The report from Project Tomorrow (www.tomorrow.org), “The New 3 E’s of Education: Enabled, Engaged and Empowered - How Today’s Educators are Advancing a New Vision for Teaching and Learning” (2011), summarizes findings from a nation-wide survey conducted in 2010. This survey collected data about the opinions on the importance of technology in the classroom. The mission of “Speak Up” (www.tomorrow.org/speakup/) is to try to bridge the digital divide between youths, educators, parents, and the community and use technology to promote learning in the classroom. The results of the survey are encouraging. Teachers and administrators are increasingly appreciating the value of technology in the classroom. Parents’ support is growing too, although at a slower rate. The results of the survey indicate that this may be due to concern about internet safety or misuse of technology for distracting purposes.
I was surprised that so many teachers still do not use technology more in the classroom. In some schools, the use of cell phones is forbidden. This is very different from my experiences. I instruct students to use their iPhones to look up information on-line, such as definitions for vocabulary words. I recently taught a lesson that involved internet research, a webquest to research the path of the gene from DNA to protein. At our school site, teachers can reserve a class set of laptops for the period. Students can work individually, or in pairs, on the laptops in the classroom. This has been a fantastic resource for me as a biology teacher since students can use the laptops as they simultaneously use laboratory equipment for inquiry-based projects.
Several students shared their opinions of how to improve schools in the video, “Dear, Mr. President: Students Speak Up to President Obama about how to improve their schools”. I was impressed with the caliber of the responses; they were well-crafted and rich in academic language. I was surprised at how much their desires for change matched my own as an educator. For instance, one student wanted to give teachers more freedom to teach the curriculum in a way that would engage more students. I have observed and experienced the restrictions schools (administrators and legislature) put on teachers, such as limiting access to internet sites, or mandating the use of a scripted curriculum. This infuriates me; I find it insulting that a school would allow me the freedom to let me do the job I was trained and hired to do. If I’m not allowed, as a teacher, to be creative, enthusiastic, and engaged with my favorite subject material, how can I hope to engage and motivate my students? Several students wished their teachers would make the material more interesting, engaging, or exciting. Students wanted teachers to make more real-life connections. Some students wanted more student choices in the classes they enroll, as well as the curriculum they learn. Many wanted classes that would teach them applicable, real-life skills that might be useful in a future job, such as business or economics. Interestingly, at my school site, there are “academies”, such as police training, fire fighting, and health. Students enroll in courses to participate in these programs in such high numbers, there is a waiting list.
In my teaching practice, I focus on engaging the students first and foremost. I believe that if I don’t have the students’ attention, I won’t be able to teach them. I start by connecting new material to something that excites them. I strive to do a lot of what students asked Mr. Obama to do for teachers, such as making real-life connections, engaging students, and including lots of hands-on projects.http://www.tomorrow.org/DearMrPresidentVideo.html
I was impressed with the YouthTeach2Learn program (http://www.tomorrow.org/programs/teach2learn.html). I think it would be very helpful for young, motivated high school students who have an aspiration to teach. It might help solidify their career decisions and help strengthen their applications to colleges. As described above, my school site has several “academies” in different job-focused areas, such as nursing, firefighting, cooking and law enforcement. I would love to start a “Scientist Academy”, a program for students interested in science, engineering, and technology. My goal would to have the “program” start with an extracurricular class that built onto the concepts being taught in biology, chemistry and physics. The class would be student-centered and project-centered. Students would vote from a list of topics, concepts, labs, and project types at the beginning of the semester. In groups, they would pursue inquiry-based projects and experiments, including a presentation to the class. My goal would be to have the class grow beyond simply a class and become a “Science Club” outside of class to spend more time on projects and experiments. Students would compete in local science fairs, and I would give them guidance on how to apply for scholarships and awards.