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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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Debbie Bannister (not verified)

Technology

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Technology is wonderful...Technology is horrible!
In my 6th grade class room, I have a Smart Board, a new laptop, a slate, and an Elmo. I use the laptop with the textbook's CD, the Smartboard, and the Elmo daily. The only reason that I haven't used the slate is because I really don't know how, and I certainly don't have the time to learn. To have the availability of technology without using it is disturbing to me. There are many times that I just would like to go back to the old way of teaching, but I don't believe that we have a choice. The world is continuously changing, and we as teachers must continuously change with it.

Sandy (not verified)

Technology

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Technology is mind boggling to me. I seem to be resisting the wave of new information and skills relating to technology. I step lightly when it comes to learning new things concerning my computer at school. Fortunately, I have some friendly and patient collegues who are willing to lend me a hand when it comes to adapting to new things. How do you all do it? Maybe it is my age or my personality that restricts my desire or lack of desire to grasp new technological ideas in my classroom. The white board, my TE, and the state standards go a long way with me. If you have any ideas for me to get over this hump, please reply soon.

Anonymous (not verified)

Ideas

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I love this idea about Webquest. I too use this in the classroom. The children love it! As you said this does take time, but well worth it. I've also used it as a quick math task. At some point today, you need to answer the question next to the computer. ie. On the computer, draw a square. Split this into 6 pieces. Shade in 2/6ths. (also testing skills they learned in technology) They complete this task, then print it for my assessment. This is a great way to motivate students to finish their other work to find time on the computer and it allows me to assess them also. I would love to hear more peoples ideas! Please share!!!

Joanne (not verified)

Technology is an amazing

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Technology is an amazing thing. I am in awe of all those who are forever coming up with new and different things. It is also a tremendous tool being utilized in most classrooms to varying degrees. I tend to have a great deal of trouble navigating the web. This is my first time "blogging" and I'm not even sure I am doing this right. I look forward to learning more about technology every day.

Jen W. (not verified)

Not Enough to Go Around

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I teach in a small community that is trying to remain current, but is struggling. We are getting more technology all the time, but there is still not enough to go around, and more than that, not enough training for how to use what we have. This year I was sent to a Smartboard training for an inservice day. Instantly I was hooked! I came back to my building looking for any way to get my hands on one of these boards. It just so happened that one of my colleagues had one in her room and DOES NOT USE IT AT ALL! She told me that she only uses the projector to show video clips from United Streaming and that if I got my own projector, I could have the board. Well I got to my principal's office as quick as I could (lest my colleague change her mind) and requested a projector. I was told to requisition one. Now I am just waiting for it to arrive. The smartboard will be moved to my room at that time. I am so excited about what I can do for my students and with my curriculum (4th grade math)!

This type of situation is all too common unfortunately. Schools are getting access to this new technology, but teachers are not being given the time or training to use it. Much of the opportunities to improve instruction and student learning are being lost.

Anonymous (not verified)

Technology with strings

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Leah,

I too teach in a poor district; however, due to grants we have been fortunate enough to have computer labs for each grade level. Sounds great, right? Well, our principal decided to mandate what we can and cannot use the labs for. Out of three grade levels, we have one lab in which we can actually use for research or typing reports. The other three labs are specifically designated for Skills Tutor, an online tutoring session. Most all of the teachers at my school find the website useless because the students get bored with the lack of interaction. Thus, I feel your pain concerning the inability to use technology. Unfortunately, it's not because it isn't available, it's because it's not how our principal intends us to use the labs. Sad, don't you agree?

M.Adams (not verified)

Technology

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My school has recently purchased SmartBoards for the math department. They are pretty amazing with all of the different things they can do. I try and integrate it into my lessons as much as I can, without just posting notes and doing example problems on it, but I still find myself struggling with finding creative lessons where I can use all of the tools the SmartBoard offers. Does anyone have ideas, or know where I can find some activities??

Anonymous (not verified)

Technology is great, but can be overwhelming as well

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As a teacher in an elementary school I am learning a lot about technology. I feel that it is very helpful in assisting to "diagnose" certain areas that students are week in. We have Lexia, AR/Star and so many other programs that are accessed through the internet. The teachers are able to access the student's performance by logging into the system's site that was purchased by the district.

However, there is a downside of this type of testing and evaluating. Often times I am given the opportunity to be able to access the internet during times that the internet is down distrit wide. I also have to set up tests for the students to take. This is such a great idea, but I find that I have a very difficult time finding time to do that. It is easy to assign certain tests to the children, however it is very time consuming.

I feel that we have so many resources, however not enough time to access it all. It is a good problem, but one that I must try to manage.

Ashley (not verified)

Power Surge

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You seemed to have posed the perfect question, how are you dealing with the power surge. As a novice teacher, I am overwhelmed with that amount to technology in the classroom. It seems when I have mastered how to use on new piece of equipment; there are 5 more programs I must learn to use to use the equipment correctly. When does the madness end?

I especially liked when you stated the fact that there is one teacher to twenty five students. This idea has engulfed me into a deep abyss. The demands put onto a teacher out weigh the reality of what one person can provide for her students. Technology is a great tool to use when I have time in my hectic day to incorporate it. I want to utilize the many resources I have in my classroom, especially pertaining to technology. Yet, time rarely allows it. The sad thing is that the madness never ceases.

Bethany (not verified)

One-to-One computing

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The school I teach at has recently gone to one-to-one computing and a wireless environment. Trust me, it may be "too sweet, too juicy". I love the applications and the hands-on learning. I truly enjoy the teachable moments when my students in a math class can look up the daily science news or find the definition of a word online. But, many times I am also fighting them checking thier email or trying to get around sites to use IM. I think it truly prepares them for their future careers (think of the technology they will see in 10 years!). But I often get frustrated with the negative side.

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Jim Moulton Technology Integration and Project-Based Learning Consultant