My 13 year old cousin spent the weekend at my house. He is an above average student with a 4.0 GPA, and great thirst for knowledge. If it has been taught in his classroom then he knows it. There is no way this kid is missing any content being delivered via the lecture.
I asked if he wanted to get on the computer and he said, “Yeah, I need to work on my project about the elements. Mine is Boron.” OK I thought, because I am that person always trying to push the latest technology onto someone, I begin questioning him.
Q: “What are you going to use?”
A: “Microsoft Word.”
Q: “Do you know what Google Documents is?”
A: “Google What?”
I consulted two Twitter colleagues of mine, @ssjenk6 and @kyteacher, because they work in the same district where he goes to school, to determine if Google Docs would indeed be unblocked. Good. Now we can move forward. I proceeded to show him all the features that go along with having a Google account, Gmail, Calendar, Docs, iGoogle, Books, etc.
About an hour later, we begin to focus on Google Docs, because that is what was going to be most beneficial to him. While I was teaching him how he could share the document with me and I could proofread it or collaborate on it with him, I was also continuing my conversation with @ssjen6 and @kyteacher in another tab via Twitter. That just totally blew him away. I provided a real life scenario that I had where I have been collaborating on a document with other PE teachers. I shared with him that he could work on it at school, then at home, and anywhere else he might go with internet access. He told me thats great because he cannot save at school so he really has to rush to complete work some days.
So we proceeded to start on the research. Google. Wikipedia. Google Scholar. Google Books. Then we used the “Show Options” link while searching with Google. We drilled down Boron videos, Boron images, blogs that mentioned Boron, discussions that included Boron, etc. We did not have the assignment for his project, but we were able to identify several resources and leads (links) that we added to his Google Doc so he could refer to it when he works on it again. While we used those tools to research I taught him how to filter information. I taught him how to use Google and quotations and key terms to limit your search totals.
He told me what I have heard several times from teachers and principals, “We are not allowed to use Wikipedia because it is not a good source.” I would really like to know if any teacher who has ever said that has actually went to the website. So I give a lesson on how Wikipedia is likely not going to be cited in your research but it is a starting point and often times you will find sources on Wikipedia that you will be able to cite. I also taught him how an entry is developed and the criteria someone must follow to create an entry. Then I taught him which entries might be less reliable because of lesser popularity. His enthusiasm for learning the new tools is confirmed we he says, “I wish I would have known this along time ago, it would have made all my other projects so much easier.” Yeah. I agreed. “It probably beats the outdated stack of books that the teacher has laid out on a library table doesn’t it?
I am certainly not knocking his school, or teacher. I am not sure if it is at the state or national level, but I do know that students at the school and district that I work learn the same exact things. In JCPS (Jefferson County Public Schools), we call them CASA skills, (Computer Application Skills). Entire classes are dedicated to Microsoft Office. How to insert a hanging indent, how to double space and insert a page break, yep, they are all in there too. In fact, just click on the help menu in any Microsoft Office Application and you basically get a tutorial on the educational technology classes that I have witnessed in the school systems.
All the while, kids are using social media in unsafe ways and placing themselves in harms way. School systems invest large resources in heavily censoring the internet, so that, heavin forbid a kid does not look at pornography, or get exposed to myspace while at school. But while they are at home, they turn their head and deflect the responsibility towards the parents. Has anyone been on Myspace lately and looked at the pictures kids are posting, or the indecency of which how they talk. Is it not likely that there actions now, while they are young and naive, will have later ramifications that might effect there ability to be successful down the road.
My contention is that technology classes today are basically identical to those that I took when I was in high school. What has changed, though, is the technology. The social web is so much more powerful. The opportunities for students to develop personal learning networks in positive ways exist, yet, school systems are either too archaic to realize this or just to afraid of the threat of lawsuit, that they just hide.
I have witnessed individuals who are technology leaders in their school and the are cutting edge because they include sound effects in their Power Point presentations. Some teachers take a class on the new web 2.0 technologies and by the time the become familiar the technology has already involved.
To me, when dealing with new technology, students need to be taught how to teach themselves with the new tools that technology provide.
I must say that the National Education Technology Plan 2010 has me optimistic. I admit I skimmed, but I did see words like network, collaboration, connectivity, and creative. The whole thing is 114 pages long.