Category Archives: technology

Why I don’t like teaching technology class

I have a philosophical beef with “Technology Class” because I feel that technology should be used appropriately in all classes rather than as a stand alone. Truth be told I would like to get rid of all “classes” and “integrate” all classes into each other not just technology.

But I defeat this philosophical problem by trying to make my class project-based integrating all other classes into mine as much as possible. Therefore students do not spend every class in front of a screen, but also build and create things. In the process they write, calculate, research, collaborate, and present. In many ways I think this approach could be a model for how to set up a whole school. Now I do not always do all of these things with every class and I do not always go as deep as I would like either. Which leads me to the title of this post …

I do not like teaching technology class because it is a nine week class at my school. At the end of every quarter we wrap it up, ship ’em out, and bring in a new group the following week. I find it difficult to teach using many tools/methods I would like. For example blogging and Google Docs. It takes a lot of time to set up the accounts and show how to use them properly. By the time students are really getting the hang of them my class is over. Also if I want to have a long-term collaboration with another school it is not enough time to really invest in the relationships.

Last year I got to teach one 8th grade section for a whole semester and it was great. Unfortunately there were a lot of scheduling issues and my class went back to quarters this year. Which leads to the other reason I do not like my nine week class. It is hard to get to know students and build relationships with them. I feel like I am just getting to know my students and they are gone. A few drop by to say “hi” from time to time, but my classroom is isolated in one corner of the building away from almost all of their other classes so I may not even see most of them in passing for weeks.

So when I read other people post about long-term projects and building relationships with their students, I get a little jealous. The best I get is to have the same student for one quarter for three years in a row. How do other teachers with constant “shift changes” build long-term relationships with students?

Girls in Technology

I just finished a nine-week, 7th grade technology class. It was a great bunch of kids. They experimented with straw rockets, constructed polygons in Geometer’s Sketchpad,made pneumatic-powered devices, created egg drop vehicles, experimented with Lego Robotics, designed with Building Homes of Our Own, and ended with a GPS unit.

Often times my tech. classes are dominated by boys, but this class was about 50/50. In particular I had a group of girls who are model students as far as behavior and honor roll grades. They did every assignment with great attitudes. But when I asked the students at the end of the quarter about what their favorite and least favorite part of the class was,they did not like anything that we did. I got lots of “boring” comments. Now some of this could be chalked up to the end of the year, I just want to be out of here feelings, but it does bother me that my class seems to be loved by boys and only tolerated by girls. This is not the first time that I have received this kind of feedback from female students.

So what can I do differently? How can I get more girls (there are some who like my class) excited about technology, science, and engineering? Do I need a different kind of project or a different approach to my current ones?

Warning: The grade you have received may not reflect your actual level of learning in this class.

As some of you know this is my first year teaching math. I am currently teaching one section of 6th grade math. The rest of my assignment is 6th, 7th, and 8th grade technology which I have taught for six years. This new math class is the source of my focus on grades and grading. In my district we have standards-based report cards and in math we have district tests for our required assessments. For this post I will focus on my technology class and assessment (I will save math for the next post).

My Technology class flies under the radar. We have standards that reflect what the class was like five years ago but not what it is today. I and my fellow middle school technology teachers use project-based learning and computers to challenge kids with fun and relevant learning. I truly have more freedom than almost any other teacher in my district to teach whatever I want however I want. I am accountable to my principals who are happy to see children “doing” creative things. We build pop bottle rockets, balsa towers, hot air balloons, pneumatic devices, and egg drop vehicles. We use Lego Robotics and some math software games. Starting last year students blogged and use Google Docs. This year we are using programs such as Google Sketchup, Pivot, and Scratch.

I grade of course in Technology because I have to but my grades are either a rubric of checklists or once in a while based on reaching certain levels. So many of my grades reflect effort of students to complete the projects rather than measure learning. I am ok with that I guess.

For example some excellent students attempted some unique balsa tower designs (the picture is one of them) that totally failed when tested. By the way, most of the class voted their towers to be the strongest before we broke them. They did not receive an A but I would argue that they learned and taught the rest of the class more about good design that anyone else. Why, because they took a creative risk and tried something the rest of the class was unwilling to do. We do not have time or $ for materials to have students build multiple towers to improve their designs which would be the best way to show their level of learning.

Even more difficult for me was when my students made their own Pivots, Sketchup, and Scratch program. We created rubrics together as a class and then I made a grading form in Google that the students embedded on their blogs.

How does one grade creativity? What makes my opinion more valid than anyone else’s?

Therefore I was just going to count the students’ assessments of each other. This did not work out as planned as too many of them did not grade each others’ projects because some were completed late and some did not take the rating seriously. Basically I question the whole point of this grading as a waste of my time.

My ideal system would be to share these tools and projects with students and have them complete them as creatively as possible to the best of their ability. Their “reward” would be the learning that they experienced as a class. Would they all learn the same things or even the same amount? No, just like now they would learn based on the amount of thought and effort they put into their work. If they slacked off then they would learn less; if they worked hard then they would learn more.

I really don’t know how I can accurately measure their actual learning anyway. Grading feels like a game to me and some of the greatest projects like this and this happened for no grade or extra credit. I fail to see how the “grades” that I assign to them contribute to their learning experience and oftentimes do not adequately reflect their actual learning. I also know that grades do not motivate my at risk kids at all, and they motivate the “top” students just to perform for me not to actually learn.

The ultimate thing that matters to me is that students are challenged, given a chance to be creative, and explore in a hands-on way math, science, and technology. The rewards are internal for the students who give their best. Those who just go through the motions miss out no matter what their report card says.

Next post I will explain the conflict I feel comparing this class and grading to my math class.

We are learning, not technology, experts

I heard a tweet about how many teachers have never heard the names of the “technology experts” in education. I echo this sentiment and believe it is a real and huge problem. I believe it is a problem of labels and how technology leaders are promoted. Before my “conversion” starting in December of last year I had never heard of any of the edu-bloggers and twitter people that I follow, and I am a technology teacher! In order to see the large scale changes in our public schools we need to reach the masses of general education teachers and administrators.

The first “name” I learned was David Warlick through my “23 Things” class. I found other leaders by reading the blogs of Will Richardson, Wesley Fryer, Shelly Blake-Plock (TeachPaperless), Alan Levine, and Vickie Davis. I set up class and student blogs with the patient help of Sue Waters. I went to MACUL conference and heard Alan November, Steve Dembo, and Leslie Fisher speak. I had no idea who they were when I got there. I signed up to help mentor a pre-service teacher in Dean Shareski‘s class even though I had no idea who he was. I keep learning about and meeting through twitter many teachers and education leaders. My blogroll keeps growing as I learn from so many of these great teachers and thinkers.

Now back to the problem of labels. These people present at conferences and workshops all over the country and world. Technology education has an image problem represented in its semantics. I have read arguments about our terminology: Web 2.0, 21st century learning, social media, etc. Some want to ban them; some want to make new terms; others try to define them more clearly; I agree with those that have argued that this pleura of terms that technology leaders can not even agree on just confuses the average teacher who is being introduced to technology integration.

Unfortunately many teachers are not active learners and can easily use the excuses that they are too busy or not good at technology to keep from integrating technology into their teaching. The confusing technology terminology is another easy excuse for them to ignore new strategies of learning and teaching. They can just claim “I don’t teach a computer class.”

The other image problem is how we compartmentalize and divide classes: core vs. electives. Of course, there have been schools that integrate subjects, but most schools and teachers are still segregated by subject. Our school used to have teaming, but that ended years ago because of the budget. The biggest problem is classes like mine: Technology class. We are telling students, parents, and teachers that technology is something separate from math, science, social studies, and language arts. A more holistic approach would encourage computers and technology use in every class. That is the way technology is used in the real world: integrated.

Now for the kicker: I think we need to re-term our ideas from educational technology to best practices in learning. I do not have a fancy name for it. What I mean is that the technology experts that I have mentioned among many others, need to be seen by administrators and teachers as the experts on the best practices in learning instead of as technology experts. They need to present more at general ed. conferences, math, science, social studies, reading, writing, and special education conferences. Maybe they should be on shows like Oprah and the Today Show like Alfie Kohn. By focusing their time and attention on technology educators they are narrowing their audience when every teacher should adapt the best practices that they are demonstrating. Their philosophies of education should be taught to pre-service teachers not as a separate class but in the best practices and philosophy of ed. classes.

This in my opinion is the way to reach the masses (of teachers and administrators). Integration of technology is the key-at the classroom level within subjects and by our”big name” leaders being viewed as “learning” experts instead of technology experts.