I partner with organizations in helping to understand the changing nature of learning by working together in long-term, embedded professional development that prepares us all for our future, not our past.

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Jeff Utecht

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A recent article at missoulian.com discusses at what age should schools start teaching typing. Some schools wait until as late as 5th or 6th grade to teach typing, while other schools start at grade 2.

“The quandary is: Are we creating a world of hunt-and-peck keyboard users by waiting too long to give formal typing instruction? Or might keyboarding lessons sacrifice time on spelling and sentence structure to teach something better learned in later years? “

The problem with this statement is you can teach keyboarding without sacrificing time on spelling and sentence structure. Why not make the spelling lesson to type the words three times instead of write them three times. Or do the common DOL (Daily Oral Language) on the computer rather than on paper. Computers are the tool that replaces the pencil and paper, not something that you have to do.

I’ve struggled with this at my last two schools. At my last school we started teaching typing in second grade with a hunt and peck method and moving to home row and ‘true typing’ in 4th grade. At my current school, students start typing in 1st grade using the hunt and peck method and ‘true typing’ in 3rd grade. All

I know is by 5th grade most of our students are typing in the 20-30 words per minute range and some as high as 50 wpm with 80% accuracy.

The thing that I ponder is; should we really be teaching our students how to type? I look at the Kindergarteners I have and think by the time they’re ready to type, keyboards could be obsolete. With the huge strides that are being made in speech to type software and voice recognition software, I can see the end of the keyboard is not to far off.

For the 5th Wednesday in a row now I have sent out what I call Wacky Wednesday’s Websites (WWW). This is basically an e-mail to teachers explaining some sort of tech tip and a couple web sites I feel might be interesting to them.

I started by only sending the WWW to the grade level teachers I taught, word got out and now WWW is sent to over 50 people in my district every Wednesday.

I have heard and read others say they do not feel this is a good way to communicate technology to staff. I think it has to do with what you are trying to accomplish with the e-mail. I have found that the staff respond very positively to the e-mails, because it’s not forced upon them. Teachers can either read and try the tech tip and look at the sites I recommend, or they can delete the message. Teachers tell me they feel free to explore the web sites and the tech tip on their own with out feeling pressured to ‘have to do it’.

Is it a replacement for true Tech PD? No. But it is a way to get people talking about technology. People will pass me in the hall and say how much they enjoyed this tip or that web site. Today I’ve had two different people come to my room to ask about how to do things in Word that was sparked by a tech tip.

We’re not talking Web 2.0 here, but we are talking about building skills in teachers and getting the language of technology flowing around the school. From there we can build on the discussions and start looking at ways of bringing more technology into the classroom. Communication is the key, and if an e-mail every Wednesday is what it take to get people thinking technology, then it is worth my time each week to put it together.

In a recent article: Mind the Gap, Jeffrey Piontek writes:

“We must refocus our efforts to address the new sets of skills and deficiencies that children of the information age are bringing into our schools. Whether or not we use computers to do this is irrelevant. We must be conversant with the language of the information age – not to magically improve our lesson plans or to keep students on task – but to keep ourselves current with what is going on inside their heads, which, Birkerts stresses, is changing both developmentally and emotionally. As educators, we are responsible for addressing the new digital divide – the growing rift between students and teachers.”

There is a new digital divide happening in our schools. The phrase ‘Digital Divide’ was coined when talking about the divide between those that had access to technology and the information that it offered and those that did not, mostly based on social economic factors.
Today, schools face a new digital divide: The divide between teacher’s knowledge of the student’s world and student’s knowledge of their own world. More then ever, teachers are feeling out of touch with their students. The problem lays in the use of technology. Students today live, breathe, and interact with technology on a level that most teachers don’t even know exists.
Case in point: Yesterday I showed a class of 5th graders how to publish to their own personal blog that I have set up for them using Blog Meister. Within 10 minutes students were posting their thoughts on the web. Better yet, half of the students went home that night and submitted more thoughts and feeling about their school day on the blog.
Two weeks ago, I took an hour to show teachers how to post to the same Blogs. They all successfully posted by the time the hour was up, but not one teacher has added to their blog since that initial training session.
Students want to use the technology, know how to use the technology, and if they don’t know how to do something, they have the skills and knowledge to figure it out.
So this brings me back to my point on the use of technology in schools. There is a digital divide between the teachers and students; a divide that is causing both teachers and students to be frustrated in the classroom. The new divide is not between the haves and have nots, but between generations. A generation that has grown up with and tried to adapt to technology and a generation that lives technology.

When was the last time you wrote a rough draft out long hand? Or the last time you edited a document without using a spell check feature?
A teacher came to me the other day and asked “Why do we still make kids write out their stories on paper, edit them on paper, and only use the computer to ‘publish’ their final product?
I got thinking about this. Why do we make students write their stories before typing them, especially after they watch us all day type directly on the computer? I understand the importance of writing, and I’m not saying that all writing should be done on the computer (though find me a high school teacher who wouldn’t.) But shouldn’t students have the option of using the computer for the writing process? Microsoft Word has all the tools a student needs to complete the writing process. They could make comments, use the review toolbar to edit and revise their story, or even have others edit and revise their story for them (peer editing). For some students this might be a way of motivating them to write.
Just thinking out loud

I just finished reading the article Schools try to draw the line for wired kids. I found the article quick interesting on the different approaches school districts are taking on trying to encourage or discourage use of cell phones, mp3 players, and other technologies. As I finished reading the article, my 5th grade class happened to walk in, so I asked them their thoughts about cell phones and mp3 players in schools. As I got thinking, I wondered how many of the students had cell phones and brought them to school. 5 out of the 18 students had cell phones, or roughly 28%. That’s not too bad for being 11 years old. When I asked how many had mp3 players or iPods 11 out of 18 or 61% of the students said they owned an mp3 player or iPod. I wasn’t surprised by this as some of our students have an hour and a half bus ride to and from school everyday. I then asked the students how many of them had a computer that was for them and their siblings and not a “family computer” 12 out 18 raised their hands or 67%.
Do these numbers shock me? Not really. Why? These technologies are not new to these 11 year old students. For as far back as they can remember schools have always had computers and the Internet. Their parents have always carried a cell phone, and doesn’t everyone download music from the Internet?
So this has me thinking. Can schools draw the line for wired kids? Or do schools need to learn that kids are wired, and we need to teach them as such. If we continue to teach wired students using unwired ways, they will be ill prepared for the world that awaits them. I have administrative certification and wonder what rules I would make about students and technology.
1. Students are encouraged to bring their own laptops/handheld computers to school.
If and when I become principal the school will be wireless, and I would encourage students to bring their laptops from home to connect to and use the schools Internet connection. Just think of the savings. No servers needed to store student work. Lower maintenance costs and fewer computers needed for the school, as the school computer would be used only by those students who did not have their own laptops.
2. Cell phones are allowed in school and students need to be responsible users of them.
My theory: treat high school students like the young adults they are. I can’t imagine going into a university class and asking all the students to please not bring their phones to class. This is the 21st century and like it or not the cell phone is here to stay. Better yet, I think it is our job to help students understand how to use their cell phone reasonably, such as shutting it off during lessons, and school concerts. If we teach students to be mature about their cell phone use and treat them as mature young adults and the appropriate use of them, then we are preparing them for the future world.
Will there still be cheating? Yes. Would there still be cheating without cell phones? Yes. Has there always been cheating in schools? Yes. Will it ever stop? Probably not. You do the best you can, and find ways to ‘out smart’ the students. With technology I think it’s getting easier. The programs are out there, we just aren’t using them yet.
I could go on but my thinking is you either embrace the future and help prepare students for a world that will never be the 1950 again, or you constantly fight a battle using 1950 thinking in a 21st century age.

“Cell phones are the lifeline for teenagers. They just can’t imagine life without them,” said Michael Wood, vice president of Teenage Research Unlimited, an Illinois-based marketing and research firm. “It’s not just a communication device for teens; it’s an entertainment device.”

This is true, but I also believe that it is an entertainment device because it is a communication device. This is the information age and for students these days…information and communication is entertainment!

I came across this site the other day when I was looking for examples to show teachers how blogging can be used even with elementary students. My hat is off to Mr. Roemer and his 5th grade Polar Bears. This class is using technology the way it should be used, not as “another subject” but as a tool to help them learn, and express there writing and thoughts to a worldly audience. This class is truly 21st century, using the technology they have as a resource and a tool in everyday learning.
Great job Polar Bears!