Technology, a Tool for Instruction.

Seems like these days new technology arrives daily. Phones, laptops, tablets, you name it. I’ve never been one to buy the newest tech just because its new, and I’m sure most teachers will tell you their schools are not state of the art. In fact, until this year I’m pretty sure we were running briskly walking Office 2003.

Technology, in all of its facets, is not going away. So, as educators it has become an additional aspect of our profession to teach students how to use these new tools. For many schools, especially smaller ones like my own, there is not a full-time technologist or technology instructor. It comes down to those who dabble and explore technology simply because they have personal interest and motivation to learn for themselves. It takes these individuals, I’ll include myself  in this category, but also the appropriate tools to instruct with.

In order to teach students how to use technological tools it is quite important that you have access to these tools. In fact obviously its the only way to provide students with meaningful opportunities to development technical literacy that will benefit them in the future. However, the most important point I would like to make is as I stated earlier these are tools for instruction, and do not replace instruction. We need to know how we plan on using the new technology we plan to incorporate into our classrooms.

Unfortunately, with ever-changing technology and schools’ attempting to keep up I have noticed a common trend: School’s buy technology  and then try to figure out what to do with it. This is an ineffective use of funds, and a poor way to plan student learning. For instance, during a planning meeting between myself and a few special educators I co-teach with earlier this year some one said to me (to the gist of)  “Our department got half a dozen iPads, so what can you do with them?”

This, to me, is absurd. If we are going to spend hundreds of dollars on technology let’s know what were doing with it. How will we use that tech to teach students the skills to succeed in the age of technology? Or how will we use that tech to teach classroom content? These should be the first questions asked before any purchasing is done, or else you end up with teachers with really expensive note pads and calendars that maybe have some fun games too.

Yes, I can write about this and be frustrated all I want, like so many others, but I decided to put my money where my mouth is and joined my school’s technology committee. The goal of the committee is to develop a plan outlining the direction our school’s technology  use. Where will we be over the next few years and further into the future. This plan is to include both physical purchases of technology but also create, and then hopefully install, a technology curriculum that will be used in our school to guide how we employ this technology to make 21st century students.

It may not be possible for school’s to keep up with the technology race, but we should try to at least pace off of it so we don’t get left in the dust. Remember, technology is a tool for, not alternative to instruction.

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A Future Worth Fighting For

My goal for my blog has always been to put out positive thoughts, ideas and experiences I have had as an educator. I focus on the positive and move beyond the negativity. However, there are somethings I can’t move beyond. My mind has been rolling over my thoughts, letting them fester for the past 5 days and it seems the only way to move on is to voice my outrage and support my colleague, my friend.

One of my best friends  has been working towards earning his teaching license tirelessly for the past 2.5 to 3 years. He has run into hurdle after hurdle. From having a program he was enrolled in cut, to finding out the program he enrolled in as an alternative would not actually lead to him receiving his preliminary license. Through these hurdles, among many smaller I’m sure he did not share with me, he has remained positive, dedicated, enthusiastic, and passionate in his desire to help make the education and lives of his students better.

He had figured out a plan, had flexed and went out on every limb, so that he could be working with students, taking classes, working a second job, and student teaching this spring. All in the hopes of that his hard work would soon pay off receiving his teaching endorsement in time to apply for jobs for next school year.

Last Friday he was given the option to resign from his position as a para-educator or be fired. His principal told him that he was not ‘contractually obligated’ to provide a reason. These were his choices.

Via online messages and status updates I knew something was wrong, but didn’t know what at the time. I was already going to Boston to visit him and other friends and found out from a third-party about the situation later Friday night.

When I saw my friend Saturday I could tell he was crushed. It was more than just losing a job. It shattered his dream, a house of cards he had worked so hard to build, all tumbling down. Just sitting with him, having him talk through what happened, I could physically feel the horrible feeling weighing down inside him building within my own stomach.

The only idea he had about any cause for the cut was that his supervising special educator had complained previously about lack of communication, but he was under the impression they had talked and come to common ground. *Note the two people working under this supervisor last year were also let go at the end of last school year. (Maybe a leadership issue…)

I have known this guy for 7 years. The entire portion of my life when I’ve had a well-developed frontal lobe, the part of the brain involved in judgement and good decision-making. Trust me, my life has only been better from the second I made the judgement to stick around this guy. Since his decision to become an educator having conversations with him about the students we work with, our passion, and our goals has becoming a common conversation every time we are together. Providing another thread that has strengthened our friendship. I would vouch for my friend in a second and know that all of his actions in the classroom are based on improving student learning.

I do not know all of the details. I do not work in his school. Still the idea that such a smart, passionate and hard-working individual could be put through what he has experience outrages me. In a field that is filled with aging professionals, on the verge of retirement when 401Ks rebound, many of whom are willing to change with the times, but some that are not so willing, how can we treat young professionals like this.

We need to foster a professional field that helps an individual succeed. A baseball team wouldn’t cut one of the best players in their farm league without due process and a good reason. So, why in education would we cut someone who is on the verge of moving from being a para to a licensed teacher, especially without a reasons. How can that person learn from a mistake, if there was one, if he doesn’t know what it is. To me it seems like bullshit (apologies) school politics that he was at the wrong end of. Maybe there is not legitimate reason, maybe his hard work makes someone  higher on the food chain look bad and they don’t like it. So, administration hides behind the contract, to soothe the squeaky wheel and making my friend the collateral.

I can’t help. I can’t change a thing. I wish I could, he deserves better. All I can say is buddy, get back on your horse and clear this hurdle and your time will come, it’s not our way of life to give up without a fight.

No Generation Left Behind

Sunday evening I watched Higher Ed Live, a web-based interview show that promotes conversation about current events in higher education, technology, and the use of the social media to promote higher education.

The topic of Sunday’s show, in a nut shell, was a debate regarding how higher education failed YouTube EDU, or from the opposing side, how did YouTube EDU fail higher education. From what I’ve gathered of YouTube EDU it is a branch of YouTube that academic institutions can apply to be part of as a easy and identified place to share educational content.

One of the key points that grabbed me was that higher education institutions fail to provide academic content, thus falling short of YouTube EDU’s guidelines for being a member. So, the membership is not what it could be.

This is how my brain has processed the plethora of ideas in the discussion during Sunday’s show, if you are interested in more information check out the link above.

How does this connect to my life as a high school teacher you may ask? Well part of the gift and curse of being in education is it’s always on your mind.

So, as this discussion regarding use of YouTube was happening I thought, hmmm all the content I post to YouTube is academic, do I qualify? My channel is dedicated to posting student produced video and linking to videos we have watched in class.

Seems pretty academic to me, check it out: youtube.com/reidbio

Beyond this though, my main reflection was that technology is not going any where, and it needs to be embraced. Here is a group of people, both those involved in producing the weekly show as well as its loyal followers who are actively engaged in keeping their field up to date in the ever changing world of technology, embracing it with a big ole bear hug.

Unfortunately, if you’ve walked into lots of public schools recently, you may have noticed let’s say a “mature” and experienced population of teachers. This is not the same population that is so willing to embrace technology.

For instance, the solution to my computer glitching because Office 2003 and Office 2007 were installed on my computer was to uninstall Office 2007, teachers didn’t like the new version… yikes.

Don’t get me wrong these a good teachers, who have been working in schools for a long time and have many great ideas. However, in general they would rather use an abacus than a calculator. (An exaggeration, but you get the point)

In an age when most students have a smart phone in their pocket, they have access the the web and its endless supply of content, good and bad. As teachers it’s now part of our job to help instruct and model how this amazing tool can be used as an educational resource.

How we can empower ourselves and students with its limitless capabilities?

As teachers it is  our responsibility t0 move out of our comfort zones and learn about the new technologies available to us, and then engage students with it. If we don’t, we risk leaving an entire generation of wired in adolescents behind, failing to engage and instruct them. Or even worse, get left behind ourselves as they realize we are no longer relevant.

So, I say to YouTube EDU, if you want academic content, go to the source. Make it easy for those with the academic content, teachers and professors, to provide it. Don’t make us jump through hoops to become a member, accept us for who we are and we will provide.

Finally, let us as teachers look to our higher education counterparts as role models and strive to stay informed and up to date. Who should know better than us that knowledge is power.