TechFast - what is it? It isn’t a celebration or festival of technology. It also isn’t a shunning of technology. TechFast is a simple idea that I thought about doing two or three years ago and brought to fruition this year. Quite simply, it’s technology plus breakfast. Many elementary schools across the country have programs like “Muffins with Mom” or “Doughnuts with Dad” to encourage parent participation before school. TechFast is similar to those. During a TechFast event, teachers who are interested come join and together we discuss one (and only one!) technology piece. It could be an app; it could be software; or it could be a program. During this time, the educators share what they know or what they want to know about the decided topic and have coffee with a light breakfast menu like muffins or doughnuts. I told you it was simple!
How did it come to be? Well, as I mentioned, a couple of years ago I conceived of this idea due to the popularity of the parent events at my elementary school. But no teachers wanted to get to school early to participate in additional professional development - or maybe it just was that they didn’t want to leave their comfy beds thirty minutes earlier, who knows? I tried to schedule several events, but it was a no go. Fast forward and I’m in a new position, at a new school, with new colleagues who are overwhelmed at the cornucopia of resources, apps, software and technology we have at our 1:1 initiative fingertips. During one of our lunches one day, I mentioned that I, as a former technology applications teacher, would be happy to help everyone walk through Google Apps for Education and Google Classroom, but continued that the only possible time would be before school at 6:30 A.M. Imagine my surprise when four or five of my colleagues said, “I’ll be there! Tell me what day.” We agreed to meet the following Wednesday morning (twice a month) and tackle just one app or software piece each session. I promised the following:
- I would provide coffee and doughnuts or muffins for attendees.
- I would keep the session to thirty minutes (ending at 7:00 AM) which would give them time to do a bit of “business” before AM duty begins at 7:10 AM.
- I would help them navigate whatever topic they sought - even if it meant that I learned the tech with them.
It’s been a huge success. The first session we tackled Google Apps for Education, made sure that all of our attendees knew how to sign in to their Google Classrooms and understood the difference between their personal Google accounts and their school ones so that they can share documents for our Recess for Success program. The key is to start and end on time. Educators who arrived after start time were welcomed to come in and join us and we ended up with about six overall the first time. We already have a slate of topics including a session on Google Classroom, one on Front Row, one on Discovery Education...just to name a few. Basically there was one person who asked for a session on each of the tech tools that we have at our disposal based on subscriptions or adoptions for our district. And who knows what the remainder of the year will bring?
Here are some suggestions for starting your own TechFast:
- Find individuals who want to learn and are willing. Invite those individuals in your building who are tech savvy and those who wouldn’t want to meet tech in a well lit alley on a moonlight night. There’s room for everyone at the event and the smartest person in the room IS the room.
- Discuss a mutually beneficial time and meet. It might end up being a “Tech Snack” or an “APPetizer Session” after school or during a conference or planning period or it might be a “TechFast” in the morning. I admit that I bribe using Starbucks coffee travelers and I deliver the leftovers to those whom I think might benefit from the next tool we’re discussing - along with leftover treats.
- Be conscious of time - the thirty minute time limit is great. If you have to continue the topic, do so another session but remember that the purpose is about a taste, or in the words of the cooking shows, an amuse bouche - an appetizer that gives you a bite but not a full meal, just enough to whet your whistle and leave you begging for more.
- Be willing to be the one to make mistakes. As I mentioned, I admitted my ignorance for some apps, topics, and software programs, but I have a willingness to learn alongside my colleagues. It’s important to be open to show that no one has to be an expert in everything. Demonstrating an attitude open towards learning and failing (forward) helps those who may be less comfortable open up and be willing to make an attempt - every great educator knows this about his/her students, and it’s an important thing to remember with adults who may be learning new skills and technology. Remember FAIL = First Attempt In Learning.
Lindsay Foster has been teaching for 16 years. She has taught pre-K, Transitional 1st, 2nd, and 5th grades. She has worked in both the public and private school systems. Lindsay was also a technology applications instructor of 700 kindergarten through fifth grade students for 4 years and, though she is back in the classroom now teaching 6th grade ELA and Reading, she maintains her immense passion for EdTech and sharing that excitement with other teachers.