Sunday, November 8, 2009

Turning on the Lights

Prensky's article, Turning on the Lights, fulfilled every writer's goal of provoking the reader to think. At least it provoked this reader to think. Reflecting on the following questions helped me to fine-tune my thinking around Prensky's approach to the subject of integrating kids' outside use of technology inside the school.
  • Do you agree with Prensky's notion that requiring students to "power down" in school actually impedes their learning? How might allowing students to use technological devices in class help or hinder their learning?
First and foremost, I believe that the key to student engagement is meaningful content. If the student has no meaningful connection to the subject matter, he/she is unlikely to embrace it. "How am I ever going to use this?", isn't just a question elicited by a boring Trigonometry class. Even our youngest students benefit from having a schema connection to the subject matter, helping them develop a meaningful connection from that which they know to that which they don't yet know. Whenever something can be related to the self, it is inherently more interesting. The place where I see "powering down" in the classroom as an impediment to learning is in the severing of that schema connection. When approaching something that initially holds no real meaning for the student, perhaps the mode of interaction with that subject may be the only thing that connects it to the student. If there is a way that technological devices used outside the classroom help bridge the gap and create connections for the students to access material inside the classroom, then there is greater meaning in the subject matter for that student.
  • What place do you see in the classroom for laptops, cell phones, mp3 players, social networking sites, Wikipedia, and other technologies?
Though my mind went immediately to the middle and high school age student when first pondering this question, that is not where my own connection lies, so I thought it through again in relation to the elementary school aged child - MY little peeps. Though some of these devices don't readily apply to the younger child, the general principal of what I stated earlier still does. If a technological device used outside of the classroom helps create a connection to the subject matter in the classroom, then it may very well have a place there. I see this coming into play most readily with students' writing. What to write about is the biggest challenge for many of my students. Though we may cringe when a student shares about "reaching level 12" on such and such a video game over the weekend because WE would have preferred that he was out playing soccer, we've severed a meaningful connection for that student by dis-allowing it. What might happen if we allowed occasional blocks for "tech devices" in the classroom? Little folks need things concrete and tangible. How better to elicit rich word choice for describing your game character than to write about him while you're playing the game? How better to describe how a piece of music makes you feel than to write about it while you're listening to it on your mp3 player? How better to practice written communication skills than to instant message with a friend from laptop to laptop? Might a math or social studies concept become more clear in the context of a well known game? As teachers, we are always working toward strengthening home-school connections for optimal learning, so why do we feel compelled to overlook this connection?
  • What is your school's policy regarding technology in school? Do you believe your policy meets the needs of your students? If so, why? If not, what changes would you make?
Currently, our elementary school does not allow any "electronic devices" to be brought from home. As a general rule for our age group, that policy is sound, as we would much prefer kids to be running and playing with friends on the playground than sitting on a bench playing a hand-held video game. For the above stated argument, however, I see room to improve the language around that, at least.
  • How can teachers and administrators balance the desire to stay up-to-date with the need to always make sure that teachers can use the techniques and technologies that best suit their students? (1)
Marc Prensky's bullet points for "Turning on the Lights" were terrific in this regard:
  • Give students the opportunity to use technology in school.
  • Find out how students want to be taught.
  • Connect students to the world.
  • Understand where kids are going—that is, into the future—and help them get there.
Perhaps my favorite quote from Prensky's article was this:

Teachers would no longer be the providers of information but instead would be the explainers, the context providers, the meaning makers, and the evaluators of information that kids find on their own.

Sometimes I think we, as teachers, need to get out of our own way. We are HUGE sources of light for these children, but we're hardly the only source. I celebrate the fact that children are now able to sponge up information from so very many resources and I see my role as a teacher as being even more critical in helping them disseminate it, draw meaning from it, and evaluate it critcally.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with your point about helping students develop a meaningful connection to what they are learning. Everyone has to do that in order for learning to become internalized. Connecting the devices that young students are most "at home" with would be an excellent bridge to meaningful learning. The i-pod could be used to inspire writing. U-tube is a vast source of information that can be related to so many subjects. Students could view, create, and post videos that would relate to what they are learning. How exciting it would be to post a video rap on a western studies topic.