Mrs. Cook's Corner

Learning First, Tech Second

Technology coaches demonstrate professional
knowledge, skills, and dispositions in content,
pedagogical, and technological areas as well as
adult learning and leadership and are continuously
deepening their knowledge and expertise.

ISTE Coaching Standard 6: Content Knowledge and Professional Growth

If I could pick one ISTE standard that has become a mantra for me throughout this experience of pursuing my masters- it would be this one: Learning First, Tech Second. Towards the beginning of my program, Liz, a member of my cohort taught us this phrase. It has resonated with me since.

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You have to be careful to not be blinded by the glitter and wonder that tech brings. You can do so many fun and flashy things with technology. You can light it up, make it spin, animate it, and get a lot of attention for all the cool projects you are doing in your class. The kids are engaged, people want to start coming by to take a look, but it means nothing if the kids aren’t learning content. Liz Kolb, warns, “when technology leads to flawed engagement, students will eventually lose interest because they recognize that the technology is a mere trick and not actually adding value to their understanding of the content.” (2017)

In 2006, Mishra and Kholer from Michigan State developed a framework called TPACK to help educators integrate tech into their classroom. They argued that good teaching requires an understanding of how technology relates to the pedagogy and content. (Kholer, 2012)

TPACK asks educators to use their content knowledge, pedagogical knowledge, and technology knowledge to guide their students in meeting specific classroom learning goals.

Liz Kolb, 2017

As a coach, it is my job to make sure that when working with teachers, the learning goals are top of mind. What do you want the students to learn? After that is clear, we can discuss how we might use technology to facilitate and or showcase the learning. I am working with a teacher that wants students to learn about the Great Depression. Over the past few years, she has given them a topic and has had them research it and make a poster to show what they have learned. This model has produced learning, however, the learning has been of a singular event that has taken place during the Great Depression. We are working together to create a self paced unit that gives students choice on which way they would like to learn the content. Her goal is that students will build a wealth of knowledge of how the Great Depression was created, the consequences felt by the American people as well as around the world, and the ideas, events, and work that went into stabilizing the economy. As a final project, students will choose how they will share their learning. Below, I will demonstrate how we will use TPACK to inform our lesson design.

Image based on the original on

The first three knowledge areas we need to consider when thinking about this lesson are:

  • Content Knowledge (CK)— What is the scope of learning we want the students to cover? Are we confident in our knowledge of the Great Depression?
  • Pedagogical Knowledge (PK)— Think of our students, what ways do they learn best? Do we need to make accommodations for students? How can we make the content accessible to all learners?
  • Technological Knowledge (TK)— Is there a digital platform that we can use to deliver the content/knowledge to students in a way that meets their learning needs?

Next, how will these areas intersect? (Dylan Rodgers, 2018)

  • Pedagogical Content Knowledge (PCK)—understanding the best practices for teaching specific content to your specific students.
  • Technological Content Knowledge (TCK)—knowing how the digital tools available to you can enhance or transform the content, how it’s delivered to students, and how your students can interact with it.
  • Technological Pedagogical Knowledge (TPK)—understanding how to use your digital tools as a vehicle to the learning outcomes and experiences you want.

It is in this last three knowledge areas that the real work lives. I found an amazing article called “Grounded” Technology Integration. The authors have taken all of the content areas and broken them down into learning activities complete with digital tools curated to help transform the learning. Below is an example of Social Studies Knowledge Expression activity types that I would like to share with the teacher I am coaching in hopes that these would be excellent ideas for her students to show their knowledge of the Great Depression. What I love about these ideas, is that there are many different ways students can express their learning first, technology second!


  • ISTE Standards for Coaches. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  • Kolb, L. (2017). Learning first, technology second: the educators guide to designing authentic lessons. Portland: International Society for Technology in Education.
  • TPACK.ORG. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  • Schoology. (2018). The TPACK Framework Explained (With Classroom Examples). Retrieved from
  • “Grounded” Technology Integration: Instructional Planning … (2010). Jl. of Technology and Teacher Education (2010) 18(4), 573-605 Retrieved from

7 thoughts on “Learning First, Tech Second

  1. Melissa,
    Your post is great and informative on the TPACK framework. In your post, you make a powerful statement that technology should add value to student understanding unless it means nothing. In the lesson design of the Great Depression, you TPACK to provide effective learning for students to meet the learning goals. In this lesson, digital tools as a vehicle to accelerate students to reach learning outcomes the teachers want. Thank you for your sharing.

  2. Your point on content knowledge from TPACK is very relevant to how many schools are going about technology integration. These schools are trying have educators apply a technology the same way for every content area. As the “Grounded” technology integration article warns, “knowing how to teach high school-level history differs quite dramatically from knowing how to teach first-grade reading or middle-school algebra”. Your social studies activity example is a great example of putting the learning first with technology as a support. Thank you!

  3. Melissa, I think we can all own the learning first and tech second mantra as the “Big Idea” of our learning during this course work. I appreciate how you highlighted the tools in the Grounded article and within Liz Kolb’s work. Our collective learning in the DEL program has supported my personal evolution of student choice and learner-centered opportunities. Thank you for providing multiple resources; I look forward to using them soon.

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