Sunday, January 24, 2010

Is Technology the Most Efficient Way?

My husband just bought a new truck. He's really proud of all the bells and whistles. There are read-outs to tell him how much gas he has left, what the oil is up to, and which way he's going. I told him that while all the technology in automobiles today is impressive, gone are the days your Uncle Floyd can walk over with a screwdriver and fix your car in your own driveway. Technology like this requires a more sophisticated means of repair. My mother used to say that Daddy could hold an entire car engine in place with electrical tape. That wouldn't work now.

Last week I visited a school that had more technology than I've ever seen. Recipients of a grant, the teachers all had document cameras (that looked like reading lamps) in their classrooms. There were interactive white boards and hand-held touch devices meant to make learning fun. I observed as students plugged headsets into the devices and watched and listened to podcasts about World War II.

I wondered who loaded all of those little movies onto the devices. And I thought that it would have been just as easy, and a great deal faster, for the class to watch the movie on the whiteboard...just pull it up on the computer and project it. There would be no need to take the time required to load the movies, pass out headsets, and wait for individual students to finish the same movie. A teacher could even pause the clip at different intervals and elicit classroom discussion.

I don't know - call me a fuddy-duddy, but as impressive as technology it always the best means of instruction? I saw 30 kids sit like zombies and watch their own personal movies. Sure, there was no misbehaving and no talking. But the room was dark and the students (and this observer) seemed sleepy.

And what about the three hours it took me to develop a compelling PowerPoint lesson on writing a couple of years ago? I kept thinking that I could've written the same information on the board in about five minutes.

So I have to ask, is the use of technology, with all its bells and whistles, always the best way ?

Monday, January 4, 2010

A Shiny New Day

I so love the first day back in school after a break. I can barely sleep the night before as I lay and wonder which students will show up at school: the sleepy ones who aren't accustomed to getting up so early or the rested ones who are too excited to focus on schoolwork.

Today I drove to school and thought of each group. I remembered the years I had to walk desk to desk and grab up kids by the nape of the neck...just to keep them from snoring. I also thought of a return after spring break a couple of years ago. Those students were so distracted I had to fight for attention and eventually gave up.

So today I watched the first wave of students come down the hallway - the sixth graders. Immediately I knew which group had arrived - the sleepy type! They came down the hall in slow motion, like a prepubescent gelatin gradually released from its mold, these kids were sleepwalking out of the gym, down the hallway, and into their homerooms.

Glazed eyes walked by me; I couldn't even grab a hug or get a hello. It was too cute! A sixth grade teacher called for some of us to come look at her class - we peeked in to see twenty-nine little zombies staring straight ahead.

As the day wore on, of course, one by one our students woke up. As I worked with children throughout the day, walking up and down the aisles of the classroom, I noticed my own distraction: my eyes were drawn to the floor. And then I realized - almost every student had on new shoes, gifts from Santa visits during break. New sneakers were everywhere and every color of furry boot you can imagine.

I started thinking about sleepy children in shiny new shoes and got excited about a new year and new possibilities. Happy New Year to teachers and students sleepy and awake. Welcome to a shiny new year!