Harnessing Effective Education Technology

As Will Richardson writes, “putting technology first-simply adding a layer of expensive tools on top of the traditional curriculum-does nothing to address the new needs for modern learners.” (2013, p.10)  Changing the focus of education is necessary to allow the best learning for today’s students; the learning they need. There is no technology that will change the way a lesson is taught and received without first reforming the pedagogical lens from which the lesson was designed. Once a teacher has successfully transitioned to a student-centered approach, they can introduce the use of technology to the classroom.

Why wouldn’t we embrace this accessibility by bringing it into our nation’s classrooms?  What year are we preparing our students for, 1980?  According to Bill Ayres, “the new millennium and new conditions challenge us to start imagining an entirely new world and new approaches to production and participation.” (2012, p. 199) As educators, we need to develop ways to use this technology to reinvent teaching and learning for the digital age.

Consider that the current freshman in high school will graduate high school in 2016, college in 2020. [Technology] will permit students to not just ‘learn at their own pace,’ as it is often heard, but to learn more or less in whatever ways they prefer, as long as they are in pursuit of necessary and required goals.” (Prensky, 2010, p. 17) These students have grown up in an increasingly mobile world.  Prominent education researcher, Heidi Hayes Jacobs, writes, “Preparation for future work situations requires teaching learners to use their minds well.” (2010, p. 11) To do this effectively, educators can no longer ignore the accessibility of information provided by technology.  According to the National Education Technology Plan (2010), to successfully compete with other nations, “[the U.S.] Need(s) to develop inquisitive, creative, resourceful thinkers; effective problem solvers; groundbreaking pioneers; and visionary leaders.” (p. 27) The best way to develop theses skills is by adding the power of technology to student-centered pedagogy.

 

kWL-We’re missing the “W!” What do the students want to know? And, how do they want to “know” it?

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The coolest thing happened today.

Following my 8th grade block of social studies, students left arguing whether or not they should include Mao Zedong as a major person in the “birth of communism, China or Korean War” section of their virtual museum.  Less specifically, students left my class in an argument which reflected not only an interest in the lesson and activity but also a deep understanding of the content.  Isn’t that what we want our students to do?

With my 8th graders, most of whom I have taught for multiple years, I am experimenting with new pedagogical approaches to find the balance between what works best for them as learners and what works best for me as the “teacher.”   

For our Spring-long unit on the Cold War, I have developed a Google Site in which I add resources as we cover the different aspects of the war.  In using the site to house the resources, and their major assessment, I hope to model what I would like from them.  I have asked students to form groups, and to create a “virtual museum” which showcases their knowledge as they gain knowledge through our Cold War unit.  

From there, I left students on their own.

After many questions of “what font should the museum be written in?” and “what is the criteria you will use to evaluate our museums?”, they caught on.  I haven’t given students parameters for creating their museums, nor have I given them a rubric.  (I guess that is now in writing!)  My 8th graders, instead, have created their rubric categories.  They have developed a list of appropriate ways to demonstrate their learning.  They are in control.

While uncomfortable at first, I realized this approach is what they have been screaming out for.  Since shifting my instructional approach to more open lessons, I have witnessed lower instances of disruption, fewer students using the restroom, more students asking insightful questions and deeper learning of the content standards.  

In addition to covering the material stated in the standards, I am able to more easily incorporate ISTE NETS standards and CCSS.  Students love to use technology.  Students love to argue.  Students love to set their own learning goals.  Students love to collaborate and innovate.  Students love to think critically.  Students love to communicate in new ways.  Students love to create.

So, why don’t we let them?