Tech isn’t the focal point

Aside

When is technology the focal point in learning? Never. It never should be. There is no magical component that help students learn and while tech has been touted to have a major impact on learning, it hasn’t. It is easy to blame technology as not having impact when it should. Something has to get blamed. Technology by itself cannot be the focal point for learning.

People using strong pedagogy and technology as learners themselves produce learning.

If kids say no, what do they say yes to?

I have been reading a lot about how students today want to be in control of their own learning deciding where and when they learn.  I asked my students today about whether or not they should have to come to school.  The answer was decidedly – no.

The current trends in education say that students are wanting to direct their own learning by deciding what, when, and when they learn.  I believe that a growing society is also to have population of learned citizens who produce the wants and needs of life other than just saying what they want to do.  Why do students not want to come to school?

Learning in a classroom is, at best, contrived.  The current methodology is to teach a mass of different skills, in different classrooms, with different teachers without any context or application.  Learning to learn is one thing, but learning with no meaning is another.  This is why students do not want to come to school, though they would argue it is just boring and are not learning anything.  I would also think they do not want to come to school because they lives are lived with hypermedia, and they receive information at whim and smile quick as light.  There is no waiting for the website, music, or video – maybe just a little depending on the connection speed.  In school students sit at a desk with a book and have to read, discuss, and answer.  Video games immerse the student in other world experiences to build and destroy stimulating all of the senses, yet they learn.  One girl said today that games can teach and they do.  The deck is stacked against education in this “learn in school” paradigm.

How do I respond to this negative attitude towards formal learning?  I have to seek ways that authentically engage students.  I like questions that starts with “What if?”  Getting the students to wonder how something would be different and how they would make it different will engage them because there is a sense of wonderment.

Any thoughts on how to further engage students who have such a dislike for school?

photo credit: Madison Guy via photopin cc

The sandbox is open

At BBHMS we are moving in this direction though I haven’t come out and said this to the staff. I work with a Technology Committee and we are currently discussing what the tech culture should look like at our school. In our last meeting, all agreed there needs to be a wider array of tech being used and that tech is transforming teaching. We have not yet come to the point of researching the technology that should be used in our school as we are now beginning to phase in BYOD with a 1:1 in the future.

On Friday, October 19th part of the staff attended a tech forum that addressed BYOD and why we should use it. Some reasons we came up with were

  1. allows kids access to the Internet for information and webware
  2. opens technology to a wider range of teachers
  3. less expensive than a 1:1
  4. opens a culture of learning through technology
  5. kids are already using it

A step in the right direction
There has been a no cell phone use policy for years and for good reason. There is really no way to monitor what the kids are looking at or if they are accessing sites for information. This was a simple measure to keep students from doing what they should not. However, as a Cindy Hubert said in class, “…were born into the digital age…” and the students do not know what life is like without a computer. I recall my mother’s first computer which ran on DOS and had one stick of RAM. We had 5 1/2′ in floppy disks that sometimes worked and sometimes did not. The personal computer was beginning its way into homes. Now, the phones we carry in our pockets have the power and capability to do everything we need, and this is where we can leverage the power of BYOD.

Use it while you can
I cannot say that Brecksville-Broadview Heights Schools will go to a 1:1 in the next year, though we are on our way with the purchase of netbooks for science and social studies, but I do know that students have access to the world inside their pocket, so why not use it and abuse it for all it is worth. Students are eager to pull out their wireless device – show and tell to everyone! With such eagerness schools can engage kids in learning while helping them to learn how to search for information and then use Web 2.0 technology to create a new piece of information that documents their learning. While we wait for a 1:1 to come, using BYOD is a great way to engage students.

Conundrum
Heading down this path is awesome and I am excited to see what comes of it when teachers and students construct new knowledge! There are a few barriers that I could use some help with and would appreciate some feedback:

  1. What policies should we put in place when in appropriate digital citizenship is inappropriate?
  2. What do we do when students do not have a wireless device?
  3. How can the teachers come to some consensus on this topic?
  4. How do you get teachers to buy in?

The sandbox is wide open because we don’t have a view of what webware and hardware is out there to use. The important part is that we are beginning to use it.

Do you use BYOD, and, if so, how?

Content before cool stuff

I began class yesterday by asking the kids what they felt was really cool to do in technology class. This question was prompted by an email from one of my students. In the email the student asked if he could create a video game using software received from a camp he attended this summer. So, to begin class yesterday, I asked this student if he wouldn’t mind sharing his idea with the class about creating a video game. Post student explanation, the entire class wanted to make a game and I was totally cool with it! Before they can make the game, I had to explain how I view learning.

I view learning as having two essential tools and the two are dependent upon one another. The first tool is content. Content cannot be ignored or pushed to the side. Without content, or what is being taught, getting to the product can’t happen. Teaching content doesn’t have to be boring. Boring is standing in front of the class with the teacher talking, students listening and taking notes. One method of contextual learning that I am a big fan of is Project Based Learning (PBL). The Buck Institute for Education says this:

In Project Based Learning (PBL), students go through an extended process of inquiry in response to a complex question, problem, or challenge. Rigorous projects help students learn key academic content and practice 21st Century Skills (such as collaboration, communication & critical thinking).

Before I move on, another good resource for PBL is edutopia. You will find resources to help plan for and implement project based learning. The other tool a student needs are the products to demonstrate learning. The products are the cool part of what I do because kids can get online and create some really cool stuff, but they can’t create the product without the content, so the two are married.

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!

Just when I thought

Just when I thought kids were enthused about the work they were doing, I found a few who were doing other, funner things. It was disappointing to see it because I had addressed their needs by giving them control over their work. Now, and I know this is wrong, I feel like taking the control away from them. No worries, I won’t do it.

How do I keep them on task then when working on the computers? I have to accept they will not be on task 100% of the time, but I do not have to accept bare bones work and demand more of them. If I am up walking around the room like a soldier, the work gets done (no fun). I should schedule short formative checks the students are required to keep with me. I know I am going to have to move seats for the kids who are sitting together as friends and messing around when I am not looking. But, isn’t this what we all do until we are called on it? Yep.

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.

Learning how to learn

I had a great 3 minute conversation with a colleague about whether or not kids, in this case 6th graders, should be able to use Twitter. Naturally, the conversation moved quickly away from Twitter to social media at large. Social Media will continue to be the growing, and, I dare say, the preferred method of learning for kids.

I think about how I like to learn and I do not like to learn sitting in front of a textbook or other static medium. I prefer the hypertext and hypermedia, let me dig into it on my own, kind of learning where I am free to explore without boundaries about passions I have in life. I am inclined to think students feel the same way today. They may say, “Give me the iPad, iPod, laptop, tablet or whatever and let me go play with it to learn what I learn.” Having taught technology to 6th and 8th graders last year proved this and they were comfortable to get out on the Internet and do what they do to learn what they learn. Is it better to have kids sit at a traditional desk? I think not.

This leads to a much larger discussion though. How will I, or we as teachers, help my kids learn how to learn. Do I hold back on teaching how to interact with Twitter, Facebook, Google +, Storify, or a host of other social mediums? Do I see them as eager but not yet mature people who do not how to behave on the Internet? Sure, there will be this kind of “bad” behavior, but shouldn’t I be teaching kids about digital citizenship? Isn’t it better to teach how to do it well than to hinder? If I was sitting in a seat and looking at a teacher I know I would be thinking, “Can’t you just tell me what you are looking for so I can go learn to create the end product?” (this is me though).

Getting back to the original thought. Learning how to learn starts with clear modeling of how to do this which means I, as a learner alongside kids, model for them a method that helps them take an idea, theory, or thought and explore, and while exploring, curate the information in a logical way that makes sense. Of course, curating is an organizational method that allows me to organize my thoughts and doing this takes time, effort, and brain power. Learning how to learn means meta-cognitive processes and reflections forcing me to continually go back and think about how I learn.

I may be a bit off on all of this. Any further insights to help me clarify this?