“You’re starting to make me cranky.”

Glenn Wiebe was digging around the vault over at History Tech looking for some resources centered around the Kansans Can school redesign and ran across this rant written just after the 2013 state standards went live. With those standards currently in the revision process and the state of Kansas deep into conversations about changing how we do school, it seems appropriate to re-post it here. Basically, it boils down to:

How much are we willing to change so that our kids are prepared for their future?

It’s been a fun couple of months since the holiday break. I’ve had the chance to spend time with a variety of folks doing all sorts of cool stuff. A group of us have been struggling to write questions for the social studies state assessment pilot due out this spring.

I’ve spent time with teachers discussing social studies best practices that are aligned to the state’s recently adopted state standards. And I’ve had the opportunity to work with lots of teachers as we shared ideas and discussed ways to integrate technology into instruction.

It’s all part of what is perhaps the best job in the world. I mean, who wouldn’t enjoy themselves spending time with dedicated, amazing people who are literally changing the world?

But . . . sometimes I walk away feeling a little uncomfortable after spending time with teachers. Once in a great while, I leave a group angry. And while I honestly think I do a good job of hiding my feelings, I’m starting to think those feelings need to be a bit more obvious.

Change is difficult. I understand that. And society already asks teachers to be superheroes. But it still bothers me when I hear teachers say things like:

My kids weren’t turning in their packets of worksheets so I changed the weighting to make homework count as much as tests. This will convince them that it’s important.

It doesn’t matter what I do in my class as long as I throw around the latest buzzwords whenever I get observed, it’s all good. I’m gonna keep doing what I’ve always done anyway.

I count attendance and neatness as a big part of their final grade.

Standards aren’t that important. I’ve got these great slides from battle sites I’ve visited so I’m planning a WWII unit for my 6th graders.

Using technology is a waste of time and money. Assigning some sort of digital storytelling activity or using mobile devices to capture student work is just too much trouble.

And it makes me angry when a teacher simply refuses to use tools that best practice and research tell us is good for kids. Especially technology tools.

So today a bit of a rant. Feel free to walk away at any time. This is probably more for me anyway.

Still here?

Using technology as part of your social studies instruction is no longer optional. It just isn’t. Good social studies instruction has always required the integration of whatever tool, strategy, or research is best for kids.

And here in Kansas, where I spend most of my time, integrating technology as part of instruction is embedded directly into the recently adopted state Social Studies standards document. I know it’s the same in a lot of other states. Asking your kids to use 21st century tools as part of the discipline is no longer optional. In my mind, consciously deciding to not integrate technology as part of your instruction is educational malpractice.

But I do understand that change is hard, that it’s scary to look like you don’t know what you’re doing in front of your 26 8th graders, that you’ll have to adapt some of your current lessons, or that you aren’t able to cover all of the content you used to cover because tech-based historical thinking activities take longer.

So maybe a few reasons why integrating tech makes sense might help:

21st Century Jobs
Part of our job is prepare kids for their future, not ours. According to a report from the US Department of Labor’s titled Futurework – Trends and Challenges for Work in the 21st Century, “65% of today’s grade school kids will end up at jobs that haven’t been invented yet.” Convince me that those jobs won’t be crawling with technology.

Common Core State Standards
I get it. Some of you don’t like the Common Core. I’m not a big fan of Pearson and others using the standards movement to increase their bottom line either. (Though if you’re an econ teacher, it seems like a pretty remarkable American capitalist system success story.) I get it.

But at its heart, the CCSS and most state standards (like those in Kansas) are clearly aimed at improving the ability of our kids to ask better questions, to solve problems, collaborate, think critically, and to use technology effectively and appropriately. It’s not about some massive government takeover. It’s about preparing our kids to be as successful as possible.

Customized learning
Traditional systems of education and methods of teaching are one size fits all.  In today’s increasingly diverse and global world, one size fits all doesn’t work anymore. Digital tools provide opportunities for individualized instruction that can more effectively meet the needs of different kids who are learning at different rates, who have different interests, and who have different goals.

Yes. I love books as much as the next guy. Probably more. But the transition from print to digital materials, allowing for instant updates, access to multimedia, use of online archives, conversations with experts beyond the classroom, and the creation of products, makes financial sense.

Businesses and colleges need students who don’t throw sand in the sandbox. Companies around the country and the world are looking for graduates who can be successful working in teams. Using a variety of social media tools as part of the educational process, together with best practices for incorporating face-to-face collaboration, provide practical, real-life learning opportunities for kids. Companies around the country and around the world are using these sorts of tools everyday, our kids should be doing the same thing.

And tech tools don’t just allow our kids to work with others across the room, they allow our kids to work with others around the globe.

Ownership of Learning
When we provide personal devices to our students, they take personal ownership in their learning.  Eliot Soloway says:

In the past, adults brought laptops into schools and the kids were, like, ‘So?’ Now the kids are bringing mobile technology into their schools. That shift in who’s in control is the fundamental difference.

Soloway has seen 30 percent improvements when children use mobile devices on the same curriculum they used to cover without them.

One hundred years ago, airplanes were made out of glue-covered cloth and traveled at the speed of smell. Today? Planes at Mach 3. Fifty years ago, we had barely figured out how to orbit the earth in one-man space capsules. Today? We’re soft landing space craft on meteorites hundreds of thousands of miles away. Thirty years ago, the internet was a collection of maybe 150 pasty guys wearing black frame glasses and pencil protectors. Today? We have access to terabytes of information, people, art, music, movies, museums, archives, books, photographs, events. Ten years ago, mobile smart devices didn’t exist. Today? We hold the world in our hand.

What will tomorrow look like?

That’s right. We don’t know. And you could argue that because we don’t know, we should sit on our hands and continue to do things the way we’ve always done them. Without the use of technology. I happen to think we need to continue to move in the opposite direction, one where technology is an integral part of everything we do in education. Because it supports what we know kids need for a future we can’t see – the ability to think, to solve problems, to work with others, to ask great questions.

Digital learning is coming whether teachers want it to or not. If you’re one who welcomes change, even though it might be difficult, awesome. I’m preaching to the choir.

But if you’re a teacher who stands between my daughter and her future because you’re unwilling to accept the fact that technology is good for kids, you’re starting to make me cranky.

About Glenn Wiebe

I work as a social studies specialist at ESSDACK, an educational service center in Hutchinson, Kansas. Before coming to ESSDACK, I taught middle school US History and higher ed social science classes.

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