Saturday, October 12, 2013

I thought that it was only fitting to begin this blog with the first article that I wrote in our district newsletter outlining the case of why we were beginning an iPad 1:1 implementation in 2010. The article attempts to highlight a few technological advances that are changing the skills required of our students and the importance of empowering students to chase their curiosity. Likewise, the article provides a quick backdrop of some of my beliefs that shape the theme of this blog - to encourage all of us (not just students) to keep finding new questions and better answers.

June 2010: Why Change?
My oldest daughter, Anna, will be starting kindergarten this year. Over the last couple of years, like most curious preschoolers, Anna has asked me an endless list of questions: “How far is the Sun from the Earth? Why do bees sting? If one giant stood on another giant, could the top one touch the moon? How do you make ice cream? What is war? Why are fireworks so loud? What causes cancer?” I’m sure every parent has experienced the insatiable curiosity of their own child. I still remember searching the library card catalog as a child and flipping through microfiche as a college student to find answers to my own questions. Anna, on the other hand, will never even hear the term “card catalog” or “microfiche.” To help answer many of her questions, she and I turned to Google and various websites. A post on Facebook and a link to a YouTube video guided us through how to make homemade ice cream. A Skype conversation with my dad who served in the military helped answer the question of war for my daughter. Unfortunately, her desire to know the cause of cancer currently is still unfilled.

These experiences remind me of the natural curiosity that all kids possess and that the tools that my daughter will use in her schooling will be – should be – very different than the tools that I used two decades ago when I graduated from high school. She, and her generation, will need to be better equipped to use tools like Google, YouTube, and yes, even Facebook, effectively and responsibly. Already today, our students live in a digitally-connected world outside of school that includes texting, social networking, virtual realities, and online games.

Google is currently attempting to scan and digitize more than 50 million books from five of the largest libraries in the world. Amazon is now selling more electronic books than hardcover versions. Apple iPad owners have downloaded over five million books in just the last two months. Facebook now has more active accounts than the entire US population. Approximately 24 hours of video footage is being uploaded to YouTube every minute. Just imagine the changes that Anna and her classmates, the class of 2023, will see during the next 13 years.

These changes surrounding our children will certainly require them to have a different set of skills than what was required just a decade ago. Anna’s future boss may not expect her to know the capital of Maine, but will expect her to know how to quickly find the answer. Our future graduates must not be equipped with just the three R’s, but must be equipped with 21st-century skills of problem solving, critical thinking, communication, and technological literacy – skills that don’t necessarily come from reading a chapter in their current textbooks. They will need to be able to quickly and accurately find answers to questions, synthesize information, communicate and collaborate with colleagues not just in their own office, but with a global community of colleagues and customers.

We as educators, parents, and community members need to acknowledge that these forces and changes are real and embrace the challenge of helping students responsibly navigate their positive uses. With this in mind, our district is trying to make a transformation to “Digital Instruction,” in which each student is issued some type of Internet device, such as a small laptop, netbook, iPad, or digital tablet. During the 2009-10 school year, we piloted this idea with a handful of classes (one in grade 6; the others at the high school). Over the course of the next year, with the help of parents and community members, our district will investigate funding sources and the details and logistics of how to make this a reality for more of our students.

Admittedly, this initiative won’t be easy. There is no denying the scope of this project and the challenges that it presents. This will require a change in policies, habits, and methods by everyone. There will be mistakes, growing pains, and adjustments that need to be made. Teachers, administrators, parents, and community members will need to work together to make it a success. I know there will be some that believe that the challenges and risks of such an endeavor are too great. I contend that the risks of not embarking on this journey are even greater.

As Anna begins school this year, I have tried to brace myself for the inevitable passing of time that will likely tick by as quickly as the last five years. Although I know her interests and personality are bound to change over the course of the next 13 years, I hope she keeps her curiosity and hunger for learning. That desire to learn and the ability to think and learn on their own are perhaps the greatest gifts we can give our students. Teachers and parents will still be the most influential force in sparking that curiosity. The device is just another tool of learning – one that helps students find their answers. But, providing this device to students opens the doors to powerful, new opportunities. If together we can figure this out and keep our students inquisitive and searching for answers, I know they will not just be successful in school, but in life. Who knows - maybe someday one of them can solve the question about cancer that Anna’s daddy wasn't able to answer.


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