The Objective or the Tool?

It is part of human nature to want to immediately try out something new that has been learned. This definitely holds true for me when I learn about a new app or tool. I get excited about the app or the tool, and I want to immediately use it in the classroom. I’ve learned over the years, however, that we should not let technology drive what we do for instruction. It should be the other way around. There’s no reason not to get excited about new technology, but we need to focus on the student outcomes— this is where we should aways begin when we are designing instruction.

As an academic coach who conducts professional development, I quite often see teachers’ thrill over a newly discovered app or tool. An excited teacher will ask me, “I found this great app. How can I use it?” Or I will be asked, “What app should I use tomorrow?” I know my response to these questions can be frustrating to teachers, but I always start with questions instead of providing an answer— because the objective should come first.

I Found This Great App! How Can I Use It?

When teachers come to me with this question, I am usually able to get excited right along with them. After a little discussion about the app, I go into coaching mode. I use a series of questions based upon a process found in Making Change: Creating 21st Century Teaching & Learning Environments by Dr. Loretta Donovan and Dr. Timothy Green. The process discussed in the text is simple, yet highly effective. It is a 3-element approach. The following four questions combine Element One (Organizing Educational Technology) and Element Two (Considering Instruction) found in the text:

1. What is your learning objective? What do you want your students to know or to be able to do?

By asking this question, I am looking for teachers to pinpoint a Common Core State Standard. Part of that question is, “Is this a specific Common Core State Standard? Which one?” If they aren’t sure, we try and find it together.

2. What 21st Century Skills are you trying to address?

Some of the Common Core Standards have the 21st Century Skills already in the standard. We try and narrow it down to one or two of the 7 Cs.

3. Are there any ISTE Standards for Students that can be addressed with this lesson objective?

This question depends upon the technology level of the teacher. In some cases, I won’t address ISTE at all. ISTE Standards and the 21st Century Skills go hand-in-hand, but again, this particular question depends upon the technology level of the teacher.

4. What tool will best address the learning objective and the 21st Century Skills you are addressing in your lesson?

There’s a great chart in the text by Donovan and Green, but there are also a lot of graphics found on the Web that indicate a skill and then suggest an app or tool that might be used to help develop that skill.

These questions remind teachers that the tool shouldn’t drive the instruction. The objectives come first.


We should not let technology drive what we do for instruction. It should be the other way around.


What Are the Next Steps?

After talking through the issues outlined above and determining the standard, the objective, and the tool to be used in the lesson, I begin to help teachers through the next phase of the 3-element approach. This element, Element 3: Determining the Specific Software, helps teachers anticipate some of the issues that might arise as they integrate the particular software into the curriculum.

Does the teacher understand what the software is for?

Here the teachers and I explore the purpose of the app or tool. Perhaps there is a tool that was created for an individual, but the teacher wants to use it in a group setting. It’s important that the teacher knows the original intent of the software so he or she can move forward with the activity.

Does the teacher have the required specifications to run the software?

For example, teachers need to know whether the app or software requires Internet capability. Additionally, if a teacher wants to download an app that runs only on the latest iOS update and has not yet updated the device, problems may arise. If this problem is anticipated first, it can be addressed before the lesson starts.

Is the tool or software affordable? Are there in-app purchases? Does it require a subscription? What are the implications for purchasing this software? Is there a free trial version I can use?

The teacher will need to know this before using the software. I have come across a number of issues where the teacher had the paid version of an app, but students were using the free version. Due to the limitations of the free version, the teacher couldn’t do what he or she had originally planned.

What are the barriers or issues the teacher sees with using the software?

This could be Internet issues, a Web site being blocked, students needing email accounts or any other barriers that may come up. Teachers can anticipate these issues and make the proper arrangements. If a Web site is blocked, it can usually be opened for a short period if necessary.

What support does the teacher need?

This is a big one. Does the teacher want to have the coach in the room the first time the software is implemented? Does the teacher need substantial training on something? Are there other support avenues the teacher can explore, such as a PLN?

Does the teacher have adequate time to learn the software?

This is necessary if the teacher is asking students to use an app or a piece of software. It’s preferable that the teacher has some knowledge of the software, but he or she doesn’t necessarily need to be an expert. However, if the teacher is asking students to use an app, he or she should have some knowledge of it.

This entire series of questioning is something that teachers and I work through together, but only at first. Once a teacher is more comfortable with the tools and with this process, he or she can work it through alone. The teacher can then contact the appropriate person for any needed support.

The Bottom Line

Our students are at the center of what we do every day. When teachers aren’t prepared for the lesson, the students are the ones who suffer, and being prepared is even more critical when we are talking about integrating technology. Going through the process of determining the standard being taught, the objective of the lesson, the activity the students will do, and then determining the right tool for the job—after careful consideration of the questions listed above—will help teachers to be more prepared and effectively integrate technology in student-centered ways.


How do you determine which apps or tools you will use in your classroom?


Feature image courtesy of Flickr, [weichaoz].

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