher at Chedoke School although I have spent the bulk of my career in a middle school environment. Having just moved this year from an assignment where I was a Language specialist for the better part of a decade, it has been a big change teaching all the other curricular areas again!
What led you into education?
Teaching is a second career for me. I began my professional life as an archivist working for the Ontario Government and the City of Guelph. At a certain point, I was looking to re-energize myself professionally. As a student, I always loved school. I have also always admired the energy, positivity, and optimism of children. What better way to get energized than to step into a classroom? Is there a more dynamic workplace?
What are your go-to pieces of tech?
This is a difficult question as it applies to the classroom. I believe that technology in the classroom should not be a separate consideration. Fundamentally, programming in a technology-rich classroom is no different than in a more traditional setting. Technology just gives you so many more options for how students do their work. In our class, we access the technology that we need depending on the demands of a given project. Students decide what they want to do. They then decide on what technology is the best tool to actualize their ideas. That said, Google Drive has become a cornerstone tool. It allows us to work on multiple devices and applications and to always be able to access needed files. In an environment with limited resources, it is important that students have flexibility to access files regardless of the type of device they are using. Google Drive allows us to do that. The HWDSB Commons is also an incredibly valuable tool in my classroom. This year, my students have not used it as much as they normally do (their projects have required other tech tools), but having a public space for student work has become an important extension of our classroom. I continue to be delightfully surprised at how robust the platform is. If we want to accomplish something in the class, The Commons is often flexible enough to accommodate it.
Twitter or something else?
Though I lurk on Twitter, I am not active on it. Facebook is my go to social media tool.
How has technology shifted the way you learn?
In the classroom, technology has forced me to become a more effective co-learner with my students. I used to think that I was a co-learner with my students but in retrospect, I was paying more lip service to this idea than living it. Adopting technology and integrating it into the classroom has necessitated that I open myself in a more authentic way to learning together. Students will conceive of ideas, will experiment with how to present these, and will suggest a wide variety of tech tools that they think will do the job. It is impossible for me to master all of these tools and to provide direct instruction on their use. Students become the experts and teach me, and, more importantly they teach other. It can be an empowering experience for students that may not take leadership roles in other areas of the classroom. At the same time, it places me in the role of learner. This has helped me to rethink and to redefine my role in the classroom in a broader sense.
What’s your best piece of advice for those wondering how to use tech to accelerate their learning?
Experiment. Try something new. Be open to failure. Be willing to surrender some control over the process. Above all, conceive of technology as a tool. It is a means to an end. Do not start your planning by thinking about what technology you intend to use. Think about what you want to achieve. This is familiar to every teacher – i.e., starting with effective programming. Then, consider how technology might be used. Better yet, leave some choices open to your students as to what technology they may use to tackle a task. Be willing to let them take the lead.