Tech No Substitute for Thought and Preparation

Posted by Jack Jarvis on August 19, 2012

Chalkboard with "unprepared" with X on "un"Last winter, tired of the abuse I was always heaping on it, my bad knee finally gave up on me.   An old football injury necessitated a total knee replacement.  Given the circumstances and timing, I volunteered to return to the classroom, as there was no guarantee I would recover enough to continue as principal.  So for now, my next career stop will be 4th Grade position in our district.

How do I feel about this prospect?  Perhaps a dream I had in June is indicative: I awoke to realize I was not, thankfully, being set on fire by a bunch of 4th graders.  Perhaps the phrase “complete, abject terror” does not put too fine a point on it.  How was I going to do all that prep?  And determine the routines?  And?  And?  And?

Fortunately, given my TICAL membership, I supposedly have some knowledge of tech integration, and in fact, I do.  I started drawing on it last month by digging into tech resources I might use in my new role.  Suffice it to say, what a vast cornucopia of resources to chose from—all ready for delivery via my laptop and projector.  I mean, I already had a good idea what was available, but boy, oh boy!  We have come a long way.

For example, there is the Pearson enVision math series that includes the whole book online, electronic manipulatives and tools that nicely eliminate any drawing by hand (a boon for me, since my drawing skills leave much to be desired).  In addition, each topic comes with movies that speak to the students in the language they prefer: cool visuals and sounds, to say nothing of the clarity, or the lack of wait time while the teacher is drawing out an example.

We also have Houghton-Mifflin’s Medallion reading series, which we have had going on ten years now. The first adoption year was 2002-2003, when few if any teachers taught with their computers.  Back then we scanned and processed the text so we could do a better job of teaching reading comprehension. Now everything is already there, making it much easier to present clear conceptual knowledge.

Then there is Brain Pop. I had not spent much time on this website, but am I glad it’s here. Since my district subscribes to it, I have access to a plethora of ready-made lessons complete with activities and assessments. I can’t begin to express how much work this will save me.

Add to all this the nifty little iPad app Splashtop, and I am able to use my iPod as a remote controller and present from the back of the room, allowing me to better monitor student attention levels and also annotate on the fly. Now if I can just buy the right stylus.

Of course there is one caveat to all this bounty.  In the old days we pulled out our teacher’s edition, turned to page 63, and explained the exercises to the students.  That scenario didn’t take a lot of brain power, especially when the teacher’s guide was designed to be “teacher-proof.”  You would think that all this great tech stuff I mentioned would make teaching even easier.  Not so!  If you want your students truly to learn, not to mention perform well at test time, you still need to seriously prepare for every lesson.   You need to work through and understand all those movies and apps and simulations in order to ensure you are using them with your students effectively and comprehensively.

Regardless of what some people may think these days, a well-prepared teacher is even more necessary in the age of technology, and will be for many years to come. At the same time, it’s sure great to have most of the construction work done for you.  It allows you to put more thought into what you’re doing rather than spending hours creating materials.  I still have lots of work to do between now and the first day of school, but my chore will be to become fluent in the new tools, not create them using PowerPoints and other apps.

I’ll let you know how it goes—now that my old and new knees have stopped knocking together.






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Jack Jarvis

Principal, Hidalgo Elementary, Fresno Unified, Fresno, CA. Enjoy hockey, golf and music.

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