Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Navigating the Sometimes Challenging Teaching/Learning Road

I didn't think I'd be writing about teaching again this morning, but yesterday's twist in the road has given me pause to think.

A parent showed me an incredible invention. I asked administration if I could share it with students. The answer was yes, and we had an incredible 90 minutes of teacher and teacher/student share, but then others in the school system noted that there were further policies to follow--policies I didn't realize connected to a beta test, a parent share (in this case).

As I've used tech over time in school, I've hit one road bump after another. I've also hit multiple points of engagement and learning success, and it's that success that keeps me coming back to trying out new tools and learning about innovative tech use. Many times, points of great challenge have also been points of great success. It has truly been a bumpy road especially for an early adopter like me.

I must say that I am tired of the continual challenge presented when trying out new tech, but I am also cognizant of the need to be discerning and keep children safe with regard to Internet use. Just like everyone who uses tech everywhere, I'm trying to make the best decisions--decisions that allow students to use tech in ways that accelerate and deepen learning in wonderful ways, and decisions that also teach children how to be safe and caring when using tech tools.

So how will this latest challenge affect my future work with children and technology?

This is a tough question because new tools are exciting and beneficial to use. Typically new tools I identify intrigue students, get them excited, and elevate learning in wonderful ways. There's little call for behavioral considerations when using new tools and there's lots of cause for celebration as children craft amazing projects, have fun, and learn with depth. Families typically embrace the use of new tools since many of those tools are similar to the ones they use in their own industry and homes--programs far better than what was once repetitious, one-dimension practice or study.

Yet the process that exists to try new tools is lengthy, detailed, and challenging in multiple ways.

On one hand, if I don't try anything new, I stay safe and away from controversy and lengthy procedures. Yet, on the other hand, when I try new tools, my students get the chance to learn in amazing, deep, and exciting ways--ways that make learning accessible and engaging.

Is there a happy medium? Perhaps.

I could try one new tool or two, but at the rate of tech change and with the need to try out a tool with students to really know if it has value, one or two trials are not sufficient. Also students are bringing to school projects completed with new tools at home, and they request the use new software and programs at school daily. Last year, while advocating for a tool that engaged students tremendously, I became frustrated, raised my voice, and shared opinions that were not welcome--that episode led to an approximately two-five month follow-up set of painful, harsh responses and events--an episode that continues to haunt me with nightmares and fear today. Hence, the stakes are high with regard to new ideas, requests, and innovation in many schools.

To really use tech well, you have to continually explore and investigate new tools in timely ways with students. A tool that adults love might be boring to a child, and a tool that an adult might think to be uninteresting may be the best gateway tool for a reluctant or challenged learner.  We don't really know until we try out the tool in a number of ways with children.

What I'd really like is a system of tech use that is led by protocols rather than strict processes. For example, similar to the books we use in the library, in a system like the one I envision teachers would have the discretion to use the tools they want as long as they followed a protocol that protected students' rights, followed related laws, and embraced criteria for teaching well.

Creating this kind of policy in ways that include all voices in a school system would create dynamic, profitable conversation and learning community share. Also, I believe that a system like this would result in more dynamic, inclusive use of technology throughout schools. It seems like systems that are too tight and directive challenge our abilities to explore, investigate, share, and use technology in dynamic engaging, empowering, and educational ways. People, afraid that they are not keeping up with the latest mandates, tend to stay quiet about tech use or not develop their use of technology beyond a few acceptable programs, and this behavior, in return, results in less positive change and growth.

These are not simple issues with regard to teaching and learning today. What keeps me in the game is the fact that I know the right tools and processes, online or offline, can make a big difference when it comes to student engagement, empowerment, and education. One of our seemingly most "inattentive" bright students was fully engaged while the parent-inventor spoke and later used that attentiveness to explore the inventor's program with discernment, connection making, and strength. Also, I have seen what these tools can do for children in homes where there is little academic support, but lots of love--the tools provide the needed academic support and response for home study and practice giving these students a chance to compete with their classmates who have that at-home academic support. Further, I know that these tools can accelerate learning, and acceleration may mean, in part, that some of the problems we now have will be able to be solved by brighter, more sophisticated students in the future. The new tools bring endless possibility to education, and that possibility brings the promise of a better world for many. That's why I continue to reflect, research, engage, explore, and share new technology tools and programs.

So as I move forward from this latest challenge, I will look for ways to deepen the use of the tools that exist in my teaching/learning environment. I will also continue to be on the lookout for new tools and when the best ones arise, I'll follow mandated procedures to the best of my understanding. And like all teachers, I'll continue to recognize that good teaching is not all tech or no tech, it's the right balance of online/offline tools and resources, strong learning community relationships and connections, understanding the teaching goals, knowing each child, and caring for each other. Onward.