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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
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Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have to admit that I am one of those teachers that is stagnant because I am totally overwhelmed with all of the technology that is available today. I am just getting my feet wet with some of the basics (This is my first Blog experience), and while I would love to incorporate as much as possible into my classroom I usually turn away because I don't know where to start. Does anyone have any recommendations?

Jennifer's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I love technology and how it has changed my classroom. I am able to present concepts in a more appealing way using my prometheum board. I also have used the Java applets you mentioned. An increasingly number of textbook companies are also offering online textbooks, videos, and interactive games that have been great for interventions in student learning.

I do understand the frustration of learning how to use these new devices. My prometheum board became disconnected from an out of date driver and my technology personal was not able to resolve it for a few weeks. I believe the key is to be prepared with an alternative for times when the technology does not cooperate. This is part of becoming an expert teacher. Garmston (1998) states that an exper teacher is "more flexiable, stress-tolerant and adaptive in their teaching style" (p.2). Some times teachnology is stressful, but I think it is worth the hassle.

Jennifer's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I love how technology has changed the way I teach. I have a smart board in my classroom and it has allowed me to present concepts to my students in a more appealing way. I can link in clip art, videos, and webpages to support the lesson. Also, an increasingly number of textbooks are supplying online sites with videos, interactivities, and assessments for student learning.

I understand the frustration of teachers when it comes to using all of these unfamiliar resources. Not only are the procedures to using the teachnolgy sometimes complicated, but it does not always work properly. Most schools, mine included, do not have an onsite technology support person. Ours is shared with another school. Once my smart board became disconnected because of an out of date driver and it was not resolved for weeks. As teachersr, we have to be prepared with alternatives when the tchnology is not cooperative. In Becoming Expert Teachers, Garmston (1998) stated, expert teacher are "more flexiable, stress tolerant, and adaptive in their teaching style" (p. 2). Even though using technology is often stressful, the benefits of it for our students outweighs the frustration.

Garmston, R. J. (1998). Becoming expert teachers (Part one). Journal of Staff Development, 19(1).

Karen's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I love the "Too sweet, too juicy" concept!!! This had me laughing out loud because that is exactly how I feel when I get instructions on how to access our PD hours now on our intranet, or signing up for the computer lab is now through the school's website, as opposed to the good old-fashioned sign-up sheet on the door.
However, I did take a step forward last year when I incorporated a Webquest with my students on Global Warming. I admit, this took time to prepare, and it took time to navigate through the right websites, and come up with the right questions, but the kids loved it! (7th grade) They even taught me a thing or two while we were there. A webquest can be on any topic at all, just pre-select the websites that the students will use, and then it's kind of like a scavenger hunt where they have to read for pertinent information to answer your questions or complete your graphic organizers. Hope this helps.

Kip Fagan's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Oh, you hit it on the head. For sure. Sometimes, as a teacher, I love technology. Other times . . . I just want to get it out of my way. My classroom has three computers that do not work and are bolted to their respective tables. I've talked with the lab tech about getting rid of an especially hideous 90s contraption but I know it isn't going anywhere. You are absolutely right - technology will largely go untapped as a student resource as long as it's (in my case) 32 students to 1 teacher.

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