I wrestled with a number of ways to title this post but decided on this. I wanted to take some time to reflect on the lunch keynote address at the Western Regional Computer Advisory Committee’s Symposium 2013 delivered by Gary Stager. I’ve seen Dr. Stager speak on a number of occasions and he always gets me thinking. Friday was no different.
I didn’t know what to expect. We’d already had an altercation online over the topic of donuts…
and, if you read yesterday’s blog post, I had gone out to Tim Horton’s to buy some to prove that they can be had.
The presentation that was delivered on this date not only had me thinking, but I’ll qualify it as being the very best presentations that I’d see him deliver. There have been some online messages from Gary that I’d seen (and totally agreed with) that I knew would challenge some in the audience. Most recently, he took issue with the classifying of iPad applications identified with levels on the SAMR model. It was that which lent me the idea for this post. How can you take an application and assign it to a level in any model (SAMR, TPACK, Maslow’s Hierarchy)? Is it the application or is it the teaching and how the application is used?
Instead, he built upon the notion I’ve heard from him many times. “We stand on the shoulders of giants”. Many who have laid the groundwork for our current thinking didn’t have our benefits of modern technology and yet their tenants are so applicable; they just knew what good teaching looks like. Good, Bad, Indifferent; Significant differences aren’t based upon the actually technology – “we’re going to get better by replacing our e-devices with i-devices and in the long run o-devices”. No, we’re going to get better by focusing on the task at hand – good teaching. I really liked Gary’s comment that I’m afraid I’ll have to paraphrase because I didn’t write it down at the time “How can we pretend to teach the 21st Century Learner when we’re not modeling learning ourselves?”
Buying the next glitzy thing won’t cut it. Online, Vicky Loras had introduced me to Sophia Mavridi from Athens. Recently, Sophia wrote a fabulous post “We need pedagogy, not just cool tools” that could just as easily have served as a springboard to the whole topic. If you’re concerned about this, you need to read Sophia’s post. If you’re in Greece this month, she’s presenting on a similar topic. I’d love to hear it. I wonder if it’s streamed?
In education, most grades and subject areas are always targets for educational improvement. When it comes to technology, those who would push the change are quick to roll out the “current model” and use it to clobber people’s attempts at technology use in the classroom. There’s a great post and chart located here “What’s the Difference Between “Using Technology” and “Technology Integration”?” I would think those who read this blog get it and like Sophia’s post, it’s worth a read and contemplation. Despite all this, there are a couple of areas that aren’t constantly beat up. These would be Kindergarten Teachers and Computer Science teachers. Wha…?
Stick with me.
Take your favourite model. I’ll take SAMR. Take a look at the top rung. It’s the “Creation of new tasks previously inconceivable”. Now think of Kindergarten and Computer Science classes. In both cases, every task is generally inconceivable when they get started. The Kindergarten student has no baggage that says “you’ve done this before.” The Computer Science student takes on the task with only a general notion of where they’re headed. With a sufficiently rich project, there’s always the digging into the unknown. When you observe both classes in action, they’re generally there on time, enter their learning space, and are motivated to get on with the task. There also isn’t a sense that the task is ever “done”. There’s always one more block to add or algorithm to tweak. Along the way, there’s no concern that they’re not using the latest compiler or newest toy/tool – the focus is working on the job and exploring along the way.
What happens between these grades? The education system, of course. Do we need the newest and coolest tools in between? Not necessarily. In fact, Sylvia from Sylvia’s Super-Awesome Maker Show! shows that the excitement of learning and building can indeed happen in between. Grant Wiggins sheds some real insights about how schools just kill the excitement “Mandating the daily posting of objectives, and other dumb ideas“. Yeah, schools can really do a job on that.
But … can’t we have a couple of cool tools?
Absolutely. But make sure that it’s for the right reasons. I have to smile when I think about an argument I experienced as to what was better – ShowMe, ScreenChomp, or Explain Everything. Do we need to make software selection a peeing contest? Evaluate all three for a purpose, choose one, and move on. It’s ultimately the understanding that you’re teaching a topic and not teaching about the latest or coolest tool on the market. A constant search for the coolest tool puts one on a treadmill that just won’t stop. Read blogs like this one or Richard Byrne’s “Free Technology for Teachers“. Both of us dog lovers appear to have all kinds of time on our hands to do the evaluation of things for you.
At the end of the RCAC Symposium, a few of us were sitting around musing on Gary’s words. We were asking the question “Where are they now?” You know – the Lighthouse Schools, the Model School Districts, the Schools of Tomorrow, the Schools of the Future, the exemplary schools … Often kicked off with a huge infusion of one-time money and the coolest tools at the time, reality once again kicks in. The tools get old. The hand selected staff moves on, sometimes because of burnout. The principal or superintendent changes. Or the district decides to go in a different direction. The only thing that remains constant are kids entering to look for a good education. Don’t they deserve it just as much as the students that cracked the seal on new, shiny equipment? Had the focus only been on good teaching and the technology added as the school became ready…
Back to the donuts…one of the things that Gary noted during his speech was that typically he keynotes and then is sucked off the stage and back to the airport. At the RCAC, we do things a bit differently. The keynote speaker does a breakout after his/her keynote where people may elect to follow and ask questions and clarifications on the points raised. It’s also a litmus test for the speaker; if people want another hour with them, they know that they hit it out of the park. Gary was SRO in his breakout and passed around the box of donuts to his audience.
Back to the title … if a person or district is basing a direction solely on the cool tool, it’s a waste of energies. Wouldn’t the money be wiser spent on professional learning opportunities to learn how to excite with the tools or applications that you already have in place? To do otherwise, it seems to me, means resetting the odometer to zero and starting all over again.