Life in education
‘Here are some really exciting things you can do with technology to enhance learning in your classroom’ is how we started this terms first INSET day on classroom technology.
In the same term, we also launched a creative use of technology programme for years 5 to 8 utilising iPads.
Based on the response to my last blog, I can already sense the bristles standing up on necks and hear yawns being stifled by many of you. Stick with me though, because this blog isn’t about classroom technology, or even technology in education, it’s about life in education. About how we, as professional educators harness and form a symbiotic relationship with all the learning encounters our students have every day when they are not at school. I’m not claiming to say anything new, as life in education has been integral to everything so far – to sports, home economics, reading, music, and language learning ever since inception. Can anyone remember teaching reading comprehension without asking students what reading they were doing outside of school? I have often been surprised by some of the answers, but who now would discourage a student from being proud of his or her avid reading of comic books on the basis that it wasn’t literature? I believe any teacher would just be delighted that their student had found that special place in their mind and imagination that we know only reading can open, and look to harness that and guide it to more challenging and rewarding fare.
Why do so many teachers then, not approach technology education in the same way and behave as if students daily interactions with computer games, smart phones, tablets, social media, YouTube, NetFlix, online shopping, etc. etc. are not complimentary to their lessons? As important, why do so many parents who encourage schools to provide the newest and best sports, library and laboratory facilities feel so uneasy about their children using anything but technology from the last century like word processors (40 years +), personal computers (30 years +), PowerPoint (1990), and Google (1998) in the classroom?
My friend Jose (@jose10h) puts this question to uneasy parents another way. He asks them if they would want their child to start working for an employer who puts new, highly educated recruits into an office on their own, gives them a job description and manual to read, tells them to on no account look up information on the Internet or ask any of their colleagues for guidance, advice or support whilst learning the job. Think about it…
So, what do we mean by new technology?
Look at how long some of these have been with us:
Over 10 years
- Grand Theft Auto
Over 5 Years
- BBC iPlayer
- Google Docs/Drive
A part of everyday language
Just because many teachers and parents have only just started using these now common place technologies doesn’t mean they are new. To my 9 year old son and the majority of children, they are as much a part of everyday language and life as cars, football, StarWars, swimming, and lunch. They are not seen as ‘technology’, they are an integral part of everyday life.
If the iPhone being around for over 5 years, and Facebook over 10 failed to get at least a ‘really?’ out of the left side of your brain, let me address the right side. It is now almost unanimously accepted that we need to teach our children about drugs and sex in order to keep them safe and give them the information they need in order to make their own informed decisions, so why the resistance to teaching them about the realities of chat rooms and relationships in the virtual world? Even Michael Gove (right side fired up now?) has accepted the inevitability that technology is here to stay, and that ICT skills must now be embedded in every area of the curriculum.
Let’s try right brain (toddlers, big claims, finger games) and left brain (the numbers 170, 75 and 29) together for a few paragraphs.
Toddlers, Big Claims
A friend of mine raised quite legitimate concerns after my last blog about seeing toddlers not interacting with their ‘mobile wielding mothers’, and teenagers who cannot sleep because they are not able to shut down and recharge their brains because of ‘excessive social networking and the obsessive keeping up with peers’, as well ‘under 5s who can swipe an iPad keyboard but can’t write their name or share a toy.’ She asked me to read some of the work done by Manfred Spitzer (you can ﬁnd links to watch hereand read here) whose big claim is that computers and the Internet make us less intelligent.
I did read up on Manfred Spitzer’s theories about Digital Dementia, but honestly I cannot agree with him. Spitzer quotes Swiss educational reformer Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi (1746-1827) in much of his opinion, and seems to outrightly dismiss any research that suggests that, in conjunction with good traditional methods of learning, the use of technology can be of real beneﬁt. (See the results of research from Max-Planck, Willingham, Futurelab, Nesta and Hattie) Let’s remember that Pestalozzi’s theory was constructed more than 170 (one hundred and seventy) years ago, before technology existed, or ﬂight, or cars or electricity. Come on.
Spitzer says that it would be better if children learned ﬁnger games to help them deal with numbers, instead of relying on computers. Of course it is vital that young children engage with their parents, other adults and children in order to build relationships, develop understanding and empathy and to learn from each other. But I am not sure I know any children who rely solely on the use of computers to learn numbers – but then I am a teacher who believes that children need to be given the opportunity to learn in many varied ways. Imagine children who are excited when engaged in a number learning activity on the computer, then go on to learn the ﬁnger games with their teacher to support their learning, and then imagine them enjoying playing these games with their families and interacting with their friends by teaching them too.
75 and 29
Never mind the under 5s, how many people under 75 do you know who do not now own a smartphone? How many adults and children do you know who are not already part of one social media group or another? And how many people do you know who don’t know of the existence of Amazon.com which launched 29 years ago?
It is crucial therefore, that we teach children to: use technology wisely; the Internet safely; be critical of the information they ﬁnd; develop their questioning and reasoning skills and grow as thinkers in an inclusive and safe environment. If we don’t, who will – their ‘mobile wielding mothers’?
Still not convinced?
Don’t worry, this blog is about life in education not technology remember. To make things easy though, I’m going to use technology as a proxy for how we as professional educators harness and form a symbiotic relationship with all the learning encounters our students have every day when they are not at school.
Education today is different.
Different from when I went to school and different to when you went to school. But it is not different enough. The way we are learning has changed so the way we are teaching, as well as the detail of what we are teaching, needs to change, and change quite radically, in order to stay relevant and to equip our current classes of children with the tools they will need for their futures.
Education can no longer be just about reciting facts, about gaining knowledge and knowing all the answers, because all the ‘answers’ are on the Internet and easy to ﬁnd. Teachers can no longer be the font of all knowledge. We need to be facilitators of learning; helping children learn how to ask questions, how to ﬁnd, interpret and critically analyse the information they discover. Technology can help us do this and do it more effectively. Finding answers is much quicker than it used to be so we are able to create more time for discussion, peer review and group work which in turn helps children develop their conceptual understanding and recognise how they can become better learners. So, we have to become braver quickly, and really start to think about how we can better use technology to start to transform the way children learn. Dale Van Keuren, an Instructional Technology Coach in the USA, sums it up nicely when he says we
‘…must take the best of face to face teaching and combine it with online learning and personalization. It is cliche, but I ﬁrmly believe that we can shift to a system in which learning is the constant and time is the variable.’
All teachers and parents know how technology can excite children, but our responsibility as teachers is to ensure that we are using it to best to enhance our teaching and the children’s learning. My sister Carol, a secondary school teacher, quite rightly pointed out when commenting on my last blog how vital it is that technology is only used when it is relevant and adds to the learning for the children.
‘I think there is a danger of falling into a web-quest is more valuable than a book-based research task way of thinking. If it makes the teaching and learning qualitatively better, use technology – but I often think there is a misconception about the beneﬁts it brings – particularly amongst teachers who do not have the skills and/or conﬁdence in its use.’
Pen and paper
I couldn’t agree more. If pen and paper are the best tools to use for the learning to take place then use them. If however, you want the children to be able to continue working collaboratively on a piece of work, sharing their ideas and notes in one place over time, inside or outside the classroom, then using the interactive Pinterest,Google Docs or Edmodo might be more appropriate as the children can access all these outside of the classroom. Or maybe an “and” is more appropriate, pen and paper shared and collaborated on over Skype.
The launch of our 1 to 1 iPad scheme in January was the easy bit really. What is essential is that at the end of the year, we are able to look back and answer the all important ‘So What?’ question. So what impact is it having and how is it enhancing learning opportunities for our children? And how are we ensuring that we are not using technology to just replace more traditional teaching methods?
We have to be sure that we are using classroom technology, and technology generally, to create new learning experiences for our children that have not previously been available to them; to start to transform the way we are teaching. In order to do this we chose to adopt the SAMR Model (see diagram) devised by Prof. Ruben Puentedura.
This model gives us the framework to help clearly identify the purpose of using technology and the role it plays in the pedagogy of every lesson. The four levels (Substitution, Augmentation, Modiﬁcation, Redeﬁnition) move us on from using technology to enhance learning through to using technology to transform learning.
Key to this of course, is moving through the model from substitution to redefinition. Dale Van Keuren, in his blog entitled Waukesha North Technology Corner, talks about the importance of quickly moving away from substitution.
‘If we simply use the technology as substitution to what we have always done we will have failed our students. We have an obligation to be risk takers…to challenge what education has been for the past 50 years….to strive for an authentic and relevant education for our students.’
I would add, that if we do this right classroom technology will be unidentifiable from technology outside the classroom.
I want to ﬁnish this blog post by rephrasing a question posed by José Picardo, Assistant Principal at Surbiton High School who asks:
‘Is the constant focus on the negative aspects (of technology) preventing us from exploring the true potential of the effective use of technology in education? ‘My paraphrased question is this:Is a constant focus on the negative aspects (of technology) preventing us from exploring the true potential of how much our students can achieve?
Classroom technology – we need to be braver!