Clark Quinn's Learnings about Learning
(The Official Quinnovation blog)

31 January 2008

K-12 education and technology

Clark @ 8:37 AM

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.


  1. Hey Clark. Caught your post. Regardless of the tech you decide to employ (You can guess my bias :-)) you might want to reach out to the folks at the Teacher Leadership Project as they might have some pointers for how to structure the training and might even be able to offer a session directly. I don’t know them directly myself, but I have read great things about their work. You can learn more about them here: http://www.microsoft.com/Education/PiLUSScalability.mspx under ‘Northwest Educational Service District 189’ and here: http://www.tlp2.org/resource/view/url/about.

    Good luck! It’s a long and winding road but learning how to fish is one of the most important steps to take. No doubt.

    Regards Stephen

    Comment by Stephen Coller — 31 January 2008 @ 10:25 AM

  2. I really think it’s great what you are trying to do with the school, and I agree that providing students with a boundary (such as teaching only certain aspects of a program) will only stop them from exploring the many possibilities that technology has to offer. It is essential that students are encouraged to explore the web (with guidance of course), because it holds many educational tools and opportunities that can further students’ knowledge and understanding.

    Comment by Danni — 31 January 2008 @ 8:50 PM

  3. You’re certainly right about not giving kids enough credit! We all know they learn technology easily…in fact, they learn it elegantly and organically. I recently watched my fourth-grade son spice up a report using Powerpoint (learning as he went). The end result was, while a little psychedelic, wonderfully engaging, using a wide variety of visual tools to highlight his main points. To try an teach him to do it “better” at this point would have been a shame. I mean, for the first time in years I wasn’t bored to tears watching a Powerpoint!

    Comment by Bill Malone — 1 February 2008 @ 6:08 AM

  4. Thanks, Stephen, for the pointers, I’ll check out the Teacher Leadership Project. When I was at KUIS, we shared office space (and a parent company) with Teacher Universe, so I’ve got some of the conceptual background, but there’s more to learn. And I agree, Danni & Bill, that kids need some encouragement (or, just freedom) and guidance, but they can pick up SO much on their own. Learning to learn themselves how to use tech and incorporate it as a tool, not a focus, will be a critical skill!

    Comment by Clark — 1 February 2008 @ 4:50 PM

  5. It really is so important to have teachers today prepared and willing to use technology. Convienience aside, our world today is so tech-focused that we need to prepare our students to be able to use this technology. I also think that it is important to educate techers on technology becasue if thye are more aware of what is oging on, they will be better able to stop students from getting into trouble on the computers.

    Comment by Matt205 — 29 February 2008 @ 8:45 AM

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