This is the first of several posts by Voices writers responding to a recent op-ed article in Education Week, written by teacher Paul Barnwell, that raised questions about the wisdom of teaching with social media tools.
Paul Barnwell’s article “Why Twitter and Facebook aren’t Good Instructional Tools” is a ruse…in a good sense. I think it’s a brilliant way to get a whole load of readers coming to the defense of social media tools in the classroom. But take a minute to read what he’s written and you’ll see it’s not an attack, it’s a call to action.
Done well, social media and technology integrated into the classroom feels like a familiar old softball glove. It becomes an extension of your hand and you almost forget that it’s there. Done badly, it’s a waste of time and the return on your investment is nil.
Barnwell wants teachers to stop and think about the usefulness of the instructional tool…not just use something because it’s slick, or cool, or techie. I remember that I first heard Alan November make this appeal more than a decade ago….he felt any tech needed to amp up the learning in order to justify the time it would take to teach the tool and have students use it proficiently.
Just last week, in a Geometer’s Sketchpad workshop, we talked about why students were engaging with the math learning tool. Through our brainstorming and discussion, the workshop attendees realized that if this magnificent software doesn’t become a routine part of the classroom inquiry into mathematics, students (and teachers) will never gain enough proficiency in the tool to really be able to use it well. It becomes a novelty, not something that fits comfortably and naturally into our everyday learning experience. That made sense to lots of the teachers in the workshop, because the classroom management issues are HUGE when you only pull out this kind of tool once in a while. Kids want to play and explore. And who can blame them? Novelty trumps utility.
But what if it was an ongoing, routine piece of technology — transparent, familiar, powerful?
How often do we seize upon some web tool or technology we believe has great potential and then let that potential drain away? Remember when SmartBoards were first introduced? Many teachers rushed to use them, ran up against the challenge and extra work of using them powerfully, and then retreated — reducing them to fancy projector screens. Without persistent engagement, any new learning tool will fail to leverage student learning the way you hoped it would.
Want to watch a masterful teacher integrate a new piece of technology? iPads certainly have the same potential pitfalls as Barnwell encountered in using PollEverywhere. Yet somehow Mr. Reisler manages to avoid this with his eighth grade Algebra class! His tweets and blogs are revealing about how hard it is to develop new ways of providing instruction — but also how exciting it can be.
Latest posts by Marsha Ratzel (see all)
- Scaffolding Quadratics: 2 Things My 8th Graders Taught Me with Student Feedback - May 20, 2019
- Student-Driven Common Core Classrooms - February 14, 2013
- Shifting toward PBL in Math - December 6, 2012
There’s a lot of power in this article Marsha, big ideas being that technology has to be ubiquitous in order to make a difference. It’s the new pencil. It must be there as choice. Beyond that, tech has to be task specific. The tool doesn’t matter if the task isn’t the basic foundation. The what is the cornerstone. The how is variable, and invites opportunities for student choices, versus a teacher, like the ones mentioned who got a Smartboard. That’s leading with the tool. Not good for curriculum design or practice. We have to lead with the task, searching for a balance in student learning and engagement while honing in on student-driven work.
Also, your name is very familiar to me. Years ago, before the CTQ website was established, there was a listserve group for the Teacher Leader Network that I participated in. Is this the same Marsha? If it is…small world! -Mike Fisher
Mike – there’s only two degrees of separation. I’m the editor here at the Voices blog, and I co-founded that Teacher Leaders Network community, with its funky email listserv. Before that, it was the MiddleWeb listserv community. Marsha’s been involved in all three. That’s my motto – Take Smart Teachers Wherever You Go!
I really like how you say “the tool doesn’t matter if the task isn’t the basic foundation….it’s the cornerstone.” So wise and really if people would think about it in this way, they would find more effective/efficient ways to use tech in the classroom.
I’m definitely the same one!!!! Small world, indeed!!! Thanks for posting a comment and touching base.
Marsha – I like that phrase “persistent engagement” – We really do have to work at it to do it right. I’ve seen many of those fancy projector screens around!!
Here’s another issue I’ve seen – Lack of training and support. I was excited when they installed the Promethean board in my classroom, but I have been completely on my own to figure out how to use it… I’ve invested a huge amount of time trying to train myself.
Our work ahead of time though, makes those seamless experiences possible for our students. By pre-loading bookmarks on my class Diigo page, my student have been able to grab their netbooks and easily find safe search engines, typing tutors, other class blogs, Edmodo, and math games. Our netbooks have become those softball gloves, and the students grabbed them and used them as easily as they did their pencils. It’s a good thing… 🙂
I love your post and the use of your netbooks.
So what do you think you do to help your students use those netbooks to discover their own learning? I’m thinking about programming with Scratch during their math lessons, for example. Something where they use the native power of the computer to do a task that isn’t normally utlized.
Have you seen Minecraft? http://www.minecraft.net/ It’s something that I just don’t know about…except that kids spend lots and lots of time building worlds and the engagement factor is very high. I follow @MinecraftTeacher who writes about how he uses it with his 1st and 2nd graders to great advantage. Now I don’t get it, but I sure wish I did. It seems like his is an attempt to use computers beyond the extension of typical classroom tasks and I think that’s interesting.
What do you think? I know you’re way out there lots of the time (and I mean that in a good way).
Marsha, you’re very much sharing some headspace with me right now, and I’m really glad Patti mentioned netbooks, because that’s our newest step. They really do need to become part of the routine, so it just becomes normal to pull them out, and go to work. I love knowing that other people are struggling with these issues,and working them out.
I’ve been spending one-on-one coaching time with a colleague at the secondary level, who finally has an IWB in her classroom, but got 2 hours of training, in a room with 25 other people, where no one actually touched the board. Another member of my PLN has been told she’s going to have access to a class set of iPads in the fall, and given one to experiment with for the summer, and that’s it. She’s gotten a ton of advice about apps, and very little about thinking deeply about what kind of difference this might make to her teaching, and her students’ learning.
I think I’m going to make myself a sign for my desk this summer to remind me to think about where I want my learners to go, and what I want them to do there.
Do you use Diigo? There is a group within Diigo that I believe is gathering an amazing set of resources that looks at the question of how pedagogy needs to change if you have iPads. Maybe it would be something that could help your PLN member. http://groups.diigo.com/group/i_pad-for-ett is where you’ll find the group.
You said that you’ve been working with netbooks. I’m so interested to hear how you see the instructional strategies change as you’ve incorporated these into your room. What’s changed? Can you tell me more?
Thanks for writing…and I’m glad we are sharing headspace. Because where two are more are working together, there’s more learning going on!
I think we see eye to eye but from two different vantage points. Yes … teachers and students THOROUGHLY need instruction on how to use the tools. The “dance” of technology needs to be present when a new tool is presented. Both the learner and the learner leader needs to be comfortable with the new tool.
That being said, it has been my experience that we as educators take a tool first and say, “Where can we cram this tool into our curriculum.” Kinda like this YouTube video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZvDK9DjVjHA
Social Media, twitter, etc. all are just TOOLS; devices that assist the learning. I believe that true integration is a one – two punch. 1. Teach HOW to operate the tool.
2. USE the tool in instruction. I was privileged the other day to hear Dr. Judith B. Harris, Ph.D., Professor in the School of Education from the College of William and Mary. She and a team of educators have made up a list of activities students of any age are assigned throughout the curriculum in which techy tools can be brought into the lesson. You can find this resource at: http://activitytypes.wmwikis.net/
Thank you Sister Geralyn for posting your comment. I do think we’re in agreement on this. I see no reason to use technology just for the sake of saying you’ve used it…and for fitting your latest, greatest techie tool find into your next lesson.
But won’t learning how the use the tool involve knowing when to use it appropriately so that the lesson does something different than it would have before technology. I guess I don’t see why I should use a tool that does something I’m already doing unless it does it better or in a way that creates more learning. Does that make any sense?
Yes it does make sense to me. I know that we are on the same page. But, it’s been my experience that when some teachers learn about a new tool they think, “Oh where, oh where, should I put this?” rather than, “This tool can fit WHERE?” Its like putting the horse in back of the cart. My point is that – at least from most of my experience – professional development has been all about how to use the tool and not where. That needs to change.