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Follow-Up: Making Magic in the Classroom With Tech

Jennie Magiera

It has been posited that technology doesn't change teaching and learning but enhances it, and I completely agree. And oh, how it enhances it. Video "cloning" a teacher so there are five versions of her giving five interactive lessons at five varied levels simultaneously. Having a student create a screencast of his math problem-solving journey so a teacher can capture his math metacognition and assess progress. Videoconferencing a class from Chicago with an international school in Japan to discuss different views of Pearl Harbor Day. The same skills are being taught as with paper and pencil, and yet this does feel a bit like magic. However, with great magic comes great responsibility. A couple things to keep in mind as you wave your proverbial magic wands:

The tool is only as strong as the user. Although the digital devices may provide the opportunity to make magic, they in themselves are not fail-safe. If the user is not well-trained on the device's operation—or worse, is apathetic about its potential—it will be at best useless. Ferriter mentions this in his post, and I think it goes back to my point regarding inspiration and professional development. Teachers first need to be inspired. They cannot be ambivalent about technology, have a class set of laptops hoisted on them, and then be expected to perform spells of instructional wonder. If teachers are first shown positive examples of technology use in classrooms to which they can relate, my experience has shown that they are often are more willing to try this themselves.

Once the teachers are inspired to work magic with technology, they need the training and resources to do so. The training must be on-going and respond to their needs as their needs change. Forums for professional discourse, problem solving, and content sharing should also be made available. In this way, teachers are given a goal, motivated to attain it, and given the tools to forge their path towards it.

Students are magicians, too. In the first year of introducing iPads into my 4th/5th grade classroom, I made it clear that I had no idea what I was doing. My students were given the opportunity to take the driver's seat and make choices about how the technology should be used. Students were able to find new ways to use apps, learn how to use them more effectively, and give suggestions about when to use them. They critiqued software, questioned pedagogical choices and even were able to Skype with an app developer to suggest a version update for his program—which he agreed to and made happen. As a result, not only was the app improved, but my students' self-efficacy and confidence were as well.

Although many teachers find it hard to release control to their students, this is one arena in which it makes so much sense to do so. Our students live in a world of moving pictures and digital communication. They are motivated to problem solve using these devices and many are more adept at doing so than their adult counterparts. Allow your kids to wear the magician's hat and see what magic they can come up with.

Jennie Magiera is a 4th and 5th grade math teacher and a technology and mathematics curriculum coach in Chicago Public Schools.

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