When people say that technology can’t help teaching and learning in the classroom, I cringe a bit inside. What negative experiences do they have to inform their decisions?  What are they scared of? Why so negative? To me, it’s a “no duh.” Of course technology can improve the classroom!

Imagine, walking in to a classroom where all students are using the technology that suits them best. The students are using it correctly. There are no technological hiccups. And everyone is learning at their pace. Nice picture, huh? This can be the future but this beautiful reality has a flip side as well–one that is difficult, challenging, and can be wasteful of our limited time with students. I learned this lesson the hard way.

After hearing Jeff Utecht at Learning 2.014, I came home with an easy take-away for my 2nd graders. By updating Google Chrome on our classroom computers, the students could use the voice-activated search capabilities to do independently inquire about all those morning queries that suck the life out of elementary teachers: “Mrs. L, what do Naked Mole Rats eat?” or “When was the first Olympics?” or “How fast do cheetahs run?” AHHHHHHH!!!

AskGoogleJeff told us that it was an easy fix. And he was right! As kids piled in the classroom that Monday morning, I taught a few kids. They taught the next few. And the ripple effect had taken hold. They were excited to use the voice-activated search but were even more impressed by the playback capabilities (where they could hear the answers which helped some of my lower readers).

So day 1 was quite successful! During Reader’s Workshop, one of the students was wondering what other books Patricia Polacco wrote (so they could do an independent author-study), I told her to “Ask Google.” She did. And she got the answers she needed before going to the school library. During Writer’s Workshop, one of my boys was struggling with his writing. He wanted to add some dialogue in his home language (Polish). Since my Polish is limited to ordering beers or swearing, I knew the only response I could offer was, “Ask Google!” He did. And he got a translation… you get the drift! This scenario was repeated A LOT! on Monday. I even had a group of students who chose to forego playing on the playground to “Ask Google” a bunch of questions that would help them with their inquiry projects.

from Creative Commons

from Creative Commons

On Tuesday, the students were clamouring over one another to come in and “Ask Google.” Wednesday and Thursday were much the same. But Friday. Now Friday was a little bit different. One little cheeky chap came in and started to ask questions about the Blue-Footed Booby bird. I’m sure I don’t have to spell out the specifics, but needless to say, I walked up to four boys gawking around the computer looking at bodacious boobs nearly oozing out of sexy braziers. Calmly (though a bit red-faced), I hit the power button and we had a bit of a chat.

During morning meeting, we came together as a community to establish rules for “Ask Google.” Though I had taught the kids how to use the technology. I forgot to teach them how to be good digital citizens. It was a daunting conversation followed by a cryptic email to parents. The parents didn’t need to know about the bra-laden breasts. But they needed to know the conversation that was had at school. My expectation was that the parents would mimic the same dialogue at home… but how could I guarantee that?

I can’t!

As teachers, we can teach digital citizenship  until we’re blue in the face, but if the message at home is not consistent, problems arise. I’ve had 2nd graders tell me about how they loved seeing the movies in the “Hunger Games” or “Harry Potter” franchises (which are mostly rated PG-13 and recommended for older viewers according to Common Sense Media). I even have 7-year old girls humming the tune to Ellie Goulding’s “Love Me Like You Do.” (Love my like you do… Touch me like you do…). Yup! My 7-year olds are singing music from the “50 Shades of Grey” movie! AHHHH.

Every generation has had problems with evolving media and technology. Weren’t Elvis’ dance moves so controversial that he was banned from being filmed from the waist down? And I’ve heard the stories about that darn British band of boys with floppy haircuts and their “Yellow Submarine.”

But averting our eyes and burying our heads in the sand IS NOT an option. As educators, it is our job to educate! We need to embrace technology because it’s here! And we need to ensure that the school-home message is in sync.

After alllllllll of that… If you are interested in setting up “OK Google” voice-activated searching in your own classroom, here is some information about how to set it up on a variety of devices.