Today’s post is guest written by Taylor Kim, a teacher in the Home Economics Department at Johnston Heights.
Just in the last several years, countless Hollywood Blockbusters have been made around the idea of the impending doom technology will bring to the human race. From the likes of kid-friendly animations such as WALL-E to dark, engrossing tales like I, Robot, the possibility of the machine overpowering the man has been explored, debated, and even obsessed over countless times.
But outside the silver screen and particularly inside classrooms, where living, breathing students and teachers and lead pencils and sheets of paper are still the norm, I have seen technology bring power and ability rather than ruin and despair.
Not too long ago, I had been fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to use an iPad in my classroom. As excited as I was, I wasn’t certain what this small gadget would really do for my practice; little did I know, its usefulness and impact would be significant and immediate.
Right away in my English class, the iPad has enabled students who’ve struggled all their lives to express their thoughts into written form (something they might do so well verbally) do just that by using Dragon Dictation, an app that can transcribe their speech into text. When there is that disconnect between the mind and physical task of writing something down, students can now better show off their true capacity by using this tool. Fantastic! With that positive start, I am continuing to learn about dozens of other possibilities of the iPad for the English classroom and curriculum.
In my senior Psychology class, the same device has changed lessons that were once static and paper-based to lessons that are colourful, and active. For example, when I had to previously rely on flat pictures and images—and sometimes my own hands and body parts that I would somewhat successfully contort to demonstrate concepts—all in order to explain the anatomy and function of the human brain, I could now use apps designed to show the organ in all its 3-D glory, aided by colour and other kinds of details unobtainable from plain paper texts. Since the students’ understanding has been so enhanced by this tool, they have been able to go from just labeling and identifying functions to molding their own brains with the greatest detail using modeling clay.
I marvel at how this piece of technology has allowed my older students to be children again and take part in the kind of learning they miss and remember. I have watched them gleefully pound and tear at the clay, at first with reckless abandon but then slowing down—really slowing down—to examine their sculptures with a critical eye of the most discerning scientist: “Did I get the shape of the cerebellum right?”…“How far does the frontal lobe extend into the brain before it becomes the temporal lobe?”…”Isn’t so weird that the part of the brain responsible for sight is at the back of the brain?”
I marvel at how, contrary to what people might say about technology—that it makes one lazy, that it makes one dependent—such a small machine has enabled the learning experience of students to become more dynamic, interactive, organic. As my students stretch and pull at the wet clay, they are reminded of their learning on the plasticity of the brain—how the brain is physically impacted by one’s environment and experiences, be they positive or negative. In a way, the exercise has become a metaphor for growth, change, and potential of the human brain and intelligence.
Happily enough, small, amazing things are happening in various parts of the school where I teach alongside many dedicated and inno vative teachers.
In the Home Economics wing, I have seen an app on an iPad used to soothe an autistic teen overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle of his cooking class and then the same device used to videotape him making cookies cooperatively and successfully with his peers. Best of all, he would be able to take that footage home to his parents and share and celebrate his progress in a way that had not been possible before.
In the Mathematics wing, I have also seen a Smartboard used in class to draw students out of their seats to move shapes and whole equations across the width of the room with their two arms, and all to the wild cheers and words of encouragement of their engaged peers.
And, ever increasingly, I am seeing teachers creating blogs and wikis to encourage communication and dialogue from students about their learning, and I am seeing once separate and isolated teachers from various departments (and even different schools!) come together to forums online to share ideas, rubrics, pedagogical literature and resources to help each other grow as professionals as well. However, amidst all this exchange of information, one recurring theme is the need for greater access to technological tools.
So, the question remains: will humankind be undone by technology? Perhaps one day we will be. But that is a topic of another discussion, of another place, of another time. For now, my thoughts lie with the promise of technology and using it simply to empower students and their learning.