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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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Melanie Proveza (not verified)

I teach high school

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I teach high school chemistry and like for my students to experience as much technology. I use technology when ever possible but at the moment it is not always convenient. My school has over 100 teachers and we share 3 Smart boards. I have to take my class to another classroom to use one. The science department shares 20 LabPro computer interfaces. I can use these in my classroom but I have to reserve them. I can't wait until next fall when we move into a new school building and each classroom will be fully equipped.

Elizabeth (not verified)

I too loved the "too juicy

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I too loved the "too juicy too sweet" analogy. Sometimes technology is an angel that makes my life heavenly at other a demon who makes it more like another place. I have been around long enough to have experience teaching with chalkboard, and filmstrips to smartboards and DVDs. It can be overwhelming if you allow it to be, you have to take it one step at a time. If I can adapt and learn there's hope for all.

Andrew Van Speybroeck (not verified)

I agree. There is so much

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I agree. There is so much technology out there that can be useful in our classrooms. Finding a way to integrate it effectively can be overwhelming. With new adavances in technology every year, it is nearly impossible to keep up with the constant change. I am currently enrolled in an integrating technology in the classroom master's program. I am looking forward to seeing new ideas to integrate this ever-growing tool into my daily lessons. I know that students will not only have to read, write and do math, but have these technological skills as well. I agree with the article, only one carpenter with all of these tools. It can be tough, but it is worth a shot.

Anonymous (not verified)

Technology and Math

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I enjoyed reading all of the comments and ideas on how you use technology in the classroom. I currently teach 9th and 10th grade inclusion math and am constantly searching for ways to meet the needs of all students in my classroom. Although the technology currently available to me is somewhat limited, I want to be able to integrate it into my class so that it is appropriately used in the most beneficial manner. I do not have access to a smartboard, elmo, or document camera, but I am definitely interested in the concept of webquests and would like to hear any ideas or tips that you may have.

Macy (not verified)

tech version 1.0

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I thought that getting white boards was the big time when they were installed in my classroom. Then one year, the administration decided to cut down on paper use, so everything was emailed. I am in a newer school and we have two computer labs, and a smart board. I think that it makes the school day fun for the kids and enalbes teachers to assess in a new way. I also feel that having this available helps students become familiar with technology when there is not a computer in the home.

Mike (not verified)

An Administrator's thoughts

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Too sweet...too juicy...great concept!
How do I balance the need to continue to improve, or in the gaming world, the need to advance to the next level, with the frustration that I am reading in the responses that have been submitted? If we plan instruction around what the students need, then budget to get the necessary tools to engage the learners, then how do we get teachers to embrace the technology? This is not a teacher v. student issue or a teacher v. administration issue, it is a learning issue. Student engagement occurs when the student realizes value in a concept. In order to get them to even look at the value in a concept, we have to allow them opportunities to experience it. Technology gives them that opportunity. Personally, I like it when the juice splatters everywhere and runs down to my chin. That is when I know I got my money's worth!

Kelly Ketcham (not verified)

Our school purchased Smart

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Our school purchased Smart ideas through Smartboard and it really helped me. I am not very literate when it comes to technology, so this REALLY helped me.

Margaret Neu (not verified)

Amazing Technology

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I agree with Joanne. This is the first time I have ever responded to a blog. I am trying to become familiar with how to use it. I really am excited about learning. Two years ago our school had a staff development on blogging. Unfortunately, when you do not understand how to do it, along with not having time, it just does not happen. Several of my colleagues and I are in our Master's program. One of our assignments is to read a variety of blogs and respond with different people on different websites. We are all learning so much. Technology is amazing. Just when I begin to understand or learn it, there is something new created!

J.R. Moulton (not verified)

Here are some ideas...

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Hello, M. Adams! Jim Moulton here.

I use google to find pages posted by other teachers with ideas for interactive whiteboard use. For instance, here is one, for elementary:

http://www.my-ecoach.com/online/webresourcelist.php?rlid=6128

And another more high school focused:

http://springfieldpublicschoolsmo.org/depts/edtech/Resources/index1.htm#...

I would urge you to remember that Smart Technology's SmartBoard is one of a host of similar products, referred to, generically as, "interactive whiteboards." The SmartBoard is a wonderful tool, but all should be aware that there are others... Competition is what keeps them all getting better.

Interactive whiteboards:http://www.shambles.net/pages/staff/intwhiteb/

Hope this helps!

Jim

J.R. Moulton (not verified)

You're doing fine!

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Jim Moulton here... Congratulations on being a new "blogger," and thank you for taking the time to respond to my post. As for finding navigating the web a challenge, I would suggest you go to the web with a purpose (not necessarily school driven) and go with a friend, someone who is "comfortable there." Together, you will discover the answer to your question, and that question can be as simple as finding a bed and breakfast for February in Tucson, or tracking down your family history... Purpose and a competent, personal guide are all you need, along with a willingness to learn and use what you learn!

Have fun, and keep it up! Cheers.

Jim

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Jim Moulton Technology Integration and Project-Based Learning Consultant