Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Is it about technology?

Recently, I have had a number of discussions with people (some of them after I read their blogs...and then went and talked to them) that seem to focus on the tech piece of 21C. I hear Parnellisms often. I hear frustrations and sometimes laughter regarding the pitfalls when internet goes out or the server is down or the bulb is burned out or... I hear that maybe we are just another educational fad. I hear very real problems with a lack of time to learn the tools. I hear that Karl goes too fast and therefore, technologies aren't always understood. I hear that we have presented so many new tools (AND I KNOW WE HAVE ONLY SCRATCHED THE SURFACE OF WHAT IS OUT THERE) that it is difficult to develop comfort, let alone expertise, with any of them.

And in each conversation, I find myself saying "But it isn't about technology." It is about a constructive approach to teaching that hopes to change the perspective of the student from one that is content with doing what was asked to one that demands more from themslves and us. All of the technologies are simply options to try and stimulate that change in them. Given that I do have the luxury of 36 laptops which places so many of these new tools at the fingertips of my students, many might be surprised at how little they have been used SO FAR (don't worry yet Karl that you choe the wrong room!). I am choosing ONE class - A.P. Government- to focus my attention on (as I have a student teacher in US and Law has always been "different"). That to me is DOABLE. I am not stretching my time too thin by trying to do it all at once and I am devoting my energies to really rethinking how I do everything in those two hours. WHile the topics we have covered are similar to what I've started with in prior years, the methods are not. For one, I have always planned out my classes with a series of questions that are created to make sure that students "create the lecture" as they responfd to my questions. So while student participation has always been the key to the "distribution of knowledge", it was done through my very direct and planned out guidance. It was good teaching. It worked well by looking at my results. So WHY would I change? Because it wasn't working for ALL kids and my class had become predictable. Some knew they could rely on others to do their thinking for them. Some admitted to their tactics that kept them out of discussions. Some were bored. And for some, it just didn't work. For three weeks, I came to class each day with a single question. Questions ike "What do you want to know about politics and why?, "Who will be the Presidential candidates in 2008 and what are their chances for impact?", "What do you believe and why?", "Define power", etc. These had been topics before. But never before had I watched conversations like I am watching now. In two rooms of 36 and 37 - where I would have predicted a higher percentage of nonparticipants based solely on numbers - I am watching MORE kids take part. I am watching them push the conversation further than I ever did with regards to both depth and breadth. The conversations don't stop when the bell rings as they can't stop blogging (oh look, he finally talked about technolgy). For three weeks, I have think I have developed a constructivist culture. And now they are ready for laptops and wikis and who knows what else. Because now they are begging for more. They are going farther when I get out of the way. SCARY.

So when I talk to those who are frustrated, all I hope to do is to help them see the potential for constructivism when technology sometimes clouds the vision. Technology won't matter without a shift in the culture of learning. It won't work if they aren't thinking first. Whether the "toys" work as expected or not, at the end of the day, it only helps us all learn how to move to plan B by problem solving.