I am considered “techy” by my colleagues. In my class we make use of my students’ own devices or a set of 6 chromebooks they can borrow from me on an almost daily basis. We use Pear Deck & Kahoot a lot.

But technology isn’t always the best tool for the job. A lesson plan should always start with a learning goal in mind, and then you should select the best tool to get you there; be it a digital tool or not. Allow me to share an example of when technology was NOT the best tool for the job.

In spring of 2014, I learned about Peter Liljedahl’s research and started using Visibly Random Groups in my classroom the very next day; each day students are placed in different random groups – visibly (no rigging the groups ahead of time by the teacher). Being the techy sort that I am I found a website in which I could paste the names of my students & it would make groups for me; Team Maker.

But I quickly noticed a number of drawbacks to using a digital team making tool:

- I had to have a class list of names saved in notepad, had to open up the list in notepad & then copy & paste the list into the team maker site.
- Sometimes the majority of one group would be absent that day leaving one person there (I like groups of 3).
- I could wait ’till the bell & delete the names of absent students but that means having everyone get up & change seats after the bell rings.

I stuck with it a week or two but wasn’t loving the system. So I decided to go old school & bought a deck of cards for each class at the dollar store. The table groups in my class are numbered from 1 to 8. So I would take out 3 of each of those card numbers from the deck – these are what I hand out to students as they enter. I place them in order A(1), 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, A, 2, 3, 4, 5, and so on …. As students arrive they get the next card in the deck – no arguing – and proceed to that group of desks. If only 2/3 of my class is present that day then each group gets 2 people. This avoided the problem with the website where I’d have some groups of 3s and other groups with just 1 person there & then have to shuffle people around manually. I’ve been using the playing card system for a year and half now & it still works great for my students & I.

There are many times when technology can help us get to our learning goal more easily. For example, having students explore the parameters of m and b in the linear equation using Desmos sliders is phenomenal; way better than graphing calculators or paper & pencil graphing. Less time spent drawing graphs, more time exploring & drawing conclusions about the parameters in question. But let’s make sure that we are always starting with our learning goal in mind first, and choosing our tool second. Because sometimes old school “technology” (paper & pencil, blackboard, etc) might be the better tool for the job.

– Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON)

I so agree Laura, I don’t think you should use tech for tech’s sake. One of my students’ favorite group making strategies is Hershey Kisses. I put a dot on the bottom of each kiss to match my groups and they draw as they enter the room. Students can eat the kiss or turn it in for one bonus point on the day’s assignment.