When I first received a copy of Martin Jorgensen’s Simple Tools I expected a book filled with suggestions for apps and digital tools to use in class. In fact, there are only a few recommendations for tools scattered throughout the text. What I found instead was a much more purposeful and systematic method for selecting tools myself – a guide for getting the most out of the tools I already use, and for incorporating the right tools into lessons.
Simple Tools begins by pointing out an important fact about the digital technologies we use in the classroom: most of the tools weren’t designed for education. Jorgensen’s point is clear: we’ve got enough to contend with in a classroom without piling on the complexities of problematic technologies that might not be designed for teaching young people.
To address the issue of which apps to choose, he points out that most schools either adopt a single-platform approach (“we’re a Google school”), or a scattergun approach of teachers and students using myriad different programs. Either approach can be problematic; the former limiting and denying potentially useful apps, the latter causing confusion for both teachers and students. The solution, Jorgensen suggests, is to take a much more systematic approach to which tools are approved by a school.
The Simple Tools approach
The main part of the book is split into eight chapters:
- Starting with what you know
- Establishing a foundation
- Finding simple tools
- Judging the load
- Create and discover
- Routines and features
- Collaboration and discussion online
It begins with a discussion of common thinking routines in the classroom; territory that will be familiar for many teachers with activities like Think – Pair – Share. Rather than launching straight into the digital tools, Jorgensen establishes a premise which runs throughout the book: digital tools should augment, not replace, traditional classroom practices. He offers a few examples of how to use simple, purpose-built online tools to conduct some of these familiar routines, demonstrating that integrating technology should be a small step rather than a giant leap from the normal classroom.
Which tools to choose?
Using Dr Ruben R Puentedura’s popular SAMR model Jorgensen suggests ways to select digital resources with a clear purpose. Chapter 3 also introduces some useful selection criteria for finding your own tools, including ease of use, quick mastery, singular purpose, access constraints, and the complexity of the language in the tool itself. All of these suggestions are designed to reduce the friction from introducing new technologies into the classroom, and to make it more likely that students will adopt them quickly and make the most of the lesson time.
Throughout the book you’ll find a few suggestions for specific tools to use with thinking routines, such as https://tlk.io/ for discussion or https://www.mindmaps.app/ for, unsurprisingly, mind mapping. However, the point of the book is not to provide an extensive list of tools. There is an acknowledgement that technology moves so quickly and the demands of different classrooms are so unique that any list would be quickly out of date. Instead, Jorgensen has started curating and updating a list of apps on his website at https://sequencedlearning.com/#/simple-tools-list/ and the book remains focused on the process of tool selection.
The part of the book I found the most useful is one of the activities, which are found at the end of most chapters. In Chapter 3, Jorgensen introduces a framework for selecting tools which he calls IMPACT: Impact, Mastery, Purpose, Access, Context, Text. The framework is a simple way to quickly judge the value of digital tools prior to introducing them to the curriculum. I’ve already used it to rate some of the apps I’m using in class, and in the future I’ll be using it as part of my consulting when discussing digital technologies with schools.
Choose your own adventure
Simple Tools goes on to point out that digital technologies should be used as part of the natural creative process of lesson design. Teachers should be empowered to choose technologies which ignite discussion and provoke thought – not which get in the way of learning. Jorgensen suggests methods for selecting tools with a minimal impact on cognitive load as well as tools which are designed to inspire creativity in both students and teachers. The message is clear: technology should never get in the way of a good lesson.
He calls for teachers to be explicit with students about the transition from offline to online tools: tell them exactly why they’re going to be using the tool, and why this tool specifically, and not something else. In order to do that, teachers must be much more conscious of which tools they are choosing. Chapter 7 includes prompts to reflect on these choices and suggestions for the language to use when discussing the purpose of tools with students. The book ends with a chapter on collaboration and discussion: an area which digital tools are well-suited for, and which most teachers would be comfortable with following remote learning.
Simple Tools offers a new way to think about digital tools in the classroom. Rather than going for the single-provider approach or the scattergun approach, Jorgensen recommends that schools adopt a systematic, thoughtful practice towards adopting new technologies. He points out where technology adoption can go wrong, and how to avoid those issues in the planning stages before introducing the tools to students.
I didn’t leave with an armful of shiny new toys to try out in my next few lessons: that’s exactly the opposite of what this book is about. Instead, I’ll be taking the ideas and applying them the next time I sit down with a head of faculty to design a unit of work, and I’ll be much more conscious of which tools I’m introducing to the classroom, and why.
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