Third Grade Teacher, Mays Chapel Elementary
This post originally appeared in Mr. Cooney's Class
One of the common responses I get when I tell someone that I will be teaching at a school where each student has access to a digital device: “Do you think that is a good thing? I mean, don’t they spend enough time on computers already?” I will be writing a few blog posts that will attempt to explain why I do believe that yes, this is a good thing, despite the reservations that some may have. Most of the concerns I have heard stem from misconceptions about how students will be using the technology.
Some adults are skeptical, and it’s easy to see why. Kids already spend an average of 5-6 hours in front of a screen each day anyway. Do we really want to have them plugged in constantly?
The answer to that question is no, of course not. The students in my classroom will not be plugged in constantly, zoning out of this world and into cyberspace from 9 to 4. They will not be sent off to corners of the classroom to play math games and be taught by some app while I catch up on some of my own favorite sites.
Simply put, 1:1 does not mean that they will even have their devices on all the time. 1:1 means that the students and teachers will have access to technology to use when appropriate.
How do kids know when it is appropriate? That’s where the learning comes in.
To help illustrate my explanation, I’d like you to picture my favorite children’s book, Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak.
…and then we read it, discuss it, and surprise! This book is not just about a boy named Max. Just like The Giving Tree is not about a tree and The Phantom Tollbooth is not about a road trip. I don’t want to give it away to them just yet, but a part of me wants to say: the secret of WTWTA (and every other book you’ll ever read) is that…It’s about you.
Max is every child. He hates sitting still. He wants to explore. He wants to sail the ocean in a private boat and watch as his world transforms into a forest hanging with vines and branches. He wants to meet others like him, knowing that he is not quite like everyone else back home. He’s a wild thing.
Oh, and he still wants to come home every now and then and have his dinner waiting for him, so he can stay safe, sound, and well fed.
The thing is, though, Max doesn’t have a life that really allows for this. He’s crammed inside his house where he has nothing to do but chase his dog and play with a hammer.
So when he gets sent to his room, he imagines his whole place transforming into this new land where he can do what he’s meant to do. When he arrives by boat, he finds them there waiting for him: The Wild Things, with their terrible teeth and their terrible yellow eyes. They are his worst nightmare, ready to eat him up.
But then he learns to tame them and becomes their king. He leads them in doing what wild things are meant to do. This wild place is where he can be himself, if only for a short time.
I want my classroom to be that place. The highly customizable aspects of online and blended learning provide students with the opportunities to learn the way they want to learn — the way they learn best. Certain collaborative web tools will allow them to work with each other in ways they couldn’t before: at their own speed, on their own level, and, when appropriate, tailored to their interests and passions.
The thing is, though, the internet is a wild place. I’m not talking about the dangers of social media or certain websites. I’m talking about how much is out there: how kids have information thrown at them from every direction of the web. How each website will lead to another. How kids can (and sometimes will) get caught up in the recommendations that sites like Youtube will make for them, clicking on link after link until they are on the dark side of the internet where cat videos are everywhere.
So how do they learn to navigate it?
Max needed to step into the uncharted waters to get there. He needed to walk on land guarded by monsters. He needed to step up and take control. Like Max, our students need to learn how to use the resources that are out there, but first, they need to be given the opportunity (and responsibility) to have those tools available.
They need to learn how to tame the internet. They need to know how to select the tools that are appropriate for a task. They need to know where to look for information, where not to look, and how to evaluate the information they are receiving. They need to control and manage the knowledge they find. A huge part of teaching students now is preparing them to become better researchers and more innovative problem solvers because that is what our world demands of them. As teachers, we will serve as their guides every step of the way for any learning experience we provide for them.
And no, they aren’t going to be internet zombies lost in cyberspace. What does Max do in the end of the story? He goes home, that comfortable place where he finds his supper waiting for him. Because they will have such ownership of the information they receive from personalized learning experiences, our students will take their newly constructed knowledge and want to share it with others in their school and homes. It’s up to us as teachers and parents to provide a place to go where they can process and share their meaningful learning. That feeling they will get when they are teachingus and each other is even better than Max’s home cooked meal (and it was still hot.)