Open Letter to Teachers at Jane Doe High – Techstanding Challenge #1

Re:  Use of Technology in the Classrooms

Dear Teachers of Jane Doe High School:

What if I asked you right now to hand over your cell phones to me for the day because they have to be “off and away” at school?  What if I asked you to communicate to each family of your 180 students by calling every one individually?  Or worse, mailing a letter to each?  What if I asked you to plan your high school reunion without Facebook or email?  Or if I asked you to submit your curricular group lesson plans in handwriting in a spiral notebook?  If we as relative newcomers to this technology feel so attached, think about the digital natives we teach.

We may think in our affluent District with projectors in every room, laptops available for checkout, and all students passing our technology outcomes, that we are ahead of the technology curve in public education – and we may be.  But we are still woefully behind our students. A recent The Pew Research Center found last year that while only 11% of 12 – 18-year-olds use email for communication, 73% use texting.  As we’re gearing up our stationary computer labs, and equipping our classrooms with front-of-the-room presentation equipment, students are taking their technology mobile.

Mark Prensky would suggest that teachers of my generation are digital immigrants, born to the typewriter and dial phones, teaching digital natives.  He argues that as educators we must both learn to teach the “old” material in new ways, as well as teach appropriate and effective use of the new technologies.  I am in agreement with him that the former is probably the most difficult.  As educators our pedagogy is deeply ingrained so that as we adapt to using new tools, we tend to use it in the same old ways – hence the PowerPoint presentation for the traditional lecture, given at the front of the room.  In the meantime, our students have developed new ways of learning, including more parallel and random access and less step by step instruction.

It is not surprising that at a recent Site Council meeting with students, parents and teachers present when I asked for a show of hands of anyone who, when wanting to find information about any topic, would look in a book first, not one hand was raised.

Our District and the Teachers Union have agreed to use the California Standards for the Teaching Profession as the foundation for teacher induction and ongoing evaluation.  In reading through the standards document, I don’t think anyone could argue that the standards do not fairly represent what good teachers do.  In the introduction, the authors suggest that teaching is developmental and that  “to engage and challenge a diverse student population in a rapidly changing and increasingly technological world, effective teachers require continuous professional growth … If teachers’ expertise, capabilities, and accomplishments are to be enriched over time, they must be reflective and actively seek to strengthen and augment their professional knowledge, skills, and perspectives in support of student learning.”  In order to promote lifelong learning among our students, we must also be lifelong learners ourselves.

The standards, of course, call for differentiating curriculum for all learners – and while teachers are told all the time that they need to differentiate, they are not often taught how.  The Universal Design for Learning (UDL – surprise, another acronym) offers technology as one solution.  For example, much as the curb cut, designed to enable people in wheelchairs, helped others such as cyclists and parents with strollers, technologies designed to support students with disabilities can help all students gain access to information.  Adding technology for technology’s sake is merely maintaining status quo, but incorporating technology as a tool for differentiation can meet the UDL tenets by helping to provide multiple means of representation; multiple means of action and expression; and multiple means of engagement.  A simple netbook or iPad with voice recognition software could help the student with the processing disability while also helping to immerse all students in learning opportunities that are engaging and meaningful.

But it is not just the California Department of Education that acknowledges the importance of technology for the 21st Century Student.  The International Society for Technology Education (ISTE) developed standards for technology education for students, teachers and administrators.  In addition, the understanding and appropriate use of technology permeates the new Common Core Standards which California has adopted.  In short, we’re not going to be able to hide our heads in the sand forever.

We would like to support any effort that you make to integrate new technology in new ways – to help students meet the 21st Century Skills and habits that they will need for post-secondary success.  Here are some ideas:

  1. Join the Classroom 2020 design team.  Modeled after Wallenberg Hall at Standford University and paid for with the recent bond money, our Classroom 2020 team will investigate modern classroom design that most allow students to interact with the curriculum in new ways.  The elements will include low-tech innovation such as movable tables and chairs and huddleboards, along with high-tech equipment such as linked work spaces, Netbooks and SMARTboards.  As part of the design team, you will have the opportunity to teach a class in the classroom next year, and will pilot useful innovations that can be replicated in classrooms across the campus.
  2. Experiment with ways to integrate iPads.  The Technology Coordinator and I have written a grant to obtain 10 iPads as soon as the second version comes out.  We would like to loan those iPads to any intrepid teachers who are curious to learn what an iPad might offer in terms of new information, ideas and pedagogy.  We don’t expect you to know what you will use them for now, but we would like you to come back from the summer with a proposal for using the new tools in your classroom.  For some ideas see the following sites:  The Drew School, a local private high school, has opted to adopt a 1:1 student-to-computer ratio using iPads as their tool, and their website offers the rationale, ideas for use, as well as FAQs for the community members; Fraser Spiers, an English teacher in England, blogs regarding his experience as his school goes 1:1 with iPads; and Google hosts a page with sample iPad lessons as well.  Don’t stop there – be creative.
  3. Use professional development time to learn something new.  We will not all change everything overnight.  Pick one unit or lesson that you and your team want to update, and we will see that you get what you need to do so.  ASCD offers free webinars on a variety of technology topics; Classroom 2.0 offers a networking site for teachers looking to integrate more technology, and Heidi Hayes Jacobs promotes the Curriculum21 website that contains many resources and ideas. In addition, the District offers professional development opportunities in a variety of tools and software that we already have available, including School Wires.

The prospect of becoming teachers who integrate technology in meaningful ways can seem daunting – the amount of information and ideas are endless.  To coin a well-worn cliché,  the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.  Imagine the alternative.

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About Katy Foster

I am an Assistant Principal in Larkspur, CA. I blog to publicly reflect on my own learning in leadership.
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One Response to Open Letter to Teachers at Jane Doe High – Techstanding Challenge #1

  1. Pingback: Learning and the Brain | ifyoucantbeatem

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