Friday, November 2, 2012

Tech, tock, tech, tock

Lately, there have been a growing number of articles on the role of technology in the classroom and many seem to pose the question whether today's students are wired differently and/or can you possibly reach digital natives with obsolete tools?   By obsolete tools I mean textbooks, and I  am really not trying to start an argument.  I am, personally, a bibliophile but I teach a computer class to 6th and 7th graders, and I can see what engages them and how they interact with the given tool of their time (think Kubrick's 2001).  The shift has already begun and much the way the printed word replaced pictorial representation as the vehicle to transmit knowledge, so will the digital world's entertainment arm be equipped to be the repository/dispenser of knowledge.  When I send my students to a site that displays a virtual animal cell, I find their engagement self-propelled, their learning self-directed, and their wonder genuine.  That is not to say that they can just be pointed to a site and let the site do the work.  Hey, ya still gotta teach.  But I am pretty sure that if you have one table of kids fulfilling an assignment, each reading separately from a textbook (the tool provided)  and another table with a computer (tool provided) displaying the subject of study in a 'virtual environment', the ohhs and ahhs coming from table two should make you at least take notice.  This is the world we are in and you cannot turn back the clock on technology.  The only real option is to use it and to use it smartly.  Don't you think the day of the poster-board display of the Harlem Renaissance is a bit dated, especially when your students know you can create a Glog and you can design a multimedia poster of the historical period including soundtracks, videos, interviews and so on.  These are the tools of the project. But you cannot stop there, as much as your students may like you to.  It's only the beginning since you want your students to not only THINK about  what they read, but also what they heard and saw.  This opens the door to learners who are not strong readers.  I personally make the students write about the influence of the Harlem Renaissance on the Civil Rights Movement. But the options are plentiful if we only take the time to find the free resources and make them  relevant to the students' interest, and connected to the school's curriculum.  Do the students learn any more about the Harlem Renaissance by  researching and listening to the music of the period than by reading about the music? Do they get to "feel the culture" by watching videos of the famed Cotton Club instead of reading about it? I contend that they do, and I don't think I need a "study" to verify.  Yet (to digress a moment),  I am explicitly told not to ever let the students listen to music...ever. Do not use the built-in features of our school's new computers --no camera, no recording, and again, no music! Brilliant I say, what a decree worthy of the Taliban. I don't believe I even have to address how inane that decree is. I think that if we keep in mind that the new technology is a tool and not a substitute for actual instruction, then the focus on the role of technology in the classroom remains clear. And who do you think is the caveman now?

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