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Friday, June 26, 2015

I'm Not a Techie

Technology Cow via http://goo.gl/XR2MYi
In 1976 I went to the University of South Carolina to be a dual Math and Computer Science major. I got my math degree but gave up on computers after spending hours at the card punch machine at late hours on the university's one computer (that also had to do research and university business).

In 1985 to 1987 I attended the Naval Postgraduate School where I majored in Weapons Systems Engineering. I got a masters in engineering and the equivalent of a bachelors in physics while studying robotics. I worked on an IBM AT and an IBM XT for the robot work and I had a computer built to my specs for home where I could connect to the school's mainframe.

In 1992 I finished my masters in education and I co-taught a computers in the classroom course at Old Dominion University. We used the Apple IIE and I got to see teachers experience the world wide web (and accidentally find porn sites).

In 2008 I started work at Manor New Technology HS and the first question I was asked was whether I was a Mac or a PC person. I had never had a Mac but I knew the correct answer - give me a Mac! A couple of years later we added iPads to our repertoire.

During the years 2008 to present I actively reached out to like-minded teachers who were on Twitter, used Macs and iPads, and were discussing the future of education. So many of my first Twitter friends have become, what I like to call, Twitter Gods! They go to all of the cool conferences, hang out with all of the coolest people, and write books and have well-followed blogs. And many (most?) of them are techies. But not me.

That's right. I'm not a techie. I appreciate technology. I use technology to help me work more efficiently. I love discussing the latest apps, the latest websites, or a great blog post. But I'm not a techie. I still want to be where all of the "cool kids" are like SXSW, ISTE, or Ipadpalooza. But you know what? I can't afford to go to these conferences and I'm not in technology at a school district so I can't expect anyone to help me financially. Because I'm not a techie.

What I am is an education nerd. I love talking about curriculum and pedagogy. I love finding ways to help kids enjoy learning. I try new things in the classroom and want teachers to be better because our kids deserve the best teachers they can have. And if that means a cool app that improves inquiry and helps a student go deeper with their learning, then I'm all on board. But if a teacher has the latest bells and whistles tool, but can't reach the kids, then I don't want to hear about it.

Too many education conferences are focusing on those "precious" things called technology. Teachers by the hundreds are attending these and hanging out on the vendor floor with stars in their eyes. But what about learning about becoming a better teacher! What about finding ways to get students more involved with the content?

I just finished 3 weeks where I spent 11 of the 15 work days in front of teachers wanting to learn about PBL. They designed projects built on their content standards. And they designed these projects to help students make connections to the learning. Not once did I suggest an app, some software, or any hardware. Because I'm not a techie.

What I did do was help them understand how to turn the verbs written into their standards into some real-world, authentic, activity or problem. If, through examining this authentic problem their students might need some sort of technology we'd discuss that but technology was never at the center of the discussion. Because these were teachers - not techies.

It is 2015. It is time to FINALLY get to the point where we were at Manor New Tech 7 years ago - technology is the invisible tool. It is a tool. That is all. A tool. Like a pencil or pen. Like a chalk board, a white board, or a SMART board. A tool. We need to be tool masters not techies. What tool do we need to use to successfully complete this task? Whatever tool works best.

Can we finally stop sucking on the technology teat at education conferences? Probably not. But can we please get principals to the point where they see technology as just a tool? Then, and only then, will we be able to push teachers away from their "precious."

We just might get back to where we were in 1976 when I graduated from high school - we used the best tools that we had available. It just happened to be that it was a stick of chalk and a chalk board - although some of the rich kids could afford a Smith Corona electric typewriter - now THAT was cool!