Shaping Tech for the Classroom

Just now, as I typed the title to Marc Prensky’s article Shaping Tech for the Classroom, I’m thinking that he should have titled it Shaping Classrooms for Technology.  The article is all about adapting and adopting teachnology use in our classroom.  When I read articles like this, I like to print them out (no iPad or tablet yet) and write comments and reactions in the margins.  I had a lot for only a few pages of article.

My school is somewhere in the stage 2 (doing old things in old ways) or stage 3 (doing old things in new ways).  Last year the school started using Moodle, and this year we are slowly adding smartboards.  We are still stuck with an older gradebook system, but I’m hopeful that will change soon.  When I left Wisconsin in 2007, we had Skyward grading which was outstanding.  I even had the ability to access my school computer desktop from anywhere in the world, and I thought that was pretty slick.  I wish we could do that here.

I feel that part of the reason that we are still doing things the old way is that some teachers–I’ll admit that I fall into this group sometimes–feel that technology is such a distraction.  There are some days where I want to yell at the kids, ‘I WISH YOU HAD AN ATTENTION SPAN THAT LASTED MORE THAN 30 SECONDS.’  Technology may be a distractor if the instructor doesn’t use the correct approach.  I recall a professor telling the class once that we needed to allow time for some initial dabbling and be OK with that.  For example, if I am teaching something on area in a geometry class, I may pass out Legos as manipulatives…and I need to allow for some initial exploration.  The same has to be true of technology.  Unfortunately, the students may have better knowledge of the technology than the instructor.  I think that may be intimidating to some teachers.

Students are doing many more old things in new ways, and they’re ahead of us teachers.  Prensky mentions ordering items online, gaming, and socializing.  This got me to thinking: does technology need to have a social aspect when used in the school?  To a degree, yes it does.  We interact with friends and strangers everyday.  We learn from our peers and we learn on our own by trying new things here and there.  But to what extent is it imperative to be social?  Do I need to update my Facebook status every two hours (my life is really not that exciting)?  Do students crave that instant feedback?

Prensky goes on to describe barriers to our technology adoption, the big ones being social and technological.  I can agree with that.  However, time and money are at the root.  Teachers need time and training; I’m getting a smartboard next year, but someone better show me how to use it.  And that will take time.  Money is always a problem.  Public or private school.  I’ve always operated under the ‘do-more-with-less’ philosophy.  When I needed protractors in my room, I had the copy guy make transparencies from some examples I found on the internet.

One-to-one computing is a decent broad goal for a school’s adoption of technology.  However, it has to start somewhere, so I disagree with Prensky’s notion that anything less will delay the revolution.  Hey, at this point we’ve at least started.  He also mentions cost as an obstacle and that costs are continually dropping.  This is good, but let me play devil’s advocate here: the cost drops, the budget loosens a little, and we buy all this technology…that may become outdated in a shorter amount of time than the drop in the cost.

Prensky describes a fast-paced world in which we live.  Instant messenging is great, but somedays I feel my students really lack patience.  I was teaching how to factor ax^2 + bx + c polynomials last week, and I showed how it will take time to work through this problem.  Many of the 8th graders who are in my 9th grade algebra 1 class were (are) so used to getting the answer right away in their heads; multi-step problems require patience.  Several were unhappy when I told them it might take two or three minutes to figure each problem out.

Am I sold on technology in the classroom?  You betcha.  Am I realistic?  Yes.  And I am, almost to a fault, very pragmatic.  This week I’m using iClickers to review in Algebra 1.  We’ll see how it goes.

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