Feed the Hungry

grandmaYou didn’t go to Grandma’s house without eating. There were always baked goods: cookies, coffee cake, donuts. As soon as you sat down, she’d put on a fresh pot of coffee and start cooking. What can I make you? Want a sandwich? Macaroni and cheese? She would start going through the icebox and pull out everything. Have some braciole while I fry up some zucchini. If you called ahead, grandpa would make pizza (whether he wanted to or not).

What’s a matter? Don’t you like it? No. It’s not that. It’s just that, well, I’ve already eaten a couple times this month, and I just stopped by….

Hunger had nothing to do with it. Serving food was a way of showing hospitality. It was something she could do for you to make you feel welcome. And it worked. Everyone was welcome. Everyone felt loved.

But a lot of food went to waste. If she had two visitors, she’d make enough food to feed eight. Some of that would be recycled as appetizers for the next guest, but invariably a lot of things went uneaten.

For the first half of my career, the primary barrier to effective technology integration in the classroom was a lack of technology resources. If you asked teachers, principals, parents, or anyone else familiar with schools why educational practice was so firmly rooted in traditional instructional methods, even as technology radically transformed every other aspect of our lives, they would point to a lack of resources. I can’t effectively use technology in my teaching because I only have one two four computers in my classroom, and I have 21 27 32 kids. But we’ve shifted a lot of our resources over the last few years away from textbooks and legacy teaching materials in favor of better technology resources. We’ve made huge investments in networking infrastructure and mobile technologies and display tools to eliminate the gap between what we have and what we need. And while we haven’t jumped into the 1:1 computing pool yet, we are very close to the point where technology is available to all students when they need it. We have just about reached ubiquity.

The problem, though, is that we keep pulling computing devices out of the fridge and putting them on the table. Let me make a fresh pot of wifi. Try some of these iPads while I cook up a batch of laptops. It doesn’t really matter if you’re hungry. Someday, you will be hungry. And you’ll have the resources when you’re ready for them.

Over the last few years, our schools have been snacking a lot on negotiations and teacher evaluations and new testing requirements and SLOs. They’ve been choking down power standards to be polite, and they’ve been taking a helping of PLCs because they know they’re nutritious. They’d love to have some RTI, and people keep telling them they should try the nextgen learning and personal learning networks. But if they take another bite right now, we’re going to end up with half-digested formative assessments all over the carpet.

So this year, we’ve backed off. There’s a vision of learning where we employ best practices, facilitated by technology, to systematically work through the learning standards, assessing and adapting instruction along the way to ensure that students reach mastery at their own pace. Meanwhile, we’re using digital tools to develop students’ innovative thinking, creativity, and collaboration skills. They apply their learning to new, real problems. They generate new ideas and new solutions and share those ideas in a variety of formats. Students are self-directed. Learning occurs both inside and outside the classroom. Learners engage in curriculum systemically while also synthesizing and applying that knowledge in creative ways. Assessments inform instruction, and grades are a reflection of student mastery of learning targets, measuring what they have learned rather than what they have done. But most of our teachers and principals don’t have the appetite for that right now.

I’m sensing a need to back off on the hardware, too. We ordered the appetizers and went a bit overboard on the bread and salad. Now that the main course is here, it’s pretty clear we’re going to need a take out container. So before the waitress comes over with the dessert menu, I think we need to have a talk about whether we really need the calories. We should stop cooking and let our appetites catch up. Then, as people get hungry, let’s feed them with some nutritious offerings full of whole-grain instructional methodology, organic intervention strategies, and  vitamin-rich participatory learning. There’s still a place for deep-fried gadgets, high-sodium mobile tools, and those sweet, sweet apps. But let’s recognize that those are sometimes foods. Our schools need a healthier approach to our technology diet.


One thought on “Feed the Hungry

  1. Hey, Johnny … this is why you (and I) will never be hits on the edtech speaking circuit! The beast expects to be (over)fed when s/he stops by for dinner, and hates it when you say it wouldn’t be a bad idea to jettison a few pounds (of hardware, or software, or media, or [insert bells and whistles]). I feel most of my conversation these days end up with me asking, “Why?” … ‘Why did you narrow your choice to this video / image / text, etc.?”; “Why do you have the learners engaged in this activity?”; “Why does this need to be developed in Articulate?” Unfortunately, the answers I usually get back are squishy without a lot of rationale (beyond the desire for sparkle). Often, I get a response that boils down to a version of “because it is cool / innovative / constructivist / sparkly” … or … “because I could / Googled and found it / had a free 30-day trial”. It is the rare moment when I hear, “because it is the best choice (out of these alternatives) to support the learner and the desired outcome.”

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