Thursday, April 9, 2009

Technology and the teacher...

When I first started teaching fifth grade after I had returned from my war, the principal said that all male teachers had extra work and I could be either School Boy Patrol advisor or the A-V guy.  I chose being the audio-visual guy in the school so that I wouldn't have to get up early to see if all the boys were at the crossings.  But I always was interested in audio-visual stuff.  What this meant at this school is that the overhead projector, the 16 mm movie projector, 2 slide projectors and one opaque projector were stored in my classroom and when a teacher needed one of those items, I was to wheel it down to their classroom.  It was not a good system--it took up much space in the corner of my room and two or three times a week I had to move a projector to some other room.

On the other hand, it meant that I had mostly all the equipment most of the time.  Cool.  It was the overhead projector that I enjoyed most of all.  We had just one overhead  for sixteen teaching positions which was terrible.  If a teacher had to schedule the overhead for some lesson they hardly ever did.  It is hard to say that on Tuesday of next week I will want the overhead to teach sentence diagraming at 10:15 in the morning.  We may get there and then again we may still be doing some other work.  I hate to teach kids on a schedule.  I can speed up or take time to review but to say that I will accomplish something with thirty five children at a certain time seems asinine to me.  It can't be done unless luck is involved.  To be frank with you, there ought to be an overhead projector in each room.  No sharing.

Well, I didn't share and I started to use the overhead instead of using the blackboard.  Easier and I found out something important--the kids in the back of the room could see what I was doing better.   I began to watch my kids  and it appeared that those near the back of the room didn't always see what I was doing.  It helped me change some of my teaching behaviors--I moved around the room more often but better yet, I rearranged the desk so kids could get closer to the blackboard.  But still the overhead projector was superior for the kids to see things.  

I can remember using the overhead and having some kid say to me, "Mr. Blackwell, could you move over?"  They just wanted a clear view of the screen.  That told me also that they wanted to learn.....  Just get out of their way.

I only had a few sheets of clear transparencies to use--the school wouldn't order any more...we also had to share those items.  So I used wax pencils and would have a child in my class wipe them clear at the end of a lesson.  But somedays I wanted to use them on a following days.  

It turned out that I needed some dentistry work and while at the dentist saw what I thought was a pile of transparencies.  "What are you doing with those" I asked.  It turn out there were post-dated X-ray film that they couldn't use anymore.  I asked if I could have them and the dentist said yes on the agreement that they be washed well to get the chemicals off of them.  I agreed.  That weekend, my wife washed and I dried and hung up 60 to 75 sheets of ex-X-ray film.  

Monday I took this pile of transparencies to class.  Each sheet was a little thicker then normal transparencies and they had a slight curve to them but they were quite useable.  I was a happy teacher. I didn't have to share and I could file certain transparencies in file folders to use when I did this lesson once again....or for a review.  But one day, a couple of the kids asked if they could use my transparency for something during recess.  They put it on and took notes and copied stuff from it.  It gave me an idea.

I passed out two transparencies to each student along with a wax pencil (which I bought) and showed them how to put the transparency on a tablet so that the lines would show through and they could write an outline of a report I was going to ask them to do.  The class would always groan when reports were assigned but this time it sounded like fun.  Something different.  I forget what the assignment was--let's say just for an example that each student in the class was assigned a state and had to show population, major products, etc.  Pretty standard stuff that the kids enjoyed looking up.  They were to put these answers in outline form (I got to teach two things here, information gathering and outlining).  Then I gave them several days to work on the project.  I'd go around the room helping out those that needed it and encouraging others who got bogged down in details.  How to sort....and evaluate.  A good time was had by all.  I was pleased with myself.  

Then it was time for results.  I put the overhead on a table at the front of the room next to our podium (remember it from a previous blog on reading?).  Then I pick a student I knew would do a good job.....I was working on success begatting success here.  The student got up to the front of the room and started off, using the revelation technique that I had show all of them.  He had done a good job and he was talking away about his state.  Then he would reveal a little more of his outline.  Talked some more.... Pretty soon I realized that he was going to take a least a half hour to complete his report.  Under the old system where the student would take their sheet of paper up to the front of the room, they would essentially just read what they had written.  But this kid was going on and on WITHOUT NOTES, only his outline.  Well, for heaven's sake.  Finally, the next child was chosen.  She went on and on as well....without notes only using the outline on her transparency.   I was impressed.  We only got through two kids that day and I had to revise my lesson plans.  But I had noticed something else.  The kids in class were paying attention--really good attention.  Not only that but they were swiping ideas and incorporating them into their outlines--instant upgrades so to speak.  

The improvement to my lesson plans and to the kids' learning was astonishing.  And the kids thought it was fun.  Fun and learning are good.  It took several weeks for the whole class to be able to present their information about their state.  The interesting thing was that they kept getting better and better and each child swiped ideas from the previous presenter.  My first kid wanted to do his over and I told him no, he had done very well.  I was pleased with him--but he wasn't pleased with himself.  What a concept.  The class as a whole wanted to know when they could do another report.  It became the standard in my room for presenting.

I still remember the increase in the amount of learning that the overhead seem to achieve with each student.  There is no doubt in my mind that the overhead projector was instrumental in a quantum leap in learning for my students in that class.  And it was a fun way to learn.  I still say the enjoyment has to go along with the learning for it to be valuable.  Even if some of the stuff the children learned would be only useful in a trivia game.  But using the overhead projector also seem to give my shy kids confidence in their presenting.  It was a valuable lesson for me to learn--technology can further learning.

If you had a teacher that had you use some technology in school, say a silent thank you for a job well done.  

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