Thursday, September 3, 2009

New Technologies and the Classroom Teacher

Oh my, it is fall and there is so much to write about--the beginning of school, teacher strikes, class size, high school football, back to school shopping, and H1N1 flu. No wonder some parents get stressed.

But I want to write about something different--nay, I need to wrtie about something different in education. For years, we in education have been opening schools, welcoming students, passing out textbooks, and preparing classes for another year of learning. But today's teachers have a bit more on their plate.....facebook, twitter, web pages, and cell phones......among other technologies to hit the classrooms. In some ways I am envious of what is available.

So let's start with cell phones or mobile phones. Should kids have them? If I were a parent I would want my kids to have the phones. "I won't call you during class but I want to hear from you when class is over." I love the comic strip, Zits (by Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman) where the teenager texts his Mom who is in the same room with him. I wonder what the fifth grades will be texting home during class time.... But still I think having a communication system with home is a good thing. The challenge for the teacher will be to get the kids to put the cell phones away during classes. I suspect it will be a major job for teachers to devise some way to put the phones on hold.

Facebook could be another challenge. I'm sure the upper elementary and middle school students will be telling all about their classes on facebook. Hmmm. Sounds like a good sociology project for some graduate student. I remember telling my fifth grade parents at the first PTA of the year that "...I promise not to believe half of what I hear about your family life if you promise not to believe half of what goes on in my classroom." While my kids' parents and I laughed it was a good bargin. At the moment I don't know what to say about my students and facebook. Maybe a up-to-date active teacher could tell us what they are doing....

But then we have some technologies in the classroom that I wish I had had. I would have loved to have had a "Smart Board" (See: I've already mentioned this device--an interactive white board which can be hooked to a computer for presenting and saving of learning material. Instead of the teacher spending valuable time writing on the blackboard (or regular white boards) to present material, the teacher can type it on the computer and the material will appear on the board for the class to see. Not only is it a saving of time but it is easier for the kids to see. I think the best part of this new technology is that when we are at a stopping point in the lesson and need to go on to something else, I can save the material for tomorrow and I won't have to repeat writing on the board the same material once again. Having a Smart Board must be a delight to have. I find it interesting that Bellevue schools (rated in US News and World Affairs for the top high schools in the State of Washington) have these devices in the classroom. Oh my I was born too soon. By the way, you can also project clips of movies on this board, for example, a clip of Hamlet's soliloguy rather then having someone in class read it aloud. I never understood the beauty of Shakespeare until I was in college. Well, the Smart Board would be a device I would want in my classroom.

Another device would not exactly be in my classroom but on the school web server. It would be the software program, BLACKBOARD. This is a classroom management software program that allows the teacher to put the handout, the assignments and the homework schedule so that kids can access it from home or elsewhere. One of my graduate students once developed a program much like this for a high school math class so that the parents could sign in (their code word only) and see how their child was doing.....and what grades he/she was getting. Some parents liked it and some didn't want to know. But it was available. The Blackboard program does that to a sense--keeps the parents informed as well as the student. The problem here is that all students need to have computer access and not all do.

What else would I like. I would really like to have a computer/video projector, particularly if I did not have a Smartboard. I could do lesson plans to project on the board for all to see--to some degree the same as a Smartboard but it does not have the capabilities that that device has such as saving of writing on the board. But still, a video projector would be cool.

So of course I would want several small camcorders. I have used camcorders before and they are phenomenal. For example, you can hand a camcorder to a middle school science student and say, "Show me three examples of erosion." OR to a high school civics class, you can ask them to show you a problem in the town and how would they fix it. Letting the students use the camcorder can be a learning experience for not only those that record something but for those that watch as well. Okay, so I want two or three camcorders in my classroom....along with the vidco projector.

And I want a web page of what my class is doing....done by the students but with my supervision. So many parents work at times not condusive to coming to parent/teacher conferences. If I couldn't have the Blackboard software program then I think a web page would help parents know what is going on in the classroom. What are we studying and what are the assignments. I think communications with parents is critical for student success. Parents and teachers have to be on the same page for success to happen.

There are a number of software learning programs I would like to have in my classroom for the elementary and some tuning devices for my high school band. Playing in tune can be fun when you're watching it on a computer screen. Yeah, there are a number of technologies now on the market that are amazing. But if a mechanic needs certain tools to repair or fix a car, or if those building a Boeing plane need a device to accomplish the task, why can't we teachers have tools that help us teach the chidlren and young adults. The new technologies will help those learn more in a more effieicent manner. I want 'em--the new tools of the trade.

Can you tweet? Then twitter a teacher and thank them for the help they gave your child.

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