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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Too Sweet and Juicy: Can There Really Be Too Much of a Good Thing with Tech?

Jim Moulton

Technology Integration and Project-Based Learning Consultant

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!

Jim Moulton

Technology Integration and Project-Based Learning Consultant

Comments (75)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Stephanie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I love that technology can open a new world for teachers and students alike. However, if you only have a few computers for a classroom of students, a teacher is less likely to utilize it for a lesson. My classroom has 3 computers and I have 25 students. Like it was said - you do the math. My school is large and has a large computer lab, but in order to utilize it I must make "reservations" and I deem it to much a hassle at points. What if I only want them to do a 5 minute activity? I have to disrupt my students who already have a hard time with transitioning, and bring them all the way there, do the activity, then organize them back in the room, etc. It becomes more of a hassle. I would truly love to utilize technology more, if it were easier at times.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have recently had a SMARTboard installed in math classroom also. I find I use it continuously and rarely use the chalkboard anymore. I have also found that my eighth grade students are so excited about trying to write on the SMARTboard that they are more willing to volunteer and participate. My students are also very helpful when I am having difficulties trying to figure out what to do when I run into a SMARTboard snag. They work as problem solvers with me and they are often very helpful. I would also appreciate any SMARTboard tips and activity ideas.

David Guy's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I find technology great at times too. But I'm like many of you. I feel there are certain times when technology might be a little overwhelming and not necessary, especially if there is a lot of time involved in preparing a specific lesson. In fact, the other day a colleague of mine did a powerpoint presentation for her fourth grade class. I taught the same lesson using direct instruction without the use of technology. Afterwards, I asked her how her students did. She said many of the students still had difficulty with the subject matter. I figured it was such a great way to present the material, but after she taught it and had little success I was glad I didn't take all the time preparing such a lesson.

Rallou's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree wholeheartedly with the difficulty that having to make reservations proposes. Often it's difficult to make the reservations unless you can do it well in advance, and we know that sometimes we aren't where we want to be within a lesson. And you make a very good point when you state that often you only want computers for a few minutes. In those cases, a projector and a computer come in handy if you have one. That way all kids can see the example and some can even go to the computer and perform the task for the rest of the class.

I have the opposite problem though. I teach computers and am often overwhelmed with all that we have and how little time I have to do things. Two labs with 25 computers each, but I only see kids every third day or every other day for a trimester. That makes it difficult to get into really fun applications because of the limited time I see kids.

Still, I'm fortunate to have what I have and continue to try to do as much as I can.

Jill's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I enjoyed reading the "too juicy" piece. I had never really thought about technology in that light before. There are many times when I am very overwhelmed by the vast about of information that is available to me by typing in a few words. As a teacher I feel that I am up do date with technology and do a good job having it in my classroom, but at the same time it is difficult to filter what I expose my students to and how long I allow them to experience a piece of technology.

Christy A.'s picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am teaching at a new school that has plenty of computers available. There are certain programs I am familiar with that I use frequently. I do not branch out and discover very many things on my own simply because there is not enough time. I agree with Stephanie. Our school has a computer lab with enough computers for everyone to have their own. I sometimes have a difficult time signing up to use it. The times that are good for me are usually taken when I go sign up. I wonder how long it will take before elementary students have computers on their desks? I think that in order to be very successful at implementing technology in the classroom, that is what will need to happen.

RAB's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am also a novice at this. I, too, share the frustrations of technology. My administration wants us to become comfortable with it but the time and support for that just doesn't exist. My Master's program has us checking into "blogging". It's very interesting but, again, where do I have the time to go searching for pertinent information on a topic? Am I missing a way to narrow down my search? Any suggestions from the "blogging experts" out there? I'd appreciate being steered in the right direction. Thanks!

Chris's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have an LCD projector in my room and I love it. I teach high school English and with this technology, anything I put on my computer screen can be projected on a big screen for all my students to see. My DVD and VCR are also connected. With this projector, I have been able to show my students so much more than in years past.

I liked the "too sweet" analogy but I was thinking of the home-building that Jim was engaged in. I've been involved in the construction of my home and there has been a lot of technology introduced to that industry. We utilized air-powered tools and inserted cutting-edge materials such as steel beams and new lighting techniques. Yet in the midst of all of the new technologies,I saw that we also used a lot of traditional hammer and nails.

In education, we can become overwhelmed with the new gadgets that are out there. Still though, I continue to have the traditional interactions with students. Often it is the teacher-student and student to student interaction that proves to be the most powerful of moments in class.

Computers can become powerful tools for education, but they will never replace the power of humans relating to humans. Socrates would smile at our inventions, but he would feel proud of the thousands of classrooms that open forums for discussion every day.

Becky's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I teach fifth grade in a small school where we have a computer lab and a portable lab plus a few computers in each classroom. I love technology and embrace the idea of using all of these items. However, time is a key issue. We have so much that we have to cover and not enough time to do so. I am constantly looking for ways to use what technology we have to help students learn, but with only a twenty minute slot daily in the lab or having to track down or reserve the portable lab, it makes it difficult. Then I talk with teachers who don't even want to try using any of it because of problems they have had or lack of knowledge, it really annoys me that they won't even try. If you can't get a student's attention--you can guarantee you won't make an impression and they won't learn. If you can make learning more like a video game--you can get their attention.

Juliette's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I love reading people's comments about the love/hate relationship that exists with technology. I teach third grade and fully utilize all three of my fairly ancient Apple computers, my newer Mac, and my technologically advanced overhead projector. :) At times I wish I had more access to technology like SmartBoards and Elmos, but when it comes down to it, I think people are reinventing the wheel. With an Elmo or without, kids still learn how to add in the same way. Don't get me wrong, I think technology has done great things. Our way of life has changed dramatically, mostly for the better due to the influence of technology. I just think that if one does not have a lot of access to new and cutting edge technology, one can still be an effective instructor.

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