Monday, April 8, 2013

Children, Learning and Technology

As you can see from the picture above, my grandson has learned to use his "cell phone" at an early age.  While he was doing construction (yes, he also plays with real toys and digs in the dirt as well) he felt the need to call in the firemen so he quickly grabbed his cell phone, leaned up against the cupboard and proceeded to fill them in on the problem.  He was 3 when this picture was taken.  My granddaughter is masterful with a digital camera, an i-pad and a cell phone.  Yesterday I had face time with my 5 month old grandson who is in Toronto for a couple of weeks.  Each day I check my What's App so that I stay in touch with a wonderful group of women from all over North America.  We met at a yoga retreat in Costa Rica a few weeks ago.  They support my practice daily from far, far away.  My schedule syncs from my i-pad to my phone and I checked my i-phone notes yesterday to see how many square feet of tile I needed to pick up for my backsplash.  I read deep into the wee hours of the night on my i-books app.  I love technology!
The picture of my grandson tells only a little of the story that technology plays in the world of our children.  I watched a news story a few days ago discussing the merits of technology in the classroom and the announcer stated, "it is the future of our children".  My son, an educator and a techy-type guy, was agitated enough by the comment to look up from his i-pad and respond with, "It is NOT the future!  It is the PRESENT!".  He is right. And herein lies part of the problem.  Some of the people making educational decisions, some of the people teaching in our classrooms, some people in the media and some people who discuss children and technology do not understand that NOW is the future.  Our children are immersed in technology and yet many schools still ban these powerful tools from our classrooms.
And then there are the others.  Those that enhance their own educational development and that of their students by CAREFULLY and strategically using the tools at their disposal.  I loved the article on Kent Elementary's website telling us about Mrs. Garrioch's kindergarten class sharing their Lego creations with an Abbotsford school on a site called Skype Play.  The article acknowledges that making this tool useful has taken time and experimentation.  I also loved it that the Abbotsford students wanted to know when they could "really" play with the kids from Kent.  Technology does not interfere with real-life interaction in this case, but actually enhances it. Kent Elementary School in Agassiz, B.C. is full of technology innovators from the teaching staff  to the administration to support staff and most importantly, through the students.  A couple of years ago a student created a stunning video on Judge Begbie, the hanging judge.  The video was an animated Lego production and was presented as a "real" movie with credits rolling, a musical score and a wonderfully informed narration.  It was truly amazing, particularly for a 10 year old!  There were also many cool poster-board demonstrations.  The point is that the boy who did the video would not have been inspired by the poster boards and the students who did the poster boards may not have enjoyed completing the video.  In this case technology helped engage a student who otherwise may not have made the most of this particular learning experience.
And then there are the others.  I worked in a school where there was a "no personal technology" rule for all classrooms.  In the hallways these students were constantly texting, surfing the web, talking to friends, reading reminders, checking their schedules and sometimes even ordering lunch.  At lunch time they helped  me learn how to use my new i-phone.  ("No, Mrs. Watson!  You don't need to google mapquest, you can use the icon on your phone."  "Mrs. Watson, you don't need to keep bringing  your camera to school.  Use your phone camera and then e-mail the pics to yourself so you can print them!).   I learned something new every day from those students.  I hope they can say the same!  And then they went to class.  I worked with a colleague (who had come from Kent Elementary).  She was a young teacher, full of enthusiasm, full of ideas, full of innovative ways to engage those challenging middle school students.  She tried speaking with the administration about setting aside the "rule" in her classroom as she had no computers available for student use.  It was a foods class and the students used their cellphones to convert recipes from standard measurement to metric.  They used their cellphones to find how to substitute ingredients in recipes to make them healthier.  They used their cellphones to take pictures of their creations.  Their teacher was disciplined for not following the "rule".  Sad really.
I know I am by-passing the challenges that come with tecnhology in the classroom, particularly in a middle or high school setting, and there are many.  I think those challenges are worth taking on though and if people are willing there are answers to these challenges.  It's not a new concept this overcoming of challenges.  In fact, Abraham Lincoln spoke of it it 1862.   "The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew."
While I believe these two schools are at opposite ends of the spectrum on their approach to technology I do acknowledge that the spectrum is large and varied.  We think of technology as computers, in today's world it is so much more.  Many schools expose students to technology through programs  (graphic design, drafting, photography/editing, computer programming, robotics etc.)  Many engage the technology to enhance student presentations, to make them more interesting and more challenging.  Many find ways to present their own teacher material in more interesting ways as well.  Educators who are willing have unlimited technology resources at their fingertips.
While I am retired I am still very interested in education.  I follow a few blogs, read many articles online and love it when I am included in educational discussions.  There is a new breed of leaders out there and they are using technology to inform each other, learn from each other, challenge each others' thinking and support each other.  Their ideas are big ones.  Their "learning community" is unlimited.  The voices that speak come from different cultures, different communities, different levels of experience and different-minded thinkers.  They are richly diverse and incredibly inspiring.
Technology isn't part of our childrens' futures, it is their NOW.  Kudos to those educational leaders who have enriched their own learning through technology and more importantly, have found ways to enrich our childrens' learning as well. 
Meet Annie, The Girl Who Could Fly.  Yes, it's an ad for Dell Computers but it's also amazing!


  1. Well said Roxanne! This post yet again shows that true learners continue to grow and always question the way things are done. We have a long way to go at Kent but I believe our philosophy around using tech to enhance learning will push us on. It is impossible and silly to attempt to ban devices - having said this, we, as educators, must work to understand how we can use these devices to enhance the learning experience for our students.

    If we keep our heads in the sand, students will teach each other how to use tech and I have real concerns with this. They will likely miss out on how they can use tech to enhance their formal and informal learning experiences. You always said - meet kids where they are. They have tech, meet them there and guide them to use it effectively. By doing this, not only will their learning experience be enhanced but so will ours.

    Thanks again for modeling as a lead learner.

  2. Thanks Chris! I understand the challenges at middle school and high school and I'm not trying to minimize them. I would say the two main concerns I have heard are; cheating, and improper use of social media (ie. taking pics and sharing inappropriately). I don't have the answers and I believe any "answers" that are found will need to change and adapt as the kids change and adapt with them. In the case of "cheating" I think perhaps educators should maybe re-think the purpose of many assignments (is it for short-term memorization or long-term learning?) and the purpose of assessment. I believe kids would only "cheat" to improve their grade and we're now back at the really BIG question - can we motiate students to learn for the sake of learning rather than for the sake of the grade. Complicated issues for sure. Still, "keeping heads in the sand" never solved anything. Better a messy process than no process at all. Thanks for giving me a voice!

  3. Thank you for your blog. I always love reading it. I can't believe it has been 10 years since I developed e portfolios with my students. They learned so much from the process and the technology allowed them to demonstrate their knowledge in a different way. Now we have smart boards, i pads, i phones, etc. and the computers can do so much more. I often wonder what the future will bring.

    1. Fran,there is a common misconception out there (I believe)that those "old" teachers need to get with the program. My experience though shows me over and over that those "old" teachers are more often than not the ones piloting new programs and new technology. You were WAY ahead of the times with your e-portfolios both with the use of portfolios and with the use of technology. You were always spurring us on and continue to be an inspiration to me! Thanks for reading!

  4. That's an adorable picture - Love the cupboard lean... When Finlay plays 'phone' she doesn't put the phone to her ear but talks at it with the screen facing her.

    We visited my sister,Heather, in Toronto when Finlay was 6 months. Heather, had only visited Finlay when she was first born but we Skyped regularly. When Heather picked us up at the airport Finlay already knew her Aunty and reached out to be with her. We use Skype or Facetime almost everyday to talk to faraway and nearby Aunts, Uncles, Papas and Omas. Technology has enriched our lives and relationships here at home just like it can in the classroom. Can't wait to get back at it and that you will still be 'just down the hall' in the techie sense!