SCUSD Observer

Sacramento, California

Archive for the ‘Instruction’ Category

What does a well done use of technology in education look like?

There are a whole lot of terms used to describe how technology is used in education: technology integration, embedded technology, technology infused. I’m not going to explain the hair splitting definitions that separate each of these different terms. Here are some basic “rules of thumb” for effective use of technology in education.

  1. Having students “creating” on computers (writing, making multimedia, etc.) is much more powerful than just consuming (staring at a screen and answering questions);
  2. The students should be able to have a chance to manipulate the data/materials, not just the teacher;
  3. While test prep is easier to do on computers, if that’s all that they are used for you are missing out on a lot of the potential.

Here are some examples of how this looks in practice.

Creating vs. Consuming

Larry Ferlazzo teaches at Luther Burbank, the largest inner-city (high poverty, high language learner) high school in Sacramento City Unified School District. He started using online tools to help teach students that included a large wave of Hmong immigrants, who had no formal schooling prior to going to coming to Sacramento. His work is internationally recognized, and he was the Grand prize winner of the 2007 International Reading Association Presidential Award for Reading and Technology. He uses online tools with students so they can practice speaking, and interact with each other. Remember all those dialogues you had to do with fellow students in French/Spanish class? He’s taken a lot of that work online. The advantage? Students can practice, redo it when they think it can be improved, and save it to share with others. Here is what he calls, The Best Online Examples Of My Students’ Work.

I use tools like VoiceThread to help students develop thinking about concepts and vocabulary. Here is an example that was created over time as students did a unit on Friendship.

For examples outside our district, I’m going to point to the films made by Mathew Needleman in Los Angeles Unified. He has students create films on their unit themes and has found that this increases students longer term retention of vocabulary. In other words, the kids remember what they learned longer, than just doing worksheets. His work can be found at Video in the Classroom.

Using technology to share teaching with students

Interactive white boards are the new big thing. Some schools in our district that have used site-based funds to purchase them have claimed test-score gains. I don’t know how they are being used at these sites, but a general complaint outside SCUSD about them is that they are used simply as a means for teachers to deliver lectures with a bit more “pizzazz”, and are really not involving students in their learning. I’ll get to why I can’t claim first hand knowledge on this subject about district schools of this in my last post on this subject, but you may ask, why is it important for students to “participate”? They learn more, for example Mathew’s finding that students had better vocabulary knowledge retention when they made films rather than doing worksheets. What does this look like? Here is a video of students in my lab working with a Smart Board showing one way to get students in the drivers seat.

My son goes to school in Natomas. One day, Leroy wanted to learn how to knot a tie. The next day he insisted that he wear a tie to school. A couple weeks later I was meeting with his teacher for a parent conference. She talked about the InterWrite board she was trying out, and how Leroy had “taught” a science lesson using it one day, and had even worn a tie. That’s motivation that you can’t get from kids if they are just watching the teacher use the tool.

More than a means of doing test prep

Quizzing, testing, and assessing students is a lot easier online, especially if it is multiple choice answers. The scoring, and analysis is right there for you to look at. This saves time for teachers, but it’s not teaching students to use technology, but more like the technology is using them. They should be doing more than that. When I have students write on blogs, and then read each others work and comment, and read blogs from other classrooms, I’m lowering the walls of their world and not just having them do what the machine tells them to do.


Written by alicemercer

April 19, 2010 at 4:04 pm

Education Technology in the classroom: What should it look like?

My name is Alice Mercer, and I am an ed tech blogger (I blog about education technology). I am an educator and a computer and technology teacher at an elementary school in Sacramento City Unified School District. In addition, all of my teaching experience both in the lab and out, has been in high poverty schools. I believe in the power of technology to change education, but I also believe that if we are really going to change education, all students need to create and not just consume their education. If we can’t make it work with poor and minority children, we won’t really change how we are teaching, but if it can work where I teach, it can work anywhere.

Technology is one of the “new” and trendy things to talk about in education, but what does it mean? First, just knowing your way around a computer and the Internet doesn’t mean you’re ready to teach technology. Effective use of technology is more important than the technology itself. Why is this? Let me give an example. I have a dad who is super smart, and was a math wiz. He would sometimes attempt to “help” me with math, but all his smarts did not make him a great tutor for me. Ideally, we should be using technology to make a lesson richer, more effective, and more enticing for students. Getting to that point requires learning, time, and most importantly, support.

Next, you need to know not all technology is the same, and how it is used is where the real differences come out. Some people approach “learning” to use a computer as though it is like “learning” typing. Although there are skills involved in learning technology, the potential uses are much richer, and more complex than how one can use a typewriter. A mechanistic approach will not have students making use of the true potential for making learning more effective. There is a tendency to simply transfer tasks, and lessons that used to be done with paper, pencil, and blackboards, to computers. While this can give you improvements in terms of management and administration (like automated grading), it will make little or no change to instruction. How does this play out in the classroom? My son would refer to computer lab time as going to the “Tungsten” lab. In many schools, students think the lab is only for doing Accelerated Reader and Orchard test prep, and teachers who get interactive white boards use them simply as a more glitzy way to deliver a lecture instead of involving students in learning.

Last, how computers are used in education has a very strong class and race bias, that keeps poor and minority students from realizing the potential of this tool. One of the best explanations of this comes from Towards Digital Equity by Gwen Solomon and Nancy Allen, which is essentially, poor students are told what to do by computers (they are much more likely to spend all of their time on school computers doing test prep), while more well off students learn to tell the computer what to do. The second group of students is being prepared to become programmers, or analysts, while first is being prepared to operate POS (Point of Sale) machines at WalMart. Those kids are part of a future job market that will help support you in your Social Security years, if that’s not a disturbing thought I don’t know what else I can say.

Written by alicemercer

April 18, 2010 at 6:51 pm