The digital natives filling our classrooms are not as native as some think and teachers need to remember this when introducing new technology tools.
Students born during or after the digital age are considered a "Digital Native". This title seems to carry certain assumptions:
Rather than being simply a new generation of learners, we consider them a whole new species.
The frustration arrives in the classroom when the teacher decides to integrate a new technology tool and simply throws it at the children. It is a disastrous failure. The objective of the lesson is not achieved and the teacher is completely stressed out by the end of the lesson. Even a substitutional use of technology requires a little more preparation than some teachers think it does.
In a recent article on EdSurge, students pushed back on some of the assumptions about digital natives, stating that they are not as tech savvy as educators assume. In my experience, I would completely agree. Children do not just pick up a device or open a piece of software and just know how to use it. Children are more fearless in their exploration and willingness to try new things in general, but this doesn't mean they are savvy by default. I would argue that using technology, like a great many other things in life, doesn't come naturally to anyone. We all have to learn how to use it...and as technology evolves, continue to work at it!
It takes time to save time
The old saying goes "you have to spend money to make money". A similar principle applies with the use of technology. You need to spend some time educating the children to use it before you can reap the benefits of its application in the classroom. Technology is a tool and like any tool, a little "how to" can go a long way.
An example might be as simple as a teacher wanting to get students to word process a narrative they have written. You could consider:
One of the common arguments I hear, is that there simply isn't time to teach all that to students while trying to also cover an increasingly demanding curriculum. I find that easy to understand, but will argue that an investment in these few lessons can continue to pay off for the remainder of the school year. Consider also the options of modelling during teaching, setting up older buddies or teaching a couple of student champions, who can the tutor their peers.
Another argument is that there is no point teaching devices and software that will be obsolete in a few years time. While technology is evolving rapidly, learning the ropes within a certain interface or on a certain device is not a waste of time. Many concepts are transferrable between interfaces. Icons and symbols, even simple processes remain consistent - even in augmented reality platforms! These experiences gradually build digital literacy, understanding about computational processes and develop knowledge of digital symbolism.
It's always pedagodgy first, technology second
Integrating technology into learning is something I encourage all teachers to be doing, but I must stress that teachers need to be mindful of how it is being implemented and if they are setting students up to succeed. Technology can bring the "wow" factor into lessons and can be the key to engaging our 21st Century learners. It can also be incredibly time consuming and cause a lot of teacher distress.
Keep the following questions in mind when thinking about introducing a new technology tool in the classroom:
To avoid some of the most common pitfalls when using new technology tools:
Technology is not always easy to implement in the classroom, but it is worth the effort. Things don’t always go to plan and that's okay. Reflect, adjust and persist. It's part of the journey and it's an exciting one to be on.
The purpose of report cards
Communication about a student's development between schools and parents is essential. This is why we have report cards. Tracking student ability against a set of common developmental standards is equally important. The reality is that many report cards, particularly A-E grading styles, fall short of meeting their objective for a couple of reasons. The first is misconceptions about what those letters mean. Parents often base their understanding on their own school experience. Anything less than an A is not good enough.
In the Australian curriculum, the achievement standard is a C level, so getting a C means they are meeting the expectation. In my experience, this is not always an easy feat - it's an ambitious curriculum. The second hurdle is the educational jargon used in reporting descriptors. Often pulled straight from the curriculum content descriptor, which educators themselves struggle to apprehend at times, these words are often like another language to parents.
Could badges be the answer?
The question running through my mind is if there is actually a need to be ranking how well students are achieving something with a grade that can be highly subjective and carries understanding of a bygone era in education. Or should we instead be acknowledging each step forward as an achievement and as part of a continuous learning journey. Would a parent like to be told that little Sally can count in two to twenty or told Sally achieved a C in Number Concepts for the school semester? Similarly, would it even be that meaningful if a parent was told that Sally got a C in counting in two to twenty? What does she have to do to get a B? Stand on her head while doing it?
While there are some skills and knowledge sets that lend themselves to a black and white achievement, I can see an argument that this approach creates a finish line or would not allow for more complex application of skills. Instead, if you look at it more like a stepping stone leading to the next achievement, the potential for open ended achievement could be almost limitless.
Badges are nothing new
Recognising achievement with badges is not a new concept. Scouts, military and police utilise them. The concept of "leveling up" is not one wasted on anyone born from the 80's onwards. It's motivating. Imagine being a student getting awarded for what you can do instead of being told you cant do something well enough to get a certain grade. Imagine seeing the list of things you can do grow and grow, instead of lurching through your school years always feeling like you're not good enough. Naturally this may not be felt by those at the top of the academic ladder, but imagine the impact it could have on the lower or even mid-range achievers!
Minus the subjectivity
No matter how well your rubrics are generated or how consistent your moderation process is, there is always going to be a level of subjectivity in grading achievement. The good news in breaking down standards to mico-credentials can make it more black and white - you either got it, or you don't.....yet! The concept of not having something yet is popular among Growth Mindset advocates and Carol Dweck, leading researcher in the field of motivation and how to foster success. If badges were designed in a linear way, traversing grades, students wouldn't have just a year to achieve a badge, but could have continuous opportunities to achieve them. Similarly, students working beyond the achievement standard could be earning future badges.
Time saving and continuous
The need to report at certain times of the year dictates the timing of assessment, regardless of whether the students are actually ready for it. Most teachers will agree that generating assessment items, marking and collating data for reports takes weeks of a school term. Would this not be better used for learning? In a system where badges can be awarded as students demonstrate knowledge or skills, time spent conducting formal assessment could be given back to learning. A report could be generated at any time by producing a list of the student achieved credentials to date.
Our present reporting structures make it very difficult to report on the skills that are considered valuable to 21st Century learners. How do we put a grade against innovation? Creativity? Collaboration? Critical thinking? Instead, teachers could award a badge when they see evidence of it. An accumulation of badges could result in gold, silver or bronze badges in these areas. The potential in this space is exciting. Consider the other non-curriculum skills that could be awarded badges. Parents would be pleased to know when their child receives a badge in citizenship, resilience or self-regulation.
Our hands are tied...
Unfortunately, me getting up on my soapbox is not going to then cause a lot of schools to look at report cards and start reporting on student achievement using micro-credentials and badges. In Australia, our hands are tied. The National Education Agreement states that we must report against a five point scale.
Despite this roadblock, teachers can still try out badges in the classroom. Many LMS platforms allow teachers to generate and award their own badges. Making them specific to curriculum objectives may help students connect with their learning and see the road ahead.
After years of being #notatISTE and staying up through the night to watch the live broadcasts in the middle of the Aussie winter (which does get pretty cold), I finally got my chance to attend the world renowned conference. It was as if Christmas had come early when my school handed me my ticket to Texas.
What's it like for a first time ISTE attendee? Did I think it is worth the almost 20 hours of travel there and back - not to mention the jet lag! What did I find interesting? Most importantly, would I go again?
Posters, Playgrounds and Panels - oh my!
Rapid Fire Learning
...and don't forget the Expo hall!
The expo hall is where companies come to showcase their latest and greatest. It's a dazzling display of everything that is exciting and there is plenty to see. Some make their ISTE mission about collecting swag, which there is plenty of. For those with luggage restrictions it wasn't a high priority - but I did get my fair share! In my three conference days, I cannot say that I saw everything. On the final day, I found myself dashing madly around the maze of displays looking for specific vendors. Entering the expo hall is similar to getting sucked into a time warp. A lot of the larger vendors offer their own sessions, so you can take a seat and very quickly loose track of time.
ISTE knows how to run a conference! They are organised and I cannot fault their communication about the event. For a first time ISTE attendee I felt like I was provided with enough information to enjoy the conference and find my way around. Downloading the app is high on my list of essentials, followed closely by wearing comfy shoes!
The really satisfying thing about this conference was that is was powered by teachers. The most engaging speakers and people who made this event worth coming to, were the people who are walking the walk out there in the real world. The real value of this conference comes from the connections you make and the conversations you have with others.
I think the important thing to remember is that you can't do it all. Plan ahead and build an experience based on your interests and needs. There is something for everyone and the conference makes an effort to provide a variety of ways to engage.
Do I want to go to Chicago next year? You bet! Fingers crossed.
Read all about my thoughts on teaching in the 21st Century, my experiences with technology in the classroom, running a Maker Space, launching STEAM and Design Thinking with students, coding, robotics and much more!
Click the button below: