School districts in the United States spend billions of dollars each year to purchase technology for the classroom, yet the lack of technology and internet access in the nation’s public schools continues to be an issue. Often, a teacher who is faced with little classroom tech will feel overwhelmed and will resort to more traditional teaching methods.
This article outlines strategies for teachers to increase the impact of the technology to which they are limited. I have purposely left coordinated and intentional BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) programs out of this list. Even with the best-planned BYOD program, there will be students who do not have devices to bring.
These are strategies I have used in my experience in education, which began in a room with one computer and no projector, as well as strategies I have helped teachers to implement in my role as a professional development consultant and instructional coach. It’s important for teachers to focus not on what isn’t in their classroom but rather how they can use what they have.
Making do with what we have (and possibly spending a couple bucks)
When I found myself in that low-tech room, I had choices to make. Would I resort to drill and kill worksheets and lecture-style delivery of instruction? After all, I only had one computer, which was in the classroom for the sole use of the teacher. The school had a computer lab in the library, but scheduling time in the lab was difficult and the computers there didn’t allow students to save their work.
My solution? The librarian had a fleet of large televisions. She also had S-video cables. I connected my computer to a television and it sat in my room for the rest of the year, projecting presentations and websites during my beginning years of technology integration. I would allow one student at a time to sit at my desk to explore websites while the rest watched.
Today, regardless of the type of device you find in your classroom, there is an adapter that can connect it to a television or to a discarded computer monitor. More importantly, a cheap wireless mouse has a range as large as most classrooms. Handing the mouse around the room turns that television into an interactive screen.
One man’s trash is another teacher’s treasure
When technology is thrown away, it doesn’t necessarily mean it is unusable. Technology becomes outdated very quickly and some people believe it to be worthless. For a teacher who has no technology in the classroom, it can be a valuable gift. Even within a campus, one teacher may discard technology that would be welcomed in another teacher’s classroom.
Take regular walks around campus to see what other teachers have lying around. Visit the district technology office to sort through the boxes of equipment they plan to sell at auction. Even if the equipment doesn’t work, you’ll find cool gadgets for students to tear apart and repurpose in that maker space you always wanted.
Parents are a valuable resource, as well. That old smart phone, or even flip phone that has a camera? They can be charged and used as digital cameras for photographs and videos. If they were able to connect to the internet when the parents used them, they can still connect to the wireless at the school, even without a data plan. Ask parents to donate their old phones when they upgrade. It is tax-deductible, and your formerly technology deprived classroom could become 1:1 with mobile devices.
Use free resources
This may seem obvious, but I see teachers and administrators spending money on apps and subscriptions without hesitation. I have found that, most of the time, an app that costs money or a website that charges for a subscription often has a competitor that is free. While it is true that you get what you pay for, many of these free providers are getting paid, just not by you. Investors seek the opportunity for philanthropy and teachers and students benefit.
Today’s app market is changing. More and more applications require only an internet browser to operate. Free browser extensions abound for browsers like Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox. Some of those extensions perform the same tasks as those 99 cent apps do, and 99 cents times multiple devices adds up.
Apply for grants
As I mentioned, there are investors who are interested in donating money to schools. Teachers just have to know where to look. Large corporations, such as Walmart, Coca Cola, and Sprint have applications on their websites for individuals and teachers to request funding. These grants can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars. Look for corporations that have corporate foundations, such as those found on this list from the Foundation Center.
Many school districts have education foundations and parent organizations that offer grants to teachers. Some of them allow teachers to submit requests several times each school year. Even if a request is for just one device, that is one more than you had before, and multiple requests could eventually equip your classroom.