“We are looking at schools that are producing genius… collaborative, gregarious, brave children who care about stuff like their culture. Around the world people are testing out the ingredients of what makes that work and those ingredients are being assembled into some stunning recipes in different places. It is a very exciting time for learning. It is the death of education but the dawn of learning and that makes me very happy.”
Stephen Heppell, CEO Heppell.Net, Ltd., UK from the video: “Learning to Change– Changing to Learn”
In 1985 I bought my first personal computer– an Apple IIc with the chicklet keybpoard and alien screen. It seemed almost portable enough to carry around like a briefcase. Or maybe like a computer that could sit right on your lap. Compared to those old green Kaypros and clunky Apple IIe’s, it was revolutionary. I had a milk crate in my living room and that’s where I put the screen. I wrote my entire dissertation on my Apple IIc and stored every chapter on a box of labeled discs.
I envisioned a whole classroom lined with Apple IIc’s. I taught writing and the whole “word processing” phenomenon appeared– in the mid-1980’s– as if it was going to stay. In fact, when the old grey-haired English teachers bitched in the faculty lounge about “word processing” and how it would never replace the pencil and paper and that it would only make children intellectually lazy because it insulated them from the rigors of real writing (which, to my knowledge, none of them had ever successfully done)– I refused to join the debate. I just went back to my classroom, wrote more grants (on my Apple IIc) and lined the walls with the computers that seemed to engage children in writing in a way that few other strategies could.
Then a teaching colleague named David Mika pulled up to Muirlands Junior High School with his new Macintosh thing. You could actually manipulate the cursor right on the screen and “Oregon Trail” evolved accordingly. And the discs were smaller and made of hard plastic. They just fit in your pockets better. They didn’t fly as well as the old floppy discs though. (I could flip the old discs halfway across the playground. Digital frisbees. They could put your eye out. But soon enough they were replaced by CDs which sailed three times as far as the floppies so I startted to feel better about where the technology was headed.) And so I upgraded my classroom with first generation Macintoshes while still making the best of the now-antiquated IIcs.
Then we could MacDraw and add art work and graphics on color screens. Then there were internal operating systems. Then they added audio. And the personal computer wars between IBM and HP and Compaq and Apple and others resulted in business disasters and technological wonders. Marketing pitches tapped into a nation’s fears about losing our humanity. IBM’s signature advertising campaign featured Charlie Chaplin in black and white, approaching the PC on a table adorned with a vibrant red rose. “High TECH”, said John Naisbett, “demands high TOUCH.” And thus, the rose.
Soon enough computers were creating more computers. The technology was showing up everywhere– from our watches to our automobiles. And then the internet was born. And then DVD’s and scanners and document cameras. Then IPods and IPhones and Kindles and Wordles and Wikis and Facebook and Flip cameras and Wii and Prometheon Boards and Blogs and we know we are only scratching the surface of innovation that our economy and environment will inevitably demand. Progress is insatiable. That’s why it is called progress.
And that’s the history of computers in schools. 25 years in a nutshell– from the Apple IIe to MacBook Pros on every desk and I wonder: Why are we still not seeing a technology-driven transformation in teaching and learning? And lots of other people are wondering that too. In fact we have never seen a complete technology-driven transformation in our schools. There always seem to be a few tech-savvy teachers on each staff– like David Mika. Eventually they end up in High Tech Charters or become district technology coordinators who advocate for the infusion of computers into every classroom. They go to tech conferences and write Technology Plans and sometimes they get so comfortable in their knowledge and their favorite strategies that the tech wave crashes over top of them just like it crashes over everyone else and they don’t even know what hit them.
The knack for integrating technology and effective pedagogy, it seems, has to come from within.
So on Friday we had our weekly 15 minute staff meeting at Mueller Charter School. The teachers were asked to watch the video “Learning to Change-Changing to Learn” on You Tube and to write a compelling question inspired by the video that no one else is likely to ask. Create the $64-million question and bring it to the meeting. And so they did. And in the space a of a very short time frame, 50 questions were generated that encapsulated all the fears and cynicism and pragmatic reticence and wide-eyed possibility that technology brings to the tough work of teaching children.
Our teachers get it. The world is changing. The needs of our children are changing and you can see the themes reflected in the Wordle above. Toffler said: “Schools must not just prepare children for the future… they have to prepare them for the right future!”– one of relationships, community, connectivity, and access.
In the range of “50 Questions” there are the understandable doubts about techno-distractions and gimicks and silvery sirens that are more toys than tools. There is evidence of the constant numbing pressure from standardized tests and unattainable goals of NCLB. Yet somehow there is also that awful realization that the video is right: that our “children are exposed to a much more rich and stimulating environment outside of school than in school.”
And these teachers– most of whom belong to Generation Y; most of whom were raised and schooled in the post-Macintosh world when the light switch for the internet had long since been flipped on… most of whom have Ipods and text daily with friends and update their Facebook page in between prepping for another challenging week at El Milagro– these teachers still stretch to find the application.
So my epiphany, humming like the IIc with its ET-head monitor– lead to these “5 Tenets for Integrating Technology at Mueller Charter School”:
TENET 1: The mission of our charter is still to get 90% of our children to grade level as measured by the California Standards Test;
TENET 2: Since the standards and competencies required by the CST are not enough, we must also help children develop the behaviors, attitudes and skills that are appropriate for the 21st Century: critical thinking, entrepreneurialsism, innovation, collaboration; (“I’m calling on our nation’s governors and state education chiefs to develop standards and assessments that don’t simply measure whether students can fill in a bubble on a test, but whether they possess 21st century skills like problem-solving and critical thinking and entrepreneurship and creativity.” –President Barack Obama, March 10, 2009)
TENET 3: There are multiple pathways to mastery of these standards– but every pathway requires that we ENGAGE our students in their own learning;
TENET 4: The “tools” for engaging learners may include pencil and papers, books, teacher charisma and other conventional methods– but they include technology as well. (“Every turned off device ,” the video warns, “is potentially a turned off child.”)
TENET 5: The more IMAGINATIVE our teachers are in using technology, the more likely they will use the right technology in the right way for the right outcomes… and the more they will heighten student engagement… and inevitably, student achievement.
We are not short on imagination. Nor are we lacking in resources or information about the latest in tech trends. We only needed to pause between our own texting and Googling and downloading music to examine our teaching practice and assess the degree to which we use all of our tools to inspire and engage.
Now that I think about it, every outstanding teacher I have met since propping up my Apple IIc on a milk crate in 1985 seems to possess that common gift of Imagination. They all have an ability to integrate the use of new tools, new strategies, new technologies to heighten student engagement, and to engender extraordinary learning. They are willing to stretch and take risks. To imagine.
I listened on Friday as our teachers discussed their 50 questions. It was the sound of still another generation of teachers learning to change– yet desperate to maintain their humanity.