Hands On Teaching Technology

An Interview with Greg Garner

This is the first in a series of occasional interviews of innovators in teaching & technology. I met Greg Garner, an education technologist for Eanes Independent School District in central Texas at SXSWedu in Austin earlier this year.  I’ve since come to know him as a dedicated, hand-on education technologist and a forward-thinking observer and critic of the ed tech industry.  In this lightly edited interview, he talks about what drew him into ed tech, opportunities he sees for tech in the classroom, and the role lightweight, classroom-centric tools like trinket can play.
Greg Garner specializes in Teaching Technology at Eanes School District in Texas.
Greg Garner
Find Greg on Twitter if you have any comments or follow up questions!

 

Elliott: How and when did you get involved in Edtech?  What interests you about it?

Greg: I got into Edtech by accident. My first year teaching I was given an 8th grade keyboarding class, despite being hired to teach math. I wasn’t thrilled because, come on, who wants to teach a typing class? But my eyes were completely opened once I realized the flexibility I would have in creating a class of value for my students and what the technology could facilitate. I completely re-wrote the curriculum, implemented a collaborative business simulation and used the tech available to us as a means for expanding our horizons and opportunities. Then I started learning about how technology could level the playing field for all learners and it was game over: I was totally hooked. I got my Masters in Educational Technology Leadership and have learned everything I can about how technology influences pedagogy, learning styles, and special populations. I am fascinated by the opportunities afforded by technology in the hands of a skilled teacher.

I started learning about how technology could level the playing field for all learners and it was game over: I was totally hooked.

Elliott: You’ve written before about problems teachers face and the lack of tools directly addressing them. Why do you think this mismatch in teaching technology exists?

Greg: To be able to identify a problem, you’ve got to be “in the weeds” of it. It has to be something you’re dealing with on a day-to-day basis. So, while most teachers can point to what the “perfect” tool looks like, they are not programmers themselves. This is paired with the fact that the programmers and engineers making apps generally aren’t teachers. So we have a divide. I think it’s closing, but it’s still there and it’s very real. The big ‘aha’ solutions come from teachers and businesses working together in an agile development process.

While most teachers can point to what the “perfect” tool looks like, they are not programmers themselves.

 Elliott: Can you describe where you work and where your district fits into the larger landscape of schools? Do you think your experience is typical or exceptional in any way?
Greg: My current district is a medium-sized central Texas school district with about 6000 or so students. We like to say that our district is an exception because, for instance, we’re 1:1 with iPads; every teacher, every student grades K through 12. We realize there are a lot of aspects of our experience that aren’t necessarily available to other districts. We’re grateful, but we definitely feel the weight of responsibility to set an example worth following. We’re atypical, but we’re trying to leverage our influence to change the conversation for other schools trying to navigate the complexities of public education.

 

Elliott: As an educational technologist you help teachers use technology in the classroom every day. What in your opinion is the biggest programming resource for the classroom that exists but is underutilized?
Greg: Dare I say, “any/all of them”? The beautiful thing about teaching programming is how malleable it is. It can conform to what ever structure (or lack of) you want to utilize in your class, so it’s really about figuring out what you want your class to look like, what language your students want to learn (which might be different from one student to the next), and then implementing the appropriate resource. For some, it’s Trinket. For others, it might be code.org. Some folks may want to be a little less immersive and use tools like Code Combat or Tynker. The learning process, when done well, has always been about creativity and choice and what better way to introduce or extend these concepts than with programming?

The beautiful thing about teaching programming is how malleable it is.

Elliott: Are there hands-on techniques or resources you see used to bring programming into the classroom that are particularly successful? What do you think makes them successful?

Greg: The most successful thing I’ve seen is when teachers provide coding/programming as a required option. Oxymoronic, sure, but give students a list of resources to try and then let them self-select what best fits their personal preferences. The key is making them try something. If you were to ask an 11 year-old if they want to do some computer programming, the stigma and outdated stereotype associated with that is enough to shut them down pretty quickly. Most students find a tool, write a piece of code, and at the moment that their programming becomes a real thing (a website, a robot program, a game), they’re hooked. The light bulb comes on and extrinsic motivation is no longer needed. With programming becoming available to younger and younger students and with more resources being devoted to making sure both genders are invited to the party, I don’t think it will be long before we see large-scale, systemic changes in the way we think about programming.

Most students find a tool, write a piece of code, and at the moment that their programming becomes a real thing (a website, a robot program, a game), they’re hooked.

A big thanks to Greg for taking the time to do this interview!  If you have questions for him, tweet them or leave them below!

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