September 6, 2010

Summer Technology Course

Mike, Alice revised and rewrote our annual Summer/Fall Technology course entitled
TEACHING & LEARNING with TECHNOLOGY for the 21st CENTURY. Participants were teachers in grades 2-12 including Music, Art and Library specialists. We based the course in a Google Site as that let us become more familiar with that tool and it served as a model for teachers who were looking to move from FirstClass web pages or even wikis they have used for several years.

Bringing "The Element" into the Lab

In designing the Yarmouth "TEACHING & LEARNING with TECHNOLOGY for the 21st CENTURY" Course this summer we chose to focus on the themes of creativity and innovation. The question we are asking of teachers is not, "How are you using technology?", but "How are you using technology to support creativity and innovation in our students?" Another question we are asking is, "How can students demonstrate learning in creative and innovative ways?" 

For the past few years I have enjoyed using Sir Ken Robinson's TED (Technology, Education & Design) Talk "Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity" as a discussion point in courses and faculty meetings. This summer he added another talk: "Sir Ken Robinson: Bring on the learning revolution!" His sense of humor and the urgency of purpose in his presentations have made Ken Robinson a respected descriptor of  the changes needed in our national and international educational services. Many of the ideas in his talks are compiled in his newly published book, The Element: How finding your passion changes everything. There are many sections and scenarios in the book that I hope to revisit and discuss with others. One line in the chapter on schools that resonated for me was, "Too many feel that what they are good at isn't valued by schools. Too many think they're not good at anything (p. 225)."

In reading the book and thinking about Robinson's ideas for "transforming education (p. 228)", I found myself wondering how I could restructure the weekly computer lab sessions for 2nd, 3rd & 4th graders. Although we have added Google Earth, blogs, Voicethreads, and some interactive sites to our lab activities we are still using many class periods to go to sites that are drill-oriented or  we still ask all students to complete a similar task with a specific tool. I'm torn as in these early years we have an opportunity to introduce online activities and software tools with the goal that all students will build comfort with basics like painting, writing, reading online text and creating multi-media demonstrations of learning. I don't think we can abandon these introductory experiences entirely, but I think we can move toward more "expert groups" and individual choice even at these early grades. I want to move toward Robinson's idea of "firing up the motivations and imaginations of the students (p. 247)."

A favorite part of my role is that I collaborate with teachers when classes are in the lab. One teacher suggested that I inventory 3rd & 4th graders in the early weeks of school. The questions might be:
  • Describe a time that you had your best experience using a computer?
  • Describe a time that you had your worst experience using a computer?
  • If you could choose something you like to do on a computer, what would it be?
Once I have these responses from students I could group them and offer students a selection of learning groups. These groups will need to be flexible as students learn enough to change their minds, but longterm enough to give students a chance to learn and demonstrate learning. I envision groups that would specialize in taking photos with digital cameras and uploading them to online sites; groups that would know how to login to the class Voicethread account and add student work and comments; groups that would use math games to interact with each other and continue that use at home; groups that would be familiar with Google Maps and locating points of interest, groups that would know how to create and share Google Docs, groups that would lead others in creating digital stories using PhotoPeach, Animoto and other sites, and more.

I plan to start my classes this year asking students about what they think computers and technology are for. In that discussion I will ask how many want to be movie makers, writers of stories, poems or plays, painter/illustrators, announcers, scientists, etc. I will use their data from this conversation to report back to them how we will work toward being whichever of these they want most to be. Maybe I will be brave enough to ask them to show me something they know how to do the very first class session.