- Beyond the school gate
- Improving student learning
- Let's teach maths and science
- What's real in a virtual world?
- Careers and transition
- Curriculum for the 21st century
- Early childhood education & care
- Teachers and Teaching
Making Technology a Means, Not an End
A firm believer that ICT should be embedded within classroom practice, JENINE WATSON has seen the learning achievements of her students transformed by the use of new learning technologies. She shares some insights and experiences in planning units and activities for her year 3/4 class.
THE FUTURE: What will it look like? What will we need? What jobs will be available? We can’t really be expected to unlock the secrets; instead we have to teach our children to be resilient and to deal with the unexpected, to research the unknown, to learn how to learn further.
I firmly believe that technology is a wonderful thing. I love my gadgets! Yet I think that we can take all this fascination with technology too far. I don’t believe that good teaching means having every student on a laptop at the same time, nor does every student need to use the same technology in the same way simultaneously. A generic approach of one model that fits all is a danger that, as teachers, we cannot afford to let ourselves slide into. We can’t dismiss technologies and work against adopting their use in our schools. I wonder if in the past teachers tried to ban paper and pen because students started writing secret messages to each other instead of copying work off the board. We did not blame the paper and pen. We did not ban them from the classroom; instead we taught the children responsibility and when and how these things should be used. Perhaps an extreme example, but doesn’t the mobile phone fit into this category? We need to teach social obligations surrounding these technologies, not dismiss their existence altogether.
Our biggest challenge lies in trying to work out where all this technology fits into our already overcrowded curriculum (something that we constantly hear). My response to this is that we shouldn’t. This is not a new separate area that we teach and assess independently. Can students use a mouse? Can they double click on an icon? These are computer skills that will develop through the use of the computer. It is more powerful to ask: Can they choose an appropriate program? Can they create an interactive page? These skills can be developed through the entire curriculum and do not become separate and detached.
Curriculum decisions should influence our technology use. First we plan for what we want the students to achieve (no more are we teaching dolphins!). We work out the big understandings and then we design a rich task or a unit of work to develop those big understandings. We try and teach students to think about their own learning, and use the multiple intelligences to develop areas where they are struggling and to strengthen areas where they ave demnstrated success. We use ‘Habits of Mind’1 to encourage intelligent behaviours and attitudes when problem solving. These approaches are all important parts of what we do and the technology should be used to develop and improve the way we are doing things. ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!’
An example of this sort of integration and unit planning can be seen through action research tasks with real meaning that my team and I set for our students. As a unit we decided that our bell was not loud enough. The students realised that we needed to convince our principal before we could action any change. So as teachers we sat and thought about what sort of skills we knew our students would need to create a presentation of their results. They needed to know how to write a formal letter to inform the principal of the issue; they needed to experiment with sound to see what sounds travel well and what sounds don’t; they needed to be able to conduct an interview, a survey and so on. We then integrated the technology where relevant and appropriate for the purpose of the tasks set.
Email is a good way to contact lots of people in a short timeframe; using a tape recorder when conducting an interview helped develop audio skills; video taping teachers’ responses encouraged multimedia and visual literacy skills; walkie talkies developed communication skills between teams of people mapping where the bells were located; online surveys allowed the children to reach a wider audience and so on. These are clear examples of selected pedagogical strategies steering technology options.
My students’ experience in Claymation is another example of authentic integrating and embedding technology. The issue of bullying and writing stories affected a number of students in my class. Students could see a clear purpose for discussing bullying and writing when they knew they were going to create a movie using plasticine characters. This also allowed me to look at social skills and group work, as well as the technology of eye cameras and a program like Movie Maker. Their imagination was grabbed by using plasticine and cameras. This also helped develop their fine motor skills and their photography skills. My aim was not to let students play with cameras and Movie Maker. My aim was to get children to write a story, develop some social skills based on group work and explore the issue of bullying—the technology became my means not my end!
While this unit is still underway I have seen the most reluctant writers creating, interpreting and manipulating their words to fit the action of the story. I have seen groups write group rules where they independently decided they could each have a number of warnings and then they would be asked to leave (this came from them, not me!). I am not maintaining that all students followed all the rules all of the time but they did begin to recognise when their group had had enough and I have yet to see a group send a student out. This gave them all a shared language and control over their own learning. As we progress, students are starting to let each other know when they have had enough and they are each learning to respond to this.
I now can’t imagine my classroom without the imaginative and stimulating choices technology offers me in developing classroom activities.
1. Costa, A L & Kallick, B (2000). Discovering and Exploring Habits of Mind, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) Virginia USA. www.habits-of-mind.net/
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