Monday, July 30, 2012

The Test

As a teacher working in a rich school district in early 2000s, I saw curriculum trends, software programs and hardware updates follow each other down the pike like speeding cars.  I can imagine the announcer at the races:  "Annnnnnd here comes whole language back around the bend, passing phonics-only! In lane two, math with lots of blocks and dry pasta is whipping past the timed-test approach!"  These days, the announcer could say, "In lane three, we have iPads outpacing graphing calculators, and it looks like project based learning is lapping everyone in lane four!"

As a technology trainer in a small district today, I want to avoid that track.  I know that kids these days love their internets. They live in a technology-rich world and it's my job to make sure they emerge from our district with the skills they need to succeed.

But what I really want to do is to slow down. Breathe. When a super-nifty conference speaker has me fired up about how no student can every really learn to read without XYZ educational product or approach, I ask myself: Did Thomas Jefferson need this?

I mean, Thomas Jefferson--really, you could pick any founding father--was a pretty smart guy. Solved some important problems. Got along well with others. And he did it all without Singapore math or a Smartboard.

Don't get me wrong. I love this stuff. I think of Smartboards as "magic wands for the classroom," and every day I bug someone about a cool app I just found for the iPads.  I just want to keep my priorities straight.

We need critical thinkers. We need good citizens.  We need kids with a wide set of tools that prepare them to learn well and to lead well. We need kids who aren't afraid to experiment, to fail; kids who like to play and who know when what they're working on matters. Kinda like Thomas Jefferson.

With that in mind, this space is a place where I'd like to evaluate the technologies and techniques I'm seeing as a noob educational technology facilitator.  I'll be asking:
  • Does it do what it says it'll do? 
  • Does it solve a current problem in the classroom?  
  • Does it create a new opportunity in the classroom?  
  • Would Thomas Jefferson think it was cool?

Hopefully, that'll help me sort through the barrage of incoming vehicles of learning and find the stuff that'll really take our kids and our schools where there they need to go.

by Maira Kalman for the New York Times