Thursday, May 31, 2012

The First Time I Used a Computer to Teach by Laura

The first time I ever used a computer to teach was in 1989.  I was a student teacher.   I was teaching evolution, and my soon-to- be husband, a scientist, was experimenting with a two year old taxonomy program called MacClade.

MacClade is a software program that helps evolutionary biologists make a type of family tree (called a clade) in order to analyze how organisms are related in evolutionary time.  I  thought that the program would help my students understand the concept that organisms demonstrate that they are related through shared characteristics inherited from a common ancestor.  This is an important concept in science, and it is also a slippery one to grasp.

If the school had a computer lab, I never saw it.  MacClade runs on the Apple operating system, so we carried my Mac SE into my classroom and set it up as a learning station. Students liked working with the program, and I don't recall their being focused on the computer itself, although they must have been to some extent. 

The memory hit me recently in the context of what it means to educate using technology.  In the days before 1:1 laptop programs-- in the days before laptops at all-- being able to use a computer in class was important.  It was not, though, an end in and of itself.  The Mac SE and the program were part of my class so that I could teach a difficult concept.  The learning drove the decision-- and the access to technology helped the learning a great deal.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Why Do We Use Technology In School?

This is a question I am often asked by parents at the beginning of 6th grade when students are required to have a laptop for our middle school program. I tend not to say too much, but show them through other students’ work why I think it is essential to be tech savvy in this ever changing world.  The words that do come to mind when thinking about this question are - excitement, passion, empowerment, creation, collaboration and sharing globally.

I recently sat through a long but exhilarating day of student led conferences where my 6th grade students had used their technology skills to plan, create and share a presentation about themselves as learners. They all used Google presentations and although the frills and level of content differed, each and every student was able to stand proud and share with their parents some very thoughtful reflections about their strengths, challenges and goals. I was amazed at their clarity and conviction of how important their learning was to each one. Parents were delighted to hear the level of self-awareness their children possessed, and one father stated that if this was a job interview, he would definitely hire his son. He also said that he knew many adults who could not do what his son had just accomplished.

So what does this really have to do with technology? I have had very successful student led conferences in the past where students have prepared similarly with observations, reflections and goal settings with a packet of information and work to share.

So what was the difference?  Technology - Google Presentations…

1.     The creation of a presentation that was meaningful to the students
2.     The presenting of themselves, which was so empowering for each student (not reading off a packet of papers)
3.     Students being in total charge of the conference
4.     Making it real by doing what adults in many professions

This was real to the students…they were in charge; reflecting on themselves as learners, creating something powerful and sharing with others. 

I can't wait for the next round....