Sorry this took a while to post. I was preoccupied with Thanksgiving festivities the last couple of days. Look for another post soon about our awesome Thanksgiving here in Spain!
Tuesday night, when I should have been sleeping, I was “clicking” through the New York Times and came across the article I linked to in the previous post below. After reading it, and posting it on my Facebook status, I went to bed, where I tried to think myself to sleep pondering ways I could integrate technology into my future history classroom. When I had an idea I got up, grabbed my iTouch, typed in the idea in a note I have saved as “Teaching Ideas,” and tried to fall asleep one more time.
With that said, this particular article in the Times really caught my attention because it addresses so many interesting issues regarding technology and how it affects education. If you don’t feel like reading the article, and would rather read what I have to say about the article, keep scrolling.
Students are changing, and as the students change teachers must change. A major problem in the American education system is that so many teachers realize that students are changing, but don’t change with them, or don't make big enough changes to deal with them. Many times they only complain about how lazy the students are and how they can’t stay focused, and how they don’t have the same attention span that the last generation of students had… 10, 20, 30 years ago. Although this may be uber-critical, that is a state-of-mind out there in the education world and I am pretty sure I could get some agreement from other teachers.
What I find interesting is that this article hints at the fact that all of these complaints about students are valid, and says that it is because their interests are changing and have become more specific with all of the opportunities and distractions available, mostly via technology. They have become preoccupied with anything and everything on the Internet, their attention span is shorter because of the constant juggling of Internet windows on their computer (Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to name a few), their cell phone and iPods (texting to their friends. One girl in the article says she sends over 28,000 texts a month!), and that overall they just don’t like to find time for school work when there is so many other ways to occupy their time.
Take this knowledge and translate it to what these students are like in the classroom. It describes the distracted and “lazy” student teachers get so frustrated with on a daily basis. But does this mean that these students do not have the same capacity to learn as the students that came before them? Of course not, they just need to learn differently, and that’s where the teachers and administrators come in.
The article talks about how a principal at a high-end school in California has taken a pro-technology approach to structuring his school. From introducing new technology classes to raising money to purchases a classroom set of iPads for the new Mandarin classes, he is taking steps to take the school into the 21st Century.
Picture: Students of mine (while I was student teaching) doing research on a classroom set of laptops
As a teacher this is extremely exciting. When I arrived in Spain I was impressed to see how each classroom had a projector, while the 6th graders were all given net books last year and their classroom received a Smartboard this year. Other schools here in Motril have Smartboards in every classroom. From my experience in the United States, personal laptops for each student and Smartboards are still catching on (mostly because they are expensive and funding for schools has taken a hit in most states with the poor economic conditions). Yet, as more schools begin to adopt them the possibilities (and difficulties) of having large amounts of technology in the classroom are endless.
But once you have all of this technology available to teachers and students, how do you integrate it into the curriculum? This is a common issue and all so often you see technology resources being misused, or students are put on a leash with what they can do with the technology. This is something I have thought a lot about as a teacher. With the power of the Internet at your finger tips in a smart phone. For example, students can easily Google anything, such as “causes of the civil war” and read a Wikipedia article that goes in more detail then I could go into in a single 45-minute class. I can see it now, “Mr. V? I can just Google this information, why do we have to learn it?” How do I react to that?
Sure, students can Google that information, but that’s only part of it. For me, teaching a history class, or any type of social science, isn’t just about the raw content—it’s about examining that content and making it applicable (because that's where the real learning happens). From comparing past history to current events and finding correlations, as well as finding ways to find cross-curriculum connections, teaching history is more then just facts and people, is finding a new way to understand the world around you.
Technology can be pivotal in this area because students have the resources to get the information quicker, which then allows the students to devote more time to the most important part of education—developing analytical and critical think skills. I hope to turn my future history students into mini-historians. I want them to be able to use all of the resources available to them to gather information and then teach them how to apply critical thinking skills and analytical skills to make that information relevant.
Teachers must begin finding quality ways for students to effectively explore and learn using the technology they have at their disposal (this obviously varies and is a whole different discussion in itself—not all schools are able to afford this flashy technology, so is technology just furthering the achievement gap within education?) and I am keeping my ears open for articles such as this, and others in the future, that can aid me in finding those instructional strategies.
In short, I want to emphasize the fact that students are changing, and teachers and administrators must change with them. This requires teachers and administrators to do what students do--immerse ourselves in the technology and become like them, so that we can teach them in a more meaningful way and aren't left behind, and that the students aren't left behind either.