For the first time in 3 months, I have 20 minutes to myself to actually form a thought! So, get ready for the river that’s been dam’d for the past 90 days.
As the Web2.0 culture has sufficiently invaded education, it’s time now to no longer sop up all the technology that spills on to our students’ desk with an all-encompassing, indiscriminate sponge (thanks for sticking with me through that truly terrible analogy). We now need to be more critical of the technology we invite into the classroom, holding it up to the same high standards to which we hold all other curriculum.
There barely goes a day that a new Ed-tech tool doesn’t pop-up on my Twitter, and while most of them are great, they may not all pass the Education Litmus test, which is to say — will the teacher use it? Now, let’s face it: if you’re a teacher who stumbles across a great W2.0 tool for the classroom, you’ll probably use it; but, that’s only because what allowed you to discover that tool is the same thirst for ed-tech that will catalyze your desire to embed it into your classroom.
When you consider what our teachers are being asked to do in the classroom (which is nothing short of performing logistical miracles), encouraging them to welcome new, unproven technology into their room is quite the favor. We’ve heard it before: it’s impossible to teach every grade level standard to mastery in a given year (hence Power Standards). So, given that, how can we possibly ask the teachers, who are waging a front-lines war against time, to do just one more thing?
That’s exactly the rub of the situation — just one more thing. Whenever staff development occurs, no matter how helpful it may be, you will have teachers who view it as “just one more thing.” And, that’s a new barrier technology needs to scale. It’s no longer as dire an issue of technophobia. Yes, that is still an issue, but it has taken a back seat to a new hurdle: time.
This is exactly where Web2.0 will either be welcomed district-wide with the same integrity as paper-based curriculum, or will be viewed as the red headed step-child that lives in only one or two classrooms at each site. The only way to ensure that these tools don’t fade into the background, and are given the true chance that they deserve (as real curriculum) in the classroom, is to create a Litmus test for each resource.
First, a question needs to be asked as to whether or not this tool will aid, hinder, or make no difference in closing the achievement gap (including students who move to Proficient or Advanced on the CST, or jump a band). If it makes no difference in closing that gap, then there’s no reason to pursue it as a viable classroom tool. Now, depending on your locale, that may mean closing the gap between Fluent English Proficient students and English Learners. It may mean closing the gap between economically challenged and economically secure students. Wherever, or however your gap is occurring, and whatever architype of students it involves, if the tool you are seeking to implement does not close that gap, it is not a tool that belongs in the classroom.
Now, of course there are great tools out there that could be used in GATE programs, or even in regular-day classrooms as extension activities. And, that should be decided on a room-by-room, year-by-year basis; but, in terms of full implementation, it needs to meet the needs of all learners.
Additionally, the technology needs to be accessible and usable by all educators. Notoriously, teachers have been labeled as technophobes. They are known to fear technology. Jokes are made about teachers not knowing what a mouse is, or why the cup holder on their computer is too small. But, those times — while not completely gone — are disappearing quickly. It’s no longer an issue of teachers fearing technology; it’s now an issue of teachers having the time to make themselves familiar with the resource, which applies to all staff development — electronic or paper-based — that occurs.
If the teacher does not have the time to use the technology, then it won’t be used. It’s as simple as that. That really is not a shocking revelation. When a district adopts new curriculum, it’s usually rolled out full-district, and the curriculum fits inside a pre-designated chunk of time during the day that the teacher is expected to teach the content using the new materials. We lack that ability with technology. We’re not able to say to a site, “Here’s Twitter. You’ve been fully trained in it, and your Twitter Block is every Wednesday from 1:15-1:45.”
That means that the technology that we wish to implement needs to meet a third criteria: it can easily side-saddle or even replace a former best practice in the classroom. Education is fluid and dynamic, and what was a best practice today, may be viewed as harmful to students’ progress two years from now! Education works like that humongous pendulum that swings from extreme-to-extreme, never stopping in the middle and pulling the best of both sides. So, a new technology tool must prove itself as being a better, more efficient way of doing what the teachers are already doing.
With these parameters set in place (Does it aid in closing the achievement gap? Can all teachers access and use it? Does it serve as a best-practice?) you can easily identify technology resources that will be welcomed and implemented into the classroom as any other educational resource.
Over the course of the next few weeks, I’ll be posting technology best-practices that either I’ve implemented myself (and seen results) or have seen others implement (and again, seen results). We’re past those days of grabbing every tool that I see at a conference or hear from a blogger (oh, the irony) and shoving it into my already crowded, and rigorously structured day.
Only the tools that will do better than what I’m already doing, or will help students achieve who never saw such great improvements should be allowed in our rooms; and, it truly is a matter of “allowing,” in that we have to be critical consumers of what we teach our kids. We only have 180 days to teach them a lifetime of skills, and we can’t waste a single minute of a single day beta-testing an ed-tech tool on these kids.