Saturday, February 26, 2011

On classroom technologies

“Young students and old thrive on the tactile experience of manipulating with their fingers. And I definitely appreciate being able to interact with the content – how could teaching and learning get any more hands-on?”

Our fry are getting bigger--some have migrated to mini-aquariums set up by students in recycled milk and soda bottles. We have a few more wheat plants forming heads, and a student announced that her sow bugs had babies.

We got a lot going on in class.

There's been a huge push to get "technology" in classrooms--I'd argue that a recycled plastic milk bottle holding two tiny fish and a strand of elodea counts as technology, but no one gets rich selling used milk cartons.


I am not averse to new technologies. I have a class set of netbooks (thank you Roche/BEF/Home & School!),  an interactive whiteboard, and a couple of remote devices, including a Mobi. We use them as well as pencils, paper, and cut shower boards. The students slide easily from one tool to the next, depending on the task at hand.

Most of our newer educational technologies involve recorded sight and sound--filtered views of the universe. I am inundated with catalogs that offer written words, videos, simulated labs, and models.

When a child "interacts" with a SMART Board, she is touching a flat piece of plastic, no matter what a specialist tells us.

The more I try to bring the world to my classroom, the more I realize the limitations of our various tools. Even words get in the way at times, especially when the words are designed to "teach." Words matter, of course, and sharing language gets us halfway there--but in science class, or in any interaction with the natural world, words fall incomplete. We forget this.

We do not live in a "knowledge economy," we live in the world. We eat other organisms, we breathe oxygen released by plants, we drink water that has passed through other critters. We need what our world provides; we are, literally, part of this world.

Our words are not.

I will continue to use our classroom tools, high tech and low, as scaffolds to the world that exists, but I will continue to remind my students, and myself, that our tools distort our views.

This past week a saw one child sticking his nose into our class bag of dirt, smelling the impossibly complex and living collection of stuff found in soil. He liked it, told another, and he took a good whiff as well.

Can't teach that. Not with words, with pictures, or even a new MacBook Pro with a 2.3GHz Core i5 dual-core processor and Thunderbolt technology. Unless, maybe, if you dunk it in mud first.

Photos from classroom.


Unknown said...

I just read this after writing about technology and my own children. It seems like we're on a similar wavelength.

We use our netbooks often in class, but we also set them down and debate, discuss, draw, write, tie, sort, cut, clip, high-five and walk, among other things.

You can't argue that we need to "engage the whole student" and then ask that child to use only a computer.

doyle said...

Dear John,

I agree with you, obviously, but a few big muckamucks (do you read Gary Stager?)would argue just that.

You're children are blessed with loving, thinking parents.

Unknown said...

I don't think Gary Stager would argue with that, because I don't get a sense that he would have paid much attention to what I'd said in the first place.

Mike Schiller said...

I'm taking my masters courses on classroom technology. Which actually brought me here. In a time where, as teachers, it feels like we're sometimes being beaten over the head with technology, it is nice to hear a viewpoint from the other side. I agree that in many cases, what people call tactile learning, is just touching a keyboard. It offers another approach, but sometimes it is more advantageous to just get those hands dirty.