Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Give them building blocks

Hare rant 1/28/09

I saw this video at the TIES conference in December and found it again today in the blog Open Thinking & Digital Pedagogy.

The Networked Student by Wendy Drexler

This is where our students are headed...but in K-5 we can't teach at this level. We must give our little ones the building blocks and tools they'll need to get here. This means breaking down all the goals we have for them into little process steps. It does not work to give our fourth and fifth graders an assignment to write a report, tell them to find information on the Internet and produce a word-processed document. As their teachers it is our job to teach them where and how to find useful information they can understand and process. We need to teach them to sort the pertinent facts and work them into coherent sentences and paragraphs. And when we give them access to computers to publish, teaching them how to use the tool must also be part of the lesson plan. It is not okay, to say we don't have time for that or they'll figure it out because kids are already operate in a digital world. That is just not the case. Our human children are not born with chips in their brains. Kids still need to be taught the process of turning on the computer, logging in, finding the program they've been assigned to use (Look in the lower left corner, click on Start, find Programs--Microsoft Office--Microsoft Word) and saving in the place they are supposed to save. Not taking the time to teach the class these building blocks wastes more time later when the students sit and look at a blank computer screen or go off exploring on their own. Likewise, not knowing what to do increases frustration and discouragement levels and decreases the likelihood these students will think positively about using technology tools in the future.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Try something different

Hare rant 1/26/09

Okay, still no real research. What was I thinking? I have, however, discovered many bloggers and other resources addressing the issues of how to bring meaningful technology education into K-12 (and more specifically of interest to me, K-5) classrooms. I keep adding the ones I think most practical and relevant to my Delicious bookmarks. Now the trick is getting people to get to them. And here is where today's rant begins.

What does it take to get educators to step out of their comfort spheres and try something different? I feel like I am screaming into a deafening thunderstorm when I address the teaching staff in meetings, send out e-mail messages, create, manage and promote a school technology wiki, and meet one-on-one with teachers. It doesn't matter how many communication tools I use, many teachers appear to pay no attention. They say they want to use technology in their classrooms, but there are too many barriers or they don't know what is available. I work diligently to remove barriers where I can, provide work-arounds where I can't and offer encouragement and links to resources, but most continue to operate as if it is too hard or not worth the effort to try. I understand teachers' jobs are difficult and complicated and the demands on their time are great. It would just be less frustrating for me if I knew how to reach them to let them know it's my passion and my job to help them use the technology we have successfully in their classrooms.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Take an active role

Hare rant 1/19/09

One of the advantages of writing a blog read only by the author is no one waits in high anticipation of the next post. Another one is the author only has herself to hold accountable for fulfilling promises. All of this to explain that circumstances of job and life have precluded any attempt to put much time into research or thought of technology curriculum.

I have come to firmly believe, however, that the successful use of technology in school is fully dependent on the attitude of the leadership. A school where the leader or leadership team that does not understand the importance of using technology cannot move its students forward. And worse, a school where the leader whose ideas of technology are stuck in the 1990's is in danger keeping its students in the dark ages of thinking computers are like typewriters but with email and fun games on the Internet. School administrators must take an active role in supporting technology in their school, not just by paying lip service and issuing directives, but by going to workshops, learning how technology is being used in schools, using email effectively, establishing a web presence and encourages teachers to do the same. On the other hand, a principal who does none of these things but instead tries to micromanage the jobs of the media specialist and the support technician with little understanding of what those jobs entail does little to support technology instruction and runs the risk of wasting every one's time and energy.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Reality bites

Hare rant 1/14/09

The biggest problem I see with identifying and adopting a technology curriculum is by the time it has it is actually used in the classroom, the technology we're teaching is yesterday's news. I talked a little about this in the previous post. While I have little problem, PowerPoint aside, with the technologies I mentioned, in many cases they change too quickly to be locked into a static curriculum. A teacher told me the other day he was required to take an AV class in college. Know any school that is still using slide projectors or movie projectors?

Well, what if we focused on emerging technologies and put those in our technology curriculum? Education blogs, wikis, articles, conventions and symposiums are abuzz with how to successfully bring cell phones, smart phones, ipods and other devices into the classroom. Likewise, social networking places such as MySpace and Facebook, collaborative tools such as wikis and blogs and even virtual worlds like Second Life are working their way into education settings. Proponents say we must meet our students where they are and reach them with technologies they are already using. Okay, I am almost on board.

Let's take a realistic look specifically at my school situation...The technology we have is serviceable but old. Most PCs are running Windows XP, but many are still limping along on Windows 2000 and 256 MB RAM. Every teacher has a laptop, but few classrooms have computers in them. We have volume licenses for Microsoft Office and Kidspiration only. All the other software titles taking up space in the storage room work only on operating systems long gone. There are laptop carts for checkout, but the process is cumbersome and teachers have no one designated to help them figure out good ways to use them with students. We have one mounted LCD projector in the Media center, but it is not anywhere near the desktop computers. We have one LCD projector for check out in a school of 20 classrooms. Our pipe to the Internet was robust 10 years ago. Now we can merely dream of taking advantage of the wondrous free tools out there. One class trying to use Google Earth brings the district network traffic to an excruciating crawl. And there is no money and because of our district structure there is no opportunity to raise any through tax levies or referendum. Persistent, dedicated teachers have found ways to work with the media specialist to muscle pieces of today technologies into their lessons, but the idea of designing a technology curriculum that meets the needs of today's students quite frankly is baffling to us all.
Before the next post I'll put some research and thought into how the idea of a technology curriculum could be worked into a model that could work over time and without regard for the actual technology resources available.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

What would it look like?

Hare rant 1/13/09

My school district held a meeting of media specialists, teachers, and administrators this week to review the technology curriculum. Not being a teacher I don't have background knowledge or training to know the ins and outs of pedagogy, nor do I have the slightest idea of the elements of a well-designed curriculum; however, I have been working in classrooms (preK-post high transition) for 25 years and in that time I have seen many a highly-touted curriculum come and go. The one curriculum I have not seen to date is a "technology curriculum." May I suggest the reason is there is no need for such an animal?

What would a technology curriculum look like? Answers abound: Computers, of course. Keyboarding. PowerPoint (I have another rant coming on that one.) Spreadsheets. Internet research. Interactive whiteboards. The list goes on, I am sure and as more items come to mind I may come back and add them. But for this post let's take a look at what we have so far.

Computers: do the computers in stores today--not classrooms--look the same as they did 15 years ago? Not at all. Any operations your learned on the computers of 1994 are now all but obsolete. Even since 1999 the operating systems on both Apple and Windows computers have changed numerous times offering vary little carryover old to new. This year for the first time sales of laptops exceeded those of desktops. I would venture a guess that desktops will soon be found only in schools, libraries, museums, and government buildings. Does it make sense that we take up precious instructional time pulling 4th graders out to teach them a "computer" that won't exist by the time they graduate from high school?

Which brings me to keyboarding. I am of an age where I took "Typing" for a year in 10th grade. It proved useful as I made some drinking money typing papers for fellow students in college. The legal age was 18 then. And as children today are expected to use the computer to publish their work much the way I was expected to use a fountain pen on unlined erase-able bond paper, it makes sense for them to know their way around the keyboard. But do we need to have a technology curriculum for kids to learn keyboarding? And think about this...What if there aren't keyboards five or ten years from now?

And talk about dead-in-the-water! PowerPoint, please, tell me what why we continue to beat this dead horse. When was the last time you saw a really good slide presentation, and I am not talking about those ones you get through e-mail with the funny pictures of babies and animals?

Spreadsheets are wonderful tools. I use them all the time. They should be taught across every discipline so that students can use them to collect and analyse data, build simple databases, perform math functions, construct charts and graphs,etc. Again, no need for a separate curriculum here. Just teach spreadsheets in the courses where the application is appropriate.

Internet research is an undeniably essential tool. We'd be doing our students a huge disservice by not teaching them how gather credible information from primary, secondary and tertiary sources on the Internet. Do we need a technology curriculum to do that or could this be a given objective in every subject we teach?

Interactive whiteboards? Wow, they look wonderful. We don't have any in our district yet. I'll try not to sound too sour here. Yes, they're great if the money is available and teachers take advantage of even half of the fantastic resources behind them, but it would be unwise to construct a technology curriculum around them. They are a tool to be embraced if they fit into the budget, but again they are a means to an end, not the end itself.

This rant is not yet finished. Next post, I plan to address the items that did not appear on the list above, but which I believe may be more relevant elements in a technology curriculum today.

In the beginning

I told myself and my colleagues I would never have a blog. Of course we know one should never say never...Here is my blog.

This blog exists because last night I lay awake for two hours before falling asleep. Much of that time, at least the minutes not taken up by counting by 3s to 600, my brain was busy composing commentary on what I believe to be true and how I would love to impart these truths to others if they would only listen. Most of what appeared extremely clear and important last night has gone the way of the dreams that followed once I fell to slumber, but now with this venue I'll have a place to work through this stuff when it happens again. My goal is to get my rants out quickly and efficiently so as not to have more nights of lost sleep.

Being a private person, I have been reluctant to join the "out there in front of God and everybody" culture on the web. But here I am. We'll see how it goes. At least it is encouraging to know that most blogs are only read by their creators. In that I will place my hope.