December 19, 2014

BYOD in the Literacy Classroom

Being asked to write a counterpoint article on the benefits of a BYOD program appeared to be a challenge at first, as I happen to be a supporter of the integration of technology.  As I considered it longer, there are definitely concerns I have with technology in general and with BYOD programs in particular, especially if neither is approached with best practices in the development of the initiative.

The biggest and ongoing concern with Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) programs is the inequity that can exist which is often not intentional but can easily be overlooked.  How do schools address the fact that not all students have devices? If the district does plan to provide devices for those students that do not have their own device, that will help, but then students that do have a device, but possibly of lesser quality than the schools, may decide not to bring in their device.  I want access to the better device, and let’s face it, borrowing the school’s device would be putting less mileage (or eating up storage) on my device. 

Another concern with any technology initiative is in the planning and preparation for the network.  While it is great that more and more schools finally have internet access and more of these schools with access are now supporting wireless devices with quality wifi service, there is a difference between having 5 iPads in your classroom and suddenly having 20 -25 devices that are all trying to access the same access point.  Even after you beef up your wireless access you then have to worry about what is being accessed over the internet. 

Sure, there are ways to filter improper content, and if students are simply uploading word documents to be submitted as reports to the teacher then everything will probably work as smooth as silk.  But when you ask a classroom full of students to search You Tube for a video of their favorite story, you are about to see how quickly a bullet train can turn into a snail in a typical US school district.

BYOD will also bring its own challenges to the classroom teacher.  Whether they are comfortable with this role or not, you will quickly become the technology help desk for up to 20 different tech devices in your classroom.  Let’s face it, not all devices are created equal, and while little Suzie with a brand new iPad Air will likely face few tech glitches.  When she does they can probably be easily addressed through a search on You Tube or the Apple website.  But little Johnny who brings in a brand name device you have never heard of, and that his father let him have because it was a free promo gift from his telecommunications company, you may face some serious problems when his device decides it doesn’t want to open the website you have asked all students to go to because it doesn’t have the proper drivers or plug-ins.  When you get right down to it, you need to have the right tool for the job, and not all devices are best for everything.  Reading on a device is different than typing up a 2-3 page paper. 

Finally, the biggest concern using technology in the classroom is the preparation and professional development provided to the teachers to prepare them for this new style of learning.  You cannot simply add a device that can take a student to almost anything in the world they would like to access, and expect them to not be distracted and tempted to search out what interests them.  If a teacher is not prepared for this possibility and how to manage a situation like that, you are setting them up for failure and frustration and all teachers deserve far less of that.  Teachers need and deserve the time and training to be experts in managing and instructing with the tools they are expected to use in their trade.

This post is actually an adaptation of the "Two Takes" opinion piece I was asked to write for Reading Teacher magazine which is published by International Reading Association.  You can find it in the January/February 2015 Issue on pages 14 and 15.  I was limited to around 600 words and this is a subject I could go on about for quite a while and even argue the other side of the topic.  I added a few photos and made a couple of small changes to what I submitted but it's basically the same.

December 4, 2014

Why Teachers Aren't Going Anywhere

So I found this video the other day on You Tube, and it might be one of the best at explaining why Technology, Video, the internet or any other "thing" will not revolutionize education. 

TV, iPads, worksheets, textbooks or the best lecture in the world won't do it either.  Sorry to say it, but if teaching continues as it often has, student learning will continue on the same trend it always has as well.  Because it isn't what teachers know, what a book has on its pages, or even what is shared via an amazing video or podcast.  It is what the learner does with the information that matters.  Do they just hear it?  Do they just write it down on a worksheet?  Do they just read it?  If the student doesn't interact with the learning, if the students doesn't take it and use it, use it incorrectly, and then use it again, it probably won't stick.  The more they interact with it, the deeper they learn from it, the better they understand it.  It's a long and arduous journey.  Just ask Thomas Edison, the Wright Brothers, Bill Gates or Steve Jobs.

So I know that some teachers have begun to worry that they will be replaced by technology tools, or websites, or who knows what in the future, but I don't think they are going anywhere.  But if we really want to make a difference, then there may be some things we can change to make a bigger impact.  I can't think of a better argument for hands on authentic tasks, Project Based Learning, and the maker movement, than the simple truth outlined in the video.  If we want to prepare kids for the real world and the changing economy and job market our students will face, then we need to change the way we have always done things, and take some risks that say it's not about standardized tests, its about learning by doing.

December 3, 2014

Culture of Compassion

I was watching the movie "The Blind Side" recently on ABC Family, and it made me reflect a little. I love the movie, yeah it's about football, but far more importantly, it's about kindness, compassion, empathy and looking beyond differences to see what a person really needs to make it in this world. A football scholarship? Someone wealthy enough to buy them clothes? To buy them a truck? Nope. Sometimes, it takes just one person to show that they care, that they will go out of their way to make sure you are cared for and supported. This family took in a young man to make sure he felt cared for and they grew to love him, and he loved them.

This photo displays one of the quotes from the movie that just about brings me to tears everytime I hear it.  Why? Because it is the simple truth of the whole movie.....and maybe it's the simple truth of being an educator as well.

What is the connection to my Tomah family? These are some of the same actions I see from my co-workers almost everyday. Teachers going out of their way for students in a variety of ways. I know it's our job to help students learn reading, math, science and social studies, and yes, we do that too, but I am always filled with pride when I see the extras we do for our students as well. What's unusual is that I don't think any of my teachers see it as an extra. It's just what they do.

They see a need, and they find a way to fill it. Whether it's a student in need of boots or a winter coat, a family in need of food, or a student that just needs a little more attention and love, they all find a way to be there for the kids. Going to their performances, their various athletic events, and just smiling when they see them around town. The kindness and compassion my teachers display is inspiring to me and more importantly it makes all the difference to our students.