Make an iMovie or knit socks?

As I read the article “Shaping Tech for the Classroom” on Edutopia, I began to reflect on a similar theme that has emerged one after the other. It is this idea that education must keep up with technology, and that the world is changing so rapidly that our methods of education need to adapt so that students are ready for this challenge of a rapidly changing world. Fair enough, I say (to a point anyway).

Another message that comes across is the idea that  it is essential to utilize technology as a main component of our classroom pedagogy. If we do not, we will lose our students’ interest because we teach in a style that they no longer relate to. And worse, we will be holding them back from the style of learning that is the wave of the future, collaborative, connected, and fluid.

There’s a reason that I decided to do this certificate. The incredibly wide range of technology tools out there amaze me, and it seems that there are incredible opportunities for learning in a multitude of ways. The connectedness that we experience now, being able to reach out to more people than ever before, could be an fantastic tool for students to stimulate their thinking, exposing them to many different ideas from people outside their immediate environment. In addition, there seems to be a particular set of skills that are needed with this digital age. That while students often really seem to understand how to navigate the internet and learn new programs on their own, there is a literacy issue. How to understand the information they are seeing, to put it in its place in the big picture, how to best communicate it in a multitude of ways, and how to connect and communicate with others with respect and dignity. These are literacy issues that they need guidance with, and this is how I want to help them (and myself!).

That said, there is a devil in me, that remembers an article I read a few months back. This was an article about how many big tech people in Silicon Valley were making the choice to send their children to the Waldorf School. Now I’m quite familiar with this philosophy of education, as I have some good friends who went to Waldorf schools, and my sister is a Waldorf teacher. There is much to admire in their schools. One thing they are not into, however, is technological “gadgets.” In the article it discusses their non-gadgetry approach. The quote that intrigued me in the article was the one from a parent who works for Google, has a computer science degree, and believes the following:

And where advocates for stocking classrooms with technology say children need computer time to compete in the modern world, Waldorf parents counter: what’s the rush, given how easy it is to pick up those skills?
“It’s supereasy. It’s like learning to use toothpaste,” Mr. Eagle said. “At Google and all these places, we make technology as brain-dead easy to use as possible. There’s no reason why kids can’t figure it out when they get older.”
While personally I don’t agree that it’s as easy as using toothpaste (come on Mr. Eagle, even Google isn’t that easy!), I would agree that picking up the skills for using technology is not necessarily dependent on having been explicitly taught technology in school, particularly at an early age. If students have been encouraged from an early age to develop their interests, indulge their creativity, have the determination and flexibility to solve problems, and to think deeply and analytically about what is presented to them, then it seems to me they are developing the skills they need. One friend of mine, who went to a Waldorf school all the way through high school, became a computer programmer (never going to college either, learned on his own), and is today probably more tech-savvy, connected, and adaptable to new technology than all the rest of his friends combined. He may be a “digital immigrant”, but he’s definitely “gone native.”

In any case, I’m wondering what others might think about this. Just how important is it to use computers in the classroom? If we don’t have them, and yet are teaching them the important skills of analytical thinking, problem solving, taking on challenges, and promoting creativity, are our students really going to be left behind?

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7 Responses to Make an iMovie or knit socks?

  1. wow, meghan! i’m amazed at how many of the thoughts that are running around in my head, and references to articles that i have read, keep poppng up in coetail blog posts. i swear this waldorf-knitting-handwriting article came to my mind last week, so the title of your post immediately caught my attention.

    we have a couple of great families of friends who are deep into their respective children’s waldorf education. we’re politically aligned. we share child-rearing philosophies. we eat organic. most of us are vegetarian. yet when the conversation turns to education, we (my principal husband and my educator self) are the only educators in the room and find ourselves enlightened, yet mystified. sometimes these conversations leave me feeling that my awesome friends might be honing their helicopter parenting skills as they strive to protect their children from the perceived evils of the public education system.

    i get the attraction of the whole little-house-on-the-prairie thing. a return to simpler times, slow things down, learn how to create and make things, get your hands dirty, self-directed learning, etc.; however, for me, it is almost as if they turn a blind eye to the 21st century, a.k.a. the reality that we live in. the here and now. how is an education that denies the reality of now any different than spending hours lost in a virtual world of online gaming? reality can only be avoided for so long before it comes a knocking.

    and mr. eagle’s claim that “at google and all these places, we make technology as brain-dead easy to use as possible. there’s no reason why kids can’t figure it out when they get older.” ummmm, is he o.k. with a generation of a so-called “brain-dead” public of technology consumers?

    in my own private idaho, people would be coached throughout their education on how to learn and live their lives in a balanced manner. a little knitting here, a little imovie there, a couple laps around the track, an afternoon sipping a latte discussing current events with friends, tending the heirloom tomatoes in the backyard, blogging about local politics…

    • Avatar of Meghan Meghan says:

      That last paragraph provides a nice image Christina! And, interestingly enough, not far from what I do see people in my own family doing. Perhaps my experience with Waldorf is with the more moderate ones, the ones that protect their children from too much media and modern tech life exposure out of a wish to simply not overwhelm their children all at once with these items that are so compelling. Yet in their own houses are the computers, the tech devices, and in fact their own children do have occasional exposure to them, just not 24/7. They don’t really seem to deny the reality of now, but rather to create their own vision of what living in the now means to them. Their fears of public education, which I admit seem rather over-the-top at times, are tied in with the same things we the teachers often worry about in education, the fear that rather than stimulating and encouraging students, we might end up dulling and dampening their spirits. What I think Waldorf parents perhaps don’t understand is that this is a goal that all good teachers have, and that there is good methodology and ideas in so-called “conventional” education, not just the “alternative” ones. As for technology? Again, although it’s purely anecdotal, I must say that all the Waldorf students I’ve had the pleasure to interact with were in no way left behind by their education. So I still wonder, is the impetus towards early technology mastery really as important as we are are told?

      • great conversation!

        although not an official waldorf family, i actually buy into a fair amount of their philosophy (which is an interesting juxtaposition considering my tech-geekiness). my children were not exposed to television until after the age of 2 and then only for no more than 20 minutes per day of video (usually involved dump trucks and cranes moving things around!). we have spent countless hours reading, playing board/card games, walking in the park, picking strawberries, discussing global politics, riding bikes, etc. as a family.

        as we have moved into life with a tween and a teen, there is a fair amount of technology in use at any given moment around the house. the key is being in touch with what everyone is doing with the technology and ensuring that we all disconnect in order to re-connect.

        i believe that my children are (and will continue to be) balanced and well-adjusted for the same reasons that most waldorf children will be…because they all have parents who are making conscious choices about their education, their tech use, their diversification, and their general well-being.

  2. Meghan, I think you already figured it out. The kids are going to discover the digital world on their own without our help. We are often a few steps behind them and most of them seem to figure out anything I teach them about technology faster than it took me to learn it. Probably one of the reasons that we are taking a course like this is to try to move or stay ahead of them or even just get closer to their world. I have to say, though, that I like what I have learned from this course and have been introducing this to my kids. Of course, they are already very familiar to leaving comments to each other on Facebook, but having them give meaningful analysis on their blogs and giving them a chance to comment on each others’ work will hopefully give them a growing experience that they never had with Facebook or without my guidance. Did we need technology for them to do that? No. But I must say that I was excited after writing a blog to see what kind of comments I would get and I’ll bet that my students feel the same. Once you put your essay back in your backpack, no one will ever see it again, but maybe tomorrow, someone will comment on my post.

    • Avatar of Meghan Meghan says:

      Seth, thanks for your thoughts. I think that this the key of using technology, that it opens to doors to interaction, information, and exposure that are highly motivating to students. There is also just the fact that it is technology that makes it more fun for them. A motivated student who is having fun is a learning student, which is what we all strive for. I love using technology with my students, and they are always excited when we go to the lab. However, ultimately I also believe that good teaching trumps all, and that a really excellent Waldorf teacher could probably produce a student who would be just as competent in the digital world as a student from a more technology inclusive school, given the motivation and opportunity to catch up. For creation, problem solving, adaptation, critical thinking, learning new skills, etc. are things that we must be able to do in all situations of life, not just in the technological world.

  3. Mary Fish says:

    What an interesting post! Thank you for sharing. After reading your post, I had to read the Waldorf article as well as I really had trouble believing that there are schools out there that refuse technology when I am constantly crying for more. Fascinating. (It might be of value to note that I would not have been able to instantly read this article, nor your post, if it weren’t thanks to the trusty technology tools I have here in my classroom.)

    I get really frustrated by the “all or nothing” idea about technology that I have heard some people express. The Waldorf School refuses to use technology because “computers inhibit creative thinking, movement, human interaction and attention spans”. Sure, I can see that this is true if students do nothing else all day but use computers, but what school would allow that? Also, what about the things that computers allows us to do, like being able to collaborate with people in other parts of the world and instantly access information?

    Some teachers I work with are scared about our school going 1:1 because they believe that once we do, our will suddenly become glued to computers and other mobile devices. This drives me nuts!! Just because a classroom has enough laptops for each student, it does not mean that students will be glued to computer screens all day long. Schools don’t put technology in the classroom and then take the teacher out! The teacher will still be there, and if this teacher is any good, he/she will spend time planning how to use said laptops and other devices. The computer does not replace the teacher!

    I am dying for our school to go 1:1 because I want my students to have constant access to the world through their computers. The key word here though is “access”. I do not want my students to spend entire lessons glued to computer screens, however, I don’t want to have to book a computer lab if I want to use computers for just 10 minutes of a 40 minute lesson. I also want my students to be able to quickly go online in a lesson if they wish to do some spontaneous research. It is all about access, not about computers replacing my teaching.

    I am an English teacher. I plan to still read to my students after we go 1:1, and I am sure that my students will still lie at my feet on the carpet as I do it. We will still have spirited class discussions about the characters in our novels, and at times, my students will still act out scenes from the stories we read. They will also continue to spend time discussing their favourite books with their reading partners after we have computers in the classroom, but they might also open up their laptops and read reviews written by students in other parts of the world or write their own. Having the computers in the classrooms will not change everything; it will simply enhance the program that already exists.

    Having technology in the classroom does not mean that students will be glued to it 24/7. How technology is used is still up to the teacher. Let’s not sell ourselves short. We, as the educators, still have the power to make decisions about what learning looks like in our classrooms.

    • Avatar of Meghan Meghan says:

      Mary, I agree with you, and the reasons you give for a 1:1 classroom are ones that would match my own. It would be great to expand the classroom discussion from the classroom into blog posts and comments and to people outside the immediate classroom. Yet it would be a shame if discussion of novels eliminated the classroom discussion (face to face) and only did the online. Not because I feel the online discussions aren’t the equal of the classroom ones, but because students need to develop their personal interaction skills on all levels. So yes, let it enhance, inform and expand what we can do with our students. We are the educators, and we are the main factor with what determines the quality of our student’s learning experience, not the level of technology.

      I also feel that we do not need to panic if a little 3rd grader doesn’t know how to create a blog or has never used Google Docs. They will learn if they want to, because if they understand how to learn new things or write, they will be able to adapt. I also personally believe that with younger students, the computer skills are really not as important as practicing the face-to-face and “real world” skills. Particularly as many kids that I teach are already on the computer or watching TV all the time because they live in a world that is limited to home and school for the most part. For them, school becomes a critical time to experience personal interactions and movement, to make up for the very stationary screen-driven time they have at home.

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