Many believe Generation Z children seamlessly manage technology for a variety of purposes. The kids who grew up with the Web, MP3 players and cell phones have been exposed at a much younger age to technological tools that have drastically changed the way we complete tasks. These same technologies have also added a plethora of entertainment options. Despite the exposure these children have had to these digital tools, they still compartmentalize entertainment, their social life and “formal learning”. I believe that students will develop skills that will allow them to navigate more fluidly between each of these compartments, but I have to continually remind myself to be patient about the process.
As some of you have read before I am fortunate to have a classroom set of netbooks. Many, many things have changed about the way I run my classroom since we have had access to them, but I am surprised every year by the time we spend in class learning or reviewing some very basic digital skills. These are a few things I took for granted my students knew how to do:
-Email a document to themselves
-Trouble shoot a frozen screen
-Set up a user name and password that they could remember easily the rest of the school year
-Retrieve the password and/or user name if they forgot it
-Find and use a web site’s help center/support
-Embed a link
-Load an image online
-Use a web site’s navigation menu to find specific information if it is not the first thing that pops up on a site
You get the idea... To be fair, many of my students negotiate these tasks and are a huge help in class as they troubleshoot issues with their peers. However many students who successfully use Facebook, do not transfer over the skills they use on that site to similar tasks needed to do work for Spanish class. This is one example of compartmentalizing.
Here is another example of compartmentalizing outside interests with educational goals. Toward the end of the school year my students had an option to self-select a topic of interest to them and work on it over the course of two weeks. (I’ll describe the project in more detail in a later post.) When given the opportunity to select any topic of interest to them and use it Spanish class, many kids really didn’t know what to pick. Several wanted to do fall back on a traditional report & posterboard. Not only did they have problems considering their hobbies and outside interests as a viable topic, but some still wanted to print out and paste images to card-stock despite having experience and exposure to several multimedia tools.
This was not the highlight of my week. Thankfully I talked to my colleague and Art teacher Rod Vesper (you can read his blog here). He had just visited some students in our district that were part of a 7th grade pilot program that allows students to bring their laptops to school. He was very impressed with the learning and the manner that these kids used digital tools to learn. Seamlessly. He also had experienced some of the same issues that I had been working through. And he reminded me to be patient.
Our students revert to what is comfortable to them. They are well acquainted with reports and posterboard visuals. They are accustomed to teacher-directed activities. It will take some time to shift this mindset. Student need to be exposed to digital tools that can be used for learning as well as personal enjoyment. They need to have the opportunities to develop digital skills to perform tasks for learning. They need to understand that digital skills and tools are not exclusive to entertainment and chatting with their friends. These tools can also be used in the classroom effectively. I look forward to having those 7th graders in my classroom in the next couple of years. Until then I will remind myself that I am doing my part to shift that mindset in my classroom.
If you use digital tools in your classroom, how do you work in the learning curve into your lesson plans?