For years, the only technology in my classroom was a record player. People used to ask why I didn’t use “technology-in-the-classroom” (said as one word and with reverence) and I just laughed, “Give me a library card and a piece of chalk and stand back and watch me work.”
But something happened. Now when people ask me about technology in the classroom, they are often asking me for advice. Me. I still use the words “text” and “friend” as nouns.
But it is true that something changed along the way. I now create playlists of music to bring our curriculum to life. I use a digital camera to document our work together. I create movies to showcase student work and process. I upload homework, email newsletters, and blog about teaching.
I use a document camera, projecting children’s writing, to teach grammar lessons; or comic strips to teach inference skills; or maps to teach geography. I project poetry on the wall for choral reading. I use art and movie clips to help children visualize the world’s story. Yes, I use technology in the classroom. Lots of it. But I am still skeptical.
My third graders spend very little time on computers. Screen time is screen time and plugging a child in is just that. I am cynical about any activity that is called “interactive” and does not involve other people. School is about building scholarly stamina and focus; screen time rewards partial attention. School is a community event; screen time is solitary.
I am a researcher at heart. Every year I ask who has a T.V. in their bedroom. Hands shoot up, but not all of them. The results interest me. My top students rarely have televisions in their bedrooms. My struggling students often do. I realize there are many more variables at work here. But over the years I have come to see television (and video games) as one of the variables in a child’s success or struggle.
Friday in morning meeting, I offered a circle question. “Is technology an advantage or disadvantage?” I wondered how these savvy students who have never known the world without the internet would answer?
Their answers surprised me. They worried about the environment. What?? I pointed out that computers were greener because they helped us use less paper.
But they countered with a discussion about electricity and fossil fuels and landfills. Wow. I came away from that discussion with new questions, and I was immensely proud that my students were applying our science unit to real world examples — examples that I had not thought of at all!
They also said that technology might keep you from wanting to do other things like go to the library. Or play outside. They said that too much technology could lead to obesity.
They said that the internet affected how often people bought newspapers. Or used encyclopedias.
One of my girls silently got up and got a book from her desk. She came back and took her place in the circle. When it was her turn to speak, she shyly said that she had a book that fit perfectly with our discussion and hoped I would read it aloud. I wasn’t familiar with the book, but this intuitive girl has a sense about such things, so I read it right on the spot.
She was right; it did fit. It turns out the book, Aunt Chip and the Tripple Creek Affair, is a parable by Patricia Pollaco. In it a television tower replaces a library and the books once housed there are used in construction. The value of books and the joy of reading fade from institutional memory over a fifty-year period. And then, because a child wants to learn to read, reading is brought back. The children in the community bring back the joy of reading to the adults.
I am indebted to the ways technology has enhanced my teaching and my life. My son’s deployments in Iraq would have been so much harder without it. I love being able to skype with my stepdaughter in Switzerland as we wait for her baby to be born. Technology in the form of Kindle has rekindled my mother’s reading life. But these are all personal relationships that were built before texting and friending and skyping and downloading. Relationships still need that old-school kind of building now.
I love my iphone and google and facebook, but I also know this: I do not want the world wide web to take us away from the wide world of wonder.
I still need that library card and a piece of chalk and a roomful of deep-thinking and insightful children who love to read. It can be enhanced, but it can’t be replaced.