change

Technology Current

Technology is changing so fast. How can we keep up? Have you ever been caught in the trap of believing that you need to stay a step ahead of your students to make sure that technology is being used to its fullest potential? I mean, if you don’t know what to tell them when they ask you a question, you look silly, right? 

I have been caught in that trap, and I’ve had conversations with people who have been, too. Right after they tell me they have to be at the same level or higher regarding tech knowledge, they say they’ll never be able to keep up. It’s just too much, and it’s always changing to staying ahead is too difficult.

What if we don’t have to stay ahead? Why do we, as teachers, need to know everything about technology in order for it to make a positive impact on learning? Let’s work on the basic tenets of technology – social media, collaborative tools, learning management systems, etc. Then, instead of knowing everything, we insert students (safely) into a tech-friendly environment where discovery can happen. And I don’t mean you focus on discovering the technology. Students discover their own learning. They engage, explore, and invent. Maybe there are things to learn/know about the technology along the way, but those things only serve to enhance the discovery process and amplify the learning.

Open up to technology, but don’t make it a standard. If it serves as a standard, its rules and processes will constantly shift, and you will be caught up in the current and focused on the wrong thing. Improving learning for students is what’s important…it’s the life raft, the standard. And it will help to navigate the ever-changing waters of the world (including the current of technology).

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Voice

As a 4th grade teacher, I taught writing. What comes to mind is grammar, syntax, and punctuation. You can also conjure up images of a beginning, middle, and end model that gives a struggling writer framework. There’s also the picture of students struggling and pushing back against the process of writing and the notion that writing is important. Tell them that they will need to write when they are older, both as an older student and as professional. Tell them all you want. While the mechanics are important — even essential — to crafting a piece of writing, what hooks us about a work of literature? What is so interesting within a book, an article, or a poem that focuses our attention and makes us wish it wouldn’t end? It certainly isn’t the judicious use of commas or the amazing way a sentence was ended without a preposition. It’s the story. I told my students that what makes their writing unique is the voice in it. I told them voice is being able to see ourselves in our writing (or however we express ourselves). Voice isn’t mechanical. It’s human, and we often struggle to find it or adequately express. Sometimes, we just need some guidance.

Telling a story verbally captures attention (if it’s told well), so a written story can do the same thing. What began as verbal transference centuries ago has transformed as our modes of delivery have. The alphabet and writing came about, so stories were written down. Moveable type was created with the printing press so that stories and information could be shared. What is different now lies solely in what type of technology we use to tell the story. Nothing more. Stories still appeal to our sense of curiosity and need for catharsis. Plots haven’t shifted much, but have been retold with the various moving parts in different positions. However, a key difference today is the ability we have to share what we do, have done, and will do. Telling a story to delight masses seems to be the work of a few — work to which we all aspire. But we can tell our story to create relevance for ourselves in our shrinking society. Technology isn’t about how amazing the gadget is, but what it allows us to do. Video games take people on quests and adventures, but they allow the player to have say in a world that he/she creates for him/herself. We can create avatars of ourselves, set characteristics that we find interesting or representative of who we truly are. New gaming consoles have latched onto the idea that people want to share what they are doing with others because it represents who they are. The new Playstation 4 and XBox One allow you to share video of what you are doing in a video game with others. This comes after previous consoles gave us the ability to chat in real time with other players. All of this to say that we want to be involved in a story, tell our own if possible, and share that with others. That is what today’s technology does, and it does so because we crave it as a society and as a culture.

George Couros (@gcouros) gave a TED Talk recently about voice. We all have one, and we want to share it and feel it is accepted and important. That is what drives us, and in education, that can often be what is missing. Our voice is our story. Students have voices, no matter how young or old, and they want to express them one way or another. As an educational community, we need to work diligently to help students express themselves and their voice. We need to model it and encourage it as often as possible. Some of our students will want to pick up a pencil and paper while others will want to create a video blog of their experiences. We as teachers may not be comfortable with video blogs, but safe ways of telling stories need to be provided to these learners. When we hear about change in education, we need to be thinking about the stories we are helping students to tell. It is about their story — as a learner, as a person — and not the technology. Help them to tell it. And check out George’s TED Talk below. Like the student’s tweet asks in the video, are we teaching for yesterday or tomorrow?

4 Purposes of Education

What are the purposes of education? Sir Ken Robinson has covered a multitude of concepts surrounding education. One of his videos was posted in July of this year on YouTube. He discussed how to change education from the ground up. I saw a different title in the video: 4 Purposes of Education. Are there more? Possibly. We could delve deeply into it, but there are books for that…and TED Talks. Here are the 4 purposes as Sir Ken outlines them:

  1. Economic: education will contribute to the economic system. We want our children to be economically independent.
  2. Cultural: how have we come to the place we are in regarding our views? What is our worldview…our cultural identity? Learning our own identity and that of others is crucial to being part of society and not just a bystander.
  3. Social: how do we fit into this society? This is not a plug for conformity. Rather, it is a case against it. To enjoy your place in the world and contribute as an individual thinker who can collaborate and share.
  4. Personal: education is about people being educated. It’s all about people. Not tests, or supplies, or technology. The relationship between people and how that plays out is the crux of this thing we call education. Without it, true learning doesn’t develop. We can experience a transfer of knowledge, and we can learn on our own, but education is supposed to create an environment where you can integrate your individual learning with the learning you experience with other people.

One of the most provoking concepts that Sir Ken went on to say after his analysis of the four purposes was a thought experiment: getting back to the basics. He references a book entitled The Empty Space by theatre director Peter Brook. In the book, Peter Brook describes the simplistic nature of theatre were it to be stripped to its most fundamental attributes. What exactly do you need to have in order to have “theatre”? Sir Ken retells this by saying that the most fundamental thing about theatre is the people. You cannot have theatre without actors and an audience and the relationship between them. You see where this is going, don’t you. Education is built on the relationship between the teacher and the student(s). I’ll break it down even further. It is the relationship between one learner and another. After all, we as teachers are learners, too, right? Right. Most importantly, as Sir Ken says, At the heart of education is a teacher and a learner.

Here is a link to the video of Sir Ken with a few of my own ideas and questions to go along with it at certain moments: https://richardlane.makes.org/popcorn/1icd

If you don’t want the written commentary, here is the original YouTube version.

A final takeaway (for me, anyway). Learning will happen anyway. It will happen spontaneously. It is enriched, expanded, and enlightened when it happens among people and not just by people. The education system should not be reduced to a simple delivery system for content. Technology can do that. That is why, instead of asking why we need teachers or thinking that they can be replaced, we need to ask ourselves how teachers can most impact learning. What can they provide that technology cannot? Simple. A relationship.