Monday, January 23, 2017

Weekly Wonderings: Is Technology "Just" a Tool?

Is Technology "Just" a Tool?

This seems like a silly question I am sure.  This post is meant to celebrate the progress that we have made the past few years in regard to technology integration and look toward the next phase or phases that will come as we find new ways and purposes for the tools at our fingertips.  We have gotten past the skepticism and fear that can be linked to technology and its usefulness and/or distraction in the hands of kids. This has been a great accomplishment. We then conquered the next phase of finding the tools that can help us as teachers be more efficient while at the same time teaching our students to use the technology appropriately. Now that this phase has been completed, our next steps, may be the most challenging.  How do we use technology as a tool to both accomplish the work we need them to and to raise authentic engagement through its use?

Back to the question at hand, is technology "just" a tool?  By definition a tool is something that gets a particular job done. Using paper and pencil gets the job done on writing an essay.  Paper and pencil are basic tools used to accomplish the task and we have learned that we can easily replicate this by having a student write an essay using Google Docs. Same task just different tool, the use of technology has not changed the original task of writing an essay, though it definitely opens the door to expanding the possibilities.  Tools like Google Docs can open the door to many other valuable skills like collaboration, peer review and perhaps creativity which will be valuable for our students in their future endeavors.

Another question that we should be asking is how do we jazz things up a bit? How do we make the experience for kids a bit more personal in accomplishing the tasks we are asking them to do? Most of our experiences with kids and their motivation would tell us that a standard format (essay using Google Docs) assigned to all students often bares similar results as we are used to getting from an older form of technology, the pencil and paper. Though using Google Docs has allowed us to advance in the jazziness of how we accomplish the task, it would probably rate very low on the creativity scale.  What if we allowed students to figure out alternate creative ways to do the same task with perhaps with a slightly different tool to boost their creative-problem-solving abilities which also drew upon their strengths and interests? It's a bit intimidating, I know!

Weekly Wonderings: Is Technology "Just" a Tool?

Technology can be "just" a tool to get a job done, this is a fact.  From my own experience I have only been limited by my own comfort level and knowledge of this subject.  I will admit this has not always been easy.  For me, a light bulb erupted, when I saw students take a pretty average task and with permission take it to the next level in ways I never could have imagined and they were excited about it! When students are allowed to work to their interests and strengths, their confidence goes up which also raises investment and engagement. Having seen this from students who struggle with standard tasks lead me to question what is most important, the task or the process? I think we can all come up with examples why this is not always possible and I would agree with many of them, but perhaps we believe things are not possible because like me, I was limited by what I was familiar with and the way I had always done it. I know we can learn to be creative in our approach to teaching kids, through working together and sharing different methods and tools I know we can look at technology as much more than a standard tool. We can look at technology as something that will help us tap into the potential of our kids.

I believe this a good direction toward which we should travel and look forward to the journey!

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Inside the Box Thinking?

Layers upon layers, upon layers!

In education we could come up with many reasons to not stray from the way we have always done things. Policies and regulations can leave us feeling trapped, like we live in one of those  never-ending nesting dolls. As soon as we open up one doll, there is another, and then another, fiendishly winking at us. It’s no wonder that many educators become frustrated working within this sort of system.  

Recently, I had a chance to begin diving into The Innovator's Mindset by George Couros, which has helped to solidify many thoughts that have never quite made their way out of my head. Part one of the book talks about change in how we approach education, the need for it, and how hard it can be for some people because, as human beings, many of us just don't like change, period.  He poses a few questions that are important to consider.

Do we as teachers want something different for ourselves?
Do we want to be innovative?
Do we know how to be innovative?

I have become a believer of what is referred to as “inside the box thinking.” Understandably, it’s a fact of life that in most situations we encounter there are rules or guidelines that dictate how to operate. I believe, though, that there is still room inside the box for creativity and innovation and we are only limited by our own thinking and perception as we work toward finding ways to benefit our kids.

"Vision without execution is just hallucination" - Thomas Edison

I often wonder how many teachers are not motivated by what they feel they are being asked to teach, and that leads me to examine the culture within our school. Do our teachers feel free to take risks for the sake of the kids? Have we created a vision that is clear and meets our kids' needs?  Our job as school leaders is to help teachers navigate this not-so-comfortable, but important, thing we call “change.” I have heard from a number of teachers who say, “I wish we could be more innovative!”  So, this is where we all get to decide if we want something better and, if we do, are we willing to ask for help? Answering these questions for ourselves will be important for our future success!

Message to Staff: Empowered?

In school we stress creativity and critical thinking, we ask our students to problem solve, and we stress that these are important skills for their future success. We need to give ourselves the flexibility and freedom to explore in the same kinds of ways. We owe it to our kids to continue to be thinkers and problem solvers on their behalf.