Guest Post: Teaching in the Digital Age

April 19, 2012

The upcoming NewSchools Summit features some stellar panels.  One you don’t want to miss is “Teaching in the Digital Age,” which will feature teachers from innovative school models, like School of One and Rocketship, mixed with teachers from traditional schools who are actively using technology in their classrooms. I’ll be moderating this discussion, and one of the questions I want to focus on is how the shift towards more technology has changed their role as teacher?

I recently heard Alex Hernandez from the Charter School Growth Fund compare blended models to the first digital cameras. Those first cameras showed us what was possible but they were years away from the powerful digital cameras that professional photographers use today. We’re still a long way from fully realizing the power of technology in the classroom. Tech-savvy teachers are like the early adopters of those clunky digital cameras. They deal with the limitations, but more than anyone else, they develop a good sense of where things are headed.

I’m particularly interested in hearing the panel reflect on the limitations of using technology. What frustrates them, slows them down, and keeps them from realizing their full potential? As the founder of LearnZillion, a new ed tech company focused on high-quality instruction, I’m interested in the roadblocks they face and the advice they have for tech developers.

I also want to hear what learning will look like once we’ve removed those roadblocks. A few years ago, when I was principal of E.L. Haynes Public Charter School, I observed a fifth grade class where the students were trying to figure out how many chairs you could stack from the outside parking lot to their fifth floor classroom.  In groups of four – some in the classroom, others in the stairwell – they wielded rulers, pencils, and notebooks.  None of them gave me a moment’s notice.  They were completely engrossed.  “Great class,” I said to the teacher. “I wish I did this all the time,” he said.  “Why don’t you?” “I had to prep them with lessons first.  Then they were ready for the fun.” It was only after laying the basic groundwork that the class could apply their knowledge in a fun project. How will technology enable learning to more often look like that? 

I think about that short conversation when I reflect on my daughter’s schooling.  She’s a first grader now at E.L. Haynes Public Charter School.  Hopeful, by the time she gets to fifth grade, the digital camera will have evolved and her teacher will have a lot more time for the fun stuff.