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Leadership and Activism, Learning at its Best, Philosophical Meanderings, School Stories, Student Voices

Making It Real…and Making a Difference!

Why did any of us go into education? I would suspect that for many of us it was all about making a difference in the world…the thought of making learning irresistible to kids and having the opportunity to change a life through inciting a love of learning certainly enticed me to the field. I’m in my 38th year of working with kids–and I realized how long that is when I was reading @RyanBretag‘s blog this morning and his bio says he’s been in education for 10 years. (I think I’ve probably been teaching longer than he’s been alive!) With his wisdom, I would have thought he had taught much longer. This morning, I was reading/learning about transliteracy from his blog while also having a conversation with @wcarozza. Bill tweeted

And I remembered a time when my 5th graders were reading Among the Hidden, a dystopian novel set in America’s future when third children are forbidden by law. As I told Bill on Twitter, one of my kids spoke up, saying that’s why he and his family were in America–he was that forbidden second child from China. Yes, Bill, it was a powerful lesson! My kids looked at the story differently as they read, they wondered about author’s purpose and where the author gets ideas for books differently, and they, as Bill noted, “gained a powerful sense of another culture” without me having to Skype someone in to help them get that understanding! Bill then went on to say:

So, I think BIll made two important points this morning in a short exchange, while I was learning from Ryan’s blogs and thinking about transliteracy and what my teachers understand about it, and thinking how I can broaden not only the thinking of my kids, but also my staff. One point he made was that our learning has to center around understanding each other and connecting with various cultures in ways that matter. Secondly, and this is definitely connected, we tend to jump to gadgets when we have resources that support the lesson just as powerfully. We don’t necessarily need those gadgets to get kids to think in powerful ways. Live lessons are–or can be–as influential as a Skype session with another country.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t Skype with other countries, nor am I saying technology is unnecessary. But what transliteracy means to me is that we know how and when to use a variety of tools to make sense of our world and contribute to it. It’s not about using Skype to say you did it, or playing with QR codes to be the QR queen in your school, or blogging to fulfill the teacher’s writing requirements. It’s about using technology as a tool in your arsenal of teaching and learning to make a difference.

I watched on Twitter this morning as @beckyfisher73 became Ryan’s “child’s Christmas wish savior – I’m blessed to have her in my life! Thank you, @beckyfisher73 #ChristmasMagic #blessing because Becky used the right tools to help Ryan locate a toy he needed desperately to fulfill his kid’s Christmas list. She knew how and where to look, and how to give Ryan the info he needed to find the toy. Could that have been done face to face? Maybe by somebody in Ryan’s life, but not by these two–they are in different states. Technology allowed Becky and Ryan to communicate to make a difference in 3 year old Finn’s Christmas morning.

On the other hand, I often cite a project I did with kids about the displacement of people from the Blue Ridge Mountains when the Skyline Drive was being built. I share Sarah’s understanding at the end of it:

Now, since ThinkQuest is coming to an end, I think I have figured out what I think of the park. The Park has brought a lot of money into my state, Virginia. But it also left 460 families without a home. The Park did something wrong to do something right. It wasn’t black or white, right or wrong. It was shades of gray. ThinkQuest has made me think for myself. Now I don’t think what other people want me to think, I sort it out myself.

See her full explanation here.

Her statement tells me clearly that what we did made a difference in the ways she thinks about her world. However, most of it was face to face–we had the author of our historical fiction book visit our school. We visited some UVA ethnographers to get their viewpoint. We then visited one of the very first park rangers (who was 82) to get his viewpoint. MOST of what we did was face to face or from books….but it changed her life.

And then there’s William, who used technology every day at lunch in my room when he was in fifth grade.  He wrote me a note at the end of the year saying, (among other things)

Thank you for answering the questions that I had and helping me think of new questions. Thank you for taking me to things like meetings. Thank you for telling me what’s going on so that I know what’s happening and not treating me like a normal student, instead you talk about things that a normal homeroom teacher wouldn’t.

Thank you for making this year the best year of my life.

Or NIcolas… or Noa…or India…or many other kids I have known over the years who know that they changed in my class, or while they were in elementary school, or during a certain project. Sometimes it was due to technology experiences, where they began to see the potential of the tool. Sometimes it was in a situation where they got caught in some conflict between what they knew and what they were learning…but ALWAYS it was in the context of the community of our classroom (or school), in the context of working with others and learning about themselves in the process.

Learning is, as Bill Carozza stated, about the live lessons in our midst–because no matter what we do with technology–or what we don’t do with technology-students learn skills from the experiences we provide them.  Thus, it is our job, our duty, our obligation to provide them the tools they need to survive–and thrive–in their world. That includes giving them the tools they need to be someone else’s Christmas elf someday–and that may mean using technology!

So, let’s be thoughtful and find the time to discuss what’s really crucial about technology in schools, or how it supports–or causes–new ways of thinking, or how it changes the way we think, synthesize and create. We simply have to find the time to talk about when it’s critical to use, and when it’s simply an add-on–and make our lessons and our students’ learning about the live moment–and making sure all of our students leave us being transliterate-with the “ability to read, write and interact across a range of platforms, tools and media.” That includes digital networks but also face to face learning. Let’s not forget that.

What happens in our classroom is (hopefully) a microcosm of what we want to have happen in the real world–it’s about face to face as well as technology…it’s about understanding how the real world works, and how we can leverage technology to support us–but it doesn’t have to take over our world. Students need a range of tools and abilities, and they need to learn them in real contexts whenever possible…so Skype, blogs, wikis, and other web tools are necessary and useful in the classroom as well as in real life–let’s just use them in real ways in live moments of learning. 

About Paula White

grandma, teacher, Apple Distinguished Educator (ADE), DEN STAR, Google Certified Teacher, camper, Gifted Resource Tchr, NETS*T certified, lover of learning


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