Thursday, June 14, 2007

Argument for our Digital Learners

I just finished attending a differentiated instruction conference this week and I feel my passion for teaching sparked up to a new level. We can no longer educate our kids in a "cookie cutter" format - we need to reach all of our kids by gauging their readiness, by making the instruction rigorous and by making our lessons relevant to their own lives.

Please click on this video from TeacherTube to watch a 7 min clip on why we need to evolve with our students learning styles. If No Child Left Behind is to be affective, we need to embrace our student's differences and adapt our instructional practices to their learning styles.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Opportunities for Success

Albert Einstein said it best: In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.

A handful of Sarasota’s finest educators and technology specialists have just completed a rigorous training on the newest tool that is being installed throughout our entire county. Promethean ACTIVBoards are an amazing addition to every classroom and also presents a new resource teachers can use to engage even some of the most stubborn and disinclined learners. Having this cutting-edge equipment installed in the schools presents an amazing opportunity for teachers and students to propel themselves into the 21st century. Ironically, installing the ACTIVBoards doesn’t necessarily pose the most difficult task for our county to tackle.

The biggest obstacle will be introducing the product to the disinclined teachers as well as convincing them that our schools NEED these ACTIVBoards. More importantly, it’s the students who need these interactive instruments the most.

If you take a look at Gardner’s 7 intelligences (linguistic, logical-mathematical, bodily-kinesthetic, spatial, musical, interpersonal and intrapersonal), you suddenly realize that there needs to be an 8th addition: digital. Today’s students have spent over 10,000 hours on their cell phones and an additional 10,000 hours playing video games by the time they graduate college. 70% of our nation’s 4 to 6 year olds have used a computer! That statistical data alone should alert teachers to the fact that textbooks are not the only source of information which can and should be utilized in the classroom.

From my teaching experience, I have noticed the kids that have shorter attention spans and possess the need to get up and move around during class are becoming the norm. (Actually, the short attention span of today’s kids may turn out to be far from dysfunctional for future work worlds.) Students that are not engaged in instructional activities become distractions to others and negatively affect other student’s classroom experiences. These ornery kids are the ones that will benefit most from getting up out of their seat in order to demonstrate a skill using the ACTIVBoard pen or will enjoy taking an interactive quiz using the ACTIVotes. Check out the latest news report on a school here in Sarasota on Tampa Bay 10 to see what the kids say.

Yet another advantage to this county-wide installation is the ability for teachers to share their flipcharts, their ideas and their assessments with one another via the internet. It takes time to develop a great lesson plan and a valid, meaningful assessment. Having these resources on the school network or by employing the use of the Promethean Planet website, teachers have these fantastic resources at their fingertips which makes the development process that much easier when you can don’t have to “re-invent the wheel.”

Another learning characteristic we have identified with today’s digital learners is that our kids just dive right into new “toys”, such as video games and the Web. My parents (retired teachers, by the way) tend to not want to try new things, such as online banking, unless they already know how to use them. They are apprehensive about technology because they are so worried they will make a mistake and the computer will go through a countdown before it ignites into a fiery inferno only to die down to a puff of smoke. More experienced teachers and adults are the ones who enlist the aid of a manual whereas the students of today would rather jump right in, play around, “get their hands dirty”, and see what works and what doesn’t. By experimenting and watching others “play” with technology, our students are demonstrating that they are discovery learners.

So why shouldn’t today’s teachers evolve with their students? Isn’t that what goes on in the business sector, knowing your clientele? As hard as it is for me to admit, education is becoming more and more business-like. In order for educators and students to be successful, we need to utilize the valuable techniques used by lucrative businesses. In order for our students to have better opportunities to compete with countries overseas, we need to utilize the technology our county has so graciously bestowed upon us. Trust me, I have seen how the technologically prehistoric school district teach and it is a scary thought to wonder how these students would fare against the type of education we (Sarasote) are providing our kids.

I know many individuals (parents, students and teachers) question if this tool is necessary to educate the students of Sarasota County. In order for our students to be competitive in the real world following graduation, we must utilize tools that will help them become successful. More importantly, we need to understand our clientele of learners and continue to progress and evolve with them. We cannot ignore the pace at which technology is advancing daily and it is ignorant for us to believe that we can teach the students of today with materials from a decade ago. The installation of these boards presents an opportunity to be successful and if teachers, students and parents of this county continue to bury their heads in the sand then we are doing a disservice to not only the future success of our schools but the future generations of this country.