First Iâ€™m not sure having a blueprint is what is appropriate or really needed. Too much of what we have been doing in school has been pre-selected, pre-decided and scripted â€¦ the art of being a teacher â€¦ the creativity has been leeched from the system, especially in â€œat riskâ€ schools.
I have been voicing concern to my administration for several years now that teachers that have taught for less than 8 years have NEVER taught when we werenâ€™t doing â€œprogrammedâ€ teaching. They have done little creative teaching outside of what is allowed by whatever the program says is appropriate. That scares me â€¦ especially if that trend continues.
I realize that part of the move to less teacher control of what we teach has been a reaction to lessons and units of instruction that while interesting and fun really didnâ€™t teach the concepts they were supposed to cover.Â The â€œApples Unitâ€ from “Understanding by Design by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe is a great example:
For two weeks every fall, all the 3rd grade classes participate in a unit on apples. The students engage in a variety of activities related to the topic. In language arts, they read Johnny Appleseed and view an illustrated filmstrip of the story. They each write a creative story involving an apple and then illustrate their stories using tempera paints. In art, students collect leaves from nearby crab apple trees and make a giant leaf print collage on the hallway bulletin board adjacent to the 3rd grade classrooms. The music teacher teaches the children songs about apples. In science, they use their senses to carefully observe and describe the characteristics of different types of apples. During mathematics, the teacher demonstrates how to “scale up” an applesauce recipe to make a quantity sufficient for all the 3rd graders.
A highlight of the unit is the field trip to a local apple orchard, where students watch cider being made and go on a hayride. The culminating unit activity is the 3rd grade apple fest, a celebration for which parent volunteers dress as apples and the children rotate through various activities at stationsâ€”making applesauce, competing in an apple “word search” contest, bobbing for apples, completing a math skill sheet containing word problems involving apples, and so on. The fest concludes with selected students reading their apple stories while the entire group enjoys candy apples prepared by the cafeteria staff.â€
Most of the activities here are great on their own, however as a unit of study were the activities chosen to meet the standards that were supposed to be covered, or because they were cute and fun and covered multiple subject areas? Iâ€™ll bet too, that a teacher doing this unit would overwhelmingly get very positive feedback from the studentsâ€™ parents, especially any that volunteered to help with it. So would the teacher most likely do the same â€œunitâ€ again next year? Even if they moved grade levels because they were told what a great job they did and how much the children SEEMED to learn?
If what we do with technology in our classrooms is basically akin to the â€œApples Unitâ€ â€¦ itâ€™s cool and fun and parents like it, we are doing a disservice to all involved. And I think too many times that is exactly what has happened with technology use in education. The technology is introduced (and teachers are given zero training in effective use and use the tech to do things the same way they always have)â€¦ its cool â€¦ students are excited and parents are overjoyed that their kids are excited about stuff at school â€¦Â and everyone feels warm and fuzzy inside â€¦ for awhile. Then the newness and initial excitement wears off and what is being done is no better (and maybe worse) than what was happening without the technology and we have yet again â€œprovedâ€ that technology use in education is a bust.
Tom Barrett has noted that in general there isnâ€™t a lot to read and learn from about 1:1 technology integration at the elementary level:
â€œMuch of what I read is to do with an older age range and far different environments than our own. The sites included â€œblueprints to 1:1 computingâ€ and complete â€œguidesâ€ suggesting, just from the rhetoric of the titles, that one size (may) fit all. Although we may learn lessons from what other teachers, schools and districts have been doing it seems we will have to discover our own UK primary version of what a 1:1 classroom looks like.â€
I know there are 1:1 initiatives going on, but not many involved are apparently blogging or otherwise sharing their experiences with us. I would also note that the vast majority of edtech bloggers are at the secondary level or are mostly involved from the training side of things and are not full time classroom teachers sharing the struggles and triumphs of 1:1 integration in their classrooms.
Iâ€™ve also noted in recent posts that integrating tech at the elementary level these days involves trying to integrate it into programs that were not designed with tech in mind. They tend to be fast paced reading programs that leave little room for the further/deeper exploration, collaboration, refinement of thinking and sharing of learning that tech integration is best at.
Iâ€™ve found that often when students are researching on the web they are more motivated to use the skills theyâ€™ve been taught to make meaning from text because they WANT to understand what they are reading so they can use it in the project they are involved in. The reading program already provides what they are supposed to read and react to, there is no time to do more, read more, learn more about a topic â€¦ and yet isnâ€™t THAT what we should be promoting? Isnâ€™t THAT what being a lifelong learner and teaching students to BE learners is about? Hence the frustration.
I think we have a general understanding of what effective tech integration should and could look like at the elementary level. Iâ€™m just not so sure we have those â€œWorking, Breathing, Reproducible, Intriguing Modelsâ€
Â that would help us find our way.
Learning is messy!