A 360-degree approach to technology in schools will ensure a level playing field for all students.
Snowshoes, GPS receivers and a geocaching treasure hunt. We sure didn't do anything like that during P.E. on snowy days when I was in elementary school. But that's exactly what happens these days at East Kingston Elementary in New Hampshire.
While I found this instructional approach intriguing (see “From the Get-Go”), it prompted me to start thinking about the availability of technology in schools and how to make sure that all children are exposed to as many types of technologies as possible. Ensuring the technical literacy bar remains high, while also achievable and fair, is essential to preparing students to succeed in the 21st century.
There's a new playing field beyond physical education in schools today. It's the technology playing field, and we need to make sure it's level so that all children can excel and succeed using technology – not only during their primary school years, but also beyond the classroom when they enter higher education institutions and ultimately the work world.
The ability to provide more hands-on technology tools for students is becoming possible in large part because the price tags on items such as Global Positioning System units, netbooks, e-readers and other portable devices are becoming more affordable in bulk – even on limited budgets. Plus, as adoption of one-to-one programs and distance-learning initiatives expand, the teaching staffs often become the advocates for and creators of technology-rich curriculums.
Today's children respond to most technology devices as they would pencil and paper; it's something they expect to have around them wherever they are, including school. For schools, that means pushing out technology earlier and more extensively than before.
Here are some suggestions for introducing technology to our youngest learners:
- Build a solid tech infrastructure first. Initially, when East Kingston deployed classroom technology, the wireless network crashed frequently, frustrating students and causing teachers to lose confidence. The school district's IT staff upgraded the network a few years ago, and now the Wi-Fi network is always available. "Build everyone's confidence by building your infrastructure, and let them know it's going to work," says Tech Coordinator Heather Reed.
- Start small and find early adopters. When you are testing new technology, give it to a small group of teachers who want it and who will use it. They will put in the extra time to learn the technology, promote it and train other teachers to use it, which will increase adoption throughout the school.
- Don't be afraid to make mistakes. It's many a teacher's nightmare to have a classroom full of students looking on while you try to troubleshoot your way out of a technology glitch. Don't be fearful that you have to be a master
- Collaborate with other teachers. Have early adopters of technology train other teachers on how to best use it. Teachers should also save and share their lessons on a shared network folder.
- Be proactive. Read the curriculum and be part of the curriculum committee. It's a perfect opportunity to keep the IT staff up to date while brainstorming ways to incorporate technology into teachers' lessons.
What all this really boils down to is surrounding students with technology opportunities, giving them the chance to explore the world and use technology intuitively as a natural element of the learning process. Let's call it a 360-degree IT approach to the K–12 curriculum.