Saturday, January 12, 2008

Technology... Really?

I have recently been thinking about the technology that our children are growing up with and feeling compelled as an educator to make sure that I use technology to integrate and individualize for the students in my classroom, but I face the challenges of so many educators - living in a school system that is so tied to the past that it has trouble envisioning (and paying for) the future.

For example, I have 5 computers in the classroom where I work - enough to individualize for many of my students - enough to have at least one student blogging all day long. However, three have not been working most of the year. Work orders have been called in since September! One of the remaining computers crashed last week, so I'm down to one that works... most of the time - 30 kids - 1 computer.

I am in a county where each teacher is given a laptop computer (of course, new teachers are still waiting for their laptop this year - how frustrating is that?), but I've had mine for a while. I gave it up this year for a stand alone computer because my laptop had gotten so slow. I used to keep a book beside my laptop because I could read a page or two while it performed an operation. As a result most of my computer work has to be done on my home computer. I wonder what teachers do that don't have computers at home...

We were thrilled this year to get document cameras with projectors at our school. Wow - what a difference that has made in our ability to show writing and math work at our Closing meetings. We can easily correct misconceptions. We have also been bringing up interactive games that the children can play during Skills Block. Last week we wanted to show the children our classroom blog, BUT slide.com has been blocked at our school so the pictures won't come up. How disappointing! Children can watch it at home but not at school. (That also means I have to create my blogs at home, not on school time.) When we contacted technology they said it was just too dangerous! Programs like this are reviewed by a Committee and this one has been found to have access to too much inappropriate material. Wish I had been told BEFORE I created the slides!

We have a kindergarten student who is out sick and may be at home for 30 days. What an opportunity! Instead of hospital home bound, we can Skype him into the classroom! Maybe not... The district doesn't think Skype is an appropriate tool, so it is blocked. Our principal recently gave each member of the Leadership Team a web cam! WOW! Of course, with Skype blocked, my students will not have a chance to talk face-to-face with students in Australia who will also be studying Eric Carle next month! I had to load the web cam on my home computer. Maybe we can have a field trip to my house...

The point is that I live in a county that is like so many other counties. They want teachers to embrace 21st century technology, but at the same time they want to protect our youngsters (and I certainly understand that!), but the youngsters are so far ahead of us. I was recently talking to a teacher about Webkinz. The teacher explained a virtual world to me that I didn't even know existed. She said she corresponds with about 25 of her students who have their own Webkinz accounts. One of those was a kindergarten student and his mom was surprised when the teacher said she and the child were trading e-mails! Even our youngest children are e-mailing, setting up their own blogs, have their own phones and can text message - by 5th grade. We have fulltime employees sitting somewhere downtown watching what we are doing on-line. What a waste of money when everything is blocked. Maybe the money could be better spent figuring out how teachers CAN use the technology that our children already use at home. Let's face it - Most of the programs on the Internet can be "dangerous" if used inappropriately or naively. Would it be better to allow many of the programs that we are afraid of and use them to teach our children appropriate Internet behavior? Or do we just bury our heads in the sand and let them figure it all out on their own?

4 comments:

Suzanne said...
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Gvritchie said...

It's a difficult balance to achieve--access to cutting edge tech tools along with student safety. When school districts block access to sites like Skype and youtube (which does have objectionable stuff on it), they are also cutting off access to worthwhile applications and content. And tech-savvy kids can figure out how to get around the blocks. I think you're on to something with your idea of teaching students about Internet safety.

Wendy said...

Although this comment may not help you, it is comforting to me to know that teachers in other areas of the country experience the same problems that we do. We have many Internet sites blocked, too, and we are very limited in equipment. A few lucky teachers have more than one computer in their classrooms, but most have to go to one of two computer labs. The school of over 800 has two Smart Boards to be shared. By the time, you get it to your room and ready for use, it often doesn't seem worth it. Last year I got a new laptop, but it took over two months for our tech people to get it to me.
I sometimes think that we forget the characteristics of the students we teach. They have grown up in a digital, technology-rich world. Is this one reason they don't feel connected to a school that is deprived in this area? Is this why so many students don't value education--because we teach with what seems to them like antiquated methods?
I think you have raised some excellent issues and have expressed the frustrations that most teachers feel. I hope this will generate honest discussion that may lead to better teaching for our 21st century students. No one should feel threatened by this conversation.

ajollygal said...

Wow, Dayle! Can I ever relate to the "technology gap" in our schools nationwide! You've identified a real issue. I do professional development across the southeast. One thing district and local leaders ask me to do is support teachers and leaders through virtual networks and communities. Trying to conduct a webinar or use collaborative technologies is a nightmare . . . even wikis are often blocked! I won't pretend to know how to balance access to Web 2.0 technologies with protecting students from bad things on the Internet, but someone, somehow, has to come up with an answer. Our teaching isn't even relevant to web-savvy students without the use of networking tools. I feel as if we're marking time while the world moves on. And it's moving fast. If you have some creative thinkers in your tech department, why not lay out the case for 21st century teaching and learning and ask them for help. I trust the real techies to come up with some answers - once they know the problem. Then please share the solution!