Have Silicon Valley Teachers Using Technology Daily Altered Their Classroom Practice? (Part 1)

In 2016, after I observed and interviewed 41 Silicon Valley teachers in various schools and districts identified by policymakers and principals as exemplary in integrating technologies into their daily lessons, I asked these teachers three questions: Has your teaching changed since you have begun regular use of laptops, tablets, interactive whiteboards, etc. in your lessons? If yes, in what ways? If no, why not?[i]

Of the 41, I had answers to the question from 37 teachers (90 percent) spread across all levels and academic subjects. Four teachers did not respond to my follow-up email requests. Of the 37 who responded in interviews and emails to the questions I asked, 65 percent (N=24) said that their teaching had definitely changed in how they managed and taught lessons.

Here are typical “yes” responses.

Brendan Dilloughery is a veteran teacher of nearly a decade in international schools in Ecuador, Switzerland, and elsewhere. He is in his second year at Mountain View High School teaching geometry and computer science.

The integration of technology into the classroom has definitely affected my teaching. The most notable changes are: distribution of and access to course resources, interactive activities that give immediate feedback and facilitating collaboration.

Students can access their digital textbook as well as worked out solutions to every homework problem on their cell phone from anywhere in the world. They can easily access class notes and homework assignments when they are absent from class.

Websites such as Khan Academy and IXL have been a game changer in my classroom. In the past I struggled greatly to have students critically evaluate their homework problems…. I seemingly tried everything—giving access to worked out solutions to every problem, shortening homework assignments, having them start in class, work in pairs…. No matter what I tried, at least half of my students were just ‘completing’ their homework without using it asa time to really practice and hone their skills. Enter Khan Academy and IXL. [Here] if a student correctly complete their current problem, they move on to a more difficult question. If the problem is incorrect, they are shown a colorful, in-depth explanation of how to complete the problem. This immediate feedback has greatly increased my students’ level of comprehension while working on assignments….[ii]

When beginning with Khan Academy and IXL, I had students work individually. Through collaboration with peers … I now have students working pairs on a single whiteboard with a single laptop. I am constantly amazed at how much quality discourse happens amongst my constantly changing partnerships in class. The most unlikely pairs can be heard explaining the reasons behind steps of proofs or how they solved an equation when their partner doesn’t understand. Students who would never raise their hand to ask a question will ask a partner how they got to a certain answer….[iii]

Edwin Avarca has been teaching for six years. A graduate of a Bay area teacher education program that awards a masters and teaching credential after 14 months, Avarca’s first job was at a charter school in downtown San Jose. After two years there he joined Summit Rainier charter school and has been teaching the Advanced Placement U.S. history course since.

My teaching has dramatically changed since I’ve had more access to tech. For example, in my previous school if we wanted access to the projector we had to sign-up for it beforehand; also we had to sign-up for a laptop cart in advance in order for students to have access to one-to-one computers during class. Having a projector has made teaching more efficient. I can spontaneously pull up a website, video, or other resource that students can benefit from in some way. For example, if a question came up about the economic costs of WWII, I could quickly look for the answer and show students. Prior to smart boards/projectors I used an overhead projector and the logistics of it could be frustrating.

One-to-one computers have revolutionized my classroom. Students have so much access to resources and this gives them the opportunity to utilize the resources while we’re in class. Thus, I can coach students through a research project much easier since I can model for them and walk them through the process as well.

Classroom management has also changed, I need to be very thoughtful about how students should be held accountable while they are on their computers. I also have to monitor the room more since students can easily be distracted by YouTube or other sites if they do not have specific structures to hold them accountable to the work they need to complete.[iv]

A native of New Zealand, Sue Pound is in her 18th year of teaching science at Jordan Middle School in Palo Alto. She and a colleague team-teach 8th graders in a large room furnished with a wet lab and many long tables for students to sit when not doing lab work.

My teaching has definitely changed since computers and iPads became available in our school. In the most basic terms, I am not copying many handouts and I am able to share so much more electronically with students. I have been able to be more adventurous and creative with activities, labs, and projects, and support their learning in different and I think better ways. Students have more choice in the products they generate. We are also not tied to one resource for our information (the textbook) and that supports the different needs students have for learning. It is much easier to do wider-reaching group work and individual work, and have me do less old-style teaching. While I would like to get to the place of doing much more differentiated teaching where students are truly learning at their own pace and learning is tailor-made for each one, I also know there is so much value in collaboration in the classroom.[v]

The next post will describe other teachers’ ambivalent and “no” responses to the questions I asked.


[i] The levels and subjects taught by the 41 teachers I observed were as follows:

Elementary: 10

Middle school: 6

High school: 25

Academic subjects in secondary schools: English 4; math 4; science 7; social studies 8; foreign language 2.

[ii] IXL is a subscription-based program offering games and customized lessons. See: https://www.ixl.com/promo?partner=google&campaign=1290&adGroup=IXL+-+General&gclid=Cj0KEQjwiI3HBRDv0q_qhqXZ-N4BEiQAOTiCHlafZsYoptImfq56BG3pMRpSuN9ZXUuafs1f6jdYdQQaAuad8P8HAQ

Khan Academy offers teachers free online math lessons. For information, see: https://www.google.com/#q=Khan+Academy&*

[iii] Brendan Dilloughery email received October 7, 2016. In author’s possession. A description of Dilloughery’s geometry class can be found at: https://larrycuban.wordpress.com/2016/11/08/teaching-geometry-at-mountain-view-high-school-technology-integration/

[iv] Edwin Avarca email received May 4, 2016. In author’s possession. A description of Avarca’s Advanced Placement U.S. history class can be found at: https://larrycuban.wordpress.com/2016/04/06/part-7-summit-rainier-teachers-integrating-technology-advanced-placement-u-s-history/

[v] Sue Pound’s email received October 19, 2016. In author’s possession. A description of Pound’s science class can be found at: https://larrycuban.wordpress.com/2016/11/05/teaching-science-at-jordan-middle-school-joint-planning-and-technology-integration/


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