Gotta Catch’ Em All

“Pikachu, I choose you!”- If you grew up watching and playing pokemon (as I most certainly did-and as I most certainly am now since Pokemon Go is a neat piece of augmented reality and an interesting case study for principles of gameification), then you probably had the same reaction as my brother and I when Ash, once again, sent Pikachu into yet another trainer battle. I mean, he was a pokemon trainer whose entire goal was to become the very best (“like no one ever was….” -Great theme song, FYI). Part of the craft in being a pokemon trainer is learning the strengths and weaknesses of various types and learning to use them effectively in the right situations. Send a water type in to fight a rock type, save pikachu for the flying and water types. One might almost call it pokemon pedagogy… So why does Ash always use pikachu?

The same question could also be asked of teachers. Why do we always choose the same stategies and methods for instruction when we have so many at our disposal? Particularly now, with such exciting developments in instructional technology, why do we keep doing the same old? Much like a pokemon master, our job as teachers is to catch the attention and needs of ALL of our students.

At the start of every school year, our school runs a boot camp for teachers to help orient them to the new school year. Part of our focus is always on technology: effective procedures for running a 1:1 environment, strategies and apps for engagement, organization, assessment and data driven instruction.

Despite all of this training, expetise, and resources, most of our staff still teaches the same way. Yes, they might run a paperless classroom, but the instruction is still the same. All they have done is substitute digital for paper. Sometimes that substitution is an improvement. It might simplify life for teachers or students or both, but nothing has really changed. Engagement, rigor, and results are all stagnant. Even if your classroom results are exemplary, what’s the point in using tech if you can get the same results with paper?

Yelena and I  both believe strongly that teaching with technology is fundamentally different from teaching without. Technology for the sake of technology is meaningless (and is largely unsubstantiated in the literature). Similarly, teaching with technology because this is the generation of “digital natives” is an argument based on a false premise. For a fantastic critique of these and other myths around teaching a learning, check out Urban Myths about Learning and Education by De Bruyckere, Kirschner, and Hulshof. While I don’t agree with all of their assessments of their literature reviews, they are thought provoking and given you a comprehensive list of research to peruse at your leisure.

Effective use of technology in the classroom requires an understanding of the pedagogy and theories behind instructional technology. We have to stop choosing pikachu for every battle.

Image the creation of Dr. Ruben Puentedura, Ph. D.

There are a few models out there that help to push our understanding of the integration of technology in the classroom. The SAMR model is one lens by which educators (really, not just educators- I assume businesses and scientists would benefit from this same lens) can assess and reflect on the need, impact, and efficacy of their technology use in the classroom.

Essentially, at the lower levels of SAMR (Substitution and Augmentation), technology is really just being used as a slightly better version of traditional methods of instruction. Subtext- you might as well still be doing it the old school way. The higher levels of SAMR (Modification and Redefinition) are where technology becomes transformative to learning activities (instead of being an expensive and flashy replacement for traditional methods). To my mind, SAMR is largely about how teachers design tasks for students and how we want them to use technology. A part of me does wonder, however, if SAMR gets too focused on product and technology instead of the content and skills that students need to master.  To delve more into SAMR, check out this video .

My preferred model/lens for viewing technology integration is TPACK. This model is based around several assumptions that implicitly shaped my beliefs about teaching before I ever heard them articulated. As a biology AND special education teacher, I have always had a problem with the notion that special education teachers do not have to be certified in a content area. For several decades, the belief existed that the use of best practices and pedagogy had no connection whatsoever to the content area in which you taught. Therefore, a special education teacher simply needed to be well-versed in these generic practices in order to be effective. Every fiber of the biology teacher in my railed against this. Thankfully (to my mind at least), there has been a shift in this kind of thinking and the idea that there are content specific pedagogies has come back into vogue.

Reproduced by permission of the publisher, copyright 2012 by

Enter TPACK. The gist of this fancy diagram is that there are at least (I’m going with “at least” due to the possibility of additions or expansions to the model) domains of knowledge that are critical to the design of instruction: content knowledge, pedagogical knowledge, and technological knowledge. Furthermore, where each of these domains overlaps or intersects, a more specialized body of knowledge emerges (I’d equate this to the notion of emergent properties in biology and the principle that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts). So there is a specialized body of pedagogical content knowledge that emerges out having expertise in both areas. When we consider the intersection of all three knowledge domains, we acknowledge that these three realms of knowledge create a very complex and sophisticated body of technological pedagogical content knowledge (hence TPACK). It is this model of technology integration that I find most compelling because this becomes the scaffold and structure around which we design out instruction with technology. We do NOT need to use technology for everything. We need to think about the best ways to teach a concept, provide models and exemplars, assess understanding, provide feedback, engage students, provide multiple entry points, build in practice, allow for collaboration, push creativity, etc and with that as our filter, we must choose from all of the tools available to us.

We can still choose pikachu when it’s appropriate. But if you’re fighting a grass pokemon, send in the charmeleon. How else will they grow and evolve?




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