Thursday, October 18, 2012

Taking Concepts for Granted

Organizing your email on your iPad
So far my fifth grade teachers and myself have worked very hard to create this new blended learning environment where students are competent  in creating, manipulating and understanding digital files.  To date, the kids have done some amazing stuff with their journaling app (PaperDesk) and their pdf annotator (DocAS).  They have done so well and understand digital learning environments enough that we have decided to move into "phase 2".  Of course, we aren't quite sure what phase 2 is yet, but we do know that it involves teaching these students some modern digital concepts that we sometimes take for granted.

Many times over the years I have heard educators or technology people say that the teacher didn't need to know the technology as well as the students, the teacher needed to know how to guide students.  I used to make this statement myself.  I am beginning to think that this was partially a mistake.  Maybe we have taken this concept to a point where we do not feel responsible for teaching our students some basic modern skills.  We take time out of our days to teach students how to do things like organize their locker, organize their binder or organize a paper, but we don't take the time  to teach them how to organize themselves in a modern way.  If you were write down all of the resources available to students today, the list would be staggering.  We are using all of these resources in schools, but instead of teaching the students how to organize their digital lives, we essentially allow them to "stuff it in the closet".  This is unacceptable and we need a solution.

This discussion with my fifth grade staff started because of an email.  We provided our students with email and just assumed they would know how to use it.  We talked about being polite, but not how to double check email addresses, using the CC feature or organizing their inbox.  We hadn't even considered teaching them how to use email signatures or the more "adult" features of email.  On the one hand, the kids did know how to use email, even those who had never used it before were taught in seconds by their peers.  But...

I had a parent come to me complaining about a grade her child received.  The child was to email the teacher, but the teacher said that the email never arrived so the child got a 0.  I explained that the child probably had mistyped the teachers email address (which I had just spoken to the students about a few day previous) and at this point there was no leniency on that issue, but to double check my guess I would like to see his email.  This is when I realized our mistake.  This child, this 10 year old child, had been deleting his sent email right after sending them because he wanted to keep his email organized.  He had been deleting emails from his inbox after reading them (including instructions from teachers) because he wanted to keep his inbox clean.  We taught this child how to send and receive messages, but we didn't really teach him how to effectively use email.

This has been troubling me ever since I realized what was going on.  I approached the fifth grade educators about my "phase 2" idea and will now be meeting regularly.  Our first order of business is to teach students how to effectively use email.  How to make decisions on what to delete and what to keep.  How to make folders and sub folders so information can stay organized and how to search their email to find information they need.  These are basic 21st century concepts and they are just as important as organizing their binders, lockers or anything else in their lives.  As adults, it is our responsibility to understand these basic concepts as well, just as we would understand they other types of organization.  It is our responsibility to know enough about these concepts that we can instantly offer suggestions to students without having to stop and think about it or having to ask someone else "Is it possible to make folders in email?".

They are the digital natives, but we are the guides.  We are not absolved of our responsibility to join the 21st century.  It is not ok to sit back and allow the students to learn new technologies in our classroom without learning that technology ourselves.  In order to be good educators, we must be good learners.  I think that is the main difference between and educator and a teacher.  A teacher helps students learn a specific subject.  An educator helps students prepare for life.  Which one are you?

Below are some resources for students and the 21st century.

Partnership for 21st Century Skills
National Education Technology Standards for Students
The Center for Public Education

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