I had the most interesting day at ‘work’. I have signed back on with my school district to be a part-time consultant helping as a computer coach. Today I worked with a focus group of 26 students from grades 7 to 12 at a local school. We began by sharing video clips of award winning schools that have made great gains by integrating the use of information technology into their classrooms. I wanted to give the students a chance to think outside the box and reach high when we asked them for their ‘wish list’ when it comes to tech in their own rooms.
I have just retired after thirty years teaching in classrooms from grades three to grade twelve. For the last fourteen years I have worked in classrooms that had at least one computer for every three students … in the last ten years I had one computer for every student … At first the computers I used were provided through the Computers for Schools program. That group recycled computers donated by businesses for classroom use. Then, knowing that I was going to retire before my dream of a truly ‘digital classroom’ would happen through official channels I personally sponsored a class set of netbooks. I am SO GLAD I had that opportunity.
Now, as a retiree and the writer of an educational blog (The Classroom Tourist), I get to visit many other schools and classrooms. It is amazing to be able to step back and see the broader picture … to see the ‘wave of change’ spreading throughout our district, our province … heck the world of education. Often this type of change is led by teachers who have a keen interest in trying new strategies on their own. Then they find like minded colleagues to collaborate with. One plus one ends up equaling three … and on it goes.
Today I got to see yet another agent of change in the broader sense – the students. We asked this focus group to share their experiences with information technology in the classroom. We asked for their vision of the ideal classroom and for their advice on how to get there. It was amazing to hear their stories. Not many have had the opportunity to work in a ‘computerized’ classroom … not many at all. But ALL of them are heavily involved in the digital world in their lives outside of class. As the session drew to a close I really could see their common vision of a classroom in which all participants (teachers and students) had instant access to information and tools that kept their work ‘in the cloud’ and easily shared. They offered such practical advice that we can easily miss as the educators (with access to the few machines allowed in the typical classroom)… like having charging stations in each classroom for ANY type of machine… like having all assignments be flexible enough to allow any software (free or purchased) to be useable … and especially allowing them to bring in their OWN digital tools (tablets, laptops, netbooks, ipods, cellphones). They pointed out that many students have their own devices and that this would save the school district so much money. They were concerned that there still be devices available through the school for students who could not afford their own, or for those whose devices were broken or not available. They felt teachers need more training to catch up to what they know how to do. They felt many of their peers would make great ‘computer tutors’ for staff and that they could work at that as a co-op credit or a volunteer opportunity. They were down right practical and insightful and politely honest.
I am so thankful for the opportunity to observe such a major shift in educational practice and philosophy. What we have been doing is not bad. Teaching constantly evolves with research and changes in our society. Many of us remember being the students when ‘the new math‘ came into being and our parents had no idea how to help us with homework. Heck, I remember the first tv’s that came into classrooms. Great tall monstrosities on rolling carts with metal doors that closed over black and white screens. There have been shifts in focus in how to teach reading and writing, how to teach problem solving in math and science, the need to teach character education … I have met some colleagues (I have to say few and far between) who tried to avoid change by labelling new ideas as just another ‘bandwagon’. Those ‘wagon trains’ have always been important. We seem to take the best from what new research reveals – translate it into new teaching methods – and then renew our focus to improve in yet more areas. I do think though, that the advent of ‘Bring Your Own Device’ classrooms will be seen as a major change… even though the non-school world has already seen the impact … the classroom reality is about to face a major shift! Exciting!