#230 – Technology Integration in the Primary Grades, with Erin Rehnblom

Unpacking Education October 25, 2023 42 min

In this episode, we are joined by Erin Rehnblom, a first grade teacher at Prairie View Elementary School in Otsego, Minnesota. Erin discusses strategies and benefits for integrating technology with her first grade students. Her enthusiasm for technology integration and her love for her students is infectious. Regardless of the grade level that you teach, you will be able to find inspiration from Erin’s share-outs around bringing technology into the teaching and learning experience.

Read a transcript of this episode.

Paul Beckermann
PreK–12 Digital Learning Specialist
Rena Clark
STEM Facilitator and Digital Learning Specialist
Dr. Winston Benjamin
Social Studies and English Language Arts Facilitator

Technology can become the “wings” that will allow the educational world to fly farther and faster than ever before—if we will allow it.

Jenny Arledge, educator


The following resources are available from AVID and on AVID Open Access to explore related topics in more depth:

The World They Live in

“I think to not embrace it [technology] is doing a disservice to your students because this is the world they’re growing up in,” says Erin. “And I feel like I’m empowering them to be digital citizens—even in first grade—in these small, innocent ways that don’t have the magnitude of consequences that they could have when they’re older.”

She also says that learning technology and digital citizenship is “just as important as the standards that we have [in] teaching them reading and math because we don’t know what the world is going to look like for them, and if we’re not equipping them at this young of an age, they’re going to be behind.”

From overcoming nervousness about integrating technology to celebrating the victories and benefits that come from digital learning experiences, Erin shares what this looks like in her classroom. She also shares the insights that she has gained from her career as an elementary teacher. The following are a few highlights from this episode:

  • About Our Guest: Erin Rehnblom is a first grade teacher at Prairie View Elementary in Otsego, Minnesota. She’s a former Minnesota Teacher of the Year finalist and is in her thirteenth year of teaching. She has taught grades 1, 2, 3, and 5. She says, “I’ve wanted to be a teacher since I was in first grade. I have a picture of myself in my classroom on my first day of first grade, just to remind me of where I came from.”
  • Inevitable Change: Erin admits that it’s “just mind blowing” how much technology has evolved during her 13-year career. She adds, “I can’t even imagine what 13 years from now is going to look like.” She believes that teachers must prepare students for an uncertain future that will undoubtedly include the use of technology.
  • Learning Opportunities: The classroom is a safe place to learn digital citizenship. It’s a controlled environment with less serious consequences if students make mistakes, which they likely will. Erin offers an example, saying, “I like to talk to them [her students] about consent. You can’t take a picture or a video of someone without asking their permission, and once you take that picture and that video, here’s who can see it, and here’s where it lives, and it’s out there forever.”
  • Differentiation: One of the benefits of using technology is that it makes differentiation possible and manageable. Erin observes that the wide range of achievement levels continues to broaden with students, requiring more and more differentiated instruction. She admits, “There’s one of me, and there’s 25 of them,” but through the use of technology, she can digitally “clone” herself to “meet the needs of all of my students.”
  • Go Slow to Go Fast: Erin offers a suggestion when getting started. She says, “Go slow to go fast. Give yourself grace. Know that there’s going to be some bumps, just like anything, but the impact that you will see with your students is going to outweigh any stress or bumps you might feel preparing for that.”
  • Learning Routines: Students need to learn how to use technology independently, just like they need to learn any other procedures in the classroom. Erin likes to make this a fun experience for her students . . . and for herself. She dresses up in a camo shirt and hat for a week and becomes a drill sergeant. The students enjoy this change of pace. Erin says, “I teach them how to help themselves, how to help each other.” She explains that she asks questions like, “What do you do if you can’t hear on your headphones, and I’m busy? What do you do if your iPad dies in the middle of work time, like all of those things that happen?”
  • Student Mentors: “I find those kids in my class that are tech savvy,” says Erin. This gives those students a sense of status, and it allows students to help each other, rather than always asking the teacher for help. Students become more independent.
  • Creation: It’s important that students are allowed to use technology to create, not just consume. Erin thinks this is key and suggests that it’s important to give students permission to use technology as a creative option. She says, “Right away, I tell them, ‘This is a tool you can use.’” Students in her classroom are allowed to use technology as a creative and communication option, and they often figure out innovative ways to use these tools in their learning. Erin says that in order to give them permission to be creative, “You have to give them some of that control. You have to say, ‘I trust you . . .’”
  • Not Always Perfect: Erin admits that technology integration doesn’t always go perfectly, but that’s okay. She says, “Sometimes when I teach reading, it’s not awesome first . . . and then I have to reteach, and it’s the same with technology. I have to reteach sometimes. We all have to reteach sometimes.”
  • Choices: Erin loves how technology provides additional options and choices in the classroom. Some of these are creative choices, like the eBook app Epic, which provides students with expanded reading choices. Because there are so many free books that she can offer students through the app, Erin says she feels like “I just opened the world to them.”
  • Growth Mindset: For teachers who are nervous about trying new technology, Erin suggests asking this question: “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” In most cases, the worst is that it fails, and she needs to try again the next day. She adds, “There are so many other great things that can happen before that absolute worst thing. It’s not going to be the end of the world if it doesn’t work. It’s not going to ruin everything for them or for you. Maybe it just doesn’t work that day.”
  • Do It Scared: Erin encourages teachers to embrace new technology, even if it makes them feel a bit scared. She says, “Believe in yourself and practice what you preach to your students. It will be okay. You can do this, and it is going to really make a difference, not only in your teaching but in your students’ engagement and learning. And so I would say, do it scared. You can do it. Take one small step, and I think you’ll be so proud of yourself and really see what kind of impact it can make.”

Guiding Questions

If you are listening to the podcast with your instructional team or would like to explore this topic more deeply, here are guiding questions to prompt your reflection:

  • What technology do you currently integrate into your classroom?
  • What teaching and learning goals can technology help you attain in your classroom?
  • What is a technology tool that you would like to explore?
  • How do you prepare students and set them up for success when using technology?
  • How can using technology in your classroom help prepare students for their future?

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