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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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Leah (not verified)

Technology

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I just wanted to comment on how technology has become the newest thing in our lives. You can do anything, find anything and learn something new everyday. I am a teacher in a very poor district and technology is more of a problem then fun. We don't have enough computers for everyone and the children need so much help typing because they don't have access to a computer at home. I would love to utilize technology to the fullest but without another hand or a tech person sometimes it not even worth using the computers.

Steve (not verified)

How pleasant to hear of

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How pleasant to hear of another teacher using a Smart Board and enjoying it. Smart Board technology has helped me in more ways than one; most beneficially with No Child Left Behind issues. I challenge the other teachers at my school to be able to download/print notes from the blackboard. I send emails to my absentee students with notes, quizzes or presentations so they do not miss a single thing. You refered to Garmston's article and I couldn't be more in agreement: we need to become more flexible and in terms of current, affordable technology the Smart Board system is a great system. I recently added a Palm TX and Easy Grade Pro to my system. Now I can extend the Smart Board technolgy outside the classroom. I grade papers while I travel and HotSync to my school computer. I leave my Smart Board running and my students can make appointments with me right on my calendar. Using this type of technology makes us more flexible. How come I cannot convince my fellow teachers of its benefits?

Jorge (not verified)

Too Sweet and Juicy

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I love the story and I think I may borrow it when the right situation comes along.

As for technology in the classroom. I try to use technology when I can but it always seems to come out and bite me. Whenever I make a powerpoint presentation with all the fancy clip art and bells and whistles... the projector is on the fritz, the computer doesn't want to boot up, or it takes forever to create it in the first place. Sometimes it is just easier to rely on my notes, the book, a demonstration and a white-board marker. Maybe I am lazy or just thinking of this year, I am sure that putting all of my notes in a digital format and making them fancier every year would be more efficient... eventually.

Tracy (not verified)

I've been lucky in the last

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I've been lucky in the last couple of years to have a colleague who is very good with technology, and likes to share information. She has made it seem very un-intimidating, and so I am willing to try new things. Our current administrator is willing to spend money to make sure that teachers have the basics in their classrooms - reliable workstations, an elmo or document camera, projector - so that at least the minimum can be done. Once a teacher has had the experience of using at least an elmo, they do not want to go back to an overhead or board, and I'm seeing this with colleagues who had not had an interest in technolgy before. We do have a white board that is in storage, mostly because it is large, and no one had the time to learn how to teach with it. I haven't attempted to use it either, but if a juicy peach in the form of a document camera appeared in front of me, I'm sure I would be more than tempted.

Heather (not verified)

Technology Support

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It's been great reading everyone's thoughts about technology. I, too, have felt overwhelmed at times. I graduated in 2004 and even since then I have fallen behind in some tech areas. While I'm more comfortable that some teachers at my school (and able to assist them) I find myself sometimes looking to students for help. For technology support, I have heard many teachers comment on how they would like to have simple classes offered at school. Gathering teachers together who want to learn various skills from email to digital photography. We often have some (or many) of the tools at our schools, but they sit and collect dust due to fear. Another idea would be helping a teacher plan a lesson integrating technology. I was just talking with a teacher the other day that felt like when she used technology, there wasn't really a purpose behind it. They'd throw something together on a PowerPoint, but it wasn't much better than creating a hand written assignment. She wanted to know how to use technology to actually enhance student learning.

Allison (not verified)

I think that technology is

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I think that technology is quite overwhelming for teachers today. While I think it is incredibly important to educate students today on how to wisely and safely use the technology available to them, finding a way to do this still escapes me. With a class of thirty students, the computer lab does not have enough computers as well as no one to supervise if I were to only send part of the group. Because most of my students do not even have computers at home, I want to give them the experiences in the classroom, but this continues to be a struggle.

Anonymous (not verified)

I enjoyed reading everyone's

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I enjoyed reading everyone's input on the use of technology. It gives me great insight since I am a technology coordinator and spend many hours training and aquiring more equipment to ensure that our classrooms are up-to-date with the latest technical gadets. I sometimes get frustrated when over $2,000 is spent per classroom on things like elmos, projectors, smart boards, etc. and are not utilized. As a tech coordinator, I offer many opportunities for training throughout the year--one-to-one, group training, and refresher trainings. I even go to each classroom and set up all the equipment and at that time, review again its use and offer suggestions on how it can be used in the classroom.

For those who are overwhelmed by the amount of technology that is available, how can I better support the teachers at my school to overcome their fears and incorporate it in their teaching? I really think that if given a chance, they would realize that this technology is there to enhance the teaching experience for children and is really there to make their lives easier. Any suggestions??

Lisa (not verified)

Too Sweet and Juicy

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Technology changes so quickly that I never feel I can keep up. Once I master one thing, three things have now taken its place.

Kip talked about his 90s model computers. I can relate. Most schools are financially unable to keep up with the times.

Thank God for teenagers! At least my children can roll their eyes and help me navigate the tiny bit of technology we have at home.

Cynthia (not verified)

Computers recording spoken word

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Thank you so much for your information on "Audacity". I am going to pass this information on to my special ed director. We have a grade 4 student who has a lot of difficulty keeping up with the demands of the NYS grade 4 writing demands. Perhaps this is something they can use to help him.

Rachel E. Sigmon (not verified)

My husband always says, "The

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My husband always says, "The best way to eat an elephant is 1 bite at a time." Think of an area in technology where you feel comfortable- perhaps it's your email or even Microsoft Word. I'm not sure how old your students are, but my elementary students enjoy typing their stories as part of the publishing stage in the writing process.

I've taught them how to save their documents, change fonts and their sizes. They have learned how to insert clip art into their stories, too. I found when I tried to do this with the whole group, I was in the midst of chaos and it was a disaster. But I tried again and I realized I needed to work with a small group one at a time. That worked better for me. Soon enough, my kids were able to go to our classroom computers and work more independently. You'll get there... have faith in yourself!

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Jim Moulton Technology Integration and Project-Based Learning Consultant