The inspiration for today’s braindump brought to you by the following tweet from the one and only Will Richardson:
— Will Richardson (@willrich45) December 19, 2014
Full disclosure, I have a Wordle project in my repertoire and I use it often. It is ideal for teaching students how to save documents, how to copy/paste, how to create screen captures, and how to crop images in GIMP. It is a one day lesson, if that.
I’d say all of those are basic skills. Most of them are fundamental for doing much more advanced technology lessons. Because of this, I will not say that lessons that make use of Wordle, PowerPoint, or even Microsoft Word are inherently bad things that should be avoided.
I will say, however, that if that’s all you’re doing in regards to tech integration, you are doing your students a disservice.
Look, claiming a PowerPoint lesson is tech integration is very much like claiming your class was in the pool because you had them dip their toes in the shallow end. Both statements are technically true, but involve little in regards to teaching students skills they can use outside of an academic environment.
I understand the hesitation to teach more meaningful tech integration, I really do. Problems with making sure the technology is available aside, most teachers I’ve met (and remember, I was a traveling art teacher so I’ve met quite a few) hesitate to teach lessons outside of their comfort zone. With so many pressures on us from all sides, we’d rather go for the sure thing of “it’s always worked before” over the gamble of trying something new.
Except “it’s always worked before” doesn’t cut it.
It never did, either. We just assumed that if a technique allowed 75% of our class to score well on a test then it was successful. For 25% of that hypothetical class, it wasn’t successful. They learned, because kids are always learning, but what they learned was probably that they didn’t enjoy the subject the way it was taught. If they’re lucky, they’ll have a teacher after you that instills in them a love for the subject that you ruined for them.
I didn’t, which is why I had several years of teaching experience before I learned to enjoy Math. *AHEM,* back on topic…
How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Enjoy Code.org:
Sticking to comfort zones feels safe and reasonable. If I have 30 screaming 5 year olds (or 12 year olds) in my room, I may want to do a lesson that I know won’t backfire on me. It’s why I avoided the annual Hour of Code event for so long. I know HTML, and I know enough PHP and SQL to be dangerous, but I am far from what I would call a skilled programmer.
It took encouragement from my principal for me to get into it, and I’m so glad I did. The students genuinely loved the lessons, even the ones that seemed difficult. In truth, the harder ones were much more satisfying to complete.
None of my students learned actual programming language from the lessons, that wasn’t the point. Instead, we used websites like Blockly to practice thinking like a computer: Being specific with directions, learning when lines of code should be repeated (and when repeating code did horrible, horrible things), and so on. The more advanced even got to play with the fantastic “if/then” statement. Not bad for an hour’s worth of effort, if I do say so myself.
Actual coding still is outside my comfort zone. I won’t be sitting down and creating the world’s next FlappyBird clone any time soon, but giving precise instructions? Automating repetitive tasks? I can teach that.
There isn’t a hard line between “comfort zone” and breaking new ground. It’s more of a watercolor smudge, and those teachers who are actual life long learners don’t have to dive in the deep end. We can start with our toes, and swim out towards the deep end as our comfort zone increases.
Just don’t fall into the trap of thinking there’s a good place to stop.
Technology Integration is a moving target.
1994, 20 years ago, a PowerPoint lesson was the epitome of tech integration. That was also the first year Apple switched to using PowerPC processors, the year Nelson Mandela became president of South Africa, and the last year Nixon and Kurt Cobain were alive. (source) There was no iPhone, no X-Box, dial-up internet was the most common way to get online (though most people, including me, didn’t use the internet at all), and most importantly, NONE OF OUR STUDENTS WERE EVEN BORN.*
(*Unless you teach college, then maybe.)
We tend to stop thinking that something is technology if it’s been around longer than we have. Watches, calculators, and even pencils are technically examples of technology, but you won’t find lesson plans written about them under the heading of “tech integration.” Does the activity you’ve labeled “tech integration” use tools that came about since the time your students were born? Remember, the internet is older than they are.
It’s not old, it’s “vintage.”
This is not to say that everything old must be cast aside. I am wearing a watch as I type this. Sure, my computer, phone and tablet can tell me the time, but I find my watch is more convenient on most occasions. Our school’s interactive whiteboards are older than our 1st grade students, but my school has a 1st grade teacher who can’t live without hers. If PowerPoint is the best tool for you to use, use it. Just don’t stop at PowerPoint.
I won’t say we need to abandon all the old stuff, but as we design our lessons and curriculum (assuming someone at a testing company isn’t designing our curriculum with poorly worded standardized test questions), we need to look at the world outside of academics for inspiration. That’s where are kids are looking, I assure you, and they’re not looking at 20 year old technology and saying “Wow, this is so cool!” They’re looking at it with the same enthusiasm I had for my Algebra II textbook.
Well, except for the Atari 2600. That console was awesome and all my students agreed when I brought it in to show them.