This summer I have been teaching Project Based Learning to a small group of 7th & 8th grade boys at a camp in Philadelphia. My classroom is a Study Lounge in a dorm with a dry erase board that barely erases, desks with chairs attached and carpeting throughout.

I have been teaching an Ecosystems unit to my campers in a carpeted room with no sink, few tables and ALMOST NO TECHNOLOGY!

As a lab teacher, it has been a struggle as well as a good reason to reflect:

Do my students feel as frustrated as I do? Can I teach without technology? Can my students learn without technology?

My lessons this summer are very hands on and interactive to meet the needs of boy learners (see Kent Manning‘s blog Motivating Boy Writers). Still, I felt like I wasn’t doing my best teaching sometimes because I didn’t have access to a computer, and even if I brought my laptop in there is no wireless connection. I had to reserve a special room just to show them some Discovery Education Streaming videos I had found about what we were studying. I began to worry: “Can I teach without technology?”

I found myself struggling to engage my boys in the short 1-2 page reading selections we completed despite trying several different methods for making the experience as engaging and interactive as possible. I tried Think, Pair, Share, I tried to do a Jigsaw activity and I tried just the plain old ‘read it’ technique. My students had trouble concentrating, and even if they didn’t have to read the whole selection and knew they would be teaching their peers about what they read, they did not seem motivated to read. What I failed to mention is that they were reading selections about animals they had right in front of them in the classroom.

Then, today I was actually able to squeeze my boys into the only computer slot available all week. We had recently gone on a trip to the Schuylkill Environmental Center and hiked around for a few hours. We saw Bullfrogs, Wood Frogs, Snapping Turtles, American Toads and more! I decided to have them use Glogster to create a research report on an animal we had seen. Once they saw what Glogster could do, and I reviewed the assignment and the kinds of things they needed to find out about the animal, they were instantly motivated. Even those who struggled to read or concentrate were quickly able to find the information they needed and then put it onto a glog. We only had an hour to complete the whole project, but I was proud of what they turned out.

for the full glogs: &

I couldn’t help but wonder: are we all 21st Century learners? I felt like a better teacher while using technology and I watched my campers become truly engaged with the content they were reading. Does this mean that my students NEED technology to be successful learners? Or am I just a better teacher when using technology?

Are we reaching a point where we as teachers are becoming ‘Digital Natives’ like our students and therefore require these techie tools to be successful?

There are students across the world learning new things every day (and surpassing us in test scores & job readiness) without the resources that we have. What are the implications of this?

Some links on this topic:

Teach Paperless: What Makes a Good 21st Century Teacher? (this is a great blog about learning in the 21st Century) (a website dedicated to Technology in Education)

Education World-Technology Integration
(a site with resources for teachers trying to integrate technology)

Cool Cat Teacher Blog
(a blog about successful teaching and effective tools in Educational Technology)

Free Technology for Teachers
(a great resource for free online tools for teachers)

One thing I would like to find: studies, posts, etc… explaining how we don’t need technology to reach our students and to be effective teachers. Please advise!


  1. Deven Black


    It is possible to teach without modern technology (a blackboard is technology, just tech left over from the 19th Century). I know that because that is how I've been doing it since I started teaching five years ago. Also, all the teachers I had back in the late-middle 20th Century managed to do it.Some will say that children today are different. No,they are not. Children are children and are bigger and less fit than we were, but they are just as interested in using the present technology as we were. I recall being fascinated by color television, stereo radio and 8mm film strips. Hard to believe that in a time that wasn't that long ago those things were cool.Someday very soon Glogster and the other techno we use today will be as outdated as those 8mm film strips and another teacher will be complaining that she can't get by without that ….. whatever it is.You7 did the best with what you had and that is all we can do.

  2. mshertz


    Deven,Thanks for giving me some perspective. Agreed that teaching technologies started with the book, the pencil and the blackboard!I am jealous that you can feel effective with only a blackboard and chalk. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

  3. Chad@classroots


    The big idea is that we differentiate what we're doing to engage our students with learning in ways that make it personally measningful to them. Whether we use tech tools in the service of an instructional strategy or not, those differentiated strategies help us foster personally relevant learning. Some students plug into the abstract connection making of a compare/contrast exercise; others need some kind of non-linguistic representation hook to snag their attention. Advances in technology provide more local, immediate, and varied portals to the content and processes that engage individual students. Teachers being equal, technology rich classrooms also decentralize the teacher's authority and expertise by letting students find and create content more indepenently and collaboratively than in a technology poor classroom. Can you differentiate and teach and help students create meaning without cutting edge technology? Absolutely, but you maintain your position as the content provider, rather than as a portal. At some point, through technology or not, we still owe it to kids to teach them how to organize their learning around their passions and inquiries, and not around the teacher. To be observant, informed citizens and life-long learners, kids need practice in managing their own executive function for learning and communicating about it, whether its through online prosumerism or a trip to a museum or to the woods with pocket note-book and pencil in hand so they investigate the world through their own eyes, not just the teacher's.

  4. Shelly Terrell


    Great use of Glogster! I believe it is not so much the technology that makes me alive but when students are engaged and motivated by the experience. Especially, I love when they are creative and I reach those who seem to be less motivated to learn. I believe students like to show what they can do and when given the right presentation tools that can be utilized to supplement learning outcomes as well, this is a win-win situation.

  5. Kent


    Mary Beth wrote:"to engage my boys in the short 1-2 page reading selections we completed"The fact that you are even aware that boys need to be addressed differently is, I think, half the battle. It may not be possible to establish a relationship with each and every boy in a summer program, but just the many strategies you employed is a good start. Thank you for writing about this important group of learners. And for keeping it interesting for them.Take care.Kent

  6. mshertz


    Chad,I definitely agree that technology helps decentralize learning. I find that students always do better when they are given a choice. When my students are given a choice and are allowed to "choose their own adventure," they are more engaged (I think of Classroots whenever I use that word now!) and more self-directed.Shelly,It is definitely exciting to see my harder to motivate kids being creative and successful!Kent, Yes, the awareness that boys have different needs. Reading your blog posts before my summer started definitely helped! I hope to continue to work on my differentiation skills during the upcoming school year.Thank you to all for stopping by, reading the post and taking the time to join the conversation!

  7. RjWassink


    I'm also a bit jealous of Deven if he can do that – but I also have always been in a classroom with networked computers, so I've never had that experience. I really enjoy public speaking and love standing in front of a classroom talking… but at the end of the day I hope my projector works and I've got a video, website, or interesting document queued up to reinforce what I'm teaching. My favorite is when I can teach a topic such as storyboarding (which always seems to be a huge process that is unnecessary for the students) and then go to YouTube and watch videos about the storyboarding for Shrek, Monsters Inc, or a myriad of other animated films. It makes the learning relevant.One thing that technology gives us – specifically the Internet – is instantaneous resources to support the ever-present "teachable moments". Sure I can thoroughly prepare for a lesson the night before, but when that moment appears in the middle of class and there's a video on the web to drive the point home… I certainly hope I have a browser, unfiltered access to it, and a projector to show it on. Even having Wikipedia at my fingertips (or Google Maps, Live Maps, etc) helps support me daily when I mention new words, places, or ideas.And technology, as you have shown, is more than just the Internet supporting me as a teacher. My students constantly ask to collaborate online; yet when I ask them to work in groups I get resistance. Allowing the students to create work using their chosen technology (usually MS Office suite, Inspiration, Sketchup, AutoSketch,, or Page Maker if available) usually results in very high quality work. I have also always allowed students to do their work with pencil/paper if they prefer – have never had a student take that option. When I add Audacity, Movie Maker, Easytoon, and Pivot Stickfigure to the list… I start getting some really creative projects.The point is, I could teach without tech – but I'd be nowhere near as effective as I am with it.

  8. Kirsten Winkler


    The use of tech in teaching is like cooking with a lot of spices. The classic dishes only need three or four different spices like salt, pepper etc. Of course you can make some mistakes here but this is quite save.But if you start cooking a cuisine you don't know like indian or thai it gets tricky. Lots of new spices, sometimes 20 and more in a dish. Good chance to overspice it and mess it up.Technology is the spice of teaching. I like classic cuisine and I am always fascinated what you can do with just some ingredients but I also love indian and thai because of the complexity.If you use technology in teaching you got to know your spices. Use them wisely and be aware that not everyone likes thai or classic french.

  9. mshertz


    Ryan, It sounds like technology engages you as a teacher. I was reminded, while reading your comment, that it is important that we, as teachers, are excited about what we are teaching or our students won't be engaged either. Kirsten,Great analogy! I completely agree that just using technology is not the answer, that we still need to make sure that we are using the right tool for the right task, and that we remember to use technology that helps our students learn based on their best learning techniques (often based on what kind of learner they are and how they learn best). Too many times, teachers think technology is the magic tool to get kids to learn or be engaged, but it's not a cure-all!Thanks to everyone for stopping by and taking the time to leave a comment!

  10. Judy Jacob


    I have been following your blog for sometime… though this is my first comment here.Thought would drop by and send you this site for your opinion before I start using it with my class.

  11. mshertz


    Judy,That is a neat site! I love that people are tying social networking and academic learning together. I'm not sure exactly how you plan to use the site in your classroom or what age your students are, but it looks like a great way for older high school or college students to study together.Here is another site that offers similar features if you're interested:

  12. mshertz


    P.S. Judy:Thanks for leaving a comment! I'm always glad to 'hear' people's responses and thoughts about my posts. I'm glad you are enjoying the blog.

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