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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
Related Tags: Education Trends, All Grades
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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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Jim Moulton

Technology Integration and Project-Based Learning Consultant

Comments (75) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

J.R. Moulton's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I tell folks that we need to be oh, so careful not to "Dilbertize" the next generation... Please read my post on "any century skills" and let me know what you think.

Jim Moulton

Hugh's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I disagree. The basic problem is that the fundamental organization, philosophy, vocabulary and experience of school is incompatible at a system level with the way that we think and learn. I.e., the way we teach is incompatible with the way we learn. The way we learn is highly compatible with innovation and tool-based technology (thus the attraction between kids and technology) but all three are incompatible with school. Not too juicy but speaking the wrong language.

Programs in NC have shown that that average classrooms can be made compatible with innovation and natural learning. When you see it working it all resolves into a big "Aha!"

Patricia Barfuss's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I love peaches and I love learning. Having said that I know that time to learn is hard to find when you spend your time teaching. If we take the time we can help our students be a part of the Technology generation. Isn't that what teachers do; keep the students in the now while the learning from the past? We don't want to overload them or ourselves but the more we can expose them too appropriate technology we will prepare them for what comes next.

Patty Liston's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Dear Jim:
Loved your "any century skills". I am working with a program for children which dove-tails the 21st Century Skills program with "any century skills". Would love to speak with you further. Thanks for wonderful and unenlightening articles!

M White's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I'm the Tech Coordinator at my small K-8 Catholic school in suburban Mpls. I'm constantly feeling like the "change agent" in my school - in fact, I know some teachers go out of their way to avoid me when I'm after them about trying something new. However, I try to always ask, "How does this fit with your standards and curriculum." Not that long ago, the computer lab was synonymous with reward time-nothing but sweet and juicy. Breaking teachers of that mindset while using technology to enhance learning is an interesting lesson in balance. I work in the "Tech Lab" in which we incorporate digital cameras, scanners, and other technologies; we have a mobile wireless lab to bring the technology to the classroom: and I'm determined to spend more dollars on training each year and fight the urge to purchase more stuff. I think juicy and sweet brings more kids to the table, but they also need their balanced nutrition of meat and potatoes learning.

Amy's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have a very bright student that also has CP. He cannot speak and has poor fine and gross motor skills. He has a dynavox but cannot use it due to his lack of motor skills. I feel like all I ever do is assess what he knows because he can make choices if you hold up 2 - 3 cards to choose from. I really need help with teaching him reading and writing. Any ideas or any technology that might help would be great!

Robert William Churchill's picture

There are several fundamental fallacies, myths, and outright wrong positions embraced by Teachers and Administrators. These same teachers and adminstrators create destructive policies, backwards thinking, and wasteful class room practices that do little to improve student performance. Technology is not the critical success factor for improving student capabilities.

The core problem in education is that teachers and administrators (T&A)put more emphasis on ACTIVITY rather than RESULTS. Much of the education "system" is devoted to awarding, rewarding, and recognizing effort and not outcomes. As a result, little Sally and Johnny get blue ribbons for "doing their best" instead of delivering necessary achievement. The fact is, American students don't measure up and teachers and administrators lack the integrity and fortitude to say the truth. Instead, T&A dilute grading systems and generously dole out unearned higher "grades" to keep parents happy and school performance metrics artificially higher.

Technology is not the problem. Technology is not the solution. The #2 Pencil was patented a hundred years ago and that "technology" has done more good for this nation's student base than any computer.

Many teachers and administrators are abusing the proper use of technology by applying technology as an entertainment tool because teachers are a) unable, b) unwilling, or c) both, to hold the attention of students and properly motivate the students. If a person cannot motivate and keep the attention of a student, they should not be given a certificate to teach - pure and simple.

Technology fundamentally doesn't make a teacher a better educator. Buying expense technology doesn't make a teacher or educator better anymore than buying an expensive hammer makes a person a better carpenter.

The sooner T&A stop whining about technology funding and access and return to the fundamentals of competitive education, the sooner this nation can regain its position in the global economy. Far too many generations of dysfunctional intellectually disabled students have been spawned by the American Education system. It is time to get back on track.

Nathaniel Wilkinson's picture

Don't get me wrong. I am a firm believer in the idea of using technology to better my students but I feel that when you have no power you then have no technology. Too much reliance on things like spell/grammar check will be more of a crutch. Now I like the idea of having the computer to reinforce the knowledge already possessed by my students but using it in place of human interaction will only dull the students sense of respect for authority and interaction between live human beings and themselves.
Basically I know that if you can get the age-level appropriate game/test and provide a reward system for the student, they will be more inclined to study so that they can gain the prize. So they could basically use their hardwired knowledge to gain the apporpriate reward. Of course I realize that I could also use it to help those students with language challenges hear something pronounced syllable by syllable but that too could be after a human approach and more of a reinforcement or review of what has been already taught.
In the end a nice even mixture of technology and human interaction is what I believe will be an asset to society instead of the other way around of too much computer and not enough human cooperation because of the loss of the capability of face to face interaction. As extreme as this may be, it is still a possiblity that can not be denied especially when you hear of the tragic death of those who use non-face to face ineraction to bully someone literally to death.

Nicole's picture

I found this to be very interesting. I find that I get overwhemed with all of the resources on the internet--so much so that sometimes I just stick to ideas that I can come up with (which aren't always the best ideas). I have good intentions, but I'm not experienced enough to have favorite/creidble sites where I find information.

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