Evolution Not Revolution… and No There Is Not an App for That

Walking home today I had an interesting conversation about digital natives and the teachers that are desperately trying to catch up their level of expertise and experience with technology. I can see my own evolution as both an educator and techie.  I cringe at the memory of some of my past beliefs and perceptions about technology.

This past month my school has been implementing a 1:1 iPad program in the elementary grades. It is an exciting time for teachers and students and a time to reflect on our current technology beliefs and practices in the classroom. Teachers, administrators, parents… all hold fast to perceptions about technology, software, and hardware that perhaps need to be revised and adapted to meet the needs of a child born into this century.

Computer or iPad games have no place in school…

Ok. I can understand this perspective… sort of. No responsible adult would advocate using technology as a toy in school or simply as an electronic babysitter. But what about using the passion students already have for gaming as tool for instruction? Minecraft is the perfect example.  Ask your students, your child, your niece or nephew about Minecraft?  What did they say? Did you hear the excitement in their voice? My walking partner, a teacher at my school, shared that her students were so excited about Minecraft, she had to look it up on YouTube to find out what the big deal was about. Did you know Minecraft makes an educational version of their software? Minecraftedu.com offers tools for teachers for implementing Minecraft as an educational tool. Some have claimed that Minecraft can be used as tool to teach… everything (did you follow the YouTube link above?) Amazing, right? Many classrooms around the globe are already using this transformative tool. How exciting for students in those fortunate classes! Starting to change your mind about gaming in the classroom?  If not check read this paper by The Education Arcade  on gaming. They’re from MIT.

There’s an app for that or you should “only” use this app…

Ok. Once again I agree… sort of.  Yes, there is an app for “that” but is it the app you need? Will it do what you need it to do? Take email. We have so many options now Hotmail, Yahoo, GMail, Facebook… which service do you choose? What drives your choice?

Users need to evaluate the task at hand and the tools needed to complete the task. Just because an app is available does not mean it should be used. Technology is a set of tools we use to problem-solve real life issues on a daily basis. Students are often misled and misinformed about technology by simplifying their interaction with it to a handful of apps and applications carefully chosen by the teacher, administrator, tech coordinator, or parent. I’m not saying it should be a free for all. But students and teachers should have the freedom to explore and experiment to ultimately find the right tool for the job. There are many great sites that have already done the research and curated lists of apps for a variety of purposes: iPads for Learning, 60 Apps in 60 MinutesTeach Thought… there are many more out there.

 That’s the way I learned… 

I have often had this same thought. Why throw out the old ways of teaching and learning? What if the power goes out? What if you don’t have a calculator handy? Yes, it’s all true. Here’s the secret: the magic is not in the materials, it’s in the teaching. So it doesn’t matter if you have a SMART Board or a clay tablet, if you are a good teacher your students will learn. And yes, we all need to know our basic facts, a few mental math tricks, and the smell of an old books is intoxicating and every child should experience it. Yet, we must admit that technology can improve our lives if we let it.

Think about Kahn Academy, this young dude had some even younger family members that needed some tutoring. So he thought “How can I help them even when I’m not there?” Voila! Videos on demand. Simple idea, simple solution, huge impact.

Technology will only take center stage if you let it. But if used in the right way, it can make boring, mundane tasks a bit more efficient, Earth friendly, and maybe a little enjoyable. Try Quizlet for making flashcards and quizzes, Socrative makes for a great online response system, Educreations or Explain Everything make great screencasts, and for presentations I like Prezi or try some suggested by the The Daily Egg. I could keep going but I think you get the point.

Conclusion…

Technology, apps, iPads are not the enemy. When used correctly they can be a powerful, transformative tools in and out of the classroom. I am reminded of a great car commercial by Buick. So come on you old curmudgeons, evolve and stop being a dinosaur and walk with me, and our digital natives, into the 21st century (ps… you are already here, it’s 2013)… and no there is not an app for that.

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