Modifying a Fossil

My dad, a teacher for 33 years, told me he remembers going to a PD conference and hearing this joke: “If you ever had to thaw out a person that was cryogenically frozen 100 years ago, but you didn’t want to give them a big shock, you should bring them around inside a classroom.”

I laughed and said: “This must have been towards the end of your career.” He’s been retired for for over 10 years.
“No,” he replied.

Pause. Blink. My brain adjusted and quickly realized that teachers must have been unhappy with the traditional classroom organization for a very long time.

Our week 4 focus was on ‘the future of education‘. When I talk to teachers who have been in the ‘business’ for a long time about changes in education, especially high school teachers, I find myself getting sticky with cynicism (yes, dad included). Maybe it’s me, but I find elementary teachers in general more optimistic and willing to see possibilities in education. One reasons might be that at those grade levels, students are still allowed to explore what it is to be a learner – to experiment – and therefore, so are their teachers. The closer students get to graduation, the more emphasis goes on the almighty grade, and teachers feel an enormous pressure to have their students perform – since naturally, parents and administrators will be looking to them if things go wrong.

Lucky me! I get to work in elementary! I am an optimist and yes, I do think education will change. Mostly, I see education changing by delivering more differentiated lessons to students according to their needs, interests, and abilities. I do think that technology will play an important part.

First, we all used to have to have one textbook per class. In the past, this wasn’t avoidable for practical and economic reasons. Today, with information readily available online, and a plethora of tools to access, organize and manipulate it, teachers can give students a variety of sources to work with.  With so much information, we need to teach students better research and selection skills, that’s a given – but what great skills those will be to have. For some teachers it might be difficult to give up the control they had over which information students would have access to, but we need to be more flexible – end of story.

Second, making information available to your students 24-7, so that they can access it as often as they like, when they like, and where they like, really gives them the chance to digest it at their own pace. I remember the frustration of being in a class where the teacher never paused and either assumed we all got it or didn’t care. With technology, teachers are now recording their lessons ahead of time, putting readings, videos and questions on wikis or blogs, and having assignments available so that sick or students away from school can keep up. This frees up time in class for teachers to give individualize help and enrich experiences for students who have a facility with the topic.

Third, students have a choice of how they record notes during class or on their own. Some students are happy with the traditional notebook and pencil option, but others are using their laptops, ipads, and smart phones to take photos of the white board, type and organize the key lesson components.  Gdocs are going to be instrumental as they also give students the opportunity to record, alone or as a group, and share notes. Evernote and other cloud based tools might become favorites too.

Finally, there are great, usually free, presentation tools available. We can give students a variety of options when they want to present what they’ve learned. We can let them express themselves with tools that call on different skills and strengths. We can teach them how to select the best presentation tools according to the information they have – and show them that PPTs are not always the ideal way to go. We can encourage them to try a variety of presentation tools so that they have a chance to find out hidden talents or push themselves out of their comfort level.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but a beginning.  Will education as we know it change because of technology? Yes! But first, we have to get teachers willing to experiment and try it out. I’m putting my money of elementary teachers!

4 comments for “Modifying a Fossil

  1. Avatar of Wayne Hodgkinson
    February 7, 2012 at 2:47 pm

    Hi Josee

    Initially, I agreed with you re elementary teachers are more optimistic and maybe using technology better than their counterparts in the MSHS. I had all sorts of reasons in my head such as we are more locked into curriculum, given to us, that we must deliver by the end of the year. Technology and the way we can teach have changed but the exams that will decide where our kdis go after they complete school, and the university / college requirements have not changed.

    Then I read your point by point breakdown. I agree with your 1st and 3rd point, and think we do those well in the HS where I teach. For your second point, with 5 different classes to prepare for, with an average of almost 20 per class, I do not have the time to pre-record lessons before class. I (and several of my colleagues) are however recording the explanations this year in class (then editing / uploading them each night) so next year we can reverse teach mre effectively. And your final point; PowerPoint – have not had my kids use it in a year, and I teach in a 1 to 1 school. We certainly use a variety of presentation vehicles in the HS here.

    So maybe we (in HS) are not really behind our counterparts in the ES. We may be more tied down by a rigid curriculum, but we are fighting the good fight…

    • Avatar of Josee Marshall
      February 7, 2012 at 10:00 pm

      Hi Wayne,
      I’m so very glad you disagree with me. If there are more teachers like you, it means that MS/HS are not as locked in to their own area as I thought – and that’s great. Just to be clear though, I don’t think elementary teachers are better at using technology that their colleagues in MS/HS. It was more of a flexibility and willingness to give new methods a go. I work with two very excellent MS teachers at SSIS and I learn so much from them. Ok, they are the ICT dudes, but one of them started out in humanities.

  2. February 10, 2012 at 5:40 am

    I agree that there can be more flexibility in ES, but thankfully, I am fortunate to work with quite a few very open-minded and willing MS/HS teachers here at YIS that are experimenting with more creative and engaging learning experiences, taking advantage of the technology tools we have available in our 1:1 setting. It may sometimes be a bit harder to be creative (and to risk “failure”) in such a content heavy environment, but (fingers crossed) I think larger educational institutions (like the IB) are starting to realize that less content and deeper learning is much more effective. So maybe we’ll be seeing a bit more “wiggle room” in MS/HS soon too!

    • Avatar of Josee Marshall
      February 12, 2012 at 7:15 am

      I think MS/HS teachers would appreciate that wiggle room and more opportunities to try out new ideas. The funny thing is I never realized how different ES & MS/HS teachers’ situation was until this course. My mom was a EC-K teacher and dad was in the HS. In my eyes (and theirs) they both had equally important jobs. (My mom would probably have argued that her role was even more crucial because of her students developmental stage – don’t tell my dad). It was reading MS/HS teachers’ blogs and talking with folks at that level that opened my eyes to the ‘content express train’ nightmare.

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