Monday, February 23, 2009

The future ain't what it used to be

Let's see, at this very moment I have on my person a four gig thumb drive, a one gig thumb drive, a laser pointer (all conveniently hung from a lanyard around my neck to drive home my geekitude to all who see me), and a Blackberry in my pocket that goes off every five minutes when I get new email (how the heck did I get on the Crocs mailing list anyways?). I'm practically in constant contact with my son who's away at college. When the phone isn't beeping for email, it's playing a song telling me he's texting (the theme from Dr. Horrible if you must know).

I have a portable, external hard drive (160 gigs) hooked to my laptop. I have every CD I own ripped and downloaded to it, along with all my school files, personal files and assorted junk-of-my-life. I don't read the newspaper anymore; I get almost all my news online from both large news organizations and small. I subscribe to a number of blogs which I read via the Google sidebar on my screen. Throughout the day, I shoot little messages to my Twitter account via my computer or my Blackberry.

As I'm typing away in my office, I'm often halted by a Skype message, either text or video, from one of my teachers who needs a quick question answered that doesn't require me running down to his room. On rare occasions, I get Skyped from a CFF coach from a different district, the intermediary unit, or even my daughter who teaches down in Annapolis.

When I go home, I seldom turn on the television anymore, at least not right away. I check my personal emails, post a couple of messages on my favorite discussion board, and do a little moderation on the various websites I maintain for people. Sometimes my wife Dolores and I will watch a Netflix movie via their instant service. I can choose a movie online through their website and it's beamed directly to my TV. More and more, I find myself texting or working on something on my computer while I'm watching a movie or TV. Oddly, I don't find myself missing what's going on on-screen (unless it's one of the interminably long segments of Heroes that's in Japanese with subtitles).

All of this makes me one of the rarities among people of my age- I would be considered a digital native. Most folks my age (I'm a pirate who looked at forty a couple of years ago) would fall into the category of digital immigrants according to Marc Prensky, who coined both terms to describe why so many adults just don't get the younger generation's lack of enthusiasm for traditional teaching methodology and are thus called lazy and inattentive. Because of my familiarity and comfort with technology, I was asked to step away from the classroom for a year or two and become my school's Classrooms For the Future coach. My new position is to help teachers in the building incorporate new technological methods of instruction to meet the needs of students in the 21st century.

Thus far this has been a real eye-opener fore me. Despite my background, until very recently I taught the same way I was taught way back in the day when Carter Country was a hit TV show. I had my classes arranged in tidy little rows, and I lectured and gave notes most of the time. I will grant you I am an absolutely fascinating lecturer, but even so, over the last few years I've noticed that lessons that once had the kids leaning forward in their seats to capture my every word are now falling on more and more deaf ears.

I haven't lost my fire as far as I know, but students today don't want to be talked to non-stop for forty minutes at a time six times a day. They are also digital natives, many, perhaps even most, more so than me. If I can't sit still and focus on simply one task anymore, why would expect that they can? Students today need to be engaged.

So I've rededicated my blogging for the foreseeable future towards the idea of education in the 21st century and how I can become a better teacher as well as help inform others who have a stake in not just education, but the future of our country. As I heard another CFF coach say recently, if we are teaching the kids for the world today, we're already twenty years behind.

1 comment:

  1. You are sooo right. The teaching methods that worked for us just don't apply anymore. I'm a retired Navy officer who is trying to land a full-time teaching gig (I'm a substitute now) mainly because I see the challenge of making education relevant to our kids. I would hope (and I hope I'm not being overly idealistic) that I can help students overcome the paradigms of the past and make learning, if not fun, then worthwhile for them. The mistake I see a lot of veteran teachers make is that they feel they are the fonts of knowledge who can learn very little from their students.
    That being said, an over-reliance on technology can be a problem as I witnessed when I took my son for his drivers license. The DMV's computers were down. Most specifically, the internet which allowed motor vehicles to interface with the state. Needless to say, they were incapable of doing it "by hand" and we had to return the next day.
    Still, it's a brand new world. Hopefully, we can all embrace it.
    Great post!