Teaching Above the Line

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I had the absolute wonderful experience of presenting, again, at the MOREnet Technology Conference in St. Louis.  As I’m sitting through great presentations from awesome teachers from Missouri and surrounding states, it became evident there are LOTS of resources and digital tools to assist teachers in creating and presenting engaging activities to students of all ages.  It was affirming to know that most of these tools were already on my radar and I was excited learning of new tools I could bring back to teachers in the district.  There is nothing I enjoy more than hearing new, innovative ways digital tools are being used to enhance and transform instruction.  What was clearly present, and mentioned in almost every workshop I attended, as well as my own  presentations, was the importance of using digital tools to make learning better.  Don’t just use the tool to use the tool.  It’s important to ask yourself, “How is this tool going to make my lesson better?  How will this tool increase the level of learning, understanding, and, most importantly, critical thinking for all my students?”  Discussed and presented was the importance of using the SAMR Model of Technology Integration, to develop lessons that truly transform student learning.

As the District Instructional Technology Facilitator, in every meeting, I stress the importance of “not using the tool to just use the tool”.  It’s important to look at where the tool and lesson uses fall on the SAMR Model scale, and try to reach levels “above the line“.  I challenged all the teachers at the beginning of school to find where most of their technology practices with their students fall on the SAMR Model, and try to increase 1 level.

As educators, we all know there are times where activities at the bottom of Bloom’s Taxonomy, Webb’s DOK, and SAMR are necessary.  But if we teach at those levels for the majority of the day/time, our students are the ones clearly suffering.  We have all studied, to great length in most cases, the importance of increasing that rigor and critical thinking of students.  And now, throwing technology into the mix, we are faced with additional opportunities to really promote critical thinking.  I tell my teachers, if you could do this activity with a pencil, why use the computer?

Here is a breakdown of the SAMR Model:

S stands for Substitution.  Basically, there is no benefit or change in the critical thinking by using the technology available.  An example would be using the computer to type a research paper or story.  This activity, while not as fun and longer to complete, could easily be accomplished, at the same critical thinking level, as using the traditional paper/pencil method.  Now let’s increase the function of technology just a bit…

A represents the Augmentation level of the SAMR Model.  In this level, the technology slightly makes the thinking and lesson  a higher level of critical thinking/productivity.  For example, now the student will use a speech to text app to help create their paper or story.  This would not have been possible without the use of the technological app, however the level of thinking did not increase.

M is for the Modification level of the SAMR Model.  Now we are working “above the line“.  Learning opportunities “above the line” are challenging students to really use their levels of understanding and develop those critical thinking/higher order level of learning skills.  An example would be having the students share their work with a peer, in another location,  to have them comment and offer suggestions to make their paper/story better.  Here the students are collaborating with each other, in real time, via the computer, and collaboratively creating a paper that is of higher quality than the traditional paper/pencil version.  Through the use of the revision history, the teacher can then begin to determine the level of understanding each collaborator has in regards to editing/revising or the selected content material.

R: Redefinition.  The final level of the SAMR Model.  Here the task is significantly changed due to the use of technology.  This activity could not be possible without the technology.  A great example would be to take the created story/paper and create a podcast with the information gathered.  This podcast could be put on the classroom webpage and shared with other students around the country/world.  The students could collaborate with other students, who have listened to their podcasts, and debate/answer questions regarding their selected topic.  Imagine the 21st Century skill opportunities!  Collaborating and Connecting with others.  The Creativity involved in the creation of the podcast, and the Critical Thinking necessary to defend/clarify comments made during the podcasts.

Below are a few resources to better help you understand the SAMR Model and its relationship with higher level thinking for all students:

SAMR      SAMR:Blooms


All grade levels can use this model as a framework for technology integration.  It will just look different between the Kindergarten  and 9th grade classrooms.  Is it a bit scary?  Absolutely!  But as educators we are ALWAYS looking for ways to engage our students in meaningful learning opportunities.  It’s time to step out of the “comfort zone”.  Try shooting “above the line” in your technology teaching!


So now, I challenge you the reader.  Look at the resources shared in this post.  Ask yourself, “where do most of my technology practices occur in the classroom?”  How can you raise to the next level and truly work to create productive, engaged, critical thinking 21st Century students?