Fear of the unknown

I found a common theme running through the videos which linked back to my previous blog post.  That is the use of technology in the math and science classroom should be interdisciplinary, interactive and meaningful. I chose to focus on cases 5 and 8 as these videos relate directly to my grade levels, broadened my views on what platforms can be used in the classroom and raised an important question.  Both cases provided an insight into what I see as the 3 central functions of technology. Technology allows content and competencies to be woven together in a rich tapestry that blends core subject areas in ways that help students gain meaningful insight into how our world connects.  The interactive platforms the teachers use combine text, sound, images and video that is not just consumed by students but created by students, allowing for authentic learning experiences.  The students take the skills outside the classroom into their homes and continue with projects on their own time which indicates meaningful learning activities.

 

Looking at case 5 answered questions as to the effectiveness of technology in the elementary classroom but also raised some questions.  As the teacher in this class is doing I am also working towards combining subjects into silo’s or interdisciplinary projects.  Her use of music in science was obviously a creative way to engage students in artistic impression using digital tools but also linking into a larger science theme, based on space.  I am currently having my students build a colony in Minecraft on Mars using a modification called Galacticcraft which provides realistic gravity, atmosphere and day night cycle environment.  We are also coding a song for a video based on our colony using the excellent musical coding tool called SonicPi on our raspberry Pis.

 

I was excited to see how she promoted understanding by challenging them to use a piece of digital technology to break through subject barriers.  We do not have a large ESL base in our school but another great point she made was how the technology levels the playing field for ESL students and allows them to express their ideas using a multimodal medium instead of just text.  Her project based learning approach seemed to be applied across her subjects and it was heartening to see that someone is working towards a similar goal as I am. 

 

However the two teachers who felt uncomfortable with technology at the end raised a huge question for me.  While we worry about our students concepts and dispositions they bring into the classroom I am more concerned teachers.  So many have little to no interest in applying technology into their classroom because of their fear of the unknown.  It seems to me at the heart of the problem is the uncomfortable position technology places teacher in.  Their role is no longer gatekeeper of all knowledge, as it has been for hundreds of years. Both teachers felt as if they should know “it” before they teach it, they had no time to learn new ideas. This is where a shift in attitude needs to occur about technology.  It is ok to make mistakes and learn new tools along with the students.  I find their engagement level increases as they realize you are both on a journey of knowledge together.  I have been teaching the new ADST coding curriculum for 3 years now.  I have had many times when I have asked students for help, or find that with the tools they have been given they create and share their ideas with me. I gain knowledge from their creations and further my problem solving abilities.  Teachers do not have to be experts in technology but must be willing to understand that tech savy students need to be given control over how they want to show and grow their knowledge.

 

This brings me to case 8 where new teachers are learning how to take text and images and create a new engaging way to present the information to the students.  It seemed that technology was not a standalone subject in their practicum but a tool to help integrate content into a optimal learning presentation.  This is where hope lies for technology integration into our practice in the Science and Math curriculum.  It is through education and professional development, so that the fear of the unknown vanishes and is replaced with a certain comfort level with digital literacy.  Too many teachers feel as if they don’t have time, or the students are already the experts so why bother.  So while some of my questions about technology enhancing learning have been answered I still wonder what is the answer to having all teachers understand the interdisciplinary, interactivity and meaningful learning it can inspire?

3 comments

  1. Hi Nathan,

    You bring up many valuable issues – one that I too am passionate about – getting teachers interested and excited about incorporating technology into their classrooms. From my experience, this is not a “generational thing”, there are plenty of younger teachers who are not using technology and ones who are about to retire who are! I think anxiety and fear of not-knowing-it-all plays a large part. Many teachers have our own “conceptual challenges” with what a teacher is supposed to be and what we are to do. Teacher-centered learning and teacher as the keep-of-all knowledge come quickly to my mind. I have also been teaching the ADST curriculum for a number of year and am constantly amazed how much I learn from my students. It honestly took me a little bit to be OK with that. Modelling to our students what we do when we don’t know something, and being willing to learn alongside them demonstrates our role as a learner. Working side-by-side with teachers who are hesitant, providing them as many opportunities as possible to learn, encouraging risk taking are all ways we can support teachers who are still hesitant – in much the same way we would support our students. Figure out where teacher interests lie and meet them there. Teacher leadership (with tech and in other areas) is very important, and it takes a lot of time, but I believe it thoroughly will benefit our students.

  2. Nathan

    I like the fact that you brought up the fact many teachers “… fear of the unknown…” I remember creating, with my science class, our first wiki. It was when wikis first began. It was a disaster — 60 students and one wiki.

    I wonder if you could give some suggestions for these teachers that ” fear of the unknown”?

    A good next step might you share some of your lessons and explain what “raspberry Pis” are?

    Christopher

    1. For those that fear the unkown, especially in coding a practical example would be going to a coding site like Google CS First. All of the lessons are laid out in video format that is easy for the teachers and students to follow along together. It explains from basic to advanced coding practice and the kids end up with amazing projects that they often start to work on outside school time. The same follows for 3D design, apps like Morphi, Makers Empire and Tinkercad, they have great tutorials that guide you and your students to a high level of proficiency with 3d tools.

      Raspberry Pi’s are single board computers geared towards education. We have 12 Raspberry Pi’s in my classroom and I use them as stations for the students. Each station has a different lesson and a varying progression so the students can become comfortable with multiple aspects of the little single board computer. For example one of the first lessons is how to turn a LED off and on using the coding language Python, it then progresses into motion sensors, building Graphical User Interfaces and making motors turn. The lessons generally all come from the excellent resource Raspberrypi.org which has over 120 lessons to help get students involved in computational thinking. I tie it in with our new ADST curriculum in BC as well as Math and Language Arts content. The Pi’s are cheap, about 60 bucks for the board and they can be hooked into old monitors and keyboards. You can run a browser off of them, word process and they come packed with an Operating system filled with coding programs aimed at teaching children: from block based such as Scratch to powerful syntax based coding, Python, and music coding applications like Sonic Pi. They have changed my classroom and my students views on computers. The kids are amazed at what power a tiny cheap computer can give them.

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