The aspiring teachers and their professor shared that they use social media multiple times every day. The participants voted that that technology will play an essential role in the success of their future students. Yet the room of aspiring educators also identified their technology skills on the “basic” and “proficient” ability range rather than “advanced.”
These young and aspiring teachers are frequent technology users yet they identify their existing tech skill-set to be about average. They identify that tech will play a huge role in the future of education but they don’t know where to learn about digital learning tools. So what is an aspiring 21st century educator to do?
History of Technology in US Classrooms
In 2015, technology is a part of life. In order to succeed in the 21st century, we need to have a basic understanding of how technology works. E-mail, word processors, scheduling applications, and social media all play a huge roll in how we get our work done, learn, and interact with both professional and personal acquaintances.
Technology entered the classroom decades ago. Early tech consisted of the overhead projector, scantron machines, cassette players, and simple calculators. When I entered school as a student in 1989, our elementary school classroom was able to afford an early model Macintosh with a large monitor, loud fan, and floppy disk drive. Students used this computer to review math facts, practice reading, and type simple words.
By the year 2000, far more computers appeared in classrooms and schools across the United States. Libraries and computer labs were now home to dozen computers with internet access. Over the past five years, the pace of change and innovation has accelerated.
In 2015, students in many schools are using tablets and netbooks every day. Students are designing projects with 3D printers. They are programing simple robots. They are helping teachers monitor their progress through fast and efficient assessment tools. And they are receiving personalized instruction thanks to a multitude of apps.
But as the PenPal Schools team visits and speaks with school administrators and educators across the country, technology is also giving folks cause for worry. Are the trainings in place to support school staff (who may represent a range of tech literacy)? With the sheer number of apps and programs, are schools making the right choice when it comes to which ones to use? Where can a curious teacher turn for information, professional development, and support?
Three Stories of Technology in the Classroom
1. An Intervention Tool (Jorge's Story)
Jorge’s school year began at one of the most stable times in the young scholar’s life. His parents had just finished the most recent in a series of custody battles for Jorge and his three siblings. After changing schools many times, Jorge entered my third grade class unable to read, write complete sentences, or execute basic mathematical operations.
If Jorge was to experience academic success in the traditional K12 system, then the young student needed help. Technology was able to provide Jorge with the support that he needed. Jose’s father, a proud and dedicated parent, joined me in the classroom for weekly meetings to explore a variety of intervention-many of which included technology.
Jorge began reading e-books. Once Jorge began reading on his tablet he had access to a tremendous library of free reading materials at his interest and ability range. Jorge received targeted phonics instruction and quickly learned how to decode both single and multi-syllabic words. Jorge used web tools to explore key mathematics concepts that helped him slowly catch up to his peers.
Technology is a powerful intervention tool. Through technology, students can receive targeted intervention both in and out of the classroom. Tens of thousands of students like Jorge use technology to make significant academic gains and keep their hopes of academic success alive.
2. A Social Learning Tool (Nathan's Story)
In a K12 classroom, students learn more than just skills and content knowledge. With a growing emphasis on project based learning in the K12 space, group work and an emphasis on social skills are becoming more and more relevant. Unfortunately, working with a group of peers is not always easy. Especially for students with autistic spectrum disorder.
Nathan was a bright middle-school aged scholar with exceptional needs. While Nathan was a studious young man with a strong grip on content, Nathan struggled working with groups and participating in class. As his teacher, I observed that Nathan infrequently participated in class. He prefered not to work collaboratively with his peers and was often excluded from social situations.
Fortunately, like Jorge, Nathan used technology as a learning intervention. Unlike Jorge, who needed to review fundamental content knowledge and critical thinking skills, Nathan needed a way to interact with his peers in a low stress environment. The Language Arts classroom began a micro-blogging project where students were able to share their thoughts via a privately curated classroom site.
Nathan regularly participated on the classroom blog and his classmates took note. Nathan shared thoughts on the books he read both at home and in class. He engaged with his peers through comments. And these interactions translated into the physical world. Students were soon asking Nathan questions about the thoughts and comments he shared online.
Technology provided this young scholar with the opportunity to develop interpersonal skills in an entirely different way.
3. A Bonus Learning Resource (Gaby's Story)
Technology in the classroom is not always used as an intervention. Gaby was a lifelong learner. She entered school being an avid reader. She confidently attacked science and mathematics projects and loved the experience hard work resulting in academic success. When Gaby and her Mom came to our Fall parent teacher conference, the small family was hungry for more learning opportunities.
Gaby’s mom wanted to prepare her daughter to succeed in the 21st century. She recognized a growing demand for young people with advanced computer skills and wanted her daughter to compete.
We explored ways that Gaby could take her learning in a self-guided direction. Gaby and her mom learned how to seamlessly navigate the internet on her family’s home computer and smartphone. We talked about searching as a skill, how to unpack video tutorials on YouTube or Khan Academy and how to distinguish credible from unreliable web sites.
In the case of Gaby, technology allowed her to pursue learning at her own pace.
As a classroom educator and edtech entrepreneur I like to think about the objectives and uses of technology in four different camps:
Digital Literacy is about hardware and machines. In order for young people to succeed with technology they need to understand the hardware they are working with. Skills like typing, the ability to navigate a web browser or operating system, and the ability to connect with a printer, wireless router, or bluetooth enabled device are all becoming essential competencies.
Like Jorge, many educators and their students use technology to master basic content skills. They use programs to practice and reinforce skills taught during class. They use technology as an assessment tool to help parents and educators stay up-to-date on their students mastery of targeted skills. And they use the time-honored word processor to complete text based assignments.
Digital Citizenship is a new learning outcome on the scene. These skills pertain to learning about how an individual works within an online community. Digital Citizenship skills help students learn how to create online accounts, contribute respectful content to social networks, and evaluate the content created by their peers.
The supply of individuals with a background in computer science do not come near to meeting the demand. From web development to programming robotics, programs like Scratch and Bee-Bots are helping to set-up K12 learners to exceed in the multitude of computer science jobs of the future.
Concluding my conversation with aspiring teachers from the University of Texas, one student shared, “The main takeaway I had from the conversation is that you can find a way to integrate technology into your classroom no matter what situation arises.” The future looks bright with open-minded individuals like these heading into classrooms across the nation. When it comes to technology, both being flexible and being curious are among the most important keys to an educator’s success.