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When It Comes To Learning With Tech, Going Vintage Can Be Good Practice!

No Fancy Tools or Software? No Problem!

Vintage Computer on Desktop

I work with over 100 new teachers each year. One of the concerns that many of them express is not having access to the most current technologies in their classrooms. These new teachers worry that by not having a device for every child, or a 3D Printer, or interactive whiteboards, or coding tools and robots, or devices to read QRcodes, or the newest educational software that somehow they will not be effective 21st century teachers and their students will not learn as quickly as students who do have access to these tools.  This thought could not be farther from the truth.

The fact remains, and has always remained, that it is the teacher and their pedagogical choices, not the tool that makes the difference for the learners. Time and time again, educational researchers have found that, teachers and their pedagogical choices are the key to the success of the implementation of technology in schools, not a particular tool (Pane et al., 2017; Kay & Lauricella, 2011; Bebell & Kay, 2010; Montrieux et al., 2015; Okojie et al., 2006).

Consider two teachers designing lessons around making mathematical predictions based on real data. The teacher A decides to have the students make a name plate in 3D with a 3D printer. Teacher A has the students estimate how long their letters will take to be printed based on previous 3D letters that have been printed out by the same 3D printer. 

Students look at statistics from previous prints, consider the number of letters in each print, as well as the size. Then each student takes a fews days to design their name plate with the 3D printer software, and prints their name. When their name is printed, they can can measure how long their names took and compare it to their estimate. Because each name takes about 8 to 12 hours to print on the 3D printer, the project ends up taking about 3 weeks. Teacher B decides to have students use authentic baseball statistics from the current Chicago Cubs season in order to understand how to make mathematical predictions and estimates. The students put the pitching speed of the starting pitchers into an Excel spreadsheet, and use the sorting features and equation editor to predict the average speed of the pitches from each starting pitcher that night. The next day, the students compare the actual average speed (which they got from live data on the cubs website) with the predicted speed to see how accurate they were. This assignment takes two class days.

In these two scenarios, one could argue that Teacher B is better able to meet the learning goals through the technology tools, despite the fact that the teacher is using more “vintage” technology. In the first scenario, it feels as though Teacher A designed a lesson around using a 3D printer, rather than starting with the learning goals first. There are many examples of lessons where we end up designing a lesson around the latest tool or app that comes into our classroom, because we are excited to use it.

However, it is important to note that the best lessons with technology are ones where the learning goals are the main focus and the the technology is secondary and often not the shiniest, but the most purposeful choice. Below are some examples of lessons that integrate technology well by using more vintage or traditional technology tools in a meaningful way.

3rd Grade Social Studies Example – In this lesson, the teacher is asking students to use Microsoft Excel Spreadsheets to organize a community service project.

5th Grade ELA Example – In this ELA lesson, the teacher, is using Powerpoint to help her students understanding visualization when reading.

4th Grade Math Example – In this example, the teacher is using a basic wiki site and a website in order to make mathematical predictions and study elapsed time.  

7th Grade Science and Math Example – In this lesson, the teacher using a basic online simulator (free from NASA) to help his students estimate the speed and distance of the rockets that they are building.

High School Social Studies Example – In this lesson, the teacher takes her students on a virtual field trip to the middle east simply by using a few computers and basic Internet sites.  

High School Social Studies and ELA Example – This high school English and Social Studies teacher is using an Excel spreadsheet to teach about sustainable systems, types of government, and political choices.  


Bebell, D., & Kay, R. (2010). One to one computing: A summary of the quantitative results from the Berkshire Wireless Learning Initiative. Journal of Technology, Learning, and Assessment, 9(2) [Online journal]. Retrieved from http://escholarship.bc.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1222&context=jtla

Kay, R. H. & Lauricella, S. (2011).  Unstructured Versus Structured Use of Laptops in Higher Education.  Journal of Information Technology Education: Innovations in Practice.  Retrieved from http://www.jite.org/documents/Vol10/JITEv10IIPp033-042Kay840.pdf

Montrieux, H., Venderlinde, R., Schellens, T. and DeMeres, L. (2015) ‘Teaching and learning with mobile technology: a qualitative explorative study about the introduction of tablets devices in secondary education’, PloS One, Vol. 10, No. 2, e0144008.

Okojie, M. C. P. O., Olinzock, A. A., & Okojie-Boulder, T. C. (2006). The pedagogy of technology integration. Journal of Technology Studies, 32(2), 66-71.

Pane, J., Steiner, E., Baird, M., Hamilton, L.S., & Pane, J.D., (2017).  Informing Progress:  Insights on Personalized Learning Implementation and Effects.  RAND Cooperation.  Retrieved from https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR2042.html


 (@lkolb): Clinical associate professor at the University of Michigan in Education Technology and MACUL Board Member.


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