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Too Sweet and Juicy: Can There Really Be Too Much of a Good Thing with Tech?

| Jim Moulton

Twenty-five years ago, I built my family home. I started the project in the summer of 1982, and my good friend Tim spent much of that summer working with me. The deal, loosely defined, was that I would supply all the food and other forms of sustenance in exchange for his help.

One day, at the grocery store, I bought some wonderful peaches, which I later brought to the job site. I offered one to Tim, and he declined. When I asked him why he didn't want this most succulent of fruits, he said, "Peaches are too sweet, too juicy."

"Too sweet? Too juicy?" I thought. "How can anyone consider sweetness and juiciness reasons not to eat something as perfect as a peach?"

It was funny back then, and I have since said many times -- at appropriate moments -- "What's the problem? Too sweet? Too juicy?" And just the other day, while sitting in a planning meeting about the deployment of laptops to high school teachers, I realized a similarity between the sweet, juicy peach and the use of technology in schools. It occurred to me that the challenge of using technology effectively in education is actually because of its assets -- current tools and resources are so abundant and allow us to do so many things, it can be overwhelming. Too sweet and too juicy.

I carry two wireless-enabled computers (an Apple and a PC) with me whenever I travel for work, along with video and still cameras, burnable CDs and DVDs, a remote microphone, a USB headset, a digital projector, a global-positioning-system device, a digital voice recorder, and a video iPod with recording capability, plus more. I can be in touch with anyone, at any time, and in any way. I can tell stories in written words, spoken words, still images, video, or any combination of the above. And when that story has been told, I can either keep it to myself or publish it via email, blog, Web page, wiki, podcast, or a burned CD or DVD. Oh, my goodness -- it really is too sweet and too juicy.

Now, let's think about a good teacher -- one who shows up at school each day wanting to do the best for each student. But the great challenge for such a teacher has forever been the difficulty of meeting the needs of every student because of circumstances beyond his or her control.

Then, along comes technology and the idea that needs can be met. For example, is there a student experiencing literacy issues? The computer can read text aloud and record spoken words to track comprehension and learning. (See the sidebar "Look What's Talking (and Listening): Computerized Speech Synthesis and Recording Software" below for more information.)

Is algebra a challenge? The Java applets found at the National Library of Virtual Manipulatives and Shodor's Project Interactivate allow students to see complex concepts in a new way, and screen-capture capabilities provide a way for students to record their efforts in a word-processing document.

Technology resources today resemble simple hand tools that have morphed into a combination of every tool -- handheld and power -- available at Sears, as well as every work vehicle Caterpillar manufactures, an audio recording John Lennon would have appreciated, and a video-production unit capable of contributing content for a National Geographic special. Sure, as a former carpenter, I will always believe the more tools, the better, but I'm certain you can see technology might be approaching the too-sweet, too-juicy territory.

I think in a best-case scenario, all these tools would come with a working crew and the teacher would serve as architect, clerk, and landscaper. But, far too often, the teacher remains a lone artisan, albeit with enough tools to rebuild the Colosseum and enough resources to manage manned spaceflight to Mars -- and fully document either process in multiple formats and languages.

I believe that as long as the traditional classroom model remains, the incredible power of technology now available in so many schools will not be fully utilized. In a traditional classroom, there just aren't enough carpenters on the job site. One teacher, two hands, two feet, twenty-five kids per period -- you do the math.

How are you dealing with this incredible power surge? Have you become that fully wired teacher who can use all this technology seamlessly and creatively to meet the diverse needs of your students? Or have you focused on a few technical tools and used them to do specific things? Are there times when the very richness of the technological possibilities cause you or others you know to feel overwhelmed and remain stagnated rather than advance in any direction?

Feel free to put your thoughts in text, audio, or video format. You could, in fact, do all three. You could even put your response in a wiki with a link here -- oh, never mind! Straight text will do just fine!

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Comments (75)

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Miguel Dopazo EME 2014 Ms Berger (not verified)

I like this alot! its funny

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I like this alot! its funny because i am being tought about all this new technology with smart boards, Wikis, Ipods, and blogs. I really think this can be "to good to juicy", it has so many different things you can do that only after a few years of using it is when your really going to feel comfortable. Over all im all the way with technology for the class room!

Kathy (not verified)

Technology

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I have always cosidered myself as someone who loves technology. I always like to get the new invention and I am always will to try anthying that will make my life easier or better. I wish I would have more ability to carry this into my own classroom. Just last year we fianlly got a computer that works in our classrooms and a tv which can project what is on the computer. It has been great and I love to do lessons on power point or use the web in a lesson, yet I often find myself wanting more. There really is not much money for us to spend on technology and unfortunatly I feel there is a gap in what we have and all the amzing products that are out there for the classrrom.

JK Vickrey (not verified)

New Technology... Old School

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I like the Moultin's analogy. There's a big candy jar of technological goodies and obviously a huge consumer appetite. I do believe that his most profound statement, "I believe that as long as the traditional classroom model remains, the incredible power of technology now available in so many schools will not be fully utilized," was under appreciated by most readers. We need more time, smaller class sizes, and a new social vision of education for our students to reach a higher level of technological proficiency for the greater good. Technology like computers, LCD projectors, electronic Smartboards, IPods, etc... are only tools which can enable the innovative teacher or the stagnant teacher who continues, perhaps unconsciously, to view her job as creating the next wave of apathetic, but compliant industrial workers for nation that no longer needs them. Let's rethink and teach courses which facilitate the processes of creativity and actually help the student become a "producer" instead of just a consumer. These technological tools need to be in student hands. Students need more access and time to develop technological skills through project and problem based learning guided by accomplished and fluent teachers. All need time to master the hardware and software. The once a week lab with five students watching worksheets on one screen doesn't cut it.

Jennifer Hart (not verified)

It is so interesting to read

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It is so interesting to read everyone's opinion on technology. As a teenager and young adult, I was something of a ludite; I always said I would never want a computer, even though I knew I wanted to teach. I would do things the old fashioned way- pecil and paper all the way. Boy, have I changed! Certanly, these days it would be almost impossible to teach without using any technology. Our Gradebooks are on-line. We communicate via e-mail. Lesson plans? Submitted electronically. While I don't have a Smart Board (yet), I do recognize how these classroom resources can be a big benefit, enabling teachers to create high-quality, visual demonstrations and interactive activites. On the other hand, I still feel that sometimes the old-school paper and pencil method is best. As a teacher, I try to have a balance of technology and hands-on with other types of manipulatives in my classroom. I can definitely see where technology could be overused.

Tim Tyler (not verified)

The origianl too sweet

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I am that Tim who sweated in the hot sun pounding ten penny nails only expecting sustenance in return. But peaches? Okay, so I’m not a fan of fuzzy fruit no matter how sweet and juicy. It’s a matter of choice, just like technology. Now I’m a 5th grade teacher with access to a lab, a bank of iBooks, a digital projector mounted on the ceiling, and a Smartboard. It’s sweet and juicy all right, but I don’t take a bite out of everything all the time. The great thing about technology is that it is adaptable and personal. What do you think put the P in PC? I think the trick is to find something that fits your style, fills a need, and above all improves instruction and student achievement. With technology breeding faster than fruit flies it’s easy to get wowed by the latest bells and whistles or lose the focus on student learning because of the “cool factor” in new technologies. The key is to recognize good content, skills applications, and use it affectively. For better or worse technology will not stand still and neither can teachers. The willingness to try new things (like we preach to our students) while staying grounded in good teaching principles is the balancing act we must practice. Who knows, maybe I’ll try a peach some day.

Carolyn (not verified)

Working with only a few computers

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I agree that it can be a hassle trying to reserve computers. Our district has decided to implement rolling laptop labs and remove the classroom computers. I teach 3rd grade and I'm lucky enough to have 5 classroom computers and a SmartBoard (most of which I received by writing grants). Even though I do sign out the laptops, waiting for them to load and a myriad of other issues make them quite a hassle at times. I prefer to introduce applications and interactive websites with the Smartboard to the whole class, then set up the classroom computers as centers/workstations for children to access throughout the day. Sometimes it's easier to manage this way.
Technology and the Internet have energized my instruction and the SmartBoard capabilities are truly engaging. My students actually gasped at one of the interactive lessons when what appeared to be a whole apple was able to be dragged apart by halves when we needed to share it equally! It's that kind of interest level that just can't be created on the overhead or whiteboard.
In addition, digital video played on the Smartboard is crisp, clear and large enough for a whole class to see. I can't say enough about the advantages technology has brought to my classroom!

Shane W (not verified)

Tooooooo Juicy

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I love it. I teach computer applications and technology. When ever I present pinhole cameras, made from old coffe cans, as "high tech back in the day", my students look at me like I have 5 heads. I try to go backwards to teach forward and it is at the end of the day that I have realized that many educators are putting their bets on technology as the "magic pill". Although very useful, it can be over utilized and over bearing.

David Phillips (not verified)

not too sweet

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I am also a former professional carpenter, now teaching school and working daily with many technology tools. I haven't gone quite so overboard as the writer in the acquisition of tech tools, but I do love working with them. What keeps technology from becoming too sweet and juicy is when we stop using them to display our techno-savvy and start constantly thinking about how to get students one-on-one with the tools.

Two rules for technology integration 1) Use the appropriate tool for the task (or the closest you can get with the available funds) and 2) Design projects that truly teach the curriculum standards.

I teach dual-credit senior English, and I always have my students do a process essay. This year, however, they are writing tutorials with screen-shots for programs they know and use. They do the required process piece, so curriculum is satisfied, and they not only work with technology, but they actually create a teaching tool. Not too sweet--just right, to misquote Goldilocks.

Amynda (not verified)

Technology

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I loved the "too sweet, too juicy" analogy. I love technology. With the time I have, I try to learn something new every year. This, of course, does not keep me up-to-date with the newest and finest technology out there, but it does keep me working at it in the classroom. I teach Title I reading and math with two other teachers and one aide. We work out of two rooms that are side-by-side. In each room, we have five computers for student access and one computer per teacher. We generally work with groups of five or less students per teacher as Title I mandates. Yes, we are blessed. However, we only have each group of students for 20 minutes per day per subject. Therefore, the computers only get utilized once, maybe twice a week for lessons. Other than that, we use them for testing purposes.

We did branch out a bit this year by purchasing a program for reading fluency called Fluent Reader by Renaissance Learning. Because fluency is such and integral part of improving comprehension, we wanted a new way to increase it. It is only one thing, but it is one beneficial thing. With each new thing, it seems something else must go. Maybe it is time to get rid of some of our old Multiple Skills books? Let us hope so.

Technology can be overwhelming if we let it. Keeping our goals and aspirations for our students in mind, we only need to focus on what will help them achieve greater learning in the classroom.

Jaichelle (not verified)

Technology in the classroom...

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I'm sure that using technology more in my classroom will enable me to reach more students. However, I find all of these resources very overwhelming. I've never used a smart board before, so the one I have is just taking up space in my classroom. Once I know how to use it though, I feel that it will be very beneficial in motivating my students and increasing student interest in my lessons. The furthest I've gone with technology in my classroom is using the overhead projector. And, I feel great about that! I'm slowly moving, but I'm definitely moving!

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Jim Moulton Technology Integration and Project-Based Learning Consultant