If you arrive here and find there isn’t a new post, it is most likely because a cloud, patch of fog, drop of rain, or migratory bird has somehow interfered with the tenuous connection between the tiny plastic dish on my roof and the all powerful satellite in space that grants us communication with others. Technology is a wonderful thing…except when it isn’t.
We’ve been having this discussion at work. Or rather, people at work have been doing a lot of talking and I’ve been listening. I’ve found that when you have views that are totally crazy, it’s best to keep your mouth shut. The problem is that I’m old. In fact, I’m beginning to be old enough so that my opinions are often viewed as a direct result of my age and therefore are either to be taken lightly or ignored. In the case of technology it is often both. If something comes up that I’m opposed to it is assumed that my opposition is based on my lack of confidence in my ability to adapt to it. While that might have been the case even a few months ago, it is becoming less and less of a problem. I am getting better at adapting to changes in software, etc. simply because I’ve had to do so much of it. Experience is the best teacher. Which brings me to my current position with regard to the Smart Board: they are the “it” of education. Everyone wants one, and apparently as funds become available everyone is getting one. I don’t want one.
My colleagues immediately assumed I was intimidated by the thought of learning to use one. Well, I have news for them. My former school was two steps ahead of them, or perhaps two dollars ahead, and was already in the process of installing them during my last year. Therefore, I’ve already taken the Smart Board class and I’ve already seen one in operation. Yes, I could learn to use it in my classroom. I’m old, not stupid.
And for those of you who simply haven’t heard of it, a Smart Board is essentially a wall sized interactive white board that serves as the “monitor” for your computer. Teachers use it to project lessons, DVDs, websites, etc. For us old school teachers, think of it as a major upgrade of the overhead projector combined with a television set. Much more bang for your buck! Kids can look at it, hear it, and even write on it. Yeah!
So what’s MY problem with it? Let’s go back to my earlier statement. Experience is the best teacher. Even though I got my teaching degree late in life, I’ve taught in preschool off and on since 1981. When I first started teaching we used lots of hands-on activities and toys and puzzles to teach our students. We listened to cassette tapes and records. We read lots and lots of stories. We dug in the dirt and ran in the grass. We didn’t own a copy machine and no one had a television set in their room.
As the years passed and education evolved, we adapted to a lot of new ideas in early education and expected more and more academic achievement from our little ones. We accepted the idea that perhaps they could learn to read sooner if we made it a little more entertaining. Better children’s videos were created and many classroom teachers invited televisions into their classrooms. Then as expectations advanced we started doing more writing and testing and used more worksheets. That meant copy machines were needed in every building.
When I got my teaching degree the college professors were preaching the old idea that books and hands-on experiences were the best way for children to learn and they begged us to not use so many worksheets. They tried to wean us off the copy machines and back to the sand box. I don’t think most of them realized that the computer was destroying that idea even as they uttered it.
Computers allow teachers to create lessons, copy lessons from websites, and print their own worksheets for anything from handwriting to algebra. There are also thousands of interactive games, reading programs, etc. that I’ve used with my students when I had student computers in my room, and when my students have gone to the computer lab. I don’t think anyone reading this has to be told about all the possibilities out there.
I would still love to have four or five student computers in my room. However…and this is a big HOWEVER, the idea of sitting my children down in front of a huge screen is contrary to everything I’ve learned and experienced over the years with thousands of children. It’s bad enough that my children are currently in desks doing an average of eight worksheets a day. They are also playing in centers, doing puzzles, working with play dough, painting, and experiencing things. I don’t have a television in my classroom. We don’t watch videos. We do things. As my colleagues across the country embrace the Smart Board they are doing two things. 1. They are getting rid of centers and some other activities to make space for the board and create more time to use it. 2. They are telling me at least a dozen things THEY can do with it before they tell me what the children can do with it. Only two or three children at a time can do anything interactive with it. The rest of the time they have to watch it or do something else.
Someone told me that I have to adapt to the world these children are growing up in. They take it for granted that everything is on a screen. They learn to use a mouse before they can hold a pencil. They know how to text messages to their friends. They want entertainment and instant gratification. Technology is and always will be a part of their life.
Okay, so if we take that logic to its conclusion then we are witnessing the end of public education. Children don’t need to be in a classroom. They just need a computer. We can use all this education money to fund programs to provide computers in every household. Children can sit in the comfort of their bedrooms and get all the education they need. They won’t need to learn to write- we’ve already been told that the keyboard is replacing the pen so why teach them to write. They won’t need to really read because everything will be in chat abbreviations. They certainly won’t need math- calculators are everywhere including online. Need to know something?- it’s online somewhere. Why try to store it in your brain?
Okay, Mary, step away from the soapbox!!
Yes, there will probably be a Smart Board in my room before I retire. My plan is to teach five more years and I probably can’t hold out against one for much longer. But my hope is that I won’t go over the dark side and completely abandon experience for excitement. My students deserve to be a part of the world, not just observers of it.