Flexibility is Key: Knowing When to Change Tech Lessons

TGICProfilePix“I won’t use technology in my classroom because I can’t use technology in my classroom. I can’t write this reflection, and I certainly can’t do a final digital presentation project that I would use in my classroom.”

That was a strange thing to hear one of my student teachers say in the Tech 110 course I teach at a local teachers college. Usually pre-service teachers are excited by the prospects technology can bring to their future classrooms and are eager to learn more.

But not this particular student teacher. She was adamant. And she was right. She couldn’t use technology in her classroom because she was teaching culinary arts at the local prison. She wasn’t allowed to have any technology in her classroom and neither were her wards. Not even a cell phone. It’s considered contraband.

Since the coursework assigned the rest of the class didn’t seem to work with her teaching situation, she wanted to know what she should do.

I decided to follow my own advice, which I put at the end of my sub plans whenever I am away from my grade school students: “Remember, flexibility is key! If you have to change the lesson, it’s all right!”

Instead of writing her first reflection (which was a reaction to an article about educational technology), I asked her to describe in detail a typical day in her classroom.

“Will it affect my grade if I don’t write to the prompt on our syllabus?” she asked. After being assured that it would not only have no effect on her grade, it would also allow me to better understand her unique teaching situation – a classroom with which I was completely unfamiliar.

Before the wards walk into my class, they are searched by security guards. The classroom set up looks like this: each student has a stainless steel table with retractable electrical power coming from the ceiling. Each student has his own knives, cutting boards, and induction burners that they can place on top of the stainless steel countertop. There are flat screens and projectors where the students are able to watch me demonstrate a cooking method, after which they have to duplicate what they just saw. … At the end of the period the wards are strip-searched on the way out because the knives and cooking tools are considered weapons.”

This was quite a different experience than most of us experience in the classroom. But clearly, there was technology in her classroom and she was using it! If she had flat screens and projectors, there must be a video camera around. When I conferenced with her before our next class, we had a great conversation about the possibility of adding a device to play videos of cooking demonstrations and techniques, farm-to-fork and other important cooking content. I suggested that she could even film a cooking lesson to show if she was unable to make it to class one day. She didn’t think they would allow a video player in the classroom, but she could see its value and would make the request.

She became enamored with Animoto, which had been part of the showcase in our class, so I encouraged her to make an Animoto of her favorite niece. She quickly learned the program quickly so she could complete her music video in time for her niece’s birthday.Tech110Presents

At the next class, she announced that she was working on a cooking lesson for her final presentation project, even though she had discovered she would not be able to show it at the prison. Too bad. It was a wonderful video with editing as well as opening and closing credits.


After her presentation, she told us she had come up with a way she could actually use technology to help her class. This was a wonderful surprise, since she had started the course with more antipathy than anticipation toward using technology. She had asked the warden – the only one allowed to have a cell phone in the prison – if the warden would take pictures of some of her wards working in class. She would take those pictures to the prison print shop to be turned into cooking posters, illustrated with actual wards from her class. Using the posters for recognition, she thought they would be great motivational tools.



There are many digital ways to create posters with your student’s pictures. Microsoft Word or even homeworkmotivatorPowerPoint would work well for a simple poster. But if you’re looking for something a little different, try BigHugeLabs.com, where it’s easy to create movie posters, magazine covers, trading cards and even motivational posters. Upload a picture from the internet or, better yet, one of your own. Fill in the template with what you want your creation to say and create it! You can download your finished product, or if it needs a little work, click on “edit” and go back to the original work screen. Pick just the right student for your poster, and maybe you’ll get a few more homework assignments turned in on time!


TammyHappyTammy Brecht Dunbar, M.Ed., S.T.E.M. teaches 5th grade in Manteca Unified School District and Pre-Service Technology at Teachers College of San Joaquin (Stockton, CA). She will be presenting at the 2015 Microsoft Global E2 conference, ISTE 2015, CUE 2015 and CTA Good Teaching Conference 2015. Tammy has presented for CTA Good Teaching North (2014), Cap CUE (2014), all three California Subject Matters Project Conferences, Capitol Area Science Education Leaders, and several San Joaquin County Office of Education events. She has led so many trainings from 2005-present that she has earned the designation of Microsoft Innovative Educator Master Trainer. She won the 2010 eInstruction $75,000 Classroom Makeover Video Contest, wrote a successful Enhancing Education Through Technology grant for Manteca Unified School District in 2008, and was Teacher of the Year in MUSD in 2006. She serves on the MUSD Superintendent’s Technology Committee and as a district Tech Champion as MUSD embarks on their “Going Digital 2015” project. #MIEExpert15



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