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Mastering School IT Hiccups: 3 Tips from Real Teachers

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If you use technology in your classroom, you've likely experienced a school IT emergency somewhere along the way. A critical application won't load, students can't connect to the Internet, or a computer freezes up and you're faced with the dreaded neverending spinning cursor. Sometimes, the problem can be rectified with a simple solution such as restarting the device. But other times, the fix isn't quite so easy. Here's how three teachers deal with school IT issues.

The Lesson Must Go On, So Have a Plan

Dr. Jaclyn Singer, an academic intervention math teacher at Northern Parkway Elementary School in Uniondale, New York, regularly uses iPads and an interactive whiteboard with her students, who range in age from second to fifth grade. "Technology is technology, and there will always be the possibility that, at any given time, it may not work," she wrote in an e-mail. Singer often has trouble with the pens used to write on the boards. Fortunately, the district IT department has helped teachers overcome the problem by demonstrating how they can calibrate the pens correctly themselves.

But Singer is equally prepared for the lesson to go on when an issue with the interactive whiteboards or iPads isn't as quickly solved. "There is always an erasable whiteboard in the classroom in case the iPads and interactive whiteboards aren't working," she wrote. In one of her classrooms, the interactive whiteboard was out of commission for about a month and a half. So, depending on the lesson, she prepared to present information using either an erasable whiteboard or computer screen. "Although the backup lesson may not be as interactive or collaborative, new material would still be presented," she wrote. "Not overreacting will help a lesson go smoothly, even if it is the plan B lesson."

Think Smart and Stay Calm

Several times at James B. Conant High School in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, English teacher Jordan Catapano has had to deploy his own tech initiative to keep classes on track. His school embarked on a one-to-one teaching program a few years back, and technology plays an important role in supporting quality instruction. Part of the school's effort included setting the staff and iPad-equipped students up on a learning management system (LMS) called Schoology. They use it for posting documents, links, homework, and anything else related to sharing and collaboration efforts.

Catapano and other teachers initially had experiences where the LMS would refuse to provide students access to their individual work groups and information. He said that he and his colleagues "got used to thinking on their feet." For instance, he'd keep his lessons going by sharing presentations through a classroom projector instead of via the LMS. "I would just go through it and the kids could take pictures of slides with their iPads and store their notes there," he said.

It's important to make accommodations as needed without getting too frustrated when something goes wrong, he advised. "I discourage teachers from speaking negatively about the technology, even under tough circumstances, because doing so gives students the same permission to blame technology for things they don't accomplish."

Stay Ahead of Issues by Connecting with IT Support

Angela Abend works in the PROJECT EXTRA gifted and enrichment program for children grade 4–6 in New York's Oceanside School District, where her students participate in a one-to-one technology program that utilizes Chromebooks and Google Classroom. They Skype with STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) leaders and world-renowned authors, and work with a fully functioning Makerspace learning environment that includes design and creation tools such as Dash and Sphero coding robots, the Bloxels video game creation platform, LittleBits electronic building blocks, and Makey Makey invention kits.

Abend connected with her district's instructional technology specialist to review everything she'd need to know to further navigate through the district's one-to-one initiative. She recommends that all teachers think of their school's IT staff as their partners, and that they get to know them. That way, "if you do need to contact them in a pinch, they already know the back story of what you hope to accomplish," and it's easier for them to tackle the issue.

Still, when any of the technology components she relies on stop working and fixing it is beyond her control—and IT isn't available—out come goodies from her preplanned bag of tricks. "Large graph paper and red Solo cups, for example, can take the place of a computerized coding lesson" Abend wrote. She also downloads videos and presentations to her hard drive beforehand, in case the Internet goes down, and lets her students use their own smartphones if there's a problem with school equipment.

When it comes to avoiding IT hiccups in your classroom, keep these helpful tips in mind. Once you have a good system in place, you'll be able to charge ahead with your lesson regardless of whether you have the help of technology.