Incorporating technology within educational instruction is both an art and a science.
While there are more digital resources today that can complement and enhance lesson plans than ever before, teachers need guidance about how to use them within the unique context of their own classrooms. The new hot app on the latest model iPad or wearable device may be useful for some classes, while completely irrelevant for others.
"If you think of technology first you will always run into problems," explains Erin Klein, an award-winning 2nd grade teacher in Michigan and author of the Kleinspiration blog that exists to connect tradition with technology. "The key is to find creative ways to integrate (technology). I will never let it drive my curriculum. Pedagogy is the driver, and technology is the accelerator."
Klein, who was recently labeled a "Social Media Sage" by Scholastic Instructor Magazine and last year was named PreK-12 Teacher of the Year by the Michigan Association of Computer Users in Learning, is skeptical of "one size fits all" digital resources. Her bias is towards technology that is flexible and free. This includes:
Tools That Are Device and Platform Agnostic: Her preferred apps, software and tech tools are not exclusive to iOS, Android, Microsoft or any individual platform. Rather, as teachers and their students may only have access to iPads, Chromebooks or Windows devices, it is key that the learning resources they use are available on all platforms and accessible from any web-connected device.
Free Resources That Get Teachers To Think "Beyond the Classroom": Technology enables teachers to communicate with students, parents and peers from anyplace at any time of the day. Klein is passionate about free resources (or resources where teachers can access premium features for free) that accommodate and advance this communication. Among her favorite tools detailed in this recent blog post are secure photo sharing application PhotoCircle (available in iOS and Android), the Remind messaging app (formerly Remind101), and presentation creation application Animoto (on iOS and Android). Klein added that she is a big fan of just about anything coming from Google Education.
Augmented Reality: Klein was exposed to early iterations of Google Glasses and is enthusiastic about incorporating augmented reality into instruction (again, as long as the technology is used within a proper context). Among her favorite AR tools are virtual coloring book ColAR Mix (iOS and Android), Aurusma, and GoSphero - Amazon Robot Ball.
Teaching as a Second Career
Prior to embarking on a career in teaching in 2008, Klein studied interior design. While teaching was always her "life's ambition", when she first began working professionally in the field she sensed that classrooms were in digital disarray.
"At that time, overheads were being removed and digital whiteboards were just coming in," she explained. "But there wasn't really a redesign of education itself. That is what influenced me to go into teaching."
Klein committed herself to learning as much about the intersection of technology and teaching as she could. This involved traveling, often on her own dime, to ed-tech conferences that were becoming increasingly vital. She quickly learned that "if you apply to present the conferences the fees would get waived."
A natural presenter (as is the case with all great teachers), Klein quickly emerged as one of the most influential voices in education technology. A regular keynote and consultant (on top of her day job as a2nd grade teacher), Klein has nearly 50,000 Twitter followers at @KleinErin while her Kleinspiration posts are shared across all corners of the web. She credits edtech pioneers like Richard Byrne of iPad Apps for School and Practical Ed Tech, as well as Kelly Tenkely of iLearn Technology with inspiring her get started.
"There are so many wonderful things happening in education," she said, "but it all starts with having a passion for the kids."