On Monday, my day started with a meeting with our local school principal. No, my kids weren’t in trouble, nor was I, but instead I’d been offering to assist in improving the use of technology in the classroom, and the new principal finally got the message. So, I’m helping out.
The funding situation is dire; everything but No Child Left Untested, and legal requirements for special education is pretty much optional and dependent on parent support. However, there are grants available, and there’s an opportunity in our local community, so I’ve been giving advice.
It’s hampered, of course, by the state standards. They’re at the level of ‘use MS Word to do X’. Which is just wrong. There’s nothing wrong with using Word, but the standard should be focusing on the goal: ‘communicate Y using a word processing program capable of X’ or somesuch. And it shouldn’t be an independent goal, but a layer on top of curriculum goals ‘Outline and then finalize an article about the local Indians using a word processing program such as MS Word’. Hey, I’m thinking it might be Google Docs or Pages!
It gets back to your curriculum goals, and I’ve already argued those should be about using tools to accomplish goals like communicate, collaborate, evaluate, etc. So, together we’re considering using the grant (which has to buy technology) to run workshops that help the teachers rewrite lesson plans to use technology as a tool (and we’ll buy some projectors so the output can be viewed).
Of course, the workshops will have to require the teachers to create files and presentations, since some of them aren’t tech-savvy. And others of the teachers believe teaching to use the tools, e.g training on PowerPoint, is the answer. However, research tells us that if we teach the tools as ends in themselves, they won’t be used as tools to accomplish goals. I suggested that we even not teach the tools, but just give the goals and have reference cards around. Sometimes I think we don’t give kids enough credit!
Of course this is all further hampered by a limited tech environment. Students can manipulate other’s files, and even misplace their own, instead of saving into a safe place. A major district level effort was to get the teachers to all put their name, phone number, and email address on their school web page. I said that that information should be auto-populated from a data base. Of course, silly me, the district system isn’t that sophisticated.
Our kids are getting tech savvy, despite the school system, but it’s got great variation, naturally correlated with the tech savvy and financial resources of the parents, which suggests an ongoing digital divide. There’s a long road ahead of us to address the curriculum goal we really need to implement, and use the technology to support these goals. So, I’ll start on one little part, and see what can be done.