Friday, May 7, 2010

Keeping The Door Of Learning Wide Open

This week I had the honor of guest posting over at the Microsoft Teacher Tech Blog for teacher appreciation week. Below is the post that appeared there on Thursday.

Students today depend upon paper too much. They don’t know how to write on slate without chalk dust all over themselves. They can’t clean a slate properly. What will they do when they run out of paper?”

This was a quote that appeared in a principals magazine in 1815. But I wonder? Is this the same sentiment that our educators have today?

Unfortunately, there are teachers and administrators out there that still believe that the advancement of and use of technology in the classroom is detrimental to learning. Just last week, Anthony Orsini, an Administrator in a New Jersey middle school, sent home a letter that strongly encouraged the parents to get their students out of all social media sites saying,
"Let me repeat that - there is absolutely, positively no reason for any middle school student to be a part of a social networking site! None."

Mr. Orsini, I have to disagree.

While he might not think there is a legitimate purpose in for students using Social Media I can think of several reasons why our kids should be deeply involved in using social media and more generally, technology, in the classroom.

A great friend of my, Tom Whitby, and I have traveled across the country talking to various groups about the use of Social Media in schools. Tom loves to ask people if they have or know kids between the ages of 3-10. A good majority of hands go up. Then he asks how many of them are on the website Webkinz. Not as many hands are still up but there are still several. The point of the questions are that a child's use of social media begins long before they enter our classrooms. Webkinz is one of the largest social networks for kids in that age range. They are playing games and connecting with kids across the world. So we will let them do that but ban the same thing in our classrooms?

The education community continues to stress the need to teach 21st Century Skills. Many would agree that one of those crucial skills is the ability for our students to collaborate and connect to seek out appropriate information. There is only so much collaboration and connections that kids can make in a classroom with their peers. Why limit ourselves to our 4 walls like this principal in NJ? Many of these tools that we can use to connect students are free and so very easy to use and kids can make instant contact to other kids across the globe. Instead of reading about another cultures customs in a boring textbook why not talk to someone living there and make that connection?

Remember pen pals? I was always so excited to get that letter from my pal in Germany. Of course my teacher was working on reading and writing skills but I didn’t care. I just wanted to tell him all the awesome things I was doing and hear the same from him. We can still do that. We can still teach reading and writing skills and talk about geography and history, but we can do it real-time. That can, and should change the way we educate our kids.

These kids have access to all corners of the planet. The opportunities for learning are truly limitless. Yet Mr. Orsini has decided there needs to be limits placed on learning because of an unfounded fear. Educators have a duty to understand and explain risks of the use of these tools. However, if we are teaching those skills to our students why close the door to learning and take us back 100 years when we should be advancing at record pace?

I encourage all educators, to not to dismiss Social Media in the classroom merly because of some unfounded fear. Talk to your parents and talk to your students. Explain the risks but show the benefits and open the door to the boundless opportunities this type of learning can bring into our classrooms and schools.


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