Tuesday, June 30, 2015

There isn't an app for that!

It has been quite some time since I last wrote a post. Those that care to read, sorry for the delay. Those of you that know me, know that summer is a time for me to focus on my other true calling; farming. I also use the summer to take time to teach at a unique school where communication, farming and other vocational work effectively tie into learning. I bet you never stopped to think about the physics, history and math that goes into choosing the proper shovel for a job? (not all shovels are for digging). Which brings me around to my point. There isn't an app for that.

You couldn't find an app to tell you what type of shovel to use, and if you are looking for that app you should probably find an app that can call someone else to do the job for you. Sorry to be so harsh, but technology has made us soft, in terms of actual work and learning. The best way to learn these lessons is from physically interacting with people who can pass this knowledge along by asking questions, and getting your hands dirty. Sure, there is an appropriate time and place for technology, but when is it too much?

During the time I've been avoiding writing I've done a lot of reading and reflecting on technology use in education. And, just like everything else that is engulfed by teachers, the use of technology to enhance education has blown way out of proportion. There is too much tech, too much pressure to use tech, and too much focus on the best tool to teach. Many of you know my classroom, and know how I interact with students. I treat them as equals, speak to them as equals, redirect them as equals, joke with them as equals, learn with them as equals, and discuss real relevant life events...you guessed it..as equals. It is perfectly OK to take 10 minutes to discuss issues like a jail break, the death of a pet, the song that's stuck in their head, the movie they love, a fight with a loved one...etc. How else are students supposed to learn how to deal with these real life issues, from misguided media that is only looking for good entertainment?

If you were to walk into my classroom, when the year is under way you would either catch me talking about a story I heard on the news, responding to a story a student has told, or seeing us gather gear for a lesson in the shop or outside. My classroom is filled with various projects, student built contraptions, student creations, science gear, samples, maps, and best of all tools. I have discovered that the best student engagement occurs when  they are comfortable communicating about anything and by using a tool. Not a typical piece of technology, but a tool. Something like a shovel, a skill saw, a miter saw, a hammer, a measuring tape, a chisel, a soil auger, things that require awareness of surroundings, critical thinking, and communication.

Sure, technology can offer and even enhance these skills under certain conditions, but educators have started to lose site of the goal. We are supposed to teach students skills to help them become productive members of society. There isn't an app for that. We have to put down the tech, get our hands dirty, and teach. I am guilty of trying to use too much tech, and need to tone it back. Which only means I plan to incorporate more hands on learning. So, my hikes will be longer to get to those good geology sites, the samples will be more substantial, and the work will be more meaningful. The sugar house will get built by students before winter, students will have the compost system up and running by fall, and best of all, this will all be something students can look back at and say...I built that and learned "this" as a result. There isn't an app for that, and teachers need to stop searching for those apps. Students need to discover that many times the best solution is to learn how to do it yourself. This requires using your own hands and brain, and learn by asking someone else the right questions. Google can't show you how design the field equipment you just invented to then use a skill saw to cut the custom angle for the board needed on that design.

So, as many educators enjoy summer, take time to reflect on ways to reduce the use of tech for the sake of using tech, and discover ways to ensure that an app can't teach your class.