Wednesday, February 19, 2014

on teaching, technology, and baseball

Our school is in the process of implementing a one-to-one computer program for our students.  We started with just the 8th grade, but the second year we added 9-12 and now the 7th grade teachers are pushing to be added to the mix. 

There are obvious challenges, from ensuring student supervision, to using technology effectively and appropriately, to implementing online textbooks and homework. 

One thing is clear to everyone involved in the process.  Technology is a lot more challenging for the teachers than it is for the students. 

I think it would be easy to dismiss this graphic shown here as a joke, to laugh at the teachers and move on.  But if we want to be successful, if we want to foster true growth in our school communities, we'd better start to understand WHY this graphic contains seeds of truth.

A lot of us got into the profession because we were passionate about our disciplines, teaching, or helping children.  Doing our jobs well was the initial focus, one that consumed our days and evenings in the early years, turning short school days into 60 hour weeks.  We didn't mind.  Learning to become a good teacher was fun.  And a lot of us got good at what we did.  We mastered our content and created compelling and innovative lessons. 

But at some point learning became work and technology that was supposed to make everything better became just one more thing to learn.  What made us good at teaching 20 years ago doesn't seem to be worth much any more, and the challenge for experienced teachers is that expectations and children have changed.  It turns out that today's students, weaned on technology, don't learn the same way.  New teachers, more familiar with technology, adapt lessons quickly and deliver content effectively using these new tools.  Teachers that do not find technology intuitive are discovering that their abilities and expertise are increasingly under fire.  

For example, calculus hasn't changed much since 1680.  I have been teaching calculus on and off since 1990, first with no calculators, then with graphing calculators, then with computers, and now with online texts and homework.  I still have the same notes I made in 1990.  I've tweaked them a bit, but they're in a beat up binder that I've kept for 20 years.  I mastered the content years ago, but every year I must reevaluate my delivery.

I use plenty of technology in my classroom from state-of-the-art Nspire calculators and digital textbooks, to the latest in online study tools such as quizlet, padlet, socrative, prezi, but students tell me every year that their favorite lesson is the one where we create 3-dimensional models with play-dough.  There's no technology, just trial and error.  Could I do it better?  Maybe.  Could I do it with technology?  Definitely.   Should I change this lesson?  I think about it every year, and I'm still not sure. 

What we need to understand is the fact that technology asks teachers to change a proven lesson for something unknown.  It's a lot like baseball.  Most teachers can hit a single most days, use a proven, consistent lesson that will do the job pretty well.  Using technology is more like swinging for the fences.  Hitting homers takes a lot of training and practice. 

When kids play with technology, a strikeout is just part of the learning process.  They get to hit again because they're only playing for themselves.  But when teachers strike out, they're not the only ones that lose.  Our kids are on the line, and it's not really a game anymore.   

Maybe the key to getting teachers to try new technology is convincing them that they don't have to hit a home run every time to be awesome, but settling for singles is not enough.


  1. It all starts within. Like Gandhi wrote Be the change. Teachers see what you are doing in the classroom, those that want to will follow suit. Best of luck to all reading this, I know it is difficult to add new things to your comfortable lessons. Just remember those teachers that are willing to take chances are the one that the kids remember fondly 20 years down the road.


    1. The model of sage on the stage is also becoming increasingly less important as our entire culture becomes ever more collaborative. Teachers simply must work together, share, ideas, and allow themselves to be less-than-perfect in order to improve their effectiveness. This is definitely a challenge.

      I appreciate your positive thoughts and encouragement. Thanks for stopping by, Eric.