Good News/Bad News

Yesterday, as part of an opening session at a regional professional development event, I had the opportunity to facilitate a conversation with students grades 3 – 12 about their own and their classroom technology use. I wasn’t really prepared for what I heard.

The good news: They are, for the most part, using lots of tech in their lives. They don’t have a lot of rules as they seem to be doing a good job regulating their own tech use outside of the classroom. Even the techiest of them, a programmer who was wearing Google glasses, spent lots of time outside, hiking, camping and swimming. They were really an impressive bunch of kids: thoughtful, funny, charming.

The bad news: The classroom picture they painted was pretty depressing for someone who has been part of the “ed tech revolution” since 1988. For the elementary kids, we heard a lot of descriptions of the three-computer classroom where the computers are used by the students when they finish their work to do extra review or to take reading tests. iPads housed textbooks and a few apps. In high school, we heard about lots of research and testing and not much else. There were some pockets of creative uses but they were few and far between.

I guess I was just naive. I hang out with the innovators, the tech coaches who are leading pop up makerspaces, setting up Minecraft servers, and  facilitating hour of code activities. But, from the conversation yesterday, these things are happening outside of regular instruction, either during electives or after school.

Is this the norm? This was one group of a dozen students all from the same school division. I don’t think so: I had lunch with one of the innovators from another division and it seemed that things were the same. A few teachers doing interesting things while the rest focused on content and testing.

We ended the session with a maker activity: simple straw rockets and gyrocopters. One of the attendees commented that they were like kids, they were having so much fun. And we brainstormed ideas for integrating these into content area classrooms. The students on the panel all agreed they liked to make things so maybe I made a little bit of difference in a few classrooms for next year?

But despite the upbeat ending, I’m a bit depressed this morning and, later today, I have to provide words of wisdom to my pre-service teachers at the end of their “tech” course. Hmmm…not sure what to say to them.

3 thoughts on “Good News/Bad News

  1. I’m not going to help you feel better but you can at least feel good that you’re less depressed than I am.

    I haven’t been in things that long but I’m frequently depressed with the pace of change in both k12 and higher ed. I once made the mistake of searching through email from 10 years ago. Conversations are pretty much the same. The Papert “Before the computer could change school…” quote rings true to me.

    The sad thing to me is that most of this isn’t a technical issue. It’s not even a problem with outcomes. It’s just disposition and path but, at the same time, those seem the hardest to change.

    1. Larry Cuban has said the same thing: technology won’t change anything until teachers change the way they teach. But it’s easier to talk about technology than pedagogy. I actually feel a bit better now as my pre-service teachers presented their final projects, and they had great ideas for changing their classrooms. In particular, the budding high school English teacher (my original content area) recognized that most students would not share her passion for reading so she needed to find way to engage them by doing things like letting them create Instagram accounts for characters or build settings in Minecraft. I’m rooting her on and hoping her cooperating teacher will let her explore these ideas.

      1. I think it’s deeper than that. This piece from 1916 gets at some of it.

        I think it’s more accurate to say students won’t necessarily share that teacher’s passion for reading the books one is forced to read in school. We may even convince them they hate reading given enough time.

        Those assignments may/may not make it more palatable- and that’s speaking as someone who did that with myspace pages for characters back in the day. It makes sense in the mess but it’s not the way I think things should be done.

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