Friday, December 31, 2010

Teachers Must Let the Kids Lead with Computers

When the Sioux Central school board committed and voted in March 2010 to implement a one-to-one student laptop initiative in grades 4-12, the board turned to me as superintendent and said, "This has got to work! We cannot invest this much in tax dollars in this economy and tax climate for this to fail!"

I replied that it would work--that I had never seen such universal commitment on the part of an entire teaching faculty in my career. I said it cannot fail with this level of teacher commitment.

But for teachers to embrace this new methodology meant that all would have to change significantly in how they were delivering curriculum and directing students. One of the hardest aspects, we predicted, would be that the students would become competent with this new learning and these new machines at a much faster rate than the teachers. That's the nature of this generation. Teachers are used to being the experts--the sage on the stage. They have to be all right with the kids knowing more than them now.

I am happy to report this new instruction with a laptop for every single kid in our school, grades 4-12, is changing the way kids are learning. I am equally happy to report that our teachers are embracing this new instruction. Of course our teachers are on a continuum from the most comfortable and competent with new technology to those who face a challenge. However, some of our teachers least-skilled with computers are making some of the best uses of the laptops. I am delighted to say we have teachers who pose their essential questions and then turn the kids loose to find the answers on their own. The kids are sometimes finding answers and solving problems differently than teachers would have taught students in the past, but the work is getting done and the learning is taking place.

Key to this, we have to support our teachers taking risks and trying new things. We have to accept that teachers will make mistakes. They have to know the administration will trust them and support them, rather than second-guess them or chastise them. For one-to-one laptops to be effective, the teachers need to change the way they teach, and the administrators also need to change their oversight of the classrooms.

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