Saturday, December 27, 2014

Tech Comments That Cause Soapbox Moments for Me

So I find myself getting defensive about things I hear in educational buzz. I've also caused a few defensive moments over the last year as well. There are always new educational buzz words, ideas, "innovations" (see what I did there?). My top list of recurring things that are said that cause me to either bite my tongue, speak my mind, or shake my head (visibly or invisibly).

1. "If all you are doing down there is letting my kid play on apps then I am not for technology" also interchangeable with "Apps are no better than worksheets." I won't back down on this one. I do believe that there are teachers, schools, people that use educational technology wrong but blaming it all on "apps" is a very unfairly biased response. There are amazingly efficient and effective apps out there that aid in the learning process. While I will never be "about apps" I will always be looking for apps that might help my teachers reinforce learning. I'm not even talking about the "apps" and websites that help both teachers and students become more organized in their learning such as GAFE apps and LMS options. I'm going to name a handful of apps right now that I think benefits far outweigh the bad rap that "apps" get:

  • Handwriting Without Tears- Great app for helping primary students practice handwriting skills. What's special about this app? It forces the student to trace the letters in the right way. As a left hander, what a benefit that would have been for me as a kid when I was doing my "R" different from everyone else but the teacher couldn't see it as she worked the room of 21 students. 
  • Sushi Monster, Math blaster, Chicken Coop Fraction game, etc - What could be wrong with a student working on math facts in a way that keeps them engaged? No more rote memorization of facts but learning math facts by repetition just the same. Some are even smart apps that meets the student where they are and challenges "just enough."
  • DoInk Green Screen, Google Docs, Keynote, and a handful of other presentation apps ( that allows a student to share information in ways that are most intriguing to them.
  • Kodable, Lightbot, Lightbot jr, Scratch jr, Hopscotch- Coding apps that cause students to think logically, creatively, and enhance their problem-solving skills. All things that will help a student long term whether they decide to become a computer programmer or not.
2. "Elementary students need to focus on the basics and not on technology." First of all, I agree- if any teacher is focusing on technology, they have missed the point. Technology is a tool in the educational process not the end result BUT it is a tool that allows our students to do things they never have done before. Technology allows every single moment in the classroom to be an extended opportunity to research deeper, learn valuable lifelong digital citizenship skills on the fly, and create a learning environment with more availability for the teacher to have one-on-one and small group instruction time. Technology is never to become the reason we teach but if it can effectively allow both the teachers and the students to learn more productively, there should never be an age limit on this. Screen time limits, yes. 

3. "Technology causes students to make bad choices." Sin causes students to make bad choices. Technology is just the path some students use. We as parents and educators have a responsibility to be vigilant in guiding our students through this. I wholeheartedly agree that some things should be blocked from any possibility of reaching with ease but I also think the bigger issue is that we have to teach our students through examples and situations what the appropriate use of technology looks like. Will students do it wrong at times, yes. Just like God's chosen people didn't always follow His plan when their was a cloud to show them the way; but we don't throw the baby out with the bath water just because it's hard. If we are not teaching digital citizenship to all grade levels on a regular basis, we are failing our students.

4.  "The best technology to use in the classroom is __________." For every device out there, I can think of a handful of pros and cons for each. There is no "one size fits all" form of technology. Each device is a tool in itself but no one device meets all the educational needs of our students. I wish there was one that did, but there isn't at this point. When deciding which direction to go in technology usage, we have to look at the current needs and what's on the market now. We have to look at the cost/benefit of devices. We have to look at the age of the users. This is a no win situation because different people see different needs as the most important to be met. THIS is the hardest aspect to me because I don't have a computer lab to fall back on if I want to do something with the students and our current technology options don't allow. 

5. "Technology in the classroom is just a disrupter." If your students are off task, maybe it isn't the technology, maybe it's your lesson plan. When I was a student I had a pocket full of football shaped notes in my pocket that I would pass to my friends between classes to read during "boring" classes. If a lesson is engaging, students want to learn and be on task. Perhaps we need to rethink our teaching in order to keep technology from being a distractor. Perhaps we need to be firm in our rule of technology usage in the classroom using keywords and expectations. Perhaps we need to set up a culture of trust in the use of technology and work the classroom from every angle. Perhaps we need to try new methods of teaching that lends itself to students learning how to use the computer that will always be on them for the rest of their lives (the first generation that this is true for). Perhaps we need to be teaching the critical thinking skills needed for having the power of the Internet on them at all times. Perhaps we need to be asking "ungoogleable" questions.

6. "On-demand technology is causing a dumb generation." I see a bored generation. A generation that is wondering why it has to learn some of these things. A generation that has a worldwide audience for the first time in history and is wondering more about the true usefulness of things being taught that other generations took for granted. A generation that can learn whatever it wants to learn whenever it wants to learn it. At Christmas dinner this year I saw multiple tables of people looking things up on Google in the midst of conversations to make sure they had their facts straight. I saw my daughter using the Internet to learn how to create Christmas gifts for the ones she loved. I saw high school students tweeting that they were off task studying for finals because they were "playing" trivia crack. I saw my extended family sitting around a phone playing the "Trivia Crack" app against each other and learning things about art, history, entertainment, science, geography, and sports. I don't see a dumb generation, I see a culturally aware, just-in-time learning generation. 

(And this is me stepping off my soapbox).