A Meaningful Experience
We have entered the fourth and final week of camp session one. We just returned from camping in Mokena, IL, a first for many of these children. I’ve enjoyed seeing them in a new environment. We met a skunk, a groundhog, a coyote, two gray wolves and a raccoon from the Big Run Wolf Ranch, a federally licensed non-profit educational facility specializing in North American wildlife. We helped replant the prairie at the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. We identified caterpillars in the wild and studied butterflies gently swooped up in butterfly nets. We learned how to watch for birds using binoculars.
Many of the students were well prepared for this cumulative experience, as these are the things we’ve been studying for the past three weeks. They researched wolves, coyotes, butterflies and birds, cropped pictures in Adobe Photoshop and inserted these photos, along with their research, into tables built in Microsoft Word documents. They learned how to make bibliographies. We bonded with each other and had meaningful learning experiences. The children are now struggling to finish their Web sites depicting their camp experiences before graduation, which is this Saturday. We have a lot of work to do to get things done!
Of course, we’ve taken to complaining a bit, as is human nature, even though we all realize our fortunate situation. A much more fortunate situation than most of us face for this coming fall, including the children. And this lack of excitement for returning to school is something we discuss in camp. One boy, a smart and kind 12-year-old said,
I love learning, I love camp. But I hate school and I don’t want to go back.
It is always a difficult transition, going from this summer program at El Valor back into the rat race of 30 plus students per teacher with short 40-minute periods. Last weekend I met three teachers who resigned this past Spring after three or more years of service in CPS. One is moving into architecture, another into biology. Both are still volunteering as mentors. The third teacher I met is moving to LA to teach Literature to a small class of twelve students in an exclusive private school. We talked for over an hour about the loss of great teachers in CPS.
But back to the topic of technology. Someone asked me recently in a comment on the blog,
Any suggestions for using computers in the classroom that is more meaningful? How do you motivate the teachers to do this?
I think research is meaningful, especially when it is related to the curriculum. However, the students must know how to read. I think building Web sites based on learning experiences is a good way of incorporating technology, too. But the second part of that question,
How do you motivate the teachers to do this?
This is the tricky part. It is difficult to keep good teachers in a system that overcrowds its classrooms and undervalues its resources, let alone motivate them to try harder when already feeling exhausted and defeated.
I also encourage reading. I find reading motivational. Read books about technology. I am currently reading The Flickering Mind by Todd Oppenheimer. It is a good one. Next on my list is Technology in Its Place: Successful Technology Infusion in Schools by John F. LeBaron and Catherine Collier. In addition, I find it is important to observe others using technology in the classroom and make your own evaluations. I do believe that any teaching method, technology or any other instructional tool and/or activity must be continuously evaluated based on student-centered principles if we are to give our children the education they deserve.