Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Give Kids Technology and Let Them Go - They Will Show You Amazing Things!

I recently attended an exciting technology open house at my local K-8 school district. The combination of a visionary principal, hard-working staff, committed parents, and a persistent fundraiser brought a one-to-one laptop solution to the schools in only one year.

Looking in on our well-to-do community, one might not be surprised that we were able to do this from a financial perspective. But that is not what is important here. Many communities, wealthy and poor, are finding ways to make computers accessible to every student. What is impressive here is that in less than one year, all teachers and students are using these computers throughout the curriculum, throughout every day.

This isn't because the teachers are forcing their use, but because the kids are being allowed to use computers as a work tool - something quite natural for them. For this to happen, teachers need confidence that they can ease their need for control and let learning occur. To help with this they visited other successful 1:1 schools, attended many hours of professional development, and were coached and encouraged by hard-working educational technology specialists. Teachers are comfortable letting the kids take out the computers whenever they need to. What resulted was not the typical "once a year major multimedia project" as one teacher told me, but "quality, everyday learning products."

Many districts buy the technology but forget that it is hard work for teachers and staff to weave technology into their daily learning environments.

The open house was amazingly student-centered and reflected this philosophy of computer as learning tool. Throughout the evening students from kindergarten to eighth grade presented their digital products (500+), reflecting the use of technology in every subject. There were no teacher presentations. The products revealed the willingness of teachers to encourage students to display their learning in their own ways. There was much evidence of independent learning, and the sophistication of much of the work shows how far kids can go when you have high expectations while letting them be creative, which is quite natural for them.

As a kindergarten teacher who encouraged students' natural creativity, I used to say, "If they can do these things at 5 years old, imagine, if we let them go, what they'll be doing when they're 16!" We are still learning this lesson and technology is making it easier.

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