A year ago I blogged about teaching from the heart and was touched by many replies. This is a related train of thought….
Technology in education deserves constant attention because it has the ability to affect learning such important, positive ways. Technology provides opportunities for better differentiated teaching, more student driven learning, and to foster more informed and productive global citizens. Technology, when properly implemented, can make good lessons better, and provide more inspired and creative moments from our students.
I began my teaching career as a fifth grade teacher. My passion has always been to inspire a love for learning by making learning meaningful in the eyes of the student. My students begged for math because it was active, engaged, never redundant, and most importantly, it was respectful of the learner. No matter what the age of the learner, everyone pleads for learning that feels meaningful. When computers arrived on the scene in the mid eighties it quickly became clear to me it could enhance something about which I was already passionate. Twenty-five year later, the questions around technology implementation remain paramount. Can integrated technology skills woven into curriculum by a competent teacher lead to a learning outcome that is clearly more successful than it would have been otherwise?
The educational challenge is to provide all the connectivity, hardware, software, resources, and teacher training to insure that teachers can achieve that “better lesson” all the time. Six years into my teacher career I began focusing on technology in education. The internet was in its infancy and the world had already begun to flatten. Philosophically, my passion has remained, but the tools have gotten smaller, faster and incredibly common. Technology facilitators have become more closely aligned to the role of a librarian in terms of being universal windows to information and an inspiration to reading and learning, but with a more ubiquitous role. Done right, technology puts even more meaning and more engagement into learning moments. The tools are becoming so pervasive and seamless that embracing it is in everyone’s best interest.
In a given moment a preschool girl’s discovery of how seeds germinate at school can been viewed within minutes in a photo on the class blog by her grandmother four states away. A middle school girl’s passionate effort to raise awareness about Sun Bears being inhumanely milked for their bile can gather a following of like minded peers that crosses continents. From a mountain village a high school junior hoping to research sea urchins manages to skype one of the world’s authorities in the field.
Not every teacher is ready for the most challenging project. However, it is the challenge of the technology coach, the integrator, to constantly reach out to classroom teachers in a wide variety of ways and to connect and support with strategies that do not alienate and yet do not hesitate to engage the teachers. Teachers will succeed most if a range of strategies are employed and if the support person is sensitive to the comfort level and risk taking ability of each learner. Teachers will need to be pushed. Facilitators must look for the opportunities to engage teachers and must be quick to provide the right tools and the right training, and to insure and many successful outcomes as possible.
My good friend and colleague commented the other day about a study that compared twins. He remarked about how much genetics plays a role in how we all develop our personalities. Not what we look like, but our personalities. And also our ability to learn. Twins brought up in completely different places have the same favorite flavor of ice cream or like the same kind of music. And their aptitudes for learning seem bizarrely connected to their genetic connection. I had read some of the same studies and we had fun marveling at how much of a factor genetic predispositions play.
My mind shifted trains of thought in the discussion as we mentioned autism and the roles that seem to be played by genes and the true reality of our ability to teach our students something new. During our conversation, as we pondered various aspects of the issue, I reconfirmed my own belief that you can’t really speed up learning. A student will understand the concept of dividing fractions when he or she is ready and our best efforts to bring enlightenment prior to that moment in time is somewhere between stubborn determination and an inability for us (teachers) to see the light. This comment is not meant to be belittle the teacher’s ability to provide great scaffolding to prepare for each day’s opportunities for learning. Great scaffolding brings confidence. But all the scaffolding imaginable can not change the cognitive realities. Perhaps those who work with the youngest learners see this reality most vividly. Maybe those early teaching years when I spent some time with kindergartners ingrained in me this reality. When kids are ready they will make the cognitive connections at which we marvel.
For this reason I am a big advocate of learning modeled and built around the idea of creating situations where cognitive steps forward are ready to be engaged in, but only as each student is ready. I think of learning as being a playground, an exploratory lab, or even a garden. In the play ground each individual makes his or her own realizations in the right moment as they explore (with a teacher’s guidance), and the excitement of discovery should be accompanied by a wondrous celebration. In the garden students can marvel at the way things grow, the way they taste, the bees that help, the meals earth brings us, and the ways everyone can be part of a sustainable relationship with our envrionment. From this viewpoint concepts like photosynthesis can be explored on many, many different levels of conceptual difficulty and each learner will be in a different place for grasping the nuances of the concept.
With such a analogy in mind, policy makers should have to question testing and how it relates to how we judge the “intelligence” of each student. My friend was hopeful that some day even high school seniors would be judged not on a test, but on a portfolio that subjectively laid out a story of the person as a learner and didn’t focus on a specific, standardized, objective evaluation made to see if each young person’s cognitive development, measured in numbers and decimals, were located at the right number. Hmmm. We don’t expect every kid to be at the “right” height or weight. We are more concerned that good habits are encouraged. We want to see the laughter of swinging on a swing or learning to ride a bike. When the rider is ready, we can help celebrate the moment. Classrooms should be places of support, getting ready for that magical moment when the feet come off the ground. In the meantime we (teachers and learners) support each other, learn to balance, to laugh, and to smile at each instance of success. Most of all, to be glad that you came to school that day; and not harped on, or ridiculed for not being “feet up” yet.
School trip photo by Linc Jackson
The great thing about being led by a friend is that you trust them to help you find your way. Today’s educators find themselves navigating through a difficult terrain and are expected to provide the information learners want, when they want it, and in route to create the necessary scaffolding so that the learners are both invested in the process and feel that the outcome was “successful.” This is the challenge that lies before them in the near and distant future.
The challenge for me from day one has always been how to help learners grow in ways that are visible the second they walk in the classroom door. They are excited to be there, vested in the process. Lots of things can get in the way of this and my inner voice has always sought to walk the balance between pacifying expectations by parents and administrators on one hand and making the moment magical on the other. I am passionate about looking at learning in unique ways and from unique viewpoints. I know that so much around us is amazing and if you create the right kind of learning experience students will jump on the opportunity to participate in the process. This applies to all ages, and the younger they are, the easier it is to see. What do I mean?
Once for a math class my fifth graders were sent to the gym to shoot baskets. The first basket they made as they took turns with their partner was worth 1/2 of a point. They next basket was worth 1/3 of a point. Every score was a new fraction. The object was to get the highest score. My students loved it. Why did it work? The athlete suddenly became a winner in math, the reason for the math was immediate, I could laugh, watch, and support, and we got exercise (something every single child needs at every opportunity). Once for a social studies unit on ancient Egypt my class put on a play for the school. I wrote the script, and every child had significant speaking role and every kid helped. Why did it work? They were completely vested in the process because kids love to be on stage. They wanted to share what they had learned. In a study on the atmosphere in science I brought in the art teacher who spent an hour teaching us how to watercolor a skyline on a landscape. The students loved it and it brought about connections and reflections that made the learning richer. There was no backwards based “Backwards by Design,” just an opportunity for students to celebrate the wonder of scientific nature through the eyes of an artist.
The thing that I always enjoyed most about teaching was making those magical opportunities where my students and I could love the learning moment and in that moment every student’s life was enriched. It was not the benchmark I was looking for, it was the time for us to dive into the journey itself as we grew together as learners, as global citizens. It was setting up the opportunity for each of us to move forward in a way that worked.
And yet here I am, today, looking back on my career so far, now a “technology integrator” in an international school. But my goal is still the same. The great thing about technology is that it creates lots of new opportunities for teachers to be great teachers. As my friend keeps reminding me, great education revolves around great relationships. And I agree and add that it is about loving to grow and setting up the framework for all that to happen in the most delightful and meaningful ways.
Technology reformers try to bring us lots of “cool stuff” and the best of those are more wonderful examples of fertile opportunities for enjoying the journey of learning.
I need to close with a thought about the wave of “flipped classrooms.” The idea of mixing up the traditional learning paradigm by “serving content in the format of podcasts or other kinds of video” to be discussed and enriched with activities has led many teachers to new ways of creating those great teaching moments I mentioned earlier. While this flipping has many pedogogical benefits, I would rather advocate much more radical flipping as a way of making the moment magical. Let me provide an example. One night I was about to wrestle my decidedly stubborn daughter through the routines of getting ready for bed when an idea struck me. Just as the battle was about to begin I announced “OK. Tonight is a very special night. You are going to put me to bed.”
“I am?” she said?
Then for the next hour she tried as I resisted.. the bath, the teeth brushing, the pajamas, the getting into bed. By the end she had me all tucked in and she was very proud of herself. To me this is flipping the learning. I have occasionally tried flipping in the classroom by doing something like asking the kids to create the review questions or similar situations where kids are teachers. There are a profusion of great opportunities available and interestingly, some schools and classrooms are turning to service learning opportunities to facilitate those magical “flipped” moments.
For a more academic discussion about the value of the content vs. the value of the moment, check out this article on Limitations of Behaviorism, Cognitivism, and Constructivism at:
As a technology integrator I have been fortunate enough to be asked by the foreign language teacher in my school to help her integrate technology into her classroom curriculum. In our last meeting I started by simply saying “what grade would you like to focus on this week?” while substantial rubrics for integration are readily available (ISTE NETS) these tend to be overwhelming for many teachers because the vocabulary used in those rubrics can feel unnaturally unfamiliar (Use multimedia and threaded discussions to enhance a collaborative authoring tool on a wiki or web page). While someday this might be a short reach, right now that would be a big reach. So I ask her what she is doing and I look for an integration that will engage the students and not frustrate the teacher. She answered that the fourth graders were studying the vocabulary for family relationships… mother, father, sister, brother, cousin, aunt, uncle, grandmother, etc. She wondered if we could build relationship trees like the ones in the book, but on the computer. From there we looked into several mapping tools such as Bubbl.us, Popplet.com, and Google doc drawing. All of these allow lines (relationships) to be dynamically connected. In other words you can move the people around without having to redraw the lines. We tried this and met with some hurdles that limited the success of the lesson plan. In reflecting on the lesson I wondered if genealogy software would have been a better tool to accomplish what we were looking for, an opportunity to write in the relationships so that students could have lots of practice in an engaging way. In the meantime I did some investigating. After looking at several sites and tools, I selected one that seemed to be the best fit, familyecho.com. I was able to build in all the relationships I needed. In other words, I found a way for the students to write in the vocabulary. Here is a screen shot of what that looks like in the software.
Students used this tool to build their family trees and to write in the key vocabulary.
The lesson uses technology to help students get excited about the process of learning about their family history and about sharing with their classmates and family. The excitement that was generated was worth the investment in time and resources. Best of all it lends itself to many follow up discussions and projects.
While a good lesson many of the reformers in the tech ed arena are encouraging reverse or “flipped” models of instruction. How would this class look in that model? In essence this would suggest that the instruction on how to use the familyecho.com tool would be generated in a video instruction and then students would be required to go home to watch an instructional video and to complete as much of the data input as possible while at home for homework. The idea being that the nuts and bolts work can happen at home and the quality discussion and further exploration happen in the classroom where the teacher can respond and redirect conversations and reflection.
For examples of how reverse instruction is working in other classrooms, try these links.
Pictures by Linc Jackosn
In an interesting blog, Jeff Utecht, commented on being tired of hearing of the term “Technology Integration.” Jeff’s complaint is right to the point and the term itself doesn’t really due justice to the goal of helping classroom teachers use the technology to help them with their classroom objectives. While the term sounds simple enough, the situation today in 2011, almost 2012, has morphed, making the term technology integration a misnomer in some ways and yet ubiquitous in much of the K-12 education arena. Jeff’s comments refer to the need for a much more grounded use of technology with seamless infusion and application by classroom teachers. It is interesting that some technology activists in education are wanting every single class to be completely “flipped” insisting that the goal is to have every class aimed at being student driven, cooperatively focused, and flat classroom oriented. This is a admirable goal. It the big picture, however, a better description of the ideal educational setting is to say that not every lesson needs to be a flipped classroom but that technolgoy is so accessible that the inclusion of technology is completely flexible and teachers can incorporate tools as needed. As we know, not only is the actual hardware and related technology that is a big challenge , but so much of the succes story really revolves around the support people and the professional training of classroom teachers. Often it is better to describe the support people as “librarians” with specific training in the specific hardware available and knowing about many of the exciting possibilites. ISTE and NETS provide some goals and suggestions but many teachers need more support as how this should look when it is put into practice. In the perfect situation the classroom teachers will come to each year with a really strong array of skills that will encourage as many “authentic” learning opportunities as possible.
What is a good technology analogy? If a classroom had the opportunity to teach using a garden right outside their classroom and they could grow food all year round, a well trained elementary teacher should be able to make that garden an integral part of every aspect of the curriculum. Science, Poetry, Music, Art, Math, and Writing, all become tightly woven into the daily lessons that weave in different aspects of the learning opportunity that lies just outside their door. There are an endless list of great “hands on” discoveries and discussions that could come alive for the students. Again, training and resources are absolutely imperative to the successful reaching of the subject area benchmarks.
In the dream scenario, the garden would be used to help teachers gain the objectives that they are aiming towards in creating their unit plans and lesson plans. Teachers don’t need to find the aspect of the garden that is inspirational per se, rather, they use any parts of the garden and its representations that make the moment of teaching a better one. Yes, truly great lessons are impressive, but it is more about the process of using some tool, in this case a garden, that is relevant. Some blogs have referred to imbedding technology. Pardon the pun, but a garden should be “embedded” in all aspects of a child’s learning as long as it makes the learning experience better than it would have been without it.
The garden analogy is a little bit of a stretch because technology has so many implications, but on the other hand, if every classroom in the world had it’s own little graden and truly embraced it as a vehicle for learning, it could make a monumental the difference in the world’s future. Just like technology.
Inspired by blog posts I have read over the past year, by not-so-gentle prodding from my graduate studies instructor, and by my experiences as a technology integrator in schools over the past twenty years, I have come to the conclusion that the new directions being pushed in the theory of how to improve the quality of education by embracing technology have a drawback that is being left unmentioned. I am fanatic advocate of technology in education whenever it improves the quality and richness of the learning experience. So I support the tools everywhere. I am referring more to the changing focus in the edtech arena of integration. The landscape has changed. Disappearing are the days when you could drop off your class at the computer lab and know that they would receive instruction on how to use the mouse, how to create formulas in a spread sheet, how to add a bibliography to their paper, and how to write a computer program to solve a problem. Now we embrace “technology integrators” who work much like librarians: supporting, facilitating, training, and encouraging. I am in that role now and most of the time it is rewarding and love the role and fairly “purposeful.” I ask teachers what benchmarks they are working on and generally inquire about ongoing subjects or current themes. I try to offer “authentic” ways of including technology in ways that will make the learning experience better than it would have been without the technology. It is important to point out here that rather than just encouraging the same basic learning style with some fancy screens and sweet sound effects, I am encouraging some teachers to change their approach. Instead of sending students to a web page where they can practice their math facts, I might help set up a voice stream where students record strategies for remembering math facts or where they go to a web page to create a song all about their own math facts experiences. I am not just encouraging the tool, I am advocating a different method of teaching.
This sounds like the job of an administrator, to encourage a new teaching strategy. While many administrators are doing just this, the current educational climate is more likely to look for instant gratification solutions that will raise student test scores. The solutions here remind me of a T-shirt I saw that said, “The Beatings will Continue until the Moral Improves.” At a national and local level we see this everywhere in education. We are tempted to add more math, reading and writing… instead of music, art, drama, whole child agendas, global sustainability, and personal economics. We do this so that they will perform better on the standardized tests. Many of the teachers I meet consider this the driving factor in their teaching methodology. In contrast, reformists in the technology in education sector are advocating a model that has much to offer if you are a student.
These reformists have a long battle ahead. Imagine traditional education being like a public transport system. It worked most of the time for most of the kids. Then technology innovation results in the latest advancement: a car. It is a way to take you anywhere you are willing to go (don’t think energy here, just think access). On one hand the traditional, in-the-box, teachers can encourage every student to learn the facts in the same old way. Or they can advocate a more authentic way of approaching learning. Students will have the opportunity to be moving around with more flexibility and opportunity. They will have huge possibilities: cooperative, innovative, exciting, new.
The single biggest challenge to potential reform is the hyperfocus in current educational reform on the standardized tests. Teachers are being held accountable for reaching benchmarks and they don’t have time to teach students keyboarding skills. This is an important reality.
In the old computer lab, I taught File Management, Keyboarding, Word Processing, Spreadsheets, Global Citizenship, Programming, Music, Photoshop, Animation, Hyperstudio, Concept mapping. It was great. We had a great time. But there was a an important drawback. As good educators know, the best way to learn is by integration. Learning happens best when it is hands on. Teaching should be learning by doing. Thematic teaching. Skills put into practice. So instead of teaching spreadsheets as a unit by itself, the math teacher should be teaching exponent powers using the spreadsheet so that students see the power of the application of the skill. Obvious, right?
So now we make everything integrated. I meet with every single teacher and discuss the benchmarks they are working towards and team with them in creating authentic, powerful moments where students learn using technology as they are guided towards their benchmarks. With this strategy in place we communicate, discuss and procede. But there is something lost in the process. Yes the kids will have rich opportunities to be self advocates, authors… exploring blogging and Tweeting, embedding video and graphics, creating web pages and Prezis, and work with an impressive assortment of Web 2.0 tools that foster higher order thinking and cooperative, project based taxed.
But in my mind we have lost something important. Who will teach Global Citizenship, programming, music, photoshop, animation, hyperstudio, concept mapping and all the other great tools that the “computer teacher” taught? Because of the current trends in education many of these are likely to become dinosaurs.
On the bright side guides like NETS.S help provide structure for technology goals. While they are helpful, many teachers will find that those guides are so broad in their wording that they are not clear enough in terms of explaining what skills need to be mastered at what grade. This will continue to be a challenge for integrators like me. We are eager to help, but many teachers will have difficulty wrapping their arms around this new view. They will get swept up in the hyperfocus on test prep and not see the intrinsic value in the integrators “authentic learning” suggestions. Luckily, there are good teachers who are understanding. I will need to patiently push.
For an interesting reflection on the same topic check out this blog post:
In shear terms of impact on parents, not much can compare to seeing still shots or video of your son or daughter participating in learning at school. Teachers across the globe are being introduced to the power this brings to both students as learners and to the schools as they use this technology to bring positive change to the learning process and to the relationships between schools and their communities.
Here is a video I created with a group of kindergartners. While I loved doing the story, it’s home should really be on their teacher’s web page (Ben Sheridan). I have embedded it here and linked to the Vimeo web site where it can be found.
What I really wanted to do here was to put in all the stories. I will start working on that project and you should see the list of video’s gradually grow. I’m not sure if there is a limit, but we will find out as we go.