Understanding the machine

Image: machine-free by jrtcollector-Sassy Bella Melange, made available by a creative commons license on flickr

All teachers need to get on to letting students create bigger and better things with them — whether the teacher understands the machine or not. Topher

Now THERE is the rub. The past few years in education has marked a transition from teacher controlled environments to student-centered ones where teachers need to give up the traditional sense of authority and control for an increased sense of learning and authenticity in the classroom.

Project-based learning and learning that uses technology is scary for a teacher who doesn’t know about it. Traditionally, a teacher had all the answers. That is no longer true. Case in point – I taught the History of Quebec and Canada for the first time only about 4 years ago. I taught the course because 18 students had been targeted as needing resource support in order to have a chance at passing. I was the high school’s resource coordinator at the time and, as a joke, suggested I teach the course if so many students were going to need resource…and so I did. I hadn’t really thought about that History course in the 20 years since I had taken it (and passed with a glorious 54…). I was determined that the same thing would not happen to the students in my charge.

So, even though I did not really ‘understand the machine’ I agreed to teach these students. I taught them how to learn using various technologies, from print to digital, with history as the context. It was certainly challenging – imagine the task of making the history of Quebec and Canada come alive to a majority Native (Mohawk from Kanahwake) classroom. Not to mention that my students had been identified as struggling ones. The secret to their success – 16 of the 18 passed that course on the first try, the provincial average is much lower than that – was that I saw through the material to the kids. I identified their needs, their learning styles, their interests and I spent the year frantically finding technologies that would meet all of those things, that would meet these kids.

In order to do that I had to give up a certain sense of control, actually no. I did not give up control. I shifted it. Rather than being a holder of knowledge, I became a manager of learning. In fact, I had to be more on top of things to allow this to happen. I needed to create rubrics with clearly identified goals that all of my students were expected to meet. I needed to…well, you all probably know the many layers of things I needed to do, the point is that in order for this kind of a thing to work the role of the teacher needs to change and change can be very scary.

Dennis wrote, in a recent comment,

Justin and I are working on putting together some curricular attempts to answer those questions that you ask. An embedded tech curriculum based on thinking and collaborating and analyzing and creating and making decisions that can work alongside (and perhaps someday over) a curriculum based on knowledge content.

My wish for this project – which I think is central to where education needs to go – is that as much thought and care – if not more – is put into teacher support.

We need to support teachers as they go through these transitions, to support teachers as they teach in ambiguous times, to shift the emphasis from teaching history to kids to teaching kids how to learn history or math or geography or whatever. I’m not sure if we can really do that whether the teacher understands the machine or not my life would have been made MUCH easier if I hadn’t had to re-teach myself history that year, but I think that if we can teach teachers how and where to go for help in understanding the machine then we are doing a fabulous job.

When I ask a teacher what they teach, the answer is usually a subject. I want that answer to shift from a subject to the subjects who are the most important of all – the students.

technorati tags: , , , , ,