Wednesday, April 27, 2011

In his ASCD Edge blog, Walter McKenzie posed an interesting thought: Just Because We Can. McKenzie questions whether iPads for kindergartners is a good idea. His discussion points out the developmentally appropriate activities for 6 year old's versus 12 year old's, as well as using Gardner’s multiple intelligences to structure instruction for each level of learner. McKenzie is not anti-technology, but instead questions whether sometimes, as in the case of iPads in the hands of kindergartners, we do it "just because we can".

I think educators are all too often guilty of "just because we can" when it comes to technology. Technology is critical to education today. Our students live in a virtually charged world, where real time communication is the norm, where access to unlimited information is a given, and where they demand to be stimulated with the bells and whistles that come with technology. It is no longer whether or not we want to use computers in our classrooms but how can we best effectively use them.

Unfortunately, computers too often become expensive babysitters in classrooms. Students are instructed to:

-go online and research tornadoes and write 5 facts about what you learned
-create a wordle with your vocabulary words
- type your answers to the worksheet
- submit your quiz online

While all of these are valid uses of technology, none of them demonstrate an effective integration of technology as a tool to enhance learning. There is no creativity, no collaboration, no anything different than a paper and pencil assignment.

Teachers need to explore how technology can make learning more efficient, more engaging, more 21st century.

Just today, in a lesson on theoretical and experimental probability, I had students in my pre-algebra class use an online coin toss simulator to conduct and experiment. In a short time, as a small group of students, we had tossed our coin 18,00o times, proving that the greater the sample, the closer the experimental probability gets the theoretical probability. This experiment would have been overwhelmingly time consuming to do by hand. Technology allowed my students to explore and see the connection between sample sizes and probability quickly and easily. We will also explore online using spinners, dice, and other interactive tools to learn about probability in ways difficult to replicate in a real-life setting.

There are countless ways to use technology to create, collaborate and communicate. Opportunities that would not be readily accessible without computers can be proved easily in classrooms in all subjects, at all grade levels. Bloggings, wikis, video conferencing, and collaborative websites are just a few examples of how technology can dramatically change student engagement and learning outcomes.

When teacher are trained to effectively use technology, when teachers actively use technology to provide unique learning opportunities for their students, then and ONLY then, is technology worth the price.

My school was fortunate to be part of a one-to-one initiative 7 years ago. Some teachers seized the opportunity to innovatively integrate technology into their classrooms, transforming already adequate lesson plans into dynamic learning opportunities. In other classrooms, computers were used as time fillers, with little thought to how to best utilize the tools to connect their classrooms globally. Students played games, typed notes, or simply "researched".

Now, again, we are part of a grant initiative giving all students grades 7-12 a netbook. How exciting is that? Not much unless we, as educators, jump aboard the train and let the technology transform what our classrooms look like daily. Otherwise, it will be just another huge wasted expenditure of tax payer dollars.


ericwlacroix said...

I agree with these points, and would add that not only is poor and mis-timed technology implementation a waste of money, but that it is also a waste of time and life. Why clutter up our short few days with irrelevant exercises and expense? Childhood years go by so quickly. I want to see my daughter come home covered with finger paint, paste and a big smile. She can play with my iPad for a few minutes after we've had dinner together as a family and enjoyed some reading time.

cossondra said...

Great point, Eric. I know my 2 year old granddaughter is easily 'sucked' into watching cartoons, but is that the best use of her time. Absolutely not. Much more fun for her, and for me, as well, is time spent doing something creative and constructive, or active and imaginative. Kids still need to be kids. All the expensive tech toys in the world cannot replace human interaction in the development of a child's intellect.