I refuse to believe that kids should simply tolerate math**. I refuse the idea that math as a pursuit is so trivial and uninteresting that we have to spice it up by adding systemic, extrinsic motivational gadgetry to help kids stomach it (see my favorite post on gamification by Bill Ferriter). Math is the study of patterns, a beautiful, perplexing, engaging task on it’s own, that we manage to stifle on a systemic level by reducing it to trivial tasks of memorization, regurgitation, and pseudocontext.
Please don’t misunderstand me; I’m not against games, nor occasional extrinsic motivation. I will not, however, accept that we’re ready to throw up our hands and concede that the subjects that hold our passion are not worth the attempt to instill that same excitement in our students. So I am against the systemic marginalization of our passions for pursuits like gamification or edtech for edtech’s sake.
I refuse to believe that we need edtech, generally, to engage students. I have seen plenty of engaging lessons with the absence of technology. I’ve seen Ellis Island simulations where students take part in sorting, waiting, and deportation, a powerful experience to help students wrap their minds around something typically far outside their realm of possibility. I’ve seen students compare and contrast cultures by visiting different ethnic marketplaces and reflecting on the practices of the shopkeepers as they try to bring good fortune on their stores. I’ve seen students debate passionately about important topics that they can work to address. I’ve seen students literally cheer in physics class. They didn’t need to augment their reality in the app store.
That said, there are a lot of great ways to enhance education with technology as well. Take, for example, the video my student made two years ago about how an Ocarina works. She could have written a paper about it, but the video reaches a larger audience as well as communicates her learning more effectively. And that’s exactly my point; the learning in the video is what makes it the most awesome; the video simply serves to enhance that.
There’s the rub; use edtech, but use it wisely. If you can’t communicate the purpose in learning behind your use of edtech, then I question it’s use.
I have had my share of poor edtech decisions. I once did a research project on forces using collaborative Google Docs, where kids learned about how to use docs but nothing about forces. I’m not perfect. But I did learn from that experience, and after realizing that the project didn’t help students gain any real understanding, I ditched it.
On the note of lesson design, I am not satisfied with simplifying the complexities of teaching to where it falls on the SAMR scale. Teaching is nuanced, fluid, and has a ton of moving parts, and we’d be better off embracing that than cheapening it with a stamp of ‘modification.’
I am not satisfied with degrading the student experience of learning by sugar coating it with edtech. I believe students are adventuresome, energetic, and truly want to learn. We just need to harness that energy on a systemic scale. We can certainly harness the power of technology to do so, but it should carry the banner of learning in doing so.
This post was written because I tend to be a dissenting voice in many discussions, and recently I’ve gotten a bit of pushback about that (one example of a few). But I refuse to be satisfied with band aid solutions when a transplant is needed for the real chance of survival (or better yet, the real chance to thrive). I’m very pleased that my district is looking big picture at how we teach and how students learn first, then looking at how technology can support that. I do think, however, that the edtech community needs to acknowledge that the focus must shift in a real way towards learning as the first priority. We may say learning first, but if we then push the use of the next big app, that message is lost in translation.
I am not satisfied with how my class went this year, nor will I be for next year. But I will continually seek improvement, and will do so in the name of student learning. That’s all I ask of anyone.
**insert class of your choosing here.