It’s a Brave New World: Engage, Inspire, Change
Imagine... you are the editor for an up-to-date, unabridged dictionary... it is your responsibility to make sure the dictionary goes to print with the latest additions to our daily vocabulary, terms like Wiki, Blog, Web 2.0, digital storytelling, iPod, nano... How do you keep up?
Imagine... you are a classroom teacher, responsible for preparing graduates for a brave new world, a world living and breathing technology. From advances in medicine, to protecting our natural resources, you have no idea where technology will be by the time your elementary students graduate. How do you keep up?
When I first took an Intel Teach to the Future Course, my school had very little technology available for the students. While technology was growing exponentially, the access for students varied widely from district to district and campus to campus (and continues to do so).
How has Intel impacted the lives of my students? The biggest change has been through opening up a whole new world of opportunities for differentiation. While all of my students are expected to acquire the knowledge and skills outlined by the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, nothing says they must go about it in the same way. Technology has created new avenues through which I can help students develop skills for the future, as well as to inspire them in ways that make the learning more accessible to their individual learning styles. I am able to use it to help learning challenged students stay motivated and organize their thoughts (through creative writing software). I use it as a way for more advanced students to do in-depth research beyond the typical thexpectations for a 4 grade student. It helps small groups learn to collaborate and plan their own projects based on essential questions on a topic or area of study. The opportunities for variety and individualization are endless.
In 2006, I was invited to be one of the teachers featured in a video presentation by Intel at the World Congress on Informational Technology. The emphasis was on how the Intel training had impacted the lives of students in Austin, Texas. I was incredibly honored by the invitation and felt like I didn’t
really deserve such an honor. When Intel representatives showed up at my school and began interviewing me, I realized that I had actually done more with my students than I had given myself credit for. One example is the Multimedia Civil War Museum my students created. Students selected topics on the American Civil War, researched them, and then chose a way to present their information. Throughout the process, (slide shows, dramatizations on video, digital storytelling, and brochures), the impact was really through the learning itself.
As a reading teacher, I enjoy using Blogs, Nings, and Wordle as avenues for students to share about what they are reading and books they recommend (or don’t recommend) for their peers. These Web 2.0 tools are a powerful way for
students to connect and to become more fluent in technology. In their world of texting, these provide a more structured way for them to communicate in complete words and sentences about their academic world.
More recently, I have tasked my students with researching early American exploration. Essential questions are not enough. One thing that students are often not actually taught is how to efficiently search for information online. Jane Healy’s book, Failure to Connect addresses concerns regarding the misuse
of technology in the classroom. She discusses the issue of technology as an add-on with little to no instruction guiding its use. As technology grows, we must
stay attuned to the new challenges facing us. For example, the availability of search engines like Ask.com suggests that simply asking a question and clicking “Enter” will get us answers. You would be amazed at the answers and the links th grader asks a simple question like, “How much money that come up when a 4
did Columbus’ crew members get paid on the Santa Maria?” If they are not taught to narrow “questions” to precise key word searches, they will be
searching for hours and often getting nowhere. They must be guided through strategies for weeding out websites that are unlikely to be helpful. We cannot skip over such skills just because they do not add to the excitement provided by technology.
Last summer, I had the opportunity to be involved in the final phase of the ththDear Michelle Project in Austin. Young women from 6 through 9 grade
turned letters they had written to Michelle Obama, about issues important to them, into digital stories. The students (most from low-income communities) stused a wide variety of 21 century skills, along with Web 2.0 tools to create movies of their letters. From storyboarding to film-making techniques to final editing processes, the girls engaged in problem solving while considering community and world issues. One student did her entire movie with animation, another mixed animation with live video, others mixed still shots with video. In every single film, the student’s voice shone through! The final showcase
inspired tears, laughter, and smiles, as well as sealing lifelong bonds among adolescents.
See sample video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KIfef7c4hfo
The most powerful ideas I took from the Intel training, and continue to be reminded of are that we must not just assign technology, we must make it real, make it meaningful, and use it as a tool for learning. Life “after public school,”
will require our students to use technology to solve problems and to improve their world, it is our job to prepare them for this.
So... back to the original question… how do we keep up? Good question, but no
The best we can do is to question the students, engage them in meaningful problem-solving, inspire them to create their own strategies for solving the problems facing them, and teach them to see change as a positive part of life. We must engage, inspire, change, and prepare them for the brave new world of stthe 21 century!