During the last decade, schools received unprecedented funding through both federal and state initiatives. For example, in California, we had Immediate Intervention for Underperforming Schools and the High Priority Schools Grant Program. Together, these two programs alone pumped millions of dollars into California Schools, and many schools tapped these funds to purchase technology in the form of laptops, projectors and “smart” technology. Projectors and speaker systems were mounted in classroom ceilings and control panels patched into walls. The “modern classroom” was born—for the moment.
But as we look back almost a decade, what do we have in classroom technology? And what should we do next?
Well, what we have is a lot of teachers equipped with the ability to present content with their laptops. We have content available in many places. And we have a majority of teachers who have expertise in one area: using an interactive whiteboard as an overhead projector.
Coming from a district of over 70,000, I have seen numerous elementary classrooms where teachers teach with their laptops. While there are certainly some gems among the rocks, most teachers I observe use slideshows they download from the web or those created by central office instructional personnel. While this is a vast improvement over 2001 and overhead transparencies, it’s not the most effective use of the technology. In fact, one could argue downloading these ready-made materials has made teachers less involved in the cognitive planning of their instruction. (I can’t tell you how many times I heard a teacher saying, “Oops, wasn’t expecting that, ha, ha” when an unanticipated slide pops up.)
What do we do to address this, to enhance the instructional experience for our students, to tap into their world of smart phones and iPads? What we didn’t do in the last decade!
Train the teachers in the right tools. I’m sorry, but SmartBoard is not it.
All teachers should be trained in and evaluated on their use of technology to teach. Just projecting images with an interactive whiteboard or throwing up a presentation they didn’t create should not be deemed proficient. Instead, we should see a movement towards these basic skills:
- Creating and manipulating graphical objects.
- Creating and manipulating text boxes.
- Using animation, especially the path animation in PowerPoint.
- Creating hyperlinks from PowerPoint to websites that support the learning.
- Accessing/inserting pictures and video into lesson materials.
Why these five? Because if you are fluent in them, you can create almost any type of presentation. These five skills would give teachers a cornucopia of strategies that would grab student attention and make content more understandable. Imagine the difference between reading a core selection with your class while linking in and out of websites connected to the subject. Imagine creating live moving animations to stimulate student thinking about mundane number sense concepts. Becoming proficient in these tools should be spelled out in the credentialing process more exactly, and should be the focus point for professional development it should have been back when all that equipment was purchased.