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I promised myself this school year that I would move forward full speed ahead into the 21st century, use technology to provide students with a wider audience than their teacher and parents, and find ways to present content that was both meaningful and relevant. I have not gone back on this promise, but neither do I feel like I’ve moved as much as possible. Will Richardson might call this a “Yeah, but…” post, and it’s a reality that many teachers, with very good intentions, find themselves mired in.

Just some examples…
• iBook mobile lab: keys missing, dead batteries that no longer hold charge, newest iBook is 5 years old, oldest is 7
• 6 mac minis to be shared among 40 students in an open classroom, only 5 actually working (did I mention that they have different versions of various software and just recently had the same OS installed?)
• 1 video camera (yay! this one works! but keep in mind that the equipment is shared among the grade level — 4 classes, 80 students)
• 2 still shot cameras (again shared among the grade level)
• A school lab with 10 eMacs and 10 mini-macs which have been pulled from various classrooms who are awaiting updates

All this in a school whose mission is to “prepare children for the 21st century.”

I’m not bashing my school. Really. I’m not. (totally sans sarcasm here) There are many reasons why technology is not at the top of a school’s priorities. The pie is limited, and everyone wants their fair share. Truly, at this point in my life, there is no where else I’d rather work. Part of the reason I love this school is that teachers are encouraged to dream big, to be innovative, to teach in ways that honor each child. And yet, when it takes the students 15 minutes to log into their wikispace because supposedly its been un-blocked (interject sarcasm here), but they get stuck in a vicious loop of logins and DOE error messages, I just want to scream. Then they finally get to start a post, only to have to logout because our lab time is up. In the meantime, the other half of the students haven’t even touched the keyboard…again…

So I know all the pat answers.
“Put the computers in a learning center rotation.”
“Make a schedule.”
“Connect the computer to a projector.”
“Teach the students typing skills so they get done more quickly.”
“Assign the students roles (i.e. spell checker, typer, reader) to facilitate sharing of the responsibilites.”
“Use the computer as a teaching tool.” (read…the students never touch the computer)

At best, these “solutions” are antiquated answers, no longer relevant in a 21st century curriculum. At worst, the computer is rarely used by the students in any meaningful way. This cannot be allowed to happen in our schools. The machine that is education in the United States cannot continue to churn out students who are prepared for jobs that are either outsourced or no longer exist. Why sort and select students instead of providing opportunities for all to succeed? Why indeed?

In answer to these questions, teachers are making a difference in their own quiet way, in their own individual classrooms. Despite the many technical difficulties, the students plug away, using edublogs and wikispaces, communicating with their teachers via email, creating portfolios to demonstrate learning, and, hopefully, finding an audience to share their thinking and learning.

Maybe, for now, this has to be good enough.

Well, not literally on the go…yet. In actuality, I’m sitting on my sofa, in my living room testing WordPress for iPhone, a new, FREE app from the App Store and marveling at its ease. Not only can I post, but I can also include photos, as well. This has major implications for educators. For the past two years, we have been trying to maintain a class webpage. It’s all systems go initially, lots of content, lots of media. But, as the year progresses and the plate fills, one of the first things to go is inevitably the webpage. With this app, I can jot off a quick update and post it in a few minutes. No need for a computer. No need to wait until the kids are abed. All I need is some inspiration and my trusty iPhone! Now if I could only add some links, this would be perfect…

I’m beginning with a disclaimer that this (1/2 book) review of The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman is only my humble opinion. I don’t pretend to be an expert by any measure, particularly on a topic lived and breathed by a three time Pulitzer prize winner. In actuality, I’m writing this because I am on page 290 of a 566 page book and I am struggling to keep the momentum going. Truly, if others have differing opinions, or have different insights that would help me continue in a different vein, I would love to hear them.

As highly recommended as this book came, I was expecting new, groundbreaking ideas, patterns that I had overlooked, trends that I had missed. Unfortunately, after a captivating introduction, (While I Was Sleeping really set the tone) the book became a metronome, tick, tick, ticking away the same message, neither speeding up, nor slowing down. In fact, all of Friedman’s ideas addressed in that first chapter are repeated, again and again, for the next 150 pages. Perhaps the most revolutionary thing I learned that I hadn’t picked up from paying minor attention to business news, was that UPS is now a supply-chain manager. Who would have thought that there are Toshiba-certified technicians working for UPS? Perhaps a little more subtlety, and trust that Friedman’s readers would find the connections between his ideas would have made it more palatable.

Perhaps my next gripe has nothing to do with the book itself, but is shaped on my own personal thoughts. Throughout my reading, I felt a vague sense of discomfort, not the discomfort that comes with new ideas or the discovery or another point of view, but the discomfort that comes when a remark that is decidedly non-PC is made in casual company. Various occupations seem to be ranked in a hierarchy, not simply blue- or white-collar, but something seemingly more judgmental…well-educated vs. low-skilled. I worry about the portrayal of Indians as willing and eager to work for what basically amounts to peanuts in the United States. And it really bothers me that there is, throughout the half of the book I’ve read so far, that same sense of western-centric ideals that has gotten the United States in some very hot water over the past 50 years or so. But I digress.

I really wish that Friedman had explored the options of the people who will lose their jobs and livelihoods to outsourcing and supply-chaining. There is a very human element that must be addressed because if nothing else, it was made clear that this is the tidal wave of the future. The one comfort that was given is that society has met the technology challenge head on, and somehow, everything works itself out, mostly for the better. One such example is that of agriculture. We no longer need as many farmers; we have other sources of food. But what about the farmers who are no longer needed? I seem to recall an event called Farm-Aid in the mid 80’s specifically put on to help farmers who were unable to make a living anymore. Is this what will happen to others who are outsourced? The message given, throughout the book, seems to be “the end justifies the means.” Don’t worry about the people of today, because the people of tomorrow will benefit.

Again in closing, I hope there will be people who will respond to me, be it, “Right on! I’m thinking the exact same thing!” or “Are you crazy? Here is what you missed…” In the meantime, I will continue to read through the last half of the book, albeit at a slower pace than normal, and try not to take too many breaks…I still have four or so more books on my reading list!

Help! I guess you can skip the drumroll for my last post. I am having technical difficulties or “digital immigrantitis” getting the player to embed. The podcast is hosted at podbean.com. If anyone has any suggestions or ideas for how to post the podcast, please comment!

June 2017
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