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Thursday, July 23, 2009

What do you want to use technology for?

CAUTION: Reasoning while blogging. Could be difficult to understand and make no sense whatsoever. Just sayin’.

Often times, we get so caught up in the “How do I do that?” part of technology integration, we forget about the “Why should I do that?” part. When I come across something new and exciting, I fall victim to this mentality just as easily as the next person. I find myself so caught up in the “cool factor” of the latest and greatest thing, it takes me a while to rein in the enthusiasm and really look at how the technology is going to impact learning in my classroom. Put the brakes on, sister!  As educators, we must always remember our duty to pursue best practices, therefore it is a MUST to always consider the why.  Will my students learn more? Learn better? Be more actively engaged? Produce higher quality work? Understand concepts more deeply?  If these things are not considered, we start using technology for technology’s sake, not for improved student learning. Quantifying “improved student learning” can sometimes be near impossible, which is by no means a reason NOT to integrate technology. However, a good long look at the reasons behind why we want to try something new is crucial, not only for student success, but for quality teaching.

So, in my many web wanderings, I recently happened across this website, sponsored by the University of Maryland University College (I don’t understand this name, UMUC, but that’s beside the point).

Right at the top of the page, it reads:

What do you want to use technology for?

To help you answer this question, we've outlined some teaching/learning activities below that are used across the disciplines and tried to suggest through examples from the Web how each might utilize a certain kind of technology or a combination of different technologies to accomplish specific learning objectives. Each example represents a different discipline, and there are over 40 disciplines represented in the examples.
Do you want to use it for . . .?
Conceptual Learning - Ideas, theories, principles of information systems, bodies of knowledge
Problem Solving - Deductive powers, inferential reasoning, testing assumptions, decision making
Object and Document Analysis - Contextualization and interpretation using texts, documents, pictures, objects
Data Gathering and Synthesis - Research skills, methodology, evaluation and reporting, quantification
Case Studies - Evaluation of systems by observing and analyzing simulated situations or processes
Virtual Labs and Field Trips - Testing and evaluating information through experiments and in situ examination
Presentations by Teachers - Demonstrations, overviews, framing, setting forth of key information or salient points
Presentations by Students - Production or performance of representative knowledge by students
Collaborative Learning - Sharing knowledge, collective decision making, forming learning communities
Authentic Inquiry - Learner as practitioner, connecting theory to practice, taking responsibility for knowledge
Now, this is mostly university level content, so you won’t find anything for our youngest students, but you might find some useful ideas here. In particular, I find the organization of this site helpful because I appreciate the honest question of “what do we want to use it for” right up front. It requires that we answer that fundamental building block upon which all our lesson plans stand. It may sound completely simplistic, but if we get through a lesson, or even a whole unit of study, and we can’t answer “What was the point?” or “What did my students learn from this?” something has gone awry.

Now for the twist:

While I certainly believe in planning ahead, I also must confess that I think a lot of great things occur when you take a chance on something new and see what happens. This past year I worked with a teacher on two different projects, one which didn’t turn out so well, in our opinion, and the other which was a smashing success. We both learned a great deal about the technology, student behavior, and student learning along the way. Was it a mistake to try something new with less than stellar results?  Absolutely not. Believe it or not, we did plan. For months. It just didn’t come together in the way we expected. We quickly absorbed what worked well and what didn’t, and turned that over into a fantastic project several weeks later in a different class. As most teachers know, not all lesson plans go as expected, and they’re not always perfect. However, the post-project analysis was what made this experience so wonderful. We didn’t just bag it and say, “That was awful.” We broke the project down step by step to see where we went wrong, and we built in better strategies for trying again next year.

This is related to the main topic, I swear! A huge part of our analysis focused on “What do you want to use technology for?” In studying foreign languages, the goal was to have the kids practice speaking much more frequently. One multimedia project turned out to be too text-based, and these kids already had pretty proficient writing skills. The speaking part took a back seat to the content and presentation, and audio recordings sort of happened at the end as an afterthought. Our second project was video-based, so speaking was required throughout the entire project. Suddenly, kids were asking for help with pronunciation, writing scripts and practicing them over and over, and when filming began, most kids did multiple takes of the same scene, thereby practicing their speaking skills repeatedly. In their effort to create a fantastic multimedia project, and get each piece just right, they practiced the skill we were looking for all along. Speaking a foreign language! 

Monday, July 20, 2009


Wow...I’ve been delinquent in my blog updates. So here’s finally something new! Our Upper School Librarian, Jane, tipped me off about Scratch, a free programming software developed at MIT that allows kids to create their own scripts that run simple animations. I’m going to look into this further to see if it could be useful in the classroom. What I find most exciting is that what gets created is someone’s original work....very important in an academic environment where we’re trying to avoid copy/paste disease. :)

Scratch: overview from andresmh on Vimeo.