The focus of a technology rich classroom: TPACK needs an S

What do you look for in a technology rich classroom? Watch the kids, not the tech.

Last week our director of educational technology, Dr. Robert Grano, came to visit my class because he heard that I use technology effectively with my students. Knowing his job title and the purpose of his visit I was prepared to show him how I use a spreadsheet I created to place my students in groups for differentiation, how our class blog facilitates the lesson, how I model using tech tools, and how work flow patterns in Google Drive facilitate formative assessment.

My students were nearing the end of writing a process essay comparing a film and a short story, but they were all in different stages of completion. Some still needed to go back a re-watch a video lesson from Monday about building paragraphs, others needed to add an introduction or conclusion, and a few were engaged in peer-review.

As I moved around the room supporting students, and my visitors moved around the room to speak with students about their work, I flattered myself that this was going pretty well. The model that popped into my head was TPACK (technical, pedagogical, content knowledge). My students and I knew the content and writing process very well, I knew the pedagogical moves I needed to make with each student, and we were all comfortable with the technology we were using to make it work effectively.

My visitors departed and later in the day I got a thank you email with a wonderful and unexpected compliment from Dr. Grano. He wrote that part of what he realized from his visit was that, "Technology is secondary to careful planning, knowing one’s students, common core standards, and a genuine love for teaching.”

I was particularly struck that he noticed how well I know my students, and the fact that knowing my students was a crucial element in making instruction effective. When I take that back to the TPACK model however, there is no place for students. They just don't figure into the configuration.

Of course I happen to be writing this on St. Patrick's day it, so seems appropriate to convert the three leaf clover into a four leaf clover. Knowing your students is just as important as knowing content, pedagogy and technology.