Play with tech, don’t teach it

I couldn’t agree more with the tweet from Matthew Weld; (@Matthew Weld) district technology coach & elementary computer teacher)! He tweets

I’ve found that kids don’t need to be taught the tool – just that it exists. Many teachers find this unbelievable #1to1techat

He says what I have been thinking for quite some time. In the winter/spring semester at BBHMS I taught computer technology to 6th and 8th graders and noticed they would tune me out if I tried teaching them how to use web technology. The look the class gave me with eyes glazed over was, “Seriously Mr. K, you don’t have to teach us this stuff. We’ll just play with it and figure it out.” Learned it they did and all while messing around with it. This experience gave me a brand new perspective on how kids learn, and not just technology.

Kids today were born into a digital age. While it may not mean much, it does mean the kids are comfortable around technology and are willing to play with it without worrying it will break which is in such contrast to older people who worry about breaking a computer. So, kids play and when they play with the technology they learn more about it because they are problem solving. The problem solving is a matter of how they can get the web-ware (web software) to do what they want it to do. Because computer software and web-ware use similar terms and methods of organization, kids are automatically looking for the modifying action in drop-down menus and icons. This automatic transference makes them potent web-ware learners (Internet in general) which means I have to do very little to teach the tech.

What does this mean for me as a the building tech coach, and am I still valuable to the district as a teacher? YES! My value as a teacher doesn’t diminish in the slightest. I add more value to the kids learning process because I offer knowledge of technology and facilitate the process of learning. Instead of being the focal point of all knowledge, I become the facilitator who helps kids make a jump in their learning broadening their understanding and use of Web 2.0 technology AND how to think about using it. Isn’t this the real point of education? It is helping kids move from one point of thinking to another expanding and deepening process and content. Love it!

No Guidelines, No Work

What makes for great collaboration? Great collaboration is ideal when all parties have a vested interest in the work they are doing. Parties may be interested in collaborating to create a great product. Other groups are forced to work with each other and collaboration is minimal. An observation I have is that when students get to choose their own groups minimal work gets done. Reasons?

  1. Friends want to be friends and be social.
  2. There is little accountability because friends may not want to upset one another.

Taking some time to think about this I found that groups need guidelines. Before I go further, I know this but I made an assumption that eighth grade students would know these guidelines and follow them. Not the case today.

Tomorrow will bring guidelines for students to follow.

Tech snafu

Having a computer has its advantages. I can have kids access information at a moment’s notice to find something worth looking up, or at least something I think is worth looking up, have software pre-installed, and complete needed activities. Would you ever imagine it would be disadvantage?

I had an interesting experience today that, while frustrating, taught me a great deal about helping kids learn with a computer in front of them. First, students don’t see the computer as a gateway to finding unlimited resources and information. I’ll ask a question and a response might be, “Where am I going to find the answer to that?” I might be coy and say inside your head, but it is a striking picture of forgotten ubiquitous technology. I am not saying that a student wouldn’t turn to it to find information at some point. I am saying that it was startling to note how many students need a reminder it is there. Often I over estimate student’s abilities to use a computer and to use it well. I was reminded of this when I was helping 6th graders gain access to the web or help them locate software. Shouldn’t they already know this stuff? Finally, I learned that if I am prepared, which I was prepared for the final class today (I was ready for the previous 3 but tech snafu’s always catch me off guard), that high quality learning takes place, yet to reach that high quality I really had to push the very boxed in thinking students have today in the classroom. As advantageous as computers are, and they really are, there are the disadvantages.

Learning Space

I find it peculiar that students get confused by working in learning spaces online. This is their first time doing so in a wiki and the interface throws them a bit, but that isn’t what I am I getting at. They simply find it odd to work together in a social context when the word school is involved. I think of many ways students might interact with each other digitally, likely in similar ways, and yet it is just odd for them to do so here. Just a reflection for the day.

The week went well and progress was made on the fronts of setting up web browsers, getting usable apps that can be used for productivity and fun, and the kids had a chance to start working together in their own learning spaces. It was a good week and I am looking forward to next.

By wiki, I’ve got it {06.09.12

The look on the faces of the students today was amazing! Every student had a chance to join the wikispace I created for them. At first they didn’t get it. They couldn’t understand why a wiki was important to them and why they should care. As I showed my students the home page and the information there, I could visibly see them get excited. That felt really good to see feedback from kids about the learning space I created for them.

I found myself more settled today than the two previous days. I was more settled because I am working on nailing down those little skills that need to be taught before any meta-learning can take place. I tend to jump into the big stuff and forget the small stuff. So, I am resolving some inefficiencies as a teacher learning to slow down and take things step by step.

This idea of step by step brings me to a new idea and maybe one I should leave for a different post, but what the heck. All of the technology I have learned has become automatic. I don’t even think about how to do things, I just do them. I get a lot of work done this way but it is REALLY bad for my students. I tend to jump 5 steps ahead of what I want them to do because I am already 10 steps ahead in my thinking. Frustration sets in when a student hasn’t done the first 5 steps I was thinking about so I have to back track in what I think and say. This is something else I have to work on. I would rather have something to work on than nothing at all.

Committed Reflection {04.09.12

I need some way of keeping myself accountable for my teaching. A natural part of what I do is to go back and take a good long think about how well I did my job – helping kids learn. Most days I am happy and some days I am not. The good days are the days when I spend no time at all thinking about my teaching leading to a pitfall down the road. The pitfall is not about ego or arrogance but the pitfall is thinking I am doing fine when I very well may not be. This status quo kind of thinking is dangerous because I am not thinking critically about what I did to help kids learn. So, thinking I hit a home run day after day leads to disingenuous thinking, learning and teaching.

The flip side of this are the not so happy days when I know my teaching was atrocious. I think back to how I explained ideas, my tone of voice, and my interactions with kids. I cringe on these days as most of us may do. The only option is get back to it and improve the next day.

Today was fairly good. I had great discussions with my 8th graders as we contemplated where the Internet might be going in the future. Ideas ranged from the Internet going completely away to an Internet that was one large neural network. I could see the thoughts behind their eyes as they freely explored and shared their ideas with their peers. As ideas were shared the other students jumped in with amazing ideas. My 6th grade classes went well today too. They are beginning to see how the Internet can improve their lives and what changes may be coming in the future.

This blog will happen daily as a way for me to hold myself accountable by sharing my reflections on my own teaching. My hope is that if you read this you may find good ideas and ideas to stay away from.