Thursday, April 2, 2015

Baby Toys Should Have Bluetooth Too

My Son's Interpretation of Bluetooth
One of my favorite electronic toys at home is my JBL Power-Up bluetooth speaker. It produces incredible sound out of a small device. Not only that, but I can pair it with my phone just by laying my phone on top of the speaker. It will make a connection, kick on my music and wirelessly charge my phone simultaneously. I absolutely love wireless charging.

My wife recently sent the photo of this baby toy phone setting on top of my speaker. (Of course, I had to add a little of my own treatments to it.) My son thought that by placing his little sister's baby toy on top of the speaker, that it would project the sound out of it. He's seen me do it hundreds of times with my phone. He obviously is missing a few pieces to the puzzle as the toy phone does not have bluetooth capabilities nor does he know how to pair a device. He lacks the know-how. However, he's witnessed what it is capable of doing. He doesn't try this anymore as he was left unsuccessful. Nor does he even seek help.

The baby phone scenario got me thinking about technology integration in the classroom. I work with some amazing teachers that do technology integration very well. It is a part of their daily routine. It is a part of them because they utilize the tools personally as well as professionally. They are risk takers and have failed miserably at times, but always learn from their mistakes and are extremely teachable.  Their students are fluent because they use digital tools everyday purposefully; not for skill and drill. They create and express their knowledge through apps that require them to input information and think about how they want to communicate their thinking. So often these teachers provide a learning experience that is so engaging and transformational at such a level that it causes their colleagues to notice. That's when I get an email or a question in the hallway asking to create the same "magic" in their classroom. I attempt to create the same experience, but it almost always falls short because there is something missing. There is a lack of understand of what happens behind the scenes for the teacher that experiences success after success with technology integration. Much like my son with his sister's baby phone, placing the toy phone on the bluetooth radio will not create the same magic that I can with my phone. There are pieces to the puzzle that he never saw. He doesn't know that I either read directions or had prior experience with bluetooth enabled devices. He doesn't know the extent at which I studied and practiced to make it work properly.

Five Pieces to the Puzzle:
  1. Digital Citizenship - What steps were taken in order to communicate treatment of devices or expectations for their use? Do they know what kind of power lies at their fingertips and the ramification for poor choices? 
  2. Digital Culture - What value does the teacher place on the device? If the teacher doesn't utilize/value their digital resources, the students won't either. That's plain and simple. The digital culture in a classroom is completely dependant upon the teacher. Do the students comprehend and appreciate the power they hold in their hands? 
  3. Integration - Technology is often treated as a separate part of the day. I cringe every time I hear of "free technology time" on Friday afternoons. How about using it for indoor recess? Using a piece of technology should be fraught with purpose. It is a terribly dangerous thing to just let students use the devices with no end goal in mind. Sure, you can let them use it during recess, but give a purpose for its use. If the purpose is entertainment, the device has lost significance. 
  4. Purpose - Does the purpose for the experience mean anything to the student? If you have students use (insert skill and drill tool here)  for 30 minutes each day, are they benefiting from that experience? Teachers don't give the same worksheets each day...at least I hope not. Are the students using the technology to enhance their learning, or is it being a hindrance? 
  5. Problem Solving - Students need to know how to use a multitude of digital tools in order to achieve an end goal. Can they successfully make decisions as to which tools they use to accomplish a task? Can the teacher do the same? Teachers need to practice using the tools for their own purposes in order to effectively guide students into the problem solving process. Try making a video slideshow with Shadow Puppet. Try making a collage with Pic Collage. Imagine how your students can benefit from the same resources.
I read an article from The Journal by Cathie Norris and Elliot Soloway recently about technology failing to substantially improve student achievement. It all comes down to one issue: How the students are utilizing the technology? Are your students creating? Are your students using multiple tools to gather information and express their learning? Are you students taking advantage of the opportunities that lie within the technology?