Saturday, April 14, 2012

Technology in the Classroom - A Reflction

As I sit back and reflect upon the past seven weeks for this course, I must remind myself where I was in my classroom prior to this course in terms of technological usage.  Seven weeks ago, I found myself using PowerPoint to give notes at least twice a week.  Students would diligently take notes, and I would post the links to my PowerPoint lectures on my website.  As we have learned, this is simply “putting old wine into new bottles” (Laureate, 2010).  Students are still being presented information the same way that they always have through PowerPoint.  The only difference is that we are using a different vessel to transmit that information.  Instead of simply putting a piece of chalk to the board and having the students take notes, the students are now taking notes from a technological piece that their teacher uses to present that information.  To the student, this is still the same thing.  They are being given notes, and their job is to put their pencil to paper, and take the notes down.
As educators, we need to change this method of teaching.  It is not that this type of teacher-centered instruction has no place in the classroom.  I would disagree with anyone who would state that it serves no purpose to have lessons like the one described.  However, as educators, we need to adjust with the changing times, and adopt newer ways of thinking and teaching into our classroom.  As our culture shifts to a technologically driven one, we need to make a similar shift in our way of presenting information to our students.  If our students are truly going to be successful in the 21st century workforce, we need to implement more lessons that are learner-centered.  These past seven weeks have presented us with a great deal of information on how to make that happen.
Each and every one of the students that we teach every day has had technology in their lives since birth.  “Kids today are connected to the entire world around the clock, in real time, through their media and their myriad personal devices, both electronic  and digital uses” (Prensky, 2005).    These same students are always on their cell phones, personal gaming devices, IPods, and many more technological devices when they are outside of school.  If we are going to reach our students, we need to find ways to reach them in the classroom, so that they do not “power down” (Prensky, 2008) when they get in the classroom.  Assignments such as blogs, wikis, and podcasts will certainly allow for our students to satisfy their technological needs, and allows for us to design lessons that align with 21st century skills. Blogs, podcasts, and wikis can all be made into collaborative activities with just a bit of extra effort from the teacher.  A few extra steps at the beginning of the lesson from the instructor goes a long way towards creating a successful technology-based lesson, and if teachers are willing to work at it, many critical thinking questions can be answered.
While I have yet to implement a new technology-based lesson into my classroom, I have certainly taken steps to do so.  I have always used collaborative activities in my classroom, so transitioning some of my lessons will be much easier than I had anticipated.  In fact, I have already changed one of my tried-and-true lessons into a more technologically-based one.  As I introduce different continents in my social studies classes, I place the students into groups and give them an assortment of maps on that continent.  From the maps, they have to collaborate, and come to a conclusion as to which areas would be the most likely to have a higher population, and their job is to explain why they have come up with that response.  They have always been required to write out their responses.  This lesson has always been successful in giving the students an opportunity to understand why humans settle in specific areas, instead of simply accepting the fact that they do.  Even though this has been a success, I firmly believe that implementing a blog to accompany this lesson can only enhance its success.  Students can post their thoughts about their maps, and collaborate with other groups as they are progressing.  This lesson will not take place until the next school year, but I am already excited about the prospects of instituting it.
While this lesson is certainly a start to the change that needs to be done to help integrate technology, there is a lot more that needs to be done.  I certainly need to limit the amount of teacher-oriented lessons that have dominated my planning in the past.  In order to do this, I need to set some long-term goals to accomplish that change in planning.  The first goal I am setting for myself is to institute at least one lesson including a podcast, one with a wiki, and one with a blog by the end of the next school year.  By the end of my second year, I would like to enhance that number to two lessons for each of the three technological pieces.  By doing this, I can make changes to lessons as necessary, and at the same time I can add newer parts to make lessons better.  My second goal might be loftier.  I would like to teach an in-service for my school, and possibly multiple schools (the high school), on ways to use podcasts effectively in the classroom.  I found the podcast activity during this course to be extremely worthwhile, and definitely can see the benefits of using it.  By taking a leadership role in my school community, I believe that others will see the benefits of using this technology in the class.  A podcast assignment may take some time to develop, but the ease in which it is likely to be completed is well worth the extra time developing the lesson; not to mention the excitement that our students will get from using this sort of technology in their education.
Our students all love and use technology, it is time that we bridge the gap between the technology they use at home, and the technology they use in school.  While just about all school districts are facing some sort of budget crisis, technology still can be used in classrooms to meet the technological demands of our students.  Students may not be able to get newer technologies as often as they would like, but a creative teacher can foster 21st century skills by making a conscious effort to integrate collaborative activities that challenge the students.  It may be overwhelming for many teachers, but as I’ve said from the beginning, we need to take ‘baby steps’ to get there.

Laureate Education Inc. (Producer). (2010). The changing role of the classroom teacher part 1. [DVD] Understanding the impact of technology on education, work, and society. Baltimore, MD: Dr. David Thornburg.
Prensky, M. (2005). Listen to the natives. Educational Leadership, 63(4), 8–13.

Prensky, M. (2008, March). Turning on the lights. Educational Leadership, 65(6), 40–45.