Posted in Challenges, Education, Learning, Sixth Grade, Students, Teaching

Teachers or Technology Police?

Back when I was in school, computers were far from portable and not that much fun to play with.  The coolest thing I was able to do on the old Macintosh computers my school had was make a turtle go up, down, left, or right on the screen.  And let’s be honest, that wasn’t very cool at all.  I didn’t really enjoy using technology or computers when I was a student.  The coolest piece of technology equipment my teachers used was the film projector.  Now that was a cool piece of technology.  I loved watching filmstrips in school.

Fast forward many, many years to now and everything is entirely different.  Not only have the students changed, but so has everything else.  Technology is small, portable, and really awesome.  You can watch movies, play games, listen to music, and so many other things on a small and very portable device.  Technology and computers can also be fantastic learning devices in school as well.  Students can learn how to code, make movies, create music, and design new products.  The possibilities are endless.  Long gone are the days of moving turtles on a green computer screen.

With this new technology comes new challenges for teachers and schools as well.  How do we address and effectively utilize technology in the classroom?  Do students have computers or devices?  Which device is the best to use?  How do we teach students to use technology as a tool and not a toy when in the classroom?  How do we set our students up for success when using technology in and out of the classroom?  So many questions and so many problems to be solved.  My school decided to go the route of 1-to-1, and so each student is provided a laptop.  Teachers are expected to help the students learn to properly use the device and make use of it as part of the learning process in every class.  Lots of good has come from this.  I have students designing inventions to help solve the issue of global warming and learning how to code in the language of Python using the online application Code Combat.  These laptops have been so amazing for my students this year

Recently though, I’ve noticed that my students have gotten a bit sneaky with how they use them.  They have multiple windows open at once and switch between games, videos, and work while they are learning and working.  They play games and watch videos when I’m working with or helping other students and then actually do work when I walk by.  Despite all of the teaching we’ve done throughout the year in the classroom about how to use the laptop as a tool, some of the students treat it like a toy.  I’ve been feeling a lot more like a technology patrol officer than a teacher for some students over the past several days.  Rather than complete their work to demonstrate their ability to meet and exceed graded objectives and to ensure that they have no homework, some of the boys have been misusing their technology tool.  I mentioned this issue to the boys the other day and asked for their feedback.  While they also noticed this issue to be a problem, they offered no possible solutions.  I don’t want to feel like a technology police officer in the classroom.  I want to help support and challenge all of my students.  So, how can I do this and trust that the other students are making positive choices regarding their laptops?

Three possible ideas I’ve brainstormed to address this issue:

  • Have the students work on the opposite sides of of tables so that all of their laptop screens are facing the center of the room.  This way, I can easily help one student while scanning the other screens for good choices.  We utilize this model during evening study hall and it works very well.
  • If I suspect a student is misusing his laptop during the class day, I can close it and not allow him to use it for the remainder of that particular period.  In order to earn it back, he has to complete a tedious writing activity.
  • Help the students remember our class mantra, “We are a family, and families take care of each other.”  Remind the students to take care of their brothers by making sure they are not misusing technology in the classroom.

I’m at a loss for other ideas and so started by implementing options two and three in the classroom on Tuesday.  It seemed to really help.  I did not have to take away any laptops, as everyone was focused on what they needed to do.  I think they might have also been helping keep each other focused as well.  Today, however, I did have to confiscate two laptops as the students were playing a game.  To earn it back at the end of the period, they had to craft a complete paragraph, by hand, explaining why games should not be played during the academic day.  This took away from their time to work in class, which means that these two students will have extra homework to complete outside of class tonight instead of playing games or doing other fun things.  They seemed to learn from their mistake.  It was also great for the other students to see how serious I am about proper use of technology in the classroom.  Although these two strategies seem to be working so far, will they keep working?  Is there more I should be doing to help my students see technology as a tool and not a toy?  What other strategies could I be implementing so that I feel more like a teacher and less like a technology police officer?  I do believe that there is power in talking to the students about what I see happening in the classroom.  I hope to have further conversations with them prior to the end of the year about proper use of technology in the classroom so that they are ready to be effective technology users in the seventh grade.

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Author:

I teach sixth grade at Cardigan Mountain School in Canaan, NH. I'm currently ensconced in my fourteenth year at this small, independent boys' school. I love engaging students in relevant and hands-on learning. I was nominated for the NH Teacher of the Year Award in 2016 by a parent. While I love education and guiding students, my first passion is my family. I have a wonderful son, Jeffrey, and a beautiful and intelligent wife, Kim. I couldn't be happier. Every day is the best day of my life.

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