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Tools of the Trade 2

teachingtoolsBack in the 1990’s, the boys at the high school I worked at carried all their textbooks, notebooks, pencils and calculators in large duffle bags.  They had access to a locker, but students felt carrying their locker in one bag from class to class was better.  In any case, they got their weight training in early.  It was during this time the Dean of Technology, Dr. Jerry Waite, and myself were looking into e-books, originally called, “e-readers.”  This was pre-kindle.  We both came to the early conclusion that if educational publishers ever took on the task of converting traditional paper textbooks to digital this could save a lot of weight.  However, would owning an e-book increase student reading skills, comprehension, and output?  Would it increase literacy?  Would it motivate students to read more?  We weren’t sure.

This article is a continuation in a series I am writing about regarding the Tools of the Trade.  Teachers have access to more teaching tools than any previous generation.  How to choose the best tool for the right job is still an important question.  There is no one tool that fits all.  Hopefully, these articles will open dialog and direction that in the end will benefit our students.

In the world of marketing, both online (Social Media) and offline (newspapers, flyers, and even business cards) media are encouraged in getting the message out.  Likewise, in education it’s important that we embrace the new technologies while continuing to evaluate what we gain and lose with legacy tools vs. digital tools.  Certain questions have come to mind, which I believe are being ignored or overlooked.

Question 1:    What improvements in learning are achieved by integrating new technology into the classroom?

Lest we forget, the classroom is a learning tool, and the classroom as we knew it has been evolving.  Today’s classroom can be a dynamic learning tool for discovery, creating dreams, and empowerment provided we address three conditions:

  • IF, all the elements in the classroom are interconnecting and engaging the
    young learner.
  • iF, the teacher has been well instructed on how to use and integrate the
    technology into the curriculum, and
  • IF, the teacher is willing to push the technology envelope to find more ways to
    reach student learning styles.

exam-20I have read a lot of articles about the “New Skills” today’s technology will teach our students.  But no one has ever taken the time to make a list of exactly what those skills are.  LAUSD spent $1 billion dollars to purchase 600,000 iPads and WiFi infrastructures for it’s school district.  The only public reason given for this purchase has been that the California State Standardized Tests under the new Core Curriculum will now be taken online.  So I thought, what new skills are needed to learn on how to click on a bubble, or type in your answer in an assigned box?

childworkingonipadA week ago, I visited a fifth grade math class.  The teacher had several multiplication problems on her Smartboard that were being copied by students using their iPads.  As I walked around the room I saw student after student using his/her finger to write the problem onto a blank screen and carry out the computation.  Students could use the same finger to erase by tapping on the appropriate icon.  As the students continued to work, I asked the teacher a question, “How has the student learning outcomes improved by replacing pencil and paper for the new digital device?”  She replied, “We haven”t had much time to evaluate that question.” She continued, “However, it has saved our school quite a bit on paper purchases.”  Was saving paper or student growth the most important reason to implement iPad technology into the lesson plan?

The efficacy is further hindered with yearly industry system and software upgrades along with district demands not only to learn the new technologies but finding new ways to integrate them into current curriculums.  All of this creating a learning curves for teachers that are almost vertical on the graph.

So, how is this problem to be solved?  Base on my research, these six foundation questions need to be answered first.

  1. How will the technology being considered improve the content to be delivered?
  2. What projects will be developed from the technology demonstrate student engagement and self-motivation?
  3. How will the technology create collaboration between students?
  4. How will student communication improve?
  5. What creative projects can be created, that will utilize both traditional and digital technologies in solving a unique problem?
  6. How will the technology help to encourage learning outside the classroom?

Second, better assessment tools need to be created, not on the technologies, technologies don’t have learning outcomes, but on student learning outcomes.
Third, programs need to be re-evaluated for school mission efficacy.  Our school missions are the light houses that represent who we are, and what goals we have agreed to work on for the betterment of our students, not state rating or scores.

The Forgotten And Most Used Tool

Would you consider a pencil a tool?  If you said yes, then it should have its own rubric along with the rest of the technology requirements being given to students today.

Pencil Rubric

   I had some fun putting this rubric quickly together.  Yes, it’s ridiculous, but so is the idea that technology will motivate students.  The 16mm films didn’t do it, nor the filmstrips, even with sound; and when television and VCR’s were put into the classroom that technology didn’t motivate students.  VCR were eventually replaced with DVD’s with the same results.  Computers are common place today, students are quite comfortable with iPads and e-books.  But, math scores are still low, reading is still average, and students are dropping out of school at all levels.

Bill Ferriter, who runs his own blog, recently did a simple hand drawing on the topic, “What do you want kids to do with technology?”, and posted on the Net (which got a pretty good response.)  He pointed out that today’s students are motivated by opportunities created by the students not the technology they are using.  I agree, and add that the mighty little pencil is still being used by the top designer, architects, and computer leaders today.

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AstronautPen Interesting enough during the 1960’s, NASA spent $12 million dollars to develop a pen that could be used in zero gravity.  Those pens were eventually sold by Fisher Pens and called, “Fisher Space Pens.”   I remember buying one, it cost $1.98, which was expensive at that time.  Meanwhile, our competitor for the space race, Russia, invested in pencils and mechanical pencils, and saved millions of dollars.  Considering there is no place on our planet that has zero G, unless you are falling out of an airplane and writing your Will on the way down, there is no way a Space Pen can give you any clear advantages or better grades.  But, better grades was one of Fisher’s selling points, along with the ability to close sales, think clearly, and clear up acne (Okay, the last one wasn’t in the original marketing makeup).

So, if you agree that a Space Pen, or any pen or pencil will not help you get better grades, what makes you think buying a computer, iPad, or e-book will?  Some might say, “Today’s technology has access to the World Wide Web, Multimedia, it’s interactive, it has the ability to cross communicate with all kinds of digital devices, it’s…it’s…it’s a tool!”  In the end, it’s simply a tool.  I’m open to comments, send them.

The Real Reason for Brains

Daniel Wolpert: The real reason for brains