Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Wanted: The Right Tools For The Job

Growing up, most of us were taught that jealousy is wrong. But what if all you want is simply the right tool for the job? Personally, I want my doctor to upgrade to the best medical equipment available, especially if he's about to operate on me. In fact, if he was comfortable with his dilapidated x-ray machine, or his beat-up stethoscope, I'd think there was something wrong with him.

It's a question of equity. A righteous jealousy is merely wanting the right tool for the job. Would anyone look down on a mechanic because he wanted to upgrade from a wrench to an air compressor? During the Civil Rights marches of the 1960s, did anyone consider Martin Luther King, Jr. jealous when all he wanted was equal rights for all people? Why should teachers be any different when it comes to wanting the right tools to meet the needs of their students?

A Little Field Trip
So today, my principal, myself, and some of the teachers at Coronita Elementary school visited Todd Elementary school to learn how the staff has integrated technology into their curriculum over the past two years. Todd's principal, Grace Eden, along with classroom teachers Angela Helmer and Ed Cavillo, demonstrated their interactive whiteboards, document cameras, wireless pads, and student responders. Afterwards, we visited their English Learner lab, complete with dance pads tethered to computers, and touch screen computers.

Dance To Learn
One of the dance pad games we tried involved matching an animal with its characteristic. As a two- or three- word description drifts across the top of the screen (ex. hooves, gallop, four legs), the player stomps his or her foot on the part of the dance pad that corresponds with the location of the animal's name on the screen (i.e. horse). Points are awarded for speed and accuracy. It's these kinds of technology rich, whole-body kinesthetic learning activities that make the children enrolled in Todd's 2-hour after school EL program want to stay even longer.

Breaking New Ground
Since Todd is one of Corona-Norco Unified School District's newer schools, Grace Eden had the opportunity to make key decisions about the kind of tools with which they would outfit their school. For example, instead of deciding to purchase brand new overhead transparency projectors, DVD players, CRT televisions, and other traditional pieces of equipment, she insisted that each classroom should be equipped with more current and effective tools, such as interactive whiteboards, student responders, and document cameras. Any money that would normally have been spent on "old school" technology was going to be spent on "new school" tools. To learn more about Todd's use of technology, check out this article featuring Todd Elementary by RIMS CTAP, published back in January, '09.

Passionate About Teaching
As a strong proponent of educational technology, it's a huge encouragement to me, my principal, Beth Feaster, and many of my colleagues, to see fellow teachers across town like Angela and Ed, and a principal like Grace Eden, putting technology in the hands of students and teachers, modeling best practices, and ultimately being passionate about teaching.

Bottom line: Teachers need new tools to truly engage students and enhance their learning. There's nothing wrong with an overhead projector: but compared to a document camera hooked up to an interactive whiteboard-- forget about it! It's like the difference between a typewriter with ribbon vs. a word processing program on a computer. There is simply no contest. It's time for ALL stakeholders to embrace the tools of tomorrow because tomorrow is here. And teachers, you're not being jealous or covetous to want the right tool for the job.

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