January 2010

Supporting Teachers in Technology Use…

This week in my ETEC 533 class we had, in my view, the most interesting discussion.  The students were asked to analyze a number of video interviews with mathematics and science teachers about their use of technology. Then the students went and interviewed the teachers of their choice about how those teachers used technology. As the interviews and their analysis were posted online, we could all comment on them. So I would like to point out a few things that came out of these discussions. I thought to do it by myself, but then I read the response by B. and I asked her if I can use it. B. kindly agreed (thanks!) This is what she wrote in response to an interview done by another student (D.). Notice, the highlighting is mine:

“I can identify with your interviewee in terms of pressure to use tech from admin. Our school division has invested huge dollars in technology- and the pressure is on to use it. The division hired 3 integration specialists- and did pay release time for teachers to spend time with the specialists- budget cuts mean no more release time. The division also mandated 2 full pd days for technology. It has been mostly good- but many teachers really don’t care and don’t take advantage of the opportunities- they feel it is being rammed down their throats. The biggest problem with the tech integration guys is that they were hired because of their technical skills not for understanding of pedagogy. They will come out and show you how to use movie maker , set up a moodle or do something with the SMART board but they never engage in a conversation about best practices etc. Teachers are a pragmatic lot- tell me why I should do this- not just how.

And here I would like to go back 19 years (which makes me feel a little bit old, but time truly flies…). When I was 21 (just immigrated to Israel from the Ukraine), I was a beginning physics teacher with very little experience and with an attitude that I knew it all. I was so fortunate to end up being at the Weizmann Institute of Science and somehow deciding to participate in one of the professional development activities of the “Science Teaching Department”. I remember going there because I was completing my Teacher Certification program at another university and still didn’t speak Hebrew, so I thought I could improve my content-related language skills there. So I started attending the PD activities and gradually I got more and more involved. I just loved it. I remember how I was first introduced to THE educational technology there (for me even computers were new then – I didn’t have a computer at my home before). The first educational technology that I was exposed to was a V-Scope. This was a relatively “primitive” predecessor of contemporary motion detectors – but then to me it was an amazing tool. V-scope consisted of buttons of different colours that you could attach on an object you are trying to record motion of and then using a few towers (receivers) you could reproduce object’s trajectory. I think there were max 3 buttons there. I remember Dr. Miky Ronen was showing it to us and I clearly remember (almost 20 years later) how impressed I was. But what Science Educators at Weizmann did, which unfortunately is so rare in Canada; they worked with science teachers to promote effective content-specific pedagogy that utilizes this technology. I remember Miky led us through different activities where we used V-Scope as a tool, that allowed us to design inquiry-based activities, lessons, class demos, labs etc. Miky was not just a technical person who taught us how this technlogy worked (which she surely was), but she was first and foremost a physics teachers who helped us build a pedagogical background to use this technology effectively. And this is what I think is often missing here. Technology support people ARE NOT the same as physics teachers who are experts in using a certain technology in the context of their discipline. The same of course applied to teachers in any discipline…

I am putting some info on the Department of Science Teachers (they have an English version as well), so you can take a look what they are doing. And notice, their department is located in the Premier Israeli Science Institute. I also wanted to point your attention at the The Clore Garden of Science at Weizmann. I would love to have more of these in Canada.

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