I never set out to be a 1:1 teacher.  Frankly, I didn't even know that the term "1:1" existed for what I was about to get into two years ago as I whomped up a quick proposal the night before the due date to get a classroom set of netbooks.  I honestly didn't even think I would get a set, fearing that there would be so many applicants that mine would be buried in the pile.  (Turns out only 3 teachers applied.)  But I at least wanted to give it the old college try, and besides--I was already planning on implementing standards-based grading and needed two new initiatives in the classroom to achieve my personal goal of sprouting at least 5 new grey hairs per week.

It was that last-minute decision that changed what I thought about teaching and learning in my classroom as much as it changed how my students did their learning. Going 1:1 made me feel like a first-year teacher all over again after 14 years, stumbling and fumbling around with all of my nice comfortable rituals disrupted (right along with my students' school rituals) and, unwilling simply to find ways to make technology fit what I used to do, wanting to use the technology for new ways of learning.  I emerged scraped, battered, and bruised, but completely recharged about teaching--and with an entirely different view on student learning and what teaching students to learn should be.

Which is exactly why I am disappointed when I hear from members of the community that they think I no longer teach science--that I teach technology instead, implying that my focus in the classroom has gone askew. It seems that students are coming home and talking to parents about the Web 2.0 tools and other productivity tools they're learning and how we are using them in class (in a positive light), but they aren't talking much about science itself.  This is concerning some parents, who feel that the science should dominate their conversations about what their students learned at school, not the technology.

I do understand, to a certain extent, from where these comments are coming.  All of this technology is new to my students (and to their parents), even though the Web 2.0 and the other productivity tools I use in class have been around for a decade or more.  Any time you lay a lot of "new" on students, the focus of interest will be on that "new", not on the old.  And by "the old," I mean the science I'm teaching (and yes, I am teaching it).  All of the cell stuff and ecology stuff and genetics stuff and other science stuff I teach to them is vaguely familiar to them, and they have been dying of exposure to it for many years before they get to me.  I hate to say it, but the joy of learning has been sucked right out of most of them in the years before they enter high school, where the factory model reigns supreme.  While I try my best to make my subject new and fresh and relevant (my forays into PBL are helping out with that immensely), it's still old science news to a lot of them.  So, it's only natural that my students would be talking about what's new to them (which shouldn't be that new to them, but is)--the technology.  And my main disappointment emerges in the fact that sometimes where there's a lot of "new" at school, it is perceived as "bad" by some.

Speaking of the "new," I think using technology for learning implies a new way of doing school, one that doesn't involve drowning students with worksheets online rather than on paper and having them memorize the online textbook and repeat information back to me in a Google Doc.  It means using the technology to have students create their own meaning and understanding, using it to teach them thinking skills not repeating skills, using it for educational good, not evil.  I think this is also what students are talking about outside of school, how they have to do the work of learning through the technology.  For example, how they have to do their own online research and put it in a diigo list to share with all of my Biology students; how they have to create podcasts and Voicethreads that show connections between concepts; how they have to make their own mindmaps to show understanding; and how they have to demonstrate evidence of knowledge time after time after time and displaying that evidence on a website of their own creation.  My students have never, ever had this much control or responsibility over their own learning, so it's only natural, in my opinion, that this is what is what they're talking about to their parents rather than all the content that's been thrown at them over the years.  

I think what really disappoints me about these kinds of comments is the implication that the focus of learning should be solely on the content.  In this day and age, content acquisition is no longer the alpha and omega of school, not with all of it a Google search away.  Students need to be able to create, think, evaluate, and synthesize in this world of ours, to be able to form original thoughts and ideas using the information they can find in order to be successful--and they can't do that if I am focusing on filling their heads with knowledge rather than having them exercise and develop skills inside of their heads.  So my role has shifted right along with my students' roles, setting up learning activities that help them develop those skills rather than being the hyperactive giant talking Pez dispenser of knowledge in the front of the room.

But what about when I teach students how to use my science equipment?  Am I teaching them technology over science?   I must teach students how to use the equipment for learning first before the learning can start, yet I never get accused of not doing what people perceive as my job when I do this.  For example, microscopes are technology--they put learning about cells in a very different context than what occurs when students simply look at idealized pictures of cells in textbooks.  Microscopes bring reality to cytology, and students must first learn how to interpret what they're looking at under the microscope (as well as learn how to operate them because I have pretty fancy-schmancy ones) before they can start using the information.  However, whenever I teach students how to use the microscopes, I never get accused of teaching technology over content.  The same goes for the electrophoresis equipment, the thermal cycler, my DNA kits, and any other science tool I have that must be taught to students first before the science can be applied.  You could also extend this to pen and paper--when students are directed to make posters in my room, I am never accused of teaching them poster-making rather than science.  The difference is, obviously, these tools are accepted means of teaching science--they are associated with science, and are in the category of "acceptable tools for teaching science" in the community's perception of school.   Unfortunately, my little netbooks, the Web 2.0 Tools I use, and even Google Docs, are not in that realm just yet.

Really, what it comes down to is changing current perceptions of the tools needed for learning, along with changing ideas about what learning should look like in schools.  It's about taking all of these new ways of learning and getting them into the "acceptable tools for teaching and learning" category in the public perception.  I'm not saying that's easy; I'm just saying that, in more conservative and traditional communities, this might be a greater obstacle in implementing a 1:1 initiative than in other communities.  But it's an obstacle worth launching yourself at with full speed to get over--for the sake of truly preparing students with the needed thinking and technology skills they'll need to be successful in the world into which they will graduate.


02/19/2012 17:13

I totally see your dilemma, here. What's interesting, I think, is that in the past science and technology were seen as two very different things. Sure, we may touch on the fact that we need technology for science, and in-turn science advances technology, but thats about all the deeper we get. What I see, now, is a shift in education. We're entering a time in which the latest technology is readily available to almost all students quite easily, even. Many of the students parents are from a generation in which the technology wasn't available in the classrooms, and so they weren't exposed to how vital technology really is to science. I think your philosophy on science and tech are key. Keep it up!

Chris Mitchell

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