Friday, May 16, 2014

How “connected” is my classroom?

I took this technology class to learn about the latest cutting edge in technology and software.  I consider myself to be a “connected” teacher in that I have used technology in my classroom since the Apple IIe arrived and I’ve always been inspired by  new innovations.  But, this class has asked me to really look at how technology is being integrated.  Am I using the device to really teach higher level thinking skills, or am I just using technology to glorify technology without thinking about the results (SMAR model of substitution, augmentation, modification and redefinition).  I now explore the impact of integrating technology on both teaching and learning.  I am teaching in a Blended or Flipped Classroom, not a 1:1 environment.  Therefore, learning takes place with and without technology.
Can’t I do Padlet on the blackboard using paper and tape?  Do I really need a computer?  Is it more engaging for the class to collaboratively participate in active learning the old-fashioned way?  Technology standards attempts to outline a progression that educators follow in their journey toward redefining teaching and learning with technology.  It’s more fun to do Padlet than to post pencil/paper replies on the real classroom wall or blackboard, but it’s not any higher level in Bloom’s taxonomy.  Students may be more motivated to engage in class discussion if they are typing their response in Padlet and seeing it project through the In-Focus projector, but what are they really learning?  
Kids can see through learning for the sake of using the devices daily and if the learning is not active and engaging, they will grow tired of the new shiny device.  Teachers feel pressure to show they are using the new technology in their lesson plans, but are we really modifying and redefining or just substituting?  These are hard questions and have made me stop and examine how really innovative my classroom is.
Some technology class members have expressed opinions about the digital natives (younger teachers and students) and the non-natives (the veterans who did not grow up with electronic devices).  I don’t really think age has anything to do with success in technology one way or the other.  Focus and intent are the most important variables.  A digital native can be totally unconnected to the environment around him and clueless about his digital reputation as he feels entitled to do or say whatever.  A non-digital native may have to try harder to be comfortable with the devices, but if the desire and interest is there, he/she should not be written off because of the generation in which he/she grew up.  The veteran set can be just as hip and because they have to try harder since it doesn’t come naturally to them, they may see faults in the implementation that the younger set doesn’t even think about.  I’ve seen both younger and veteran teachers become uncomfortable using devices or technology in the classroom.  Engaging students in technology with a specific purpose that rises above simply making paper/pencil worksheets into digital worksheets is certainly the first step.  Basic classroom management will also play a huge factor whether the environment is 1:1 or Blended. 
Since I teach English 10, a large focus of my job is preparing students to pass the End of Course Assessment (graduation test).  I encourage creative thinking.  Every unit covered has an essential question.  Sometimes students may discover “new” essential questions as there are many different ways to look at curriculum and no absolutely right answer.  I’m not teaching math, where 2 plus 2 always equals 4.  I’m teaching values, ethics, character development and obligation.  While some students may think that Brutus was noble when he listened to the conspirators and tried to save his city from Caesar, others think he should have seen them for what they were and saved his best friend.  Is it possible to teach students critical thinking and technology skills and still prepare them for the knowledge based state tests?  I think the SMAR model applies well.  I can ramp up the content by having the students analyze and evaluate.  When they do that and collaboratively create a final presentation for the class, the learning sticks.  Sometimes they create an amusement park flyer using Publisher that includes creative rides (the Fountain of Fire) and interesting restaurants.  Sometimes they write Shrink poems about the characters.  Occasionally, the Ghost of Caesar makes an appearance, but they are taking elements of the play and redefining them.  
The concept of collaborative learning, the grouping and pairing of students for the purpose of achieving an academic goal, may be accomplished using various Google Doc applications, but in a blended classroom such as mine sitting around the table and talking in small groups while putting together a class project does not require a computer.  Active learning occurs with or without the devices as the students are engaged in the learning.  The group includes students at various levels working together in small groups toward a common goal with each choosing a level of expertise suited to their chosen task.  The artistic student chooses to create something hands-on, the writer chooses to work on the speech or script, and the student gifted in speaking to the class takes on the task of bringing the project “to life” for the class presentation. The students are responsible for one another's learning as well as their own. Thus, the success of one student helps other students to be successful.
How can we teach students to demonstrate their mastery/understanding when they aren't given explicit requirements?  Although Ben Johnson and Lindsey Wright both advocate turning the classroom over to students and letting them decide what to teach and learn, my school is far from that philosophy.  I give them rubrics which are open-ended enough that they may collaborate, analyze, evaluate, and organize products or projects while following the state standards and the curriculum for my class.  As with Julius Caesar, there are many different options they may use to think critically and create, but they have stated parameters about what an exceptional product/project should contain.  It will be at least a year before my school system goes 1:1, or longer, but there will have to be a major shift in the management of schools and how education is implemented in Indiana before the classroom instruction is turned over to the students without explicit requirements.

1 comment:

  1. This post reflects the heart of the course's intent! Beautiful, Pat! : >