I had the privilege of attending the annual Iowa Technology and Education Conference on Monday and Tuesday this week and came back with so many good ideas and even more motivation to continue to push for an educational environment where students are at the center of their own learning. For too many years we've continued with the sage on a stage model of teaching where the teacher attempts to pour knowledge from her brain into her students' brains, where a teacher uses technology to present while students watch. While there are times this can be an effective way of teaching, it's become far less viable. The reason for this is that information is available to all of us all the time from the Internet. I want to find the area of a rectangle? I can look it up in a matter of seconds. I wonder where the Middle East is? Bingo, the map appears. What does the Periodic Table look like now? Googled and done!
Teachers must make a transition and become partners in the learning process. They must teach students where information is, how to evaluate its effectiveness, how to organize it and understand it. Teachers must give students the chance to learn about their world through authentic learning situations, situations in which the students are doing the creating. Write a novel. Compose a song. Solve a community problem. Draw up the plans for a house. Make a strategic plan for the US in Libya. Do you see how these projects can teach math and science and writing skills and presentation methods and history? Furthermore, students must be working together. Not only should they be collaborating with their peers in their classrooms, but they should be collaborating with students in classrooms across the world. They should be collaborating with experts on the topics they are learning. They should be learning to problem-solve with all the resources that are out there, resources that are as close as the Internet connected devices we put in their hands.
This new paradigm of teaching and learning is hard for some to grasp and hard for some to accept. I have a hard time with the excuses, though. As you all know, I'm not some young pup fresh out of college, a digital native who grew up connected. I'm a middle aged teacher who saw the value of technology for learning a long time ago and who has made every professional decision over the past fifteen years to become both a technology hardware/network expert and also an educational technology leader. It is my passion! I watch my own children look up words they don't know with the click of a button as they read books. I see them refer to maps about regions of the world they hear about in the news or read about in a novel. I see them talk to cousins clear across the nation. I see them work on their projects and create presentations about issues they care about. I see them share their knowledge with their peers across town. Let me go even further. I see my almost eighty year old father access his medical records online. I see him look up legal precedents from law libraries online. I watch him file his briefs online. I see him receive emails from and send emails to his clients.
This is the world we live in! The Internet is how business is done. It is a spectacular place to learn. It is doing our students no favors to "protect" them from this treasure trove of knowledge. We must teach them responsible and productive ways of using the Internet.
I am so proud of how far we've come in the Storm Lake Schools. Our teachers are working very hard to integrate technology into learning, but there is such an urgency to keep moving forward and not to get complacent. Purchasing devices is easy, but it's not the hardware. It's funny how we can argue over that when the real conversation should be how can we use the hardware to learn. It's the conversation of how we can involve our students in their own learning. It's the conversation about the connectedness the world has never seen before. It is so exciting!