Sunday, March 24, 2013

Technology for Students and Teachers

It is fun to be a teacher today.  So many new gadgets and tools are introduced to our culture on a practically daily basis, and our schools are doing their best to bring these new toys to our students.  Instead of "same old, same old..." teachers today constantly have the opportunity to reinvent themselves in the classroom.  Our jobs are becoming dynamic.  So are our resources.  And so are our students.

The change is happening so fast that it is hard to keep up with.  I feel fortunate to be of the age that began growing up with technology; it comes easy to me, and I consider it fun to play with the "next big thing".  But like our students, we teachers all come from different backgrounds.  And unlike our students, our age differential spans decades, not months.  So when districts like ours vote to pursue 1:1 (or 1:!, as we like to call it), a little ripple of panic pulses through the staff.  Even those of us who use technology frequently take pause, because how will this look when every teacher has access to the same stuff, and students are constantly connected?  Is it even possible for it to work?  Well, I think that depends on just how we see ourselves changing in the classroom to make use of the new chances given to us.  It is most important to understand that this change will benefit the students as long as they are given the chance to learn in the ways they feel most comfortable.  After all, the initiative is for them, not us.

So how will this work?  How can we be expected to change everything we have ever done just because students will be toting around a fancy new machine?  Here are some idealistic guidelines to help make the transition smooth:

  1. Play around with your machine.  Get to know it.  And don't just pick it up while wearing an "educator" name tag.  Find apps or programs that you, as a person, like.  If students love these things, they must have some sort of endearing quality.  Once you get used to the idea of the machine, the educational benefits will follow.
  2. Let your students show you what it can do.  They are rock stars when it comes to technology.  Our students have likely never read an instruction manual to any of the gadgets they own, but they can navigate complex features as if the things are an extension of their own bodies.  Don't be afraid to give them an "exploration" day.  Give them an assignment, and say the best, most creative use of technology (maybe in a group) to fulfill the requirements will win some sort of reward.  Then, have them present their assignment to the class.  This generation is great at tinkering; let them show you!
  3. Start by simply taking an old lesson and moving it online, but don't end there.  Have you thought about having students type journals rather than hand-write?  Or take a quiz using a Google Form rather than pencil-and-paper?  Great ideas.  If this concept of technology is new to you, that is a great way to start.  But please, don't end there.  These devices are capable of so much more.  At some point, you will become comfortable enough to start exploring.  When you do, start to venture out from what you already know.  Seek new, meaningful tools for expression to supplement the traditional.
  4. Ask your peers for good resources that work.  Teachers at your school, colleagues from other districts, friends who love technology... so many people are on board with this stuff, you are apt to find someone who would love to help you get started.  Start with a simple "How have you used this in your class" or "Do you know of any websites that..."  Those of us who use technology frequently are embarrassingly excited about some of the resources we've found, and would be more than happy to get you going!
  5. Face it: You've got to embrace it!  Technology is not a fad, it's a revolution.  Our students' world as adults will look nothing like ours.  Our job is to prepare them for the future.  Well, since we don't know what it will look like exactly, we've got to use the tools available to us today to give them a leg up.  They will be the ones shaping the world in a matter of a few years.  Chances are, they will be shaping it with the aid of devices like the ones you will be using in your classroom.  So give them the skills they need to do so the right way!  We're still the teachers, they're still the students.  But they as students are different than we were, and we have to meet them where they are to get them to the places they will be going.
  6. Remember: You are still you.  Keep doing what you do best.  No technology can replace good teaching; it can merely supplement it.  Choir students will still sing, art students will still create, science students will still explore through labs, foreign language students will still speak.  The activities that you love to use in your classroom still have plenty of merit, and the presence of technology does not have to take away from the positive things you bring to the classroom just by being you.  Take a breath, reflect, and look forward.  See this as an opportunity to become the best you possible!

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