On the Road to Modification and Redefinition

“Through the Learning Technology Plan, students and teachers have the tools they need to investigate, communicate, collaborate, create, model, and explore concepts and content in authentic contexts.”

Based on this vision of the St. Vrain Learning Technology Plan, how are we doing? Yes, we have the devices in our students’ hands (1:1 at secondary), ensuring access and equity. Yes, our new instructional materials adoptions are more digitally-based, packaged with dynamic content. Yes, we have Schoology as a learning management system for workflow, communication, and assessment. And yes, we have the Google apps suite available for staff and students. We have checked the boxes that earned us the distinction of a top 10 district for digital curriculum and integrated technology use in the country two years in a row. The question, however, is around how these devices and tools are being used: Are our students digital consumers or digital creators? (This can also be described as the digital use divide, as defined in the National Education Technology Plan.)

True, digital instructional materials in mathematics offer features and supports that no print textbook will ever provide. Seeing animations of concepts and relationships is much more likely to stick that arduously performing the same tasks with paper and pencil. Students getting instant feedback and help supports with digital assignments provide on-demand help and reteaching opportunities instead of having to wait until the next class period. But these value-added features still describe a student consumption-based model of approaching content; we’ve simply substituted print, static resources with digital, dynamic resources (remember the SAMR model?). So how do we move up to Modification and Redefinition and how might we support our students in transforming the school experience? The answer is not quite that simple in practice: have them become self-directed content creators using the devices and suite of tools at their fingertips.

Math educator Michael Fenton did an ignite talk in 2014, Technology and the Curious Mind, urging educators move away from Indifference, Consumption, Competition, Isolation to Curiosity, Creativity, Collaboration, Conversation with use of technology in the classroom. In 2015, Rick Wormeli published Moving Students from Passive Consumers to Active Creators, where he claims, “this is a call for more project-based learning, integrated learning, and inquiry-method across the curriculum. These three methods provide more opportunities for true student creation than simply listening and repeating content.” In era where a student can simply Google information just-in-time instead of relying on textbooks and teachers in classrooms, students need to engage in tasks where answers cannot simply be Googled (trivial facts) or solved by Photomath (procedural, rote exercises). Curious about project-based learning and have no idea where to start? It’s okay, anything new can be scary and lead to more questions than concrete answers, especially since most of us grew up in a traditional educational setting from elementary school through college (I sure did!). But since Google and Photomath are here to stay, the old paradigm of just-in-case education needs to be transformed using just-in-time technologies and resources. Let’s figure this out together, brainstorm, fail, succeed, and learn from each other, just like we expect from our students on a daily basis.

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