Stop Looking For New Tools And Start Looking For New Ideas –

Note: I wrote this in 2017 and never published it, and today, it’s not quite as relevant. But there is an idea or two that may be useful for you, so I’m publishing it here.

While new curricula and teacher resources and templates and so on are almost always useful, you probably have enough ‘tools.’

There are cloud-based word processors like Google Drive (How To Use Google Drive In The Classroom) note-taking apps, collaboration tools for project-based learning, eBook resources, and on and on.

Adding to the fray are bookmarking tools that enable a kind of hoarding for tools like these (and anything else that looks interesting. The internet is full of information and tools to curate that information that you’ll save and look at and possibly use tomorrow.

Or next week. Or next semester or school year.

You’re not saving it for later; you’re saving it because it has apparent value.

Human Nature

By nature, we like to collect things. ‘Pin’ them. Star them. Like and share them, read them, store them, skim them, consider them, analyze them, and integrate them.

The challenge is a matter of time: most teachers have more resources than they could ever use in a lifetime, making their constant hunt for the next great app, learning platform, or social media tool akin to a self-righteous version of extreme couponing.

The right tool can indeed make teaching easier, more, more efficient, more sustainable, and/or more engaging for both teacher and students. But excess can be worse than scarcity as it stifles, discourages, deadens, and chokes innovation. And once you get into these habits of ‘hunting’ rather than learning, the tone of your technology use shifts and tends towards technology ‘abuse’.

The right tool can indeed make teaching easier, more, more efficient, more sustainable, and/or more engaging for both teacher and students. But excess can be worse than scarcity.

Of course, it never feels awful or overwhelming. At worst, you save things you can’t find or end up with an embarrassing stack of messages, emails, or Evernote files that never see the light of day.

Time Demands

In the bigger picture, you could be wasting an incredible opportunity to find the best thinking and resources that you can integrate into your classroom. It’s like going to a giant, bustling market and being so overwhelmed by all the ‘stuff’ that you buy very little–or are paralyzed by the choices.

Teaching, I don’t have to tell you, is an incredibly demanding profession, and many of your colleagues likely shun technology for this very reason. Teachers are wary of additional time demands–especially those whose meaningful adoption might strain an already strained schedule.

The Never-Ending Evolution Of Technology

Though technology will certainly evolve, this may one day be considered the golden era of technology—a time charged with excitement for tools (e.g., ChatGTP), new social media apps (e.g., Threads), short video trends, improvements to YouTube, and the constant changes to tools like Google Drive, Google Classroom, Microsoft’s suite of digital tools and more. But we can also be victims of our own success: so many great pieces of hardware, such innovative software, and so many emerging toys that we momentarily gag.

Our challenge then is evolving our thinking patterns—and adoption urgency–in light of this tremendous, unprecedented access.

None of this is to say that you’ve got to stop finding cool stuff that’s better than what you’ve got. And saving said cool stuff is also not a crime. But if you spend more time hunting than using, looking than integrating, discovering than creating, you may need to reverse the river’s current and reevaluate how and why you use the tools at your disposal.

Our challenge then is evolving our thinking patterns—and adoption urgency–in light of this tremendous, unprecedented access.

Of course, this is not an either-or dichotomy: overwhelming tech use, or no tech at all. There is room–and need–for an appropriate scale and pattern of technology adoption. We need tools that support and improve our teaching–which, in turn, should ultimately lead to the benefit of children. Skimming, searching, and curating are absolutely a part of that. But a fascination with technological (and non-technological) tools may do more harm than good.

(I’m just realizing that I may be talking to myself more than anyone else, here; I am guilty of almost all of the above.)

Consider adopting a ‘one-semester’ rule: if you haven’t even thought about it (much less used it) all semester. At worst, go ‘cleaning’ no matter how valuable it looks, and pitch it all. Something shinier or actually ‘better’ is undoubtedly on the way.

Be careful investing too much in or depending on tools that come and go like the turning of a page. You can always spend hours on Google, social media, or social video finding it again.

I guess my point is that the ideas are more primal and informative and raw and suitable for a range of teaching opportunities for you and learning opportunities for children and, at times, shiny new tools can be more of a distraction than a boon.

Lessons are created with resources like curriculum maps, graphic organizers, and so on that were the product of ideas.

New Ideas

Or maybe create a central core or kernel of sound and timeless pedagogy: backward planning, student engagement, units that provide flexible data that makes revising planned instruction more accessible to you, lessons that depend on critical thinking, inquiry, etc., to ‘function.’

And then supplement that with the latest tool or trend–especially when that technology (e.g., artificial intelligence) changes or will soon change the world outside of your classroom.

Put another way, focus less on tools (the ‘how’) and more on ideas (the ‘what’ and ‘why’).

New ideas are different.

Ideas create the need for tools.

Ideas are where the tools come from and how those ideas are used in your curriculum and classroom.

Ideas create lessons.

Lessons create ideas.

And further, ideas supersede tools (like technology) in the same way an author and their ideas supersede their research or publishing and marketing tools and so on.

In fact, technology itself is a product of an idea.

Any ‘thing’–class norms, apps, tools, quizzes, ground discussions (see also 50 Sentence Stems For Critical Reading)–is first and foremost an idea.

Never forget where ideas come from and, more critically, what to do with an idea.

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