A calling ...

"We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims."

"Make the world work for 100% of humanity in the shortest possible time through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone."

- Buckminster Fuller

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Nobody is using the SmartBoards ...

Have you been to Google's Chrome Store lately? The educational market is being flooded with powerful, relatively inexpensive new technology, but as one student in an elite high school, sitting in a Technological Design Class told me recently, "Nobody uses the Smartboards. The teachers hate them." Or, in the case of the Chrome Store, nobody knows about the flood of new apps that has just become available.

With Ray Kurzweill, author of The Age of the Spiritual Machine providing a, frankly, frightening long-term vision of Artificial Intelligence for Google, or maybe purely by coincidence, technology is becoming more diffused throughout our daily lives. Or, as the late Michael Foley, my favorite history teacher at Georgetown University wondered, is technology becoming more dispersed, instead of more diffused in our daily lives? The question I am constantly coming back to is, to what end?

Every day, I become more convinced that our technology policies in schools have not kept pace with the mass proliferation of SmartPhones, iPads, among the many recent and bewildering changes. That realization hit home when I realized that my son Joe had gone through nearly two semesters doing Geometry without access to the online textbook, and only discovered the problem that he was not using a textbook when he came for help at the 11th hour, and for the first time, I did not know the formula already in my head, and asked to see the textbook.

The Technological Design class I recently visited received a new MakerBot Replicator 3-D Printer. Few, if any of these elite students showed any imagination about the possibilities for all that they could do with this new 3-D printer. As a first project, many students used the 3-D printer to manufacture custom iPhone covers with logo of the college of their choice.

One student made both a cover and a keychain trinket.

As a sub, I was left a PBS E2 Design Video. Despite the appropriateness of the content of the design video, during 5th period, I did not realize that the video ran for 180 minutes. Worse, the plans lacked any response component, such as a reflection or notetaking guide, so there was no way I could hold students accountable for paying attention to the video or any clue as to why students needed to watch the video. The class's appropriate technology usage policy was not surprisingly vague, and despite the teacher mentioning in the plans that students should not be allowed to play games, lacking an engaging activity, it was nearly impossible to prevent most students from pulling out their SmartPhones and playing video games during "instructional" time. Before 5th period, I asked for clarification from the teacher next door, and during class, I sought advice from some of the more responsible students, but was given the clear impression that the technology use policy was not strictly enforced. During 7th period, I let the video run continuously, though few paid any attention to it.

With the knowledge that I had zero leverage, as a Sub, I circulated, asking students about how they were using the new 3-D printer, prompting students to think about new project ideas and who they might be able to help using the printer. For those who looked particularly directionless, I asked students how they might best use their time. A few self-starters worked on homework, projects, or prepared for tests. For those who responded that it was a new quarter and nothing was due, I asked about their long-term goals, and how they might use their time, rather than wasting it playing video games. One Senior, who along with about 5 other students had been in the class eating lunch when I arrived, an hour early for the class, has been accepted to Harvard, Brown, Virginia Tech, and several other schools. He already passed the AP Exam in Math last year. His father used to be a CIA contractor. His mother, who was a founding member of a top commercial finance company, had several Masters and Law Degrees, had planted the seed of the idea in his mind that he might get incredibly bored if he decided to specialize in engineering immediately, and when I mentioned the demand for engineering talent, he had obviously been thinking about the question but had come to no decisions and seemed confused. The brilliant young man spent a long time in the bathroom during 5th period, and eventually left class early during 7th period, without a word. Another student, who I asked several times not to play video games, eventually started to work on a project for English. That student got on the computer and started to look at an assignment to write a business letter. I recommended that he consider writing a sales proposal, offering to make custom cellphone covers for a local business.

While preparing to write this post, I happened to wander into the Chrome Web Store, and discovered several useful and exciting applications for teachers including ClassDojo, a free behavior management system for elementary teachers, a behavior feedback tool that, tailor made for the SmartBoard, that can be controlled with a SmartPhone, which can be shared with students and parents alike.