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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

I see technology differentiation as vital to the education of our students. It's like there are different tiers of possibility.

Tier I: There is one tool adopted by a single district or school that all students will see wherever they go. (Not my favorite model. It's very creatively stifling and doesn't differentiate between teachers.)

Tier II: Different classrooms in a given school have different tech tools based on teacher preference; therefore, depending on which classroom a student enters, different tools are being employed.

Tier III: There are a variety of tools available in each classroom.

In my opinion, I believe Tier III is ideal. But I admit it. I'm technologically greedy. If there's a new adoption coming down the road, I offer up my students to the guinea pig gods of Trying Anything New. And I feel no guilt for my greed because I'm doing it to lessen my own learning curve and to serve my students a smorgasbord of technological choices.

See, I'm a big believer in choice. I like my iced coffee with a little room and no sweetener. I like my desk on a diagonal in the corner of the classroom. I like my iPad for researching, but I prefer typing on my laptop. Nobody likes living in a standardized world. After all, isn't the movie, Office Space, about busting through the cubicles that can define us?

So I believe that whenever possible, our classrooms should offer choices to students, choices of what to produce, how to produce it, with whom to produce it with, and with what tool to use. By differentiating the technology I can offer, I can, therefore, further differentiate between my students.

However, there are some teachers who still don't use technology at all. We've all heard stories about the Interactive Whiteboard used as a bulletin board in the corner, or the teacher who put her one classroom desktop up-for-grabs in the teacher's lounge because she didn't know how to use it, and while I understand giving people choice, somewhere along the line, some educators were granted such entitlement, that they have closed their doors to their students' futures.

Rationale for The Reluctant

When I pick a battle (for you can't pick them all or you become a toxic person yourself that lives on the need to fight), I write. And when I am trying to be persuasive, I sometimes write in lists. So here is an abbreviated list of rationale for greater technology use, not just in the school computer lab, but in the classroom itself:

  1. It's Required. Using technology feeds into what the Common Core standards are all about. The Common Core standards are about college and career readiness, and technological fluency is key in being prepared for one's future. Also, all tests will one day be online, with not only the need to use a keyboard but to submit components of the assessments that were digitally created.
  2. It Addresses the 4Cs: Creativity, Collaboration, Communication, Critical-Thinking. We want students to create; technology helps us do that. We want students to be published; technology helps us do that. We want students to collaborate; technology helps us do that. We want students to learn skills in school that will help them achieve after they leave our district; technology helps us do that.
  3. Daily Use is Vital. It isn't enough to go to the computer lab on occasion, jockeying for time for the class to sit down and type. No. Using technology should be a daily tool, where there are no issues of log in and lost instructional time due to lack of exposure and comfort. If the tools are employed regularly to support the content then there are no issues of having to re-teach how to use the technology in the few times we have access to it. When we bring the students to the lab, technology becomes the lesson. When the lab is an integral part of the classroom, it becomes an organic tool supporting the content.
  4. Must Close the Gap. If we don't provide technology in the classroom, the digital gap grows. I can "flip" my classroom and provide Screencasts of my own, but only those with technology at home can view them. I can blog with my students at night, or set up a virtual classroom as office hours, but only those with access to technology will respond to the assignment or take advantage of my availability. With technology in the classroom, we can bridge that divide, granting access to all.
  5. It's an Issue of Equity. Much like providing a classroom library for students who do not own books at home, we cannot wait for more students to own iPads or laptops in order to provide them ourselves. Because of the accessibility and constant use of the devices in the classroom, the students don't need to have access at home to be learning how to use 21st century tools.

Twenty-First Century Classrooms

Access to technology allows for more differentiation. With multiple devices in each classroom, it can allow for students at different levels to function at different paces. There are many apps out there for EL students and RSP students that are also effective with mainstream students. Technology combined with great teaching, can reach them all, from GATE to at-risk.

Using technology must be the given. It shouldn't be debated anymore. It cannot be about "if" a teacher adopts technology, but "how."

I believe very strongly in teacher differentiation. However, that doesn't mean a teacher can turn away from using technology altogether. Instead, we must help to bring those teachers into this new era of education by giving them the choice of what technology to use with their students. Not every classroom needs to be the same, but every classroom in this country, in every discipline, core or otherwise, from ELA to PE, must reflect some kind of 21st century tool.

I want my students to leave my room being leaders in 21st century learning. In order to do all of this, however, takes students interacting with technology on a daily basis. I want my classroom to be that interactive, collaborative, and innovative place of discovery; technology is a key piece in achieving that goal.

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henrietta's picture

well, that's all fine, but when the 'multiple devices' in my classroom consist of one knock-off 'Elmo', two ancient, and barely functioning, eMacs that just got installed three weeks before school let out, and my laptop...
I agree it's most definitely about the how...

Lala Land's picture
Lala Land
8th grade language arts teacher

You make great points. I love using technology too, but I am not sure if it is all really worth the price. School budgets are being slashed, classes are getting bigger, and teachers are being laid off. As a teacher, if given the choice between expensive technology or fewer students in the room, I would choose the latter. I think kids today need MORE conversations with adults. The fewer students, the more opportunities each student gets. When it comes to authentic learning, I don't believe that any software program or interactive electronic device out there can hold a candle to good old-fashioned conversations with educated adults.
As we consider the costs for technology, we also need to be realistic about students' level of maturity and responsibility. Having worked in a middle school that issues a laptop to every student, here is MY list of what to expect:
Be prepared for a sickening "thud" sound every single day as a laptop hits the floor. I am not exaggerating -- every single day! Face it, adolescents tend to be clumsy and careless.
You will have many opportunities to be "flexible" and "creative" in your instructional plans as half the students do not have their laptops that day and half of the students who do have their machines forgot to charge them.
Expect your fidgeting students to upgrade from pencil tapping to laptop lid flipping, open and close, open and close . . . or disc drawer testing, open-close, open-close. Oh, and did you know that the frame around the screen pops off and on on certain models of Dell computers? You will think you are in an IKEA showroom with all the "stress-testing" going on in your class.
You will have many opportunities to expand your class management skills to ensure that all students remain on task. For many students, the internet is like a refrigerator stocked with wonderful vegetables and fruits but that also holds a cake and tray of cookies. Even the most engaging lessons have a tough time competing with all the other temptations of the internet.

Part of me wonders if we are being manipulated by the hardware and software manufactures to use more, more, more technology because it spells profits for them. I think technology has its place is schools, but we need to be more selective with what technology is used and who uses it. Most important, we need a solid answer to why we are using it.

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