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Friday, March 03, 2017

Don't Give Up: Take a Break Instead - Tech Integration

There were some discouraging turns in the road yesterday. Excited to give my students modern options for learning, I was told that they are not allowed to use apps and programs like Powtoon and SCRATCH (the tutorials are acceptable, but those do not foster the great creativity possible). It was also inferred that curriculum directors would not approve Minecraft. Almost all the tech I've desired to use in the past five or more years has been denied or obstructed. Fortunately I am still able to use some Google apps so I'll stay focused on that since Google provides a lot to work with. Further we are moving from our great macbooks to chromebooks which provide less tools for student creativity, but still, thankfully, allow Google apps.

The reasons I desire to use more constructivist programs is that those programs give students the opportunity to create, problem solve, game, compose, model, and more. I still believe there is a place for "workbook on a page" software, but those kinds of programs are not as engaging or positively challenging as programs that allow students to create, investigate, game, collaborate, and problem solve. I also feel that if schools give students the chance to use these engaging programs, students will use them with oversight and guidance which will help them to use the programs with strength, safety, and care. Further, often our high needs students don't get a chance to use these programs at home for many reasons. By offering this engaging software at school, we help to bridge the opportunity gap, and provide these students with practice with three-dimensional models and modern age learning--the kind of learning and tools they will be asked to use in the world beyond school. It's integral that students are exposed to the best possible technology as well as coding early in their school lives in a balanced way so that they can apply that skill and readiness to their future learning and work. 

I've asked to receive the updated approved computer program list and I will work within those parameters at this time since we have a very large computer department and permission process to navigate and it takes hours to gain approval or debate for even a single tech application. I don't have the time or energy for this now as I've already spent too much time on it this year to date.

I started advocating for tech access for students who don't have that access last July when I attended a teaching and learning conference that emphasized the reasons why this was necessary. In early fall, the principal of my school and my collegial team agreed with this advocacy and found a funding source for the tech. Now in March the tech has arrived and there are several steps to follow in order to get the tech to the students. In some cases transportation and work schedules are an issue so it will take some time to get parents to the school since a parent has to come to the school or find another location to meet the appropriate permission giving staff in order to get the computers. It is late in the year to start this process, but I guess better late than never. Hopefully, next year, we can start this right away at the first days of school when family members and students are eager to start new routines and participate. I will have to work with my team to try to figure out how that might happen. Last year I made several suggestions about this, but all were not accepted or acted on.

I'm so proud that our state is putting energy into the discussion about how to meet the needs of our high needs students. The state's work supports my will to serve these students too. To bridge the opportunity gap means we have to provide modern, worthy tools for our high needs students. To keep them distanced from the kind of technology and tools that the other students have ready access to not only distances the students from the worthy learning, but it also holds the entire class and learning community behind. When we work to empower our most distanced learners, we empower all. 

I'm not going to give up. I am discouraged because I feel like the students and teachers in my school are losing ground by not being able to use wonderful, modern-age tech tools like Minecraft and SCRATCH--tools that help students and teachers to learn, compose, create, and problem solve in modern age ways. I feel like our focus on mostly "workbook on a page" software only works to promote more passive learning rather than the active, engaging constructivist learning possible. Gary Stager, co-author of Invent to Learn, provided examples of this divide at the recent Educon conference. He advocates for schools to move away from more passive "secretarial skills" to more creative, constructivist activities with tech. He showed examples of the terrific learning students are doing in schools that welcome more constructivist learning tools and technology.

Learning benefits from well balanced, worthy tech integration. Yet, tech isn't all learning and I will focus on the tools I'm able to use including some Google apps, a few practice sites, and lots of hands on tools, books, and materials. 

When you feel like giving up, instead you should take a break. So I'll take another tech advocacy break and move deeply into other areas of learning. (How many times have I stated this in the past ten years or so--many, many times) Onward.