Wednesday, October 31, 2012

No Teacher Left Behind: Welcoming Technological Trends In The Classroom

I remember in 1997, electronic learning toys were the buzz. Me and most of my classmates either posessed one of these toys or atleast desired to have one. I had several versions of some of the earliest Vtech learning computers. Even though our school had a no toy rule, most of us managed to sneak them on campus. Rather than see them as a distraction and penalize us, Mrs. Zemon encouraged all of us who had one to bring them to school during math. She gave us in-class time to play math games and we shared with our classmates who did not have one. Ms. Zemon always had a keen sense of tapping into cultural patterns and adapting them for the purposes of learning and mastery. She never criminalized us for our innate childhood interests but instead embraced them. In his article, Digital Natives, Native Immigrants, Marc Prensky remarks that "we need to invent Digital Native methodologies for all subjects, at all levels, using our students to guide us." It seems as though Ms. Zemon was ahead of her time and led the charge in her right. 

A version of the early v-tech learning toys.
As I read this article I began to think of where I fell on the spectrum between "digital native" and "digital immigrant." It seems as though I fall somewhere in the middle. Perhaps I am a first generation. In keeping with the analogy that Marc Prensky uses, I think my position would be comparable to a child who was born in the "old country" but migrated as a young child. I'm old enough that I recorded songs from the radio on cassette tapes and remember when the internet was a rarity in households. I am also old enough to recall the moment that I called my friend with wonder and amazement because I had just seen a commercial for a new phone that could actually snap a picture. Similarly, I had the same experience when my high school drama teacher had an ipod and I concluded two things: either she had a secret fortune or a connection to the CIA (or UFOs) in order to have the ability to put dozens of CDs on a cracker-sized contraption. I went through high school without the invent youtube and could not fathom video sharing. However, I'm young enough to have grown up on Nintendo video games, AOL Instant Messenger and early hand-held devices such as cell phones and compact disc players. Youtube was invented my freshman year of college. With that, I conclude that my generation were sort of at the brink of the digital age. So while immigrants in a sense, it is still easy for us to navigate between two worlds. We are the children who speak the majority language with our friends then go home and translate for our parents, showing them how to add an attachment to an e-mail.

Even so, I do see a widening gap between my familiarity with some of the newest technological innovations and frankly, this changing landscape is challening me to keep up. Marc Prensky highlights the sentiment of one high school student who says, "Every time I go to school I have to power down." I am sure this echoes the thoughts of teenagers in what can sometimes be an archaic education system. As a high school teacher it is vital that I keep this in mind. I will have failed if I do not notice that today's students do have thinking patterns that have evolved. We can't neglect to charge the battery of our learners, we must intervene so they won't feel they have to "power down."

I think I'll take some time this weekend to call Ms. Zemon and thank her.