I don't mean this in a negative way, by any means. When I moved into my current room which belonged to a much beloved math teacher, I noticed the walls were adorned with a significant amount of hockey paraphernalia. He even had a classroom management tool in which a slider moved a hockey figure from the scoring side to the defending side of the ice, presumably to match if the classroom was meeting it's goals of being quiet and working hard. His class sign was taped to a hockey stick. I thought, "This man loves him some hockey."
Now this is a totally fine method of engaging the classroom in an exciting and interesting way. I'm sure it is totally successful for him to manage student behavior. However, when I took over the room, the hockey had to go. Not that I have anything against hockey, at least, not any more than any other professional sport which I despise like the costly drain on humanity that they are. But I am not a hockey guy. I couldn't possibly teach with hockey as my vehicle.
Three versions of 6th grade Social Studies
A friend from my masters cohort named David Hunter has a kick-starter project going right now that is totally worth taking a look at. He's using a zombie apocalypse scenario to teach the basic concepts of the "Beginnings of Civilization" portion of 6th grade social studies. He calls this Zombie-Based Learning. I'll be honest, after having taught 6th grade social studies from a textbook during student teaching, this sounds pretty awesome. It's something that I feel the majority of my 6th graders would be interested in and those who aren't would be fewer than basic textbook style learning. His project is almost funded twice over and he's looking to put it up on open source sharing so anyone can use it. This is cool. (You don't have to watch the whole video, it's 25 minutes long.)
But the fun doesn't stop there. At edurealm.com a teacher named Lucas Gillispie is doing the same thing through minecraft. He's having students decide where to settle, build a society, divide labor, and deal with property ownership issues in a virtual realm. This is totally inclusive Beginnings of Civilization. The students are actually starting a civilization of sorts and dealing with the interpersonal issues that are sure to come. These are a number of ways that technology are being used in the same subject.
Now on my 6th grade team we have a wonderful teacher that handles social studies. She uses a number of physical diorama type projects having students build a pharaoh's tomb, a Sumerian city, tablets, cubes, and tons of other cool physical objects. Students get hands on to try to picture what it would look like, then use basic hands on manipulation to create things to replicate these items from the past. Still, another very cool way to study 6th grade social studies. The only difference between the previous three teachers and my team teacher is that the others are under 40, and she is over 60.
Who should be teaching what?
When I attended the NCCE I discovered a number of fantastic tools but the one that really stuck with me was called wevideo. I'll talk about that particular tool more in a later post once I've finished the experience of using it with my students. However, it'll suffice to say that it's a free online video editing tool. Free is the magic word in public education. Of all the tools I saw at the conference, this was the one I was most interested in. Why? Well I happen to have a bachelors degree in Film and Digital Media Production. This is the tool I need to bring something I love to any students, anywhere. I began planning immediately to bring it into my classroom.
All of the teachers above have taken something they enjoy or find interesting and adapted it to be the medium for their teaching. As I look over the list of methods of teaching 6th grade social studies above I'm, first off, amazed with the options. They're really all great. I feel that with considerable investment I could teach any one of them and students would learn the necessary material. What I can't do is say that anyone of them is better than another.
When I think about the veteran teacher on my team jumping into any of the "game based" learning options, I have some doubts. But she's already using a number of advanced tools that I haven't even checked out like Essay Scorer and Study Island to have more technology in her teaching. While I doubt her level of interest in zombies could sell zombie based learning to the students, if she wanted to she could definitely incorporate civilization into her curriculum. But she probably doesn't want to (I haven't actually asked her).
Perhaps more importantly, she doesn't need to. She has a way of teaching that is engaging, hands on, project based, and detailed. Technology isn't a big part of it in the same way it is for Lucas Gillispie. It isn't as hip as David Hunter's zombies apocalypse. But it still works well. While there may be some side of me that wants to push everyone into a game based teaching and learning, it's simply not necessary to insure student learning.
Style or Substance
Every teacher has a style. Four teachers teaching the same lesson will teach it four different ways. They'll incorporate their own experiences from their own life, they'll include misconceptions that previous students have encountered, they'll adapt it to meet their perceptions of the students that they currently have in front of them. Some may be more fun, some may be more interesting, some may help cement the information more. But with technology in the picture, what is the goal?
I was asked in my interview on Lopez Island what are the three things every student should leave k-12 education with as far as technology goes. My answer was this:
1) International-internet citizenship
An understanding of how to behave on the internet, how the internet behaves, and how to make use of the availability of a world-wide source of information.
2) No fear
Fear is paralyzing. The fear of breaking technology is one of the major things that stop people from trying something new. If the fear of failing stops us from taking a step, we have failed to fear and learned nothing.
3) How to buy and set up a computer
This probably plays into the fear aspect, but I feel that students need to understand the basic components of a computer in order to make a decision about which one they should use. Questions like hard drive space, RAM, video cards and, of course, how to set the basic thing up, connect to the internet, set up a home network. If they can do these things, the lack of fear will drive them to everything else.
In the end, technology is a medium, just like paper and pencil, an art canvas, a lump of clay, or a block of granite. The medium must serve the artist. A writer has no use for a rock just as a sculptor has no use for strip of film. Each teacher must find a medium that they are comfortable with. They don't need to create the medium and generally best off adapting a readily available medium for their own use. But so long as they are comfortable with the medium and students are comfortable with the medium, they can use it to reach their students.