#10: Tools

It’s Meet the Teacher night and the first student walks in with no parent. He notices the netbooks, but instead asks about the classroom configuration and then about the way that it’s painted and eventually the conversation meanders toward the computers.  Except he asks, “What will we be learning with them?” rather than “What kind of netbook are they?”  We discuss the podcasts and the blog and the documentaries, the concept maps and the problem-based learning.  Yet, he’s more excited about the projects than the technology.

The next student is a monolingual who has been in the United States for a month.  He says, “Thank you for to compare the computers, Mrs. Spencer.”   I ask him to repeat it in Spanish and it becomes clear that compare and comprar seem like cognates to him. We talk in Spanish for awhile and he reminds me that while he didn’t have computers in his school, he had good teachers and that ultimately it is what we learn together that will make it a real education.

Other students trickle in and spend some time hanging out.  Being self-contained, there aren’t any other teachers for the students to meet and being a walking distance, neighborhood school, half the students come without a parent or guardian.

“You know that an HP Mini 210 doesn’t make you a good teacher,” a gifted boy tells me.  I’m impressed that he can spot the model from a distance.  “It’s all about your pedagogy,” he points out with thick italics.  “Do you know what pedagogy means?”

“On my good days, yes.  On my worst days, I forget it.”

After awhile, the posturing drops and it becomes clear that he knows computers.  We talk about Linux for awhile and eventually we’re discussing books and movies and how we’ll paint a mural in the back of my classroom.

When it ends, another teacher says, “I bet they were excited about the netbooks.”

“Not really,” I answer.

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

“No, it’s a good thing.  It will help make the paradigm shift from tech as toys to tech as tools.”

I often believe that the concept of Digital Natives is mostly overhyped.  I have students who know nothing about using a computer to help them think, but they are “experts” since they use Myspace and Facebook.  But  here’s where I see the native idea make sense: they are used to computers.  It’s the language they speak and culture in which they inhabit.  My journey this won’t be pushing them toward understanding the technology so much as use the technology to think critically about the technology and the techno-world it has formed.

One of the best parts of teaching is that I get to encourage students to be part Luddite and part Technophile.  I get to encourage them to use technology creatively and yet also question the role of technology in society.  I want them to see that it’s not so much a toy and perhaps not even a tool.  It is a powerful element that shapes the user as much as the user shapes it. It’s Prometheus stealing fire from the gods.  It’s Icarus flying toward the sun.  It’s the world creating a Babel babble where we all speak and no one understands.  But it’s also what saves lives and keeps families connected and allows for global collaboration.

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