Scarberia

When I went to Teachers’ College, it was a long subway ride to get from where I was living to Bloor and Spadina.  However, on the way home, I was just thankful that I wasn’t boarding in Scarborough.  It was so much further.  The radio station that I listened to (either CFTR or CHUM) would always make fun of Scarborough by calling it Scarberia because it was so far removed from downtown Toronto, the centre of the contemporary universe.

I did have a different opinion when it came to practice teaching placement though.  I spent time at Woburn Collegiate and Midland Avenue.  There were other schools that I was at in other jurisdictions but they didn’t hold a candle to the technology, the teachers, and the enthusiasm of the students that I met.  Later, as an educator, it was amazing how many good things and good people that I’ve experienced who come from Scarborough.  Of course, times change; I understand that Midland Avenue isn’t open any more and anyone who drives the 401 knows that Metro doesn’t end there.

So, it was with great surprise that I read Royan Lee’s Spicy Learning blog the other day.  He authored a response to an audio post from one of the people running for school trustee in a by-election, Sam Sotiropoulos.  Mr. Sotiropoulos makes the claim that he wants to be the “Technology Trustee” and lists 16 years of programming and information network as his experience.

I listened to the podcast a few times and found the inspiration for Mr. Lee’s blog post.  I won’t get in to the details but rather would like to refer you to his blog post.  At the same time, listen to Mr. Sotiropoulos’ post to get the complete and balanced original side to the discussion.

It’s disappointing to hear that the Technology candidate would take this approach.  Forget the fact that the policy has already been passed by the TDSB.  So, what would he do?  Turn the clock backward?  How far?  The same reasons that he sites in the audio post are the tired arguments for so many initiatives from the past.

  • Do we turn in calculators? After all, there was a time the educational world was beside itself that graphing calculators would be used in classrooms.
  • Do we turn in ball point pens?  After all, we could buy ink and inkwells and teach kids life skills like sharpening nibs.
  • Do we get rid of paper?  Kids will get lazy if they have to refer to notes for facts.  They should learn it and memorize it.   (Actually, this wouldn’t bother me if we replaced paper intelligently with appropriate technology)
  • Do we make every student wear a uniform?  That way, we’ll level the playing field between families who can buy designer clothes and those who can’t.

Ludicrous arguments, right?  And yet, there were people that were adamant at the time in their opinions with these discussions.  Fortunately, a progressive education system forged ahead and we are where we are today.  Graphing calculators have made mathematics come alive for so many students.

I would have hoped that a technology candidate would seize the opportunity to take the lead and help carve a path to the future.  The TDSB policy doesn’t require students to bring their own technology but they have brought it for years.  When it wasn’t embraced, it became an underground (or at least under desk) activity.  Students were learning and using the technology despite the rules.  Just take a walk through a shopping mall or actually anywhere and you’ll see people who wish to be connected, using the technology.  Why is it important to ask them to power down when they enter a classroom?

Where do the opportunities lie?

  • Leadership – Mr. Sotiropoulos talks of the problems with different operating systems.  Use this as an opportunity for student leaders to have after-school or lunch and learn lessons or clubs to help those students who have new technology and have yet to master it.
  • Social Responsibility – It’s one thing to have the technology but quite another to use it responsibly.  Like anything, students need to learn.  It’s never so evident that students have things to learn when we read stories like this.
  • Lobby for funding – I like his comment about the funding formula.  Do we, as a province that just shut down parts of Ontario Place for budgeting purposes, have the capacity to buy even more technology?  Is it not time for tax breaks so that every home in the province is connected?
  • Change teaching – It’s reality that the connected student can quickly and easily look up facts that we spend hours in the classroom memorizing. Why not acknowledge that you can look it up and turn educational activities into deeper inquiry and actually use these facts.
  • Change the way we use technology.  Is having a computer lab where “one size fits all” an approach that will take education where it needs to go?  It pains me to see younger students try to sit on chairs designed for older students with their feet waving under their seats.  In this setting, they learn how to use a piece of software.  The personal technology used in the regular classroom, at the point of instruction, teaches students how to use technology, solve problems, collaborate with classmates, use more than just technology as they work on a project.
  • Develop electronic planners – technology is life for students.  Let’s meet them where they are.  I’ve already blogged about one way that this could be possible.

There is so much that could be progressive on this topic.  Royan’s post talks about his progressive classroom and how’s he’s using this with his students.  Wouldn’t it be nice if all classrooms offered the same opportunities?  Rolling the clock backward just isn’t going to take us where we need to be.  We aren’t about to get rid of school purchased computers but technology at the point of instruction – available when students need it – is so appealing.

I hope that the voters of Scarborough don’t want to be relegated to an electronic Scarberia.  There are opportunities to be had here.

Disclaimer:  I need to mention up front that I have already blogged in support of Monica Balac’s campaign in the same by-election.

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