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5 Things I Learned Teaching HWCDSB’s ‘Tech, Math and Literacy’ Course

After taking the weekend to reflect on my experience teaching the Hamilton-Wentworh Catholic District School Board’s ‘TML’ course, I can honestly say that I learned a great deal; far more than just 5 things. However for the purposes of this list I thought it best to be concise:

1) We need to become increasingly aware of the myth of “Digital Natives”

  • Despite the fact that young students may act more naturally while using technology and may be more willing to ‘play’ than adult users, like any skill, there is a distinct learning curve to using software and technology. Students have not been trained on how to properly use Word Processors or troubleshoot computer hardware issues, yet our curriculums assume that they have the wherewithal to gain this knowledge with minimal instruction.
  • Unless a teacher happens to be ‘tech-enabled,’ instruction cannot be delivered effectively without proper training and PD. Many of today’s teachers are learning the ins and outs of the program/software with the students and this can eat up a ton of time during the day.
  • I struggle to understand why today’s current Learning Management Systems (many of which rely on a Windows-style platform) do not embed technical instruction into their software. E.g. if a student wishes to insert an image, could there not be a widget or guide (reminiscent of the ‘Office’ paperclip) that highlights the buttons to press? This guide can be turned on/off depending on the skill level and needs of each individual student. I really wish to explore this space further. It would shave off hours of teachers needing to give repetitive and redundant technical instruction and allow them to focus more on the content of their lessons.

2) Creating community needs to extend beyond the physical classroom and into online spaces as well

  • I recently submitted an article for publication that highlights the importance of creating community in online spaces if you intend to leverage the power of technology and increase engagement. In my classroom, I ensured the same academic rigor was present in online discussions/submissions compared to the amount of ‘play’ and fun. E.g. while I monitored posts and gave specific instructions as to how students should give feedback to their peers, I allowed them to create their own unique classroom blogs and to ‘quick write’ about their ’10 Favorite Things.’ The balance between work and play was present in both the physical and virtual classrooms.

3) The power of using brief, unique, and informative videos in the classroom is incredible

  • I happen to be a 5th degree black belt at finding relevant YouTube clips and videos because it’s something I do in my personal life. I’m always looking for a particular sports highlight, interview, or TV show clip depending on what I want to watch at that moment. I extend that skill to the classroom as well. While I may try and act like a poor man’s version of him, I know good and well that Don Draper of AMC’s Mad Men is a far better choice to teach kids about the techniques and strategies behind marketing and advertising. Well with the click of a mouse I can make that happen. The clips are polished, exciting, and most importantly engage students in the content.
  • Another activity I created that used video was really easy to deliver. To teach students about ‘the message’ behind music videos for our literacy program, I catered to their generation. MTV for the past 3 years has created a new category at their Video Music Awards called “Best Video with a Social Message.” I scrolled through the list of nominees, chose 2 and told the kids that they were on the judging committee for this year’s awards. Students deconstructed videos by relevant artists (they actually listen to) and were empowered to form an opinion and support it. Powerful stuff.

4) Student engagement increases through the use of innovative web tools/programs.

  • While I deferred to my teaching partner for much of the math instruction (not my strong suit), I observed how engaged students were when instruction was delivered through a virtual program. Products like Gizmos and Understanding Math captured their attention in a way that we could not have replicated on a chalkboard or orally. From a literacy standpoint, platforms like Padlet allowed students to view (in real-time) what their colleagues were posting about a topic and how they could work collaboratively towards a common goal.

5) Parents are actively seeking out ways to get their kids more comfortable with digital learning

  • My final observation occurred on the last day of the 2 week program when I met with droves of parents who had actively sought out the program and were genuinely interested in what their kids had been learning. While I had to correct some of them in their thinking that this was merely a ‘computer course,’ I was happy to see the positive response from parents who echoed my sentiments about the importance of digital citizenship, personal branding, and leveraging technology to benefit student learning. Though schools are making strides to elevate the level of hardware in classrooms and to support BYOD initiatives, we now need to focus or efforts on improving 21st century instruction.
After teaching this course I can tell you first hand that the quality of learning and spontaneity that took place in that classroom was unlike anything I had witnessed before. Now that I have had a taste of this, I will work harder than ever (in some context) to ensure that the instruction, hardware, and software in a school all match up with our pedagogical goals as educators. Together we must do a better job as teachers, school leaders, and educational stakeholders to prepare our students for postsecondary education and the workforce of the 21st century. 

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