By Johanna Riddle
There’s always gonna be another mountain…we’re always gonna want make it move.”
Mylie Cyrus’ new tune (that’s right…..I’m quoting Hannah Montana….have I been working in elementary schools too long?) may have been targeted at tweens, but it could become our official Educator’s Anthem. After all, relevant education must keep in tandem with the times and culture. It’s no news that today’s teachers continually face new challenges. In the 21st century, that often means committing to the long upward climb of technology competency—acquiring skills, keeping abreast of new resources, and figuring how to apply them in the classroom to power up student learning.
One of the Everests looming on our horizon is the technology requirement that is being added to the national cocktail of standardized testing. Technology competency testing is on its way down the pike. NAEP is set to release a trial run this fall, targeted to be finalized by 2012. The goal is student demonstration of problem solving in technology rich environments. Wow. That sounds exciting. Rigorous academics combined with rigorous creativity and rigorous thinking skills. That’s substantial education! The directive is clear: infusion, not inclusion. (That’s edutalk for shaken, not stirred.) But, what, exactly, is the difference?
Most of today’s classroom teachers are comfortable with technology inclusion. It’s been around since Bank Street Writer introduced us all to the magic typewriter. Walk in most classrooms today, and you will see students using software programs to supplement or extend learning in some way. That’s inclusion. But try to place these activities on the New Bloom’s Taxonomy and you may find that they fall squarely on the bottom every time. Too often, the fingers may be moving, but the mind remains at rest.
Infusion is another paradigm altogether. It uses technology as a tool for critical and creative problem solving and communication. The word may conjure up images of students physically immersed in the Cone of Learning, Vulcan style (you had to See the new Star Trek movie to pick up on this visual), but it really means bringing technology into partnership with traditional programs. Learning is still curriculum based, but creative technology applications are woven through the curriculum. The students become active shapers of this form of learning. The teacher acts as a frameworker and manager, using multiple literacies to weave together standards and disciplines, identifying and applying appropriate tools to ensure relevant information literacy, integrating information and research skills to solve problems, and designing rubrics collaboratively with students so that all learners can effectively access the learning process. That’s the kind of stuff you find at the pinnacle of Bloom’s pyramid.
It sounds great, and it is. But it leads us to our next question: How the heck do we teach teachers how to do this? We are coming up on thirty years of technology instruction for teachers and technology resources for the classroom. The inclusion piece is firmly in place. The idea of infusion is still a long way away. Technology coaches Melanie Holtsman and Dayle Timmons have a few suggestions.
Melanie and Dayle are leading the climb at Chets Creek Elementary School in Jacksonville, Florida. Together, they share the role of campus technology coach. Dayle works with K-2 teachers and Melanie focuses on the intermediate grades. Their mission: to infuse technology into the elementary classroom.
I’ve been following Melanie’s blog for a while, and decided to visit the campus a few weeks ago. Evidence of technology infusion is everywhere—from the Principal’s Book Club project to the second grade weekly news show. “We’re making strides with students,” explained Melanie, “but we are most excited about the changes we are making with teachers, because that’s where the real change happens.” Melanie was interested in the possibilities of technology in the classroom, and began following a blog by a classroom teacher in New Zealand. “She just talked like a teacher: here’s what I did, here’s how I did it, and this is what I learned. It encouraged me to think that I could do these things, too. Things turned around for me when I made the transition from thinking of technology as a “cute” add on to the curriculum to a way to make learning more purposeful,” she explained. “And the big surprise was that these activities weren’t necessarily harder. It takes as much time—maybe even more—to find and print a black line activity on Native Americans as it does to find a You Tube Interview with a Native American chief, describing his life and culture in today’s context. I made the connection with working smarter, not harder.”
At this point, relates Melanie, she decided to become a risk taker. “I began to make what I was doing transparent. I wanted other teachers to see that using technology—rethinking the role of technology in learning—actually made things easier for the teacher.”
“Teachers have so much on their plates,” added Dayle. “They work on a ‘need to know’ basis. So, we invite them to join us in learning projects. We don’t say ‘Here’s something you have to learn.’ We show them what’s in it for them—we spell out how it grabs students and engages them, how it addresses critical and creative thinking skills, and how it meets multiple standards.”
The technology coaches use a range of 2.0 technologies to introduce their teachers and their classrooms to learning through technology. “We introduce an idea, and say ‘This is an opportunity’. Everyone who participates moves forward a little bit—some teachers make leaps. We have a core group of teachers who’ve kept with it, and they are growing into team leaders for technology infusion. Teachers at Chets Creek are very open about sharing what they know with their colleagues,” Melanie says. “Teaching and learning are always about collaboration—you rise and fall with your team. We are always trying to encourage each other to think bigger about what we are doing in the classroom. Collective wisdom causes you to think deeper.”
Chets Creek accomplishes a great deal with a modest array of hardware. Every classroom is equipped with two desktop computers, a document camera, an LCD projector, and a DVD player. Each teacher has a laptop computer. The media center has the standard rounds of desktop computers for student research and the electronic catalog system. “We do a lot with free applications,” explains Melanie. “We want teachers to have a feeling for the range of resources out there.” For example, the faculty keeps a free blog site. Teachers attending state, national, and international conferences are asked to take along their laptops, and use them to share ideas, lessons, and reflections with teachers back home. Melanie and Dayle showed teachers to use Voice Thread to collaborate on a digital story to share with the student body. They used Vimeo to host classroom videos on a wide range of subjects (Our teachers love flip cameras,” says Melanie. They are so easy to use. And so inexpensive!”). Glogster becomes the tool of choice to communicate through imagery and text.
The greatest change brought about by technology infusion? “Teachers get excited about learning,” says Melanie. “When that happens, it rejuvenates the whole system.”