Random Thoughts

Embedding the tool is only the first part!

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I had the comments from my last post on embedding technology running around in my head today as I walked by the 5th grade classrooms where the technology this year is as close to embedded as you can fine. Teachers have a laptop, the students are in a 1 laptop for every 2 student environment…every teacher and student has a blog, they’re learning about RSS and setting up readers. They are deep in conversation about information literacy skills. In fact one class is writing a report on the endangered Northwest Tree Octopus as a way to talk about verifying information.

As I was helping one teacher with her netvibes page today we started talking about how having the mounted LCD and the access to the technology “just there” is exciting for both her and her students. I was in the room only about 15 minutes and here is the conversation.

Teacher: “So I’m sure you already know this but have you seen this new search site called Pollywola?”

Me: “No, what’s the name of it?”

Teacher: “Johnny, what’s the name of that search engine you were using that allows you to search both Google and Yahoo at the same time?”

Johnny: “PolyCola.com

Me: “It does what?” (as I quickly search for this new search engine)

Teacher: “You put in search terms and you can get results from two different search engines at the same time.”

Me in thought as I search: (That would be pretty cool…search results from two different engines on one page…)


Me: “This is AWESOME!”

Teacher: “Yeah the kids use it and really like it, but why would I want to use this?”

And that is the question that if the technology wasn’t embedded never would have been asked. The conversation continued with me explaining how you could use this site to search for something like ‘dolphins’ and compare results from different search engines. You could then have a discussion on why different search engines give different results and how do you really know which links to trust, what information is correct, etc.

As we continued to talk she could see how this site could be using, and how students were using it in their research project now.

As I continued to set her Firefox browser up with new add-ons (I turned her on to Firefox last year and now she can’t live without Perma Tabs, the IE tab, and I hooked her up with forecastfox just for fun 🙂 ), she continued teaching a math lesson where students were doing division and trying to figure out how much TV was being watched a week.

Teacher: “So how many days in the week?”

Students: “7”

Teacher: “OK, so divide 29 by 7 and see what you get.”

Students: “4.???”

Teacher: “So is 4 hours of TV a lot for one night?”

Students: “Yeah, that’s a lot of TV!”

Teacher: “Really…you think 4 hours a night is a lot?”

Student A: “Yeah, I hardly watch TV.”

Student B: “Me too.”

Teacher: “What, you spend all your time on the computer?”

Students: “Yeah!’

The teacher turned to me and smiled. I of course couldn’t help but say “Yeah, nobody watches TV anymore…it’s all about YouTube.”

At which the class started mumbling about their favorite YouTube clips and laughing….the teacher just smiled.

What happens when we embed the tools, when we allow the information, the personal experiences of our students into the classroom and we all become learners? Embedding the tools into the classroom is only the first part, there is still a change in education that needs to happen, a change in the way we approach learning, a change in the questions we ask right down to: How much TV do you watch?

In his comment Will writes:

Stop with the technology committee already! Start with the Modeling Learning Committee.

I agree, but we can only have these committees once the tools are embedded. Going to the lab to do research, or to work on a paper does not allow for the teaching and learning to change. You go where the tool is rather than having the tool embedded into the learning. By embedding the tools we allow new conversations to happen, we allow the tools to be the learning, to be the information, to be a teacher.

Sheryl writes:

Technology should be like that. Seamless–invisible –not in the forefront.

Exactly, once the tools are seamlessly embedded into the everyday classroom we allow both the teachers and students to take on different roles.

Ric writes:

There is something fundamental that we are missing in the discussion when we are unable to move forward without having to revisit issues from a couple of years ago.

So true, and I think that is why embedding the tools is only the first part. Once we get the tools into the classroom we need to take the time to show the teachers how these tools can and will change teaching and learning. Last year I approached the elementary principal and asked for a full day release for all 5th grade teachers to sit with me and just learn about these new laptops and new tools. That one day has had an impact that not even I saw coming. What I’m finding is once we embed the tools, and we train the teachers there is no going back.

The learning takes care of itself, the tools are powerful…we know that, the students know that, we just need to do it!

As I was walking out of this 5th grade class down the hallway with a smile on my face of what I had just witnessed I hear my name being called from a classroom.

Teacher: “Jeff…got a sec?”

Me: “Yeah, what’s up?”

Teacher: “I read your blog the other day about Twitter…what’s a Twitter?”

Me laughing: “It’s a very cool network tool that once you start you find very powerful.”

Teacher pointing to his kids: “Is it something I can use with them…or just one of those geek things?”

Me now with wheels spinning: “We could use it with them…but you need to learn the power of it first.”

Teacher: “OK, I’ll catch you sometime and you can explain it to me.”

Of course this whole conversation happens as his students are working away on laptops.

Embedding the tool is only the first step…changing thinking, changing learning, changing education…that is what these tools really are about!

[tags]embedded technology[/tags]

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I started blogging in 2005 and found it such a powerful way to reflect and share my thinking about technology, this generation, and how we prepare students for their future not our past.


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  3. While reading what your fifth graders are doing I was both impressed and frustrated. Yesterday I told a group of colleagues that a couple of teachers came to me about using blogs with their students. We do use Moodle, but I would prefer the blogging be done using an online tool so that they have the experience of publishing on the web and receiving comments from people outside of their safe school community. I indicated that there may be issues, but I think it is a valuable experience. The first reaction was totally negative. “Who is going to monitor the posts and comments? Teachers don’t have time for that.” “What if a student logs in as someone else and writes something inappropriate?” “What if someone from the “outside” posts an inappropriate comment?” These are highschool students and here I read that your teachers are doing this with 5th graders. I am overwhelmed by the amount of convincing I am going to have to do to make changes here.

  4. I absolutely could not agree with you more. I, too, have been frustrated with the word “integrate”, but I couldn’t think of a better one. Embedding says it all.
    I am frustrated, though, with our lack of technology. Please don’t get me wrong – we have more technology in our building than the rest of our district does (and, potentially, the rest of our county), and yet I find it difficult to embed technology with the limitations of my classroom. If I want an LCD projector, I have to borrow one of the four “loaners” that we have in the building. We have laptop carts, but only one per 10 or so classrooms that must be signed out. If they lose power while students are on them, you’re done – there isn’t really a way to charge them. Most of the applications that I find useful are blocked for students. And yes, I can get the district to unblock them. Yes, I can reserve a COW (computers on wheels), and a data projector. It just takes time, and often the technology is unavailable the day(days) that I need it to be.
    I have personally invested a lot of money into my classroom for certain tech upgrades – like headphones and splitters for “Bring your iPod to class day” – but I don’t have unlimited funds. And remember – I work at Disneyland – I work with the most talented and wonderful people in a pretty technologically advanced building with state-of-the-art stuff. I know many schools that would do anything to have just one COW.
    I don’t want to be a “Debbie Downer”, but I guess what I’m trying to ask is how can we embed technology without financing it personally?

  5. it is a chicken and egg problem – if technology only supports existing practice or takes a background role, what you end up with is existing practice.

    If practice is transformed without understanding technology, you are still left playing catch-up.

    It has to be both/and – and that’s the tough part.

  6. Would love to hear more about what you did with the grade 5 teachers in your one day pull out.

    What did you show them about the laptops?

    Another post perhaps?

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