Technology and theory-am I stuck?

My first thoughts on this topic were… “I am a constructivist of course.”  Most of my learning beliefs are based on the constructivist theory.  Learning is  making connections to what we already know.  I learned this in some of the first teaching training courses that I took… start by finding out what they know and build from there… set a learning context for them before you start…expand on their prior knowledge, etc.

I strongly believe that we need to connect before they are willing to buy in.  They need  to see a reason  to learn something… connect it to something they already know, so they can build on that and create their own meaning.

As I was thinking about learning theories this week and how they relate to what I know and think, I realized I am a constructivist by heart, but at the same time it is difficult, or maybe even impossible, not to acknowledge the influence other theories have on me  as well.

As a learning support teacher I am very interested in brain research and am constantly reworking and reorganizing my ideas about learning, so that I might help my teachers differentiate for students  requiring unique learning opportunities.  There is a big movement in our school division towards differentiated instruction and it is being presented as the answer to everything .  It is not a new theory, just a new name given to something that teachers do in their classrooms every day.

Our new Saskatchewan curriculum supports the idea of student centered, constructivist learning, but does not steer far from the behaviorist theory with its organizational structure of  outcomes, broken into smaller components that are measurable and standardized.  The question and struggle for teachers is how to organize student driven learning, but still make sure outcomes are met.  How do we give students opportunities to go off in their own directions, building on things they already know and moving toward what they want to learn, and  be in control of learning outcomes at the same time?

I spent most of my teaching career teaching in a small rural school in southwest Manitoba. When I moved to Estevan I really had my eyes opened to the real world and the reality that students were dealing with many other things in their lives besides the curriculum outcomes that I was trying to get them to meet.  I spend a great deal of my time dealing with students that are having learning difficulties partly  because they have other things going on in their lives.  There is often an underlying factor that can cause children to have difficulty learning or behaving in an acceptable manner.  I do not think we can ignore Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in our daily quest for student learning.  Sometimes it may not matter what things we are doing to engage them or what learning theories we are using in our classrooms…if their basic needs are not met…they are not going to learn.

So, how can I connect this all to technology? I think about technology use in the classroom so much, it seems to me that I should have it all figured out. I feel as though I am stuck between my theory and practice.   Why am I still struggling with how we use technology?  During  my school day Friday, I observed the grade 4 class working on an internet scavenger hunt while learning about electricity.  I spent 45 minutes blogging with the grades 4/5 students, helping them communicate their ideas, tag and make links.  Later in the day, I went into the grades 5/6 classroom to watch a student  presentation using Smart Board technology and the grade 8 teacher showed me some video her students had taken while they were explaining their math learning,  using the Flip Video cameras we bought to use in a project called, “Flipping Over Math”.

As I reflected on my day and the technology use I observed, I still can’t help but wonder how many of these activities were student driven and how many were teacher driven.  This is where I still struggle.  I looked back to my reflection using the LoTi framework to see that I originally thought most of our digital resources and tools used by students in our school were used to carry out teacher directed tasks.  So I guess I need help figuring this all out and making that step into practicing what I believe and preach.

How do I help teachers in my school, including myself to move beyond this point, where we are allowing our students to use technology tools, but we are directing how, when, where and what, instead of teaching them to ask good questions and look to various types of technologies for use in answering those questions?

This whole idea takes me back to one of the first activities we did in ECI  832, when we were asked to read the article, “The Song Remains the Same: Looking Back to the Future of Educational Technology”, by Punya Mishra, Matthew J. Koehler and Kristen Kereluik.  If we keep thinking about change, but not doing anything about it and in some cases resisiting, the song will remain the same. In the article it states,  “…the power and potential of educational technology much be acknowledged to reside within educators and not within objects.”  It is not good enough to bring the tools in to the classroom , it is to teach them to understand the power of the tools.

I decided to check out,  “Teach Paperless” by Shelly Blake-Plock, and in her post about 21 century learning, she said…   That’s not to say that technology should dictate content, but rather that the method of delivering the content should be of the connected variety. I think what both of these authors is trying to say  is we sometimes get the order of things mixed up.  It is not good enough to have computers and wireless hook-up in the classroom, if we do not understand the power of using it for content delivery.  We need to connect out students to the right tools so they can answer their questions and be learning the necessary content while they are doing it.  That is the key for me- as an educator I need to take chances and be willing to learn along with my students.

So where do I go from here?  Again, as I reflect on my day Friday- it was a busy, but good day.  To be able to witness as much technology use going on around me as I did was wonderful. I have to be proud of the teachers in my school and be content that  we are making progress into  helping our students not be satisfied with memorizing information but have the desire and confidence to question  and learn.  In think we are starting to get unstuck…