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Educational evolution: out of extinction...

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As a teacher, I sometimes feel like I’m spinning my proverbial wheels. And I must not be alone because a colleague recently said, “I could be naked up there” referring hyperbolically to the lengths necessary to get our high school students’ attention.

While I run frantically through the halls of my school from photocopier to chalkboard, cutting, pasting, organizing, distributing, instructing, collecting, grading, recording, redistributing and reviewing, my students are comfortably slouched in their seats socializing.

I worry our high schools can be collectively characterized by disengagement, and, more to the point: academic disengagement. To be sure, social accommodations are plentiful: from sports and clubs to dances and trips. So please know, I’m not concerned about that holistic student we often refer to in reformatory discussion.

I want to talk about the brain and what we know about learning. Specifically, how can we engage our students? The easy argument might seem to be that kids these days don’t really want to learn. In fact, that’s been suggested in some informal discussions. But I know that not to be true, because we are all natural learners. At least that is the premise of Brain-Based learning, popularized by researcher Eric Jensen.

If we look around our school environments, we might find that students are engaged and learning, almost in spite of our efforts, in ways we don’t fully understand. More often than not what engages them is technology, which represents a major gap in public education; many school policies ban the very interfaces to which our students are drawn.

I am not a techie; I grew up on PacMan and Adventure on The Oregon Trail, moving a blinking cursor across linear screen paths for entertainment. The first cell phone I remember was hardly mobile as it was attached to a brief case. I was in college when I first got on the Internet or sent an email. My willingness to explore technology for education originates with a desire to fully engage the modern student.

I'm going to start exploring the technology my students choose, rather than the products created for teachers. Please join me as I navigate through the beeping, blinking, flashing, ringing, singing, buzzing world of a teenager's technology. [And yes, 'beeping' might just have a double meaning.]

3 Comments

Hello! I have really enjoyed reading you blog! Your entries are very insightful. I teach at the primary level and am in graduate school, working toward a degree in Integration of Technology. In you last entry you talked about the importance of truly engaging students. I find as a primary teacher, I can engage my students. However, I find it difficult to keep them engaged. Within 5 minutes of a lesson, they make it very clear whether or no they are engaged. My biggest concern always seems to be, "then what"? What do I do know? Bag the whole plan, or struggle though it? I am hoping as I become more aware of the possibilities that using technology can provide, that I will be more knowledgeable about designing appropriate lesson that fully engages ALL of my students for the necessary length of time!

Interesting, thoughtful post.

Certainly technology has its place, and it can be a tremendous teaching tool, but we also must take care not to assume that kids will take to it because it's technical. I've seen teachers use technology just for the sake of technology, and the end result is a bunch of bored kids who surreptitiously surf over to their e-mail rather than do the technology-based activity they were assigned. I've also seen classes that use traditional paper-and-pencil based projects or even -- gasp! -- lectures that are so well-thought out and captivating (it's amazing how important a teacher's "sell job" is in the whole equation) that they draw in even the most tech-savvy student.

I think the happy medium is seek to incorporate technology in ways that converge with what the teacher has already found to be the best practices for his or her student group. The most successful teachers I've seen blur the line between traditional and techological: the spellbinding lecturer who incorporates periodic mini-quizzes and visual analysis using a Promethian Board, or a project-based facilitator who gives students both traditional (poster) and multimedia (iMovie) report options. I'm not saying that's the only way, by any stretch, but I think it can be a powerful and effective way to draw kids in.

Katie,
I love the approach that you are going to start with the technology that the students choose. I was told by a teacher I greatly respect that we sometimes need to "go where the students are" and lead them to where we want them to be. Your exploration will allow the students to feel a greater connection to what you are doing, as opposed to having something that may feel as if it is "forced" upon them.

In my only recent and limited incorporation of web tools into my high school classes, I have found that the students are not completely ahead of the curve as they might think. It has led to enthusiastic and motivated collaboration and learning. Good luck and I look forward to further posts.

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  • Tom Krawczewicz: Katie, I love the approach that you are going to read more
  • Josh: Interesting, thoughtful post. Certainly technology has its place, and it read more
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